Senior Public Affairs Manager
Standard Life

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Sandy McDonald


My name’s Sandy McDonald, my job title is Senior Public Affairs Manager and I work at Standard Life. I specifically work with the European Parliament in Brussels, so when there are pieces of legislation that might affect the type of work that we do at Standard Life, say financial services legislation, I meet with MEP’s or with the European Commission and try and influence the legislation that they’re making. I like to see it not just as lobbying for what we want, it’s a communications job, so it’s building relationships and supporting a positive reputation. I’ve worked in different communications and marketing jobs for about ten years at Standard Life.

When I was younger I wanted to be a vet and I did biology at university. I guess one, there’s a certain level of commitment you need to be a vet and then that’s all you do is study for a while if you’re going to be a vet, and there are bits of it that maybe aren’t quite so appealing. I found when I was at university, that I was very good at writing, but I enjoyed less the kind of technical scientific side of it, I wanted something a bit broader, later on I wanted to do writing and publishing. Even when I was at school, friends of mine would kind of ask for my help, I guess, in writing essays and things like that, because it was something that I had a reputation for being good at. It’s nice for people to value what you do, and I guess when you’re in school it feels like something that you’re not going to get any academic recognition for and yet sometimes it’s nicer to just have the people, your friends appreciate what you’re good at and what you do.

My Dad’s always been in International Sales and Exports and things like that, both my parents have a real love of reading and I think that was always quite a big thing for me, that came across to me, I always loved reading. My Mum trained in foreign languages, spent time in France and Belgium. But when I first started and moved into publishing, she was working for a publishing company. I went to a school called Merchant Taylors in Northwood, it’s North of London. There was a very real push for academic achievement, so they were wanting me to do biology because that was my best subject and study it a university, which with hindsight, I do not think was good advice. But schools obviously are rated in their achievement in terms of who gets to university and what they get to do and things like that, so had I got into Oxford to read biology it would have reflected very well on the school, so I came to Edinburgh university instead!

Right at the end, final year, I was thinking about publishing, but thinking about science and medical publishing. I went and did my publishing course, did quite well at it, got offered a job at Macmillan publishers in London, before I finished the course. I went in for an open day one time, there was a few us as part of my study and I got a phone call on the back of it saying do you want to come in for an interview, so it must have gone OK, the session. Excited and daunted probably, in equal measure, I thought I don’t know anything about what I’m supposed to be doing and yet they’ve taken me on thinking I know something. I felt quite fortunate to be given the opportunity but also maybe a little bit cocky that I had been given the opportunity, if that sounds fair, you know, I almost felt like I had arrived, you know, here I am, I’ve got my job, it’s in publishing. Then there is a wake-up call a few weeks later where you kind of think, you know, those occasions where you think, I don’t know what I’m doing, and you don’t know whether to ask somebody or how to get around it. And then you ask people and then you think I don’t want to ask them too much, they’ll think I don’t know what I’m doing. I worked there for six months on a contract and I guess it, you know, I always enjoyed working, but it didn’t quite work out in that team and I didn’t quite work out London, I wanted to move back to Edinburgh. So I then moved back up to Edinburgh and Standard Life was the first job I got on a temping contract. Marketing appealed because it made use of some of my communications skills, but also it felt like you could apply it in a range of different industries and fields and yet still have a core career.

I guess I’ve been surprised to find that I actually enjoy work more than I probably did school, so most of that’s down to the interactions you have with people and what you get to do in your work.

Sandy M was initially encouraged by his parents to study Biology and although he decided to study it at The University of Edinburgh, he felt that it wasn’t for him. His first job was with a London publishing company but he felt he wanted to return to Edinburgh. He joined Standard Life on a temporary contract in the Marketing team and realised that it brought together his passion for writing and communications.

More information about Public relations professionals

average salary

The UK average salary is £29,813

average weekly hours

There are 37.5 hours in the average working week

37%  male 
63%  female 

The UK workforce is 47% female and 53% male

Future employment

Future employment?

? Public relations professionals plan, organise and co-ordinate the activities that promote the image and understanding of an organisation and its products or services to consumers, businesses, members of the public and other specified audiences.
Most entrants possess A levels/H grades and a degree or equivalent qualification. Further professional qualifications are available.
  • Discusses issues of business strategy, products, services and target client base with senior colleagues to identify public relations requirements;
  • Writes, edits and arranges for the effective distribution of press releases, newsletters and other public relations material;
  • Addresses individuals, clients and other target groups through meetings, presentations, the media and other events to enhance the public image of an organisation;
  • Develops and implements tools to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of public relations exercises.
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