Lockerbie disaster comms handler Alan McGuinness dies age 64

Alan McGuinness, a pioneering giant of the Scottish public relations industry, died last month aged 64, at his home in North Berwick, writes his friend Iain Fleming.

Obituary: Alan McGuinness
Obituary: Alan McGuinness

McGuinness, who handled PR for Pan Am during the Lockerbie disaster, was a founding partner of Proscot Public Relations in Glasgow in the early 70s in the days when the practice of PR was 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. He began his interest in antiques while at university, spotting a bargain to buy and selling 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.

He eventually began working in public relations with Rex Stewart, one of the largest advertising agencies in Scotland, where he met fellow PR Alan Ferguson.

Both spent several years in Easter Ross promoting the area as an oil construction and petro-chemical base, but while the Nigg oil construction yard did eventually come to fruition, the petro-chemical aspect was not approved. The pair left Rex Stewart and started Proscot in the mid-70s, with their only client being the Fine Fare supermarket chain.

They grew Proscot into one of the largest and most successful dedicated public relations and sports sponsorship companies in Scotland, but his interest was more in business PR than the sports side, and the original partnership split in the early 90s.

As a 'hands-on' operator he decided he no longer wanted to spend so much of his time as a manager and pledged to run a small, boutique-style operation from then on.

Moving the business from Glasgow to Hamilton, and moving his growing family from the West End of Glasgow to North Berwick, he foresaw the opportunities which would come with devolution and a separate Scottish Parliament. He moved the business again, this time to Leith, where the agency represented clients including the Energy Savings Trust and various NHS bodies.

A specialist in the development and business regeneration sectors, Proscot represented British Gas Property Division and its successors, which were responsible for redeveloping redundant gas works sites. For many years Proscot was also the Scottish franchise of the worldwide Daniel J Edelman network, which represented many international clients.

As the Scottish arm of Edelman, he was closely involved in advising executives of Pan Am following the Lockerbie tragedy in 1988 and spent many weeks in Lockerbie in 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.

Although not a trained journalist, he was a superb writer and strategist whose ability to cut through the densest of technical jargon and 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, housebuilding, 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. To the end, however, he maintained his interest in antiques and always carried a wad of cash in case he saw an opportunity on his travels.

His health began deteriorating after Wynn died, not helped by many years of puffing his way through 40 full-strength Gauloises a day, although he eventually managed to kick a 50-year smoking habit. A number of stays in hospital in recent years, including several weeks in a Canadian hospital while visiting his sister, took their toll on him.

My friendship and business relationship with Alan lasted more than 30 years. 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, standalone 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.

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

Funeral arrangements are still to be decided.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

Department store John Lewis is to use its 150th anniversary this year to talk about its history, which "not enough people know about", according to director of communications Peter Cross.

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

The man who helped Barack Obama win the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections is to work for Labour along with members of his team.

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Pay-TV giant Sky has added Fever PR to its agency line-up for a wide-ranging brief covering products and services.

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford has been sent home for Easter and will reconvene on Tuesday for further deliberations about its verdicts on 11 charges of indecent assault.

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

The Home Office has tasked Munro & Forster (M&F) with supporting its campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of a wider retained brief.