Purple leaf

Communications Specialist (Communication Studies, BA)

Madison Dalzell, McDonald’s Canada

Madison has always had a passion for communications and writing, which made the opportunity to learn about the media and further her writing skills in the Communication Studies program at Laurier a very appealing option. When Madison first began her studies, she was uncertain what area she wanted to go into but during her four years at Laurier, she continued to feel passionate about writing and decided to pursue it professionally.

During her final year at Laurier, Madison was recruited by Target Canada at the Career Fair and began her two-and-a-half-year role as a communications specialist following her 2012 graduation. In this role, Madison had multiple responsibilities including preparing communication content to support store processes and creating corporate documents such as presentations and training decks. She states that this experience was a valuable learning opportunity and enabled her to develop a thick skin, since the closure of Target Canada proved that no matter the size of a company, there is never guaranteed job stability.

After leaving Target in 2015, Madison then moved into a role as a communications coordinator at Holt Renfrew. The move from a public, big-box retailer to a much smaller luxury-based private company was a transition, going from working with a large team to just a small team of two. In this role, she worked closely with the public relations and digital team, supporting both regional and national communication strategies to promote the brand. Both of these experiences enabled Madison to gain valuable exposure into multiple facets of the industry and proved how different companies have unique interpretations of the function of communications.

In January 2017, Madison “ditched the handbags for hamburgers” and moved into her current position as a communications specialist at McDonald’s Canada. In this role, Madison deals with internal communications with the company in order to launch different programs within Canada and communicate company news to employees. Just recently, Madison was involved in the launch of All-Day Breakfast and the Summer Drink Days program. Madison was responsible for ensuring that McDonald’s employees had everything they needed to be prepared for these exciting launches.

Every day is different for Madison, but in general most days begin and end with meetings. There is usually a significant amount of writing, drafting content for various corporate communication vehicles, and ensuring the employee intranet is up to date with business news and program launches. In addition, Madison also assists in creating training material for employees, writing communication plans for future programs, and supporting stakeholders and business leaders from a communications standpoint.

At times the communications field can come with a lot of ambiguity. Some projects evolve very quickly and change based on current business needs. For instance, if you have had a cold summer and you want to drive more customers to your restaurant, new programs or promotions may evolve to drive sales. It requires a good amount of time management skills, because there are often more things in a day to deal with than originally planned.

Madison states that a person looking to get into a position such as hers needs to be outgoing and able to communicate well with others as the role requires dealing with stakeholders and individuals in different areas of the business in order to convey certain messages and changes to company employees. In addition, it is important to have a passion for writing and creating, and have an ability to learn quickly. Working in internal communications often requires that you be the voice for employees in different areas of the business – it could be advocating for finance, digital, or construction departments.

Having a degree or diploma in Communication Studies or Media Studies is usually required to get into the communications field. However, Madison states that it is additionally important to try and get hands-on experience, as it will allow you to learn more about how different companies work and approach communications. Having this work experience additionally enables you to understand what facets of communications you like and which you do not, which is certainly helpful insight to have.

There are various positions in this industry that Madison states may require different kinds of training. Individuals wanting to go into public relations and/or external communications roles may benefit from completing a postgraduate degree or diploma to learn more about the media and best ways to deal with it, which is not always necessary knowledge for someone in a role in internal communications where there is no direct communication with media. There are also many opportunities for advancement in the field of communication. You can start at a beginner’s role and work your way up through the company, or even move into other areas of the business such as marketing or public relations, since many of the skills are transferrable.

There often seems to be a lot of pressure in university to figure out exactly what you are going to do with your life. Madison says, however, not to sweat the small stuff. It is okay not to have an exact plan for what you want to do, and it is perfectly normal to change your mind based on any personal educational or professional experiences you may have. She believes that the right opportunity will come so long as you have the willingness to do what it takes to get it.

Madison believes that the communications industry will continue to evolve for the better. Ten years ago, communications roles were not at the forefront, but today there is a new emphasis on communication and it plays an ongoing role in corporate culture. She states that communication is becoming more digital. For example, some companies such as McDonald’s, have employee intranet sites, where employees at all levels of the company can find information and news about the organization and its initiatives. In addition, communication is also becoming more interactive and there is an increased emphasis on tracking things such as metrics (e.g. measuring how many people visit a site or read an email, how long they have it open for, etc.) to continue to improve communications throughout the company.

For students interested in pursuing a career as a communications specialist or something similar, Madison recommends using LinkedIn to stay up to date with company and industry news and getting hands-on experience. Consider applying to communications related summer employment opportunities at different companies to get a head start in the industry!