Pioneer of Scots PR, Alan McGuinness, dies, aged 64

A PIONEER of the Scottish public relations industry has died, aged 64, at his home in North Berwick.

Alan McGuinness, who, among things, handled PR for Pan-Am during the Lockerbie disaster, was a founding partner of Proscot Public Relations in Glasgow during the early 1970s –  when PR, as a separate profession, was in its infancy, often little more than a media relations function of advertising agencies.

The son of a senior civil servant at the Scottish Office, he studied law at Edinburgh University.

Says long-time friend and former colleague, Iain Fleming: “Alan began his interest in antiques while at university, spotting a bargain to buy and sell at a profit in order to pay his way through his studies. During a summer vacation job as a bus driver in East Lothian and the Borders, he enjoyed it so much he stayed on and did not return to university, much to the disappointment of his father.”

Fleming continued: “Alan was a true pioneer who led the way in developing the PR industry in Scotland from a poor relation of the advertising agency sector to a professional, stand-alone industry which now provides a whole range of reputation management, corporate communications and associated services.

“He was a visionary in so many ways, and I am proud to have spent several years as an associate director of Proscot, and to have maintained a friendship with him for more than three decades. I, and many others, will miss him dreadfully.”

Adds Fleming: “Although not a trained journalist, he was a superb writer and strategist, whose ability to cut through the densest of technical technical jargon to rapidly produce well-crafted Press releases was appreciated by clients and news editors alike. It did not matter whether he was representing companies or organisations in the supermarket, whisky, seafood, bio-remediation, education or textile industries, his razor-sharp mind and forward-thinking vision expressed in meetings with captains of industry was awe-inspiring to watch.

“A man of many talents and interests, he enjoyed horse racing and was a member of the Saints and Sinners Club of business and charity personalities who raise money for charity, including an annual event at Hamilton Racecourse, to which he devoted much time and effort.

“As a keen dealer in antiques, he had intended to retire from the PR business by the time he was 40 in order to indulge his passion. This plan did not work out and he remained a PR practitioner until well into his 50s before gradually handing over the reins, and finally exiting from the business. This took place shortly after Wynn, his wife of 37 years – who he met when she was a passenger on one of his buses in the Borders – died four years ago.”

McGuinness eventually began working in public relations with Rex Stewart, one of the largest advertising agencies in Scotland, where he met fellow PR, Alan Ferguson. They were together to set up Proscot, with their first client – and, for a while, only client – being the supermarket, Fine Fare. In 1995, Ferguson was to split, to set up the sports marketing consultancy, The Sports Business.

In time, Proscot’s clients were to include the Energy Savings Trust, various NHS bodies and British Gas Property Division and its successors. For many years, it was also the Scottish associate of the worldwide Daniel J Edelman communications agency, which represented many international clients.

Continues Fleming: “As the Scottish arm of Edelman, he was closely involved in advising executives of Pan-Am, following the Lockerbie tragedy, and spent many weeks in Lockerbie during the aftermath of the disaster and at the subsequent inquiry which was held in Dumfries, where he had gone to school. With Edelman in Brussels, Proscot took the leading role in advising Levi Strauss, the jeans manufacturer, over several years starting in the late ’90s as it withdrew from direct manufacturing and closed plants across the country, from Whitburn to Dundee. After the Whitburn factory was closed, with the loss of 650 jobs, local MP, Tam Dalyell, called him to say that he had witnessed many plant closures and job losses in his constituency over more than 20 years, but this one had been handled the best – both in terms of public relations management and in the compassionate way the company had treated the workforce.”

Alan is survived by daughters, Jane and Lucy, and sisters, Evelyn in Ampleforth and Kathleen in Canada.

His funeral is taking place on Friday, May 17, at Mortonhall Crematorium, Edinburgh, from 2.30pm.