Profile: Dominic McKay, director of communications and public affairs, Scottish Rugby Union

The comms and public affairs director for Scottish Rugby Union tells Kate Magee how he plans to rival the beautiful game's dominance.

Dominic McKay
Dominic McKay

Rugby players, says Dominic McKay, are becoming celebrities - in a similar way to football players, but presumably to a lesser degree. They are nearly as likely to be found on the front as the back pages of newspapers.

The head of comms and public affairs at Scottish Rugby Union may have a point.

In the past month coach and legendary former Scotland fly-half Craig Chalmers, part of the team that famously beat England at Murrayfield in 1990 to secure the Grand Slam, has been in the news twice. Firstly for being arrested for a breach of the peace and being handed a £60 fixed penalty, and secondly for being acquitted of misconduct at an independent disciplinary hearing run by the Scottish Rugby Union.

Part of McKay's brief is to handle the risks of current and former players appearing in the news for all the wrong reasons.

'Players are now regarded as celebrities, so we regularly meet them and their coaches to educate them on how to engage properly with the media, as well as their responsibilities as ambassadors,' the softly-spoken Scot says. But he adds that one of his key aims is to increase the profile of rugby outside its traditional media home. 'One of my passions that I tell my team daily is that I want to get to the front of the book, not just on the sports pages.'

The Scotsman's chief rugby writer David Ferguson says McKay is in a difficult position because of the controlling attitude of his superiors. 'Dominic's CEO has a lack of understanding of the role the rugby media play in the sport. Relations have been difficult recently. But Dominic is making a big effort to engage with the media. I find him easy to deal with, but the organisation makes it difficult for him,' he says.

If McKay has any complaints about his employer, he certainly does not reveal them to PRWeek, speaking instead with enthusiasm about the role he has held for two years. 'The dynamic of working in sport is very different because you don't have a constant product. There's no doubt about it, success and winning games attracts fans, interest and an increased share of voice,' he says. But regardless of the highs and lows, McKay has to stick to his tough brief to make rugby more accessible and high profile in the face of the ultimate competitor - football, which is currently omnipotent.

A key challenge is to change the perception that rugby is exclusively for the well-off. 'We're changing that stigma to show we are welcoming because we passionately believe it is a sport for all,' he says. A second battle is to rival the dominance of football in both the media and public's mind, a challenge made more difficult as the FIFA 2010 World Cup looms large. All eyes will be on the 'beautiful game', regardless of the fact that Scotland did not qualify. 'To challenge this, we need to be proactive, positive and upbeat, and make sure our players are as accessible as possible. I see this as a competitive advantage that we have over football,' says McKay.

This proactive approach is appreciated by the media. BBC Scotland's rugby reporter Jim Mason says: 'Communication with him and his team is informal and amicable - like Dominic himself.'

To promote the international Emirates Airline Edinburgh Sevens Festival being held at Murrayfield on 29 and 30 May, McKay has arranged a photo shoot for the Scottish team to be fitted for kilts, assisted by Miss Scotland. 'It's quite fun seeing some of our big players in kilts. Hopefully, this will get people who are not interested in rugby to see our players in a different light,' he says.

And McKay is not one to shy away from a challenge. After his first job in PR, he took part in a yacht race where he sailed across the Atlantic and back in a two-man boat. He believes this experience was an important career move because it taught him about teamwork, self-reliance and setting a goal. It also gave him a sense of perspective. 'The North Atlantic can be a cold, lonely miserable place. When I've had a tough day with the media, I think about being on a small boat bobbing around in a storm and it's not so bad. It's nice to have that as a reference point,' he says.

He still escapes to the sea at weekends when he is not attending matches, but now lives in Glasgow, commuting to Edinburgh. He has a gentle manner, but he says his attention to detail probably drives his team to distraction. This is a trait he picked up from his time at drinks firm Chivas Brothers, where he headed comms for the Scottish whisky brands. 'When you are representing a nation, you have to get it right. We don't have the luxury of dropping the ball like our players do,' he smiles.

McKay can only hope the Scottish players stay on message and out of trouble.

 

DOMINIC MCKAY'S TURNING POINTS

- What was your biggest career break?

Being given the opportunity to establish a new communications and public affairs function for Chivas Brothers' whisky business in Scotland, after a large acquisition. The chance to establish a new team and work with many great and committed people proved to be an invaluable experience.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Not any one individual, as I believe it is best to learn from as many people as possible, in and out of the workplace.

I firmly believe that every day offers an opportunity to improve your skills and to learn from those around you.

- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?

Listen to those around you and learn from anyone you feel can add value to your experience. Do not shy away from disagreeing with colleagues if you firmly believe in your point of view. And always look to take on new projects and responsibilities to assist with career development. A sense of humour always helps.

- What do you prize in new recruits?

A team-working approach with an optimistic outlook coupled with a passion to get the job done right first time, and to be able to enjoy it.

 

CV

2008: Director of communications and public affairs, Scottish Rugby Union

2005: Communications and public affairs manager, Pernod Ricard/Chivas Brothers

2004: Communications and marketing manager, Futurum Australia

2002: Communications and PR manager, Greenspace Trust

2001: Yacht skipper and project manager, Atlantic Ocean sailing

1999: Communications executive, Framatome International

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