Lockerbie bombing PR man Alan McGuinness dies

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

McGuinness provided PR help to Pan-Am after Lockerbie. Picture: PA
McGuinness provided PR help to Pan-Am after Lockerbie. Picture: PA

Alan 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, however 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 Scottish Football Association.

They grew Proscot into one of the largest and most successful dedicated public relations and sports sponsorship companies in Scotland, however 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 was 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 PanAm following the Lockerbie tragedy 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 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 three 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 a 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.

Iain Fleming, whose friendship and business relationship lasted more than 30 years, said: “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.