Profile: Dee McIntosh, director of comms, Battersea Dogs & Cats home

The director of comms at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has big plans to make her team more proactive. Kate Magee reports.

Dee McIntosh: Launching a three-year campaign to change public perception of bull-bred dogs
Dee McIntosh: Launching a three-year campaign to change public perception of bull-bred dogs

It is unusual for interviews to begin with someone running in circles, jumping up and pawing you to show their excitement. But that is exactly what PRWeek is greeted with on entering Dee McIntosh's office, albeit by a dog named Sushi who is waiting to be rehomed.

McIntosh joined Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in September and has ambitious plans to make the comms team more proactive. As well as hiring an extra three staff over the next couple of months, bringing her team up to 14, she is about to launch a three-year campaign to try to change the public's perception of bull-bred dogs.

She also found herself masterminding one of the lighter political stories of the year in February. Downing Street's new 'rat catcher', Larry the cat, came from Battersea Cats & Dogs home. 'We're very proud that one of the cats we have rehomed is now the most famous cat in the country,' she smiles. The story made the pages of not just the UK press, but also The Times of India, the New Zealand Herald and the Gulf Times.

This story is an example of McIntosh's new proactive approach. When she read about Downing Street's problem with rats, she released a story to the media saying her charity would be delighted to help. She also called Downing Street's press team directly and assured them it was a genuine offer. Her approach paid off.

'We have strong heritage, a well-known and much-loved brand. We have already received calls from CNN International, Strictly Come Dancing, Celebrity Masterchef, The One Show and The Apprentice,' she says. 'That is without the charity even being proactive on comms.

'Just think what we could do when we start. I want us to be the go-to charity for animal welfare for the media, politicians and local authorities.'

Since McIntosh joined, she has created strategies for comms, digital comms, public affairs and community engagement. She is particularly keen to increase the charity's digital presence, including using more video.

'How we market our animals online has become far more important, because we are finding that visitors who want to give a home to a dog or cat have usually looked online first and know which animal they are interested in,' she says.

She clearly loves animals, playing with Sushi in her office, and has two dogs of her own. 'It's my dream job,' she says. But Dundee-born McIntosh has not found herself here by accident.

Within a month of graduating from Stirling University with a modern history degree, she was working at the BBC in London. But several years and jobs later - McIntosh point-blank refuses to reveal her age - she asked herself where she wanted to be in ten years' time and realised it was not at the BBC.

'I can't think of a better job in journalism than being in the newsroom at Newsnight. Once you have done that, where do you go?' she asks. Instead, she decided to work at sports governing bodies and charities, and moved into PR.

Her first boss in PR, British Swimming's CEO David Sparks, says: 'Dee brought to swimming a sharp, uncompromising attitude that built our media relationships, which helped us develop as a sport. In return, I am sure British Swimming gave her some valuable tools for what was to follow. She was tireless in her approach and at times fiery with some of our traditional media friends but they, and we, needed to be shook up.'

McIntosh believes her media contacts are crucial: 'Because I'm ex-BBC, I have good contacts. My contemporaries are now the editors. It makes thing easier when you know people.'

One of these contacts, BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, says of her: 'Deidre? She'd almost be able to persuade you to have your toenails extracted "for a good cause".'

McIntosh says she has always been ambitious and determined about her career, but admits this does come at a cost.

'I have never done anything that I've regretted in my working life,' she says.

'I have a high work ethic and belief.

Perhaps that is because of my journalistic background. I can only work in certain organisations. I could not work for a plc, or even another charity if I did not believe in the cause.'

She will now turn her attention to the bull-breed campaign. The charity will also launch a fundraising campaign later this year to raise money to improve and modernise its kennels, some of which date back to the Victorian era.

If her shake-up at British Swimming is anything to go by, her new campaigns look likely to make a splash.

2010: Director of comms, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home
2009: Director of marketing & comms, Lantra Sector Skills Council
2007: Director of policy & comms, National Trust for Scotland
2005: Director of comms & public affairs, Scottish Rugby Union
2003: England media manager, Rugby Football Union
2000: Director of comms, British Swimming
1998: Editor, Inside Edge, BBC Radio 5 Live
1992: Senior broadcast journalist, Newsnight
1990: Senior broadcast journalist, BBC 9 O'Clock News
1986: Senior broadcast journalist, BBC breakfast television


- What was your biggest career break?

After such an eventful and fulfilling time on flagship BBC programmes, perhaps it was when I changed my career path. I left journalism and became comms director for British Swimming in an Olympic Games year. The first 'swimming gala' I covered was the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

To make the change from journalist to director level in comms, somebody needs to believe in you.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Not really. In a BBC TV news environment it's a case of sink or swim. There's no place for passengers and it's a pretty macho environment. It's great experience.

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

Be prepared to work for nothing initially to gain experience in your chosen career, then be prepared to move jobs and cities for the right career progression. I did that after leaving journalism and I never regretted it. Oh, and don't get hung up on a job title.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Commitment, a 'can-do' attitude, initiative, humour and loyalty.

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