My Big Break: Alasdair Buchanan, communications consultant, Scottish Life

ALASDAIR Buchanan is retiring this week as a communications consultant at pensions specialists, Scottish Life. He was group marketing manager at another pensions giant, Scottish Widows, between 1972 and 1996, occupying more of a media role at Scottish Life/Royal London Group between 1996 and two years ago, at which point he was contracted as a consultant at Scottish Life.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

I don’t think it was ever a real ambition for me; it just sort of happened. I was appointed group marketing manager at Scottish Widows in the late 1980’s and media relations were one of my responsibilities. When I moved to Scottish Life in 1996, the main part of my job was media relations and it’s been that way since.

What was your first ‘media job’?

I suppose the Scottish Life job was my first ‘real’ media role, but even it involved some other responsibilities such as market research and technical support. Most of the media work was focused on trade Press (pensions and other retail financial services) with some national Press (in Scotland and London) also involved, both business and personal finance.

Describe, briefly, how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

By 2000, Scottish Life had taken the decision to demutualise and that led to an intense and exhilarating period with four potential ‘suitors’ involved in detailed discussions. Ultimately, another mutual company, Royal London, was successful. Royal London was financially strong. But as a result of radical changes in financial services regulation, its distribution model (home service, like ‘the man from the Pru) was no longer practical.

Scottish Life had a good presence in the Independent Financial Adviser (IFA) market but, as a mid-sized company, it was looking for more capital to help it develop a stronger market position. So the transaction made a lot of sense to both companies. I also got my first experience of broadcast media around this time, both radio and TV.

In 2003, I got my first ‘media only’ job as group head of communications for Royal London Group, which is now the UK’s largest mutual life and pension company.

I retired from Royal London in June two years ago, but then worked as a consultant with Scottish Life till January this year, as part of my planned ‘glide path’ to full retirement.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

Joining Royal London at a time when they were going through a period of radical change, including some major acquisitions, provided a huge increase in the scope of the work I was doing. The pensions market was also going through a lot of changes. And as that was my primary background, there were masses of opportunities to develop good contacts with the relevant media.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

There are lots of people I should thank, and I feel it’s invidious to single any one. But at Royal London Group, Mike Yardley (CEO) and Stephen Shone (CFO) gave me a good deal of latitude and support, which I really appreciated. And over the years, John Deane and Ewan Smith (both MDs of Scottish Life) have been great leaders and taught me a lot.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

It’s vital to know (ie understand) your ‘customers’ – whether they are journalists, IFAs or policyholders. Mind you, that’s true of life, generally.