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Alan Burnside


"I graduated with a BSc(econ) (Economics and Political Science) in 1968.  In 1971 after part-time study I also gained a Diploma in Government Administration from the GB based Local Government Board.


I owe my career to my Queen’s degree. It gave me my early employment opportunities and the resultant experience equipped me to leave the comfort of the public service to become initially self-employed to eventually running a company employing 30 and turning over £2.5m. Graduates in economics and the business management disciplines have excellent prospects of jobs or entry into other professions such as accountancy even if they have to look beyond NI.


There is no better degree for a career in PR than an economics and politics degree. Understanding economics gives understanding to what makes business successful at both the micro level and the macro context in which it operates. Politics is about issue management; the construction and deconstruction of arguments intelligently and persuasively presented. Having that particular degree combination gave me confidence to deal with major economic and business issues. It was no doubt a major asset to my credibility as an adviser.


Currently I run a communications consultancy (Public Perceptions (NI) Ltd) specialising in issue management.


After Queen's I joined the NI Civil Service and, in brief, I spent 1971-72 in the Private Office of the Minister of Development (Roy Bradford) before spending  eight years in the NI Information Service which included spells as a press officer in the Department of Environment(NI), the Department of Commerce and Stormont Castle.  I spent 18 months 1979-1980 as senior information officer in the NI Housing Executive before joining the Belfast Office of the CBI as Assistant Director. In 1982 on the back of my professional training as a government press officer and my business contacts from three years in the CBI I launched Alan Burnside Public Relations.  I sold it in 1995 to the Incepta Group, an international communications holding company which subsequently became a plc but stayed as MD.  In 2002 I bought out the public affairs end of the company as the group was merging with Huntsworth plc another communications group and formed Burnside Communications Ltd. I subsequently sold that to local PR consultancy Davidson Cockcroft.  Since 2008 I have been running my own consultancy, gradually running down but never quite stopping.


Industry achievements were: I was only the third PR business to launch in NI and therefore my profile helped highlight its potential as a graduate profession. I set up and led the largest communications consultancy in Northern Ireland: several talented ex-employees built successful consultancies of their own and the business I left continues to thrive. The consultancy won numerous professional awards. I take particular pride in winning the 2005 Gran Prix award from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations for the best overall Northern Ireland communications campaign of that year. In 1999 I was made a Fellow of the Institute.


I went to Belfast Boys' Model and then Methodist College Belfast."