Megan Harris

Director of Communications and Marketing (History, BA)

Megan Harris, City of Waterloo

Megan Harris is a 2000 Laurier History graduate whose career path certainly enlightens us to the potential for a successful business career coming from an arts background. Megan began her professional journey as an administrative assistant to a Toronto-based entrepreneur in the event planning field. Megan noted that the entrepreneur she worked for ‘groomed’ her and taught her all aspects of the business, essentially learning everything from bank account issues to seating table arrangements. Megan gained experience and skills related to event marketing, devising print publications, advertising, operations and business finance. After four years in this role, Megan then transitioned into working for the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce as the director of events, followed by a role as manager of marketing and communications for the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics. Megan now holds the position of director of communications and marketing for the City of Waterloo.

A typical day for Megan begins at 6 a.m. She prioritizes the checking of all her media accounts, (especially her Twitter feed to monitor major headlines). She then begins answering media calls and arranging interviews with senior leadership at the city. At times, Megan facilitates the interviews herself as one of the spokespersons for the city. She communicates with major media outlets such as CTV, 570 News, The Record, CBC, Waterloo Chronicle and The Cord – Laurier’s own newspaper. She sees herself as a firefighter, “dealing with any fires that need to be put out.” Her role includes supporting the corporate management team, mayor, and elected officials on hot topics, guiding them through media of a sensitive nature and suggesting areas they could highlight or those that could be potential pitfalls. Megan’s team includes communication specialists who look for great stories to be told about the city and if a big news story breaks, everything gets dropped and they spend their day focused on that one incident. In unfortunate circumstances, Megan also holds a secondary role as the city’s emergency information officer; she has been trained well regarding how to handle emergency situations, however, she hopes she never needs to put the training into action.

Megan emphasizes the importance of having a cool and level head in order to survive. She likens her work to having to be a swan, “absolutely elegant on water and just motoring underwater.” She stresses the need to be fast and flexible in every way possible and have a strong ability to adapt to situations. For someone to succeed in this role they need to have a strong outgoing personality and be able to react quickly under high-pressured situations.

Volunteering is crucial. Megan has held a very active volunteer life outside of her work hours. She served on numerous city and university committees and boards, including the Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association and Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest to name a few. Megan also founded and developed the Women’s Leadership eXchange, a social entrepreneurship organization designed to offer businesswomen opportunities to build connections. These experiences have been invaluable to Megan in building a network that she can draw upon throughout her professional life. She often attributes her last two professional roles to the relationships she had built through volunteering and networking within her community. These roles also provided outlets for gaining experience in public speaking, an essential skill for success in any field. Becoming comfortable speaking in public is a valuable skill to have and Megan recommends students and alumni to engage with professionals in their fields (or fields they aspire to) through the numerous events put on by Chambers of Commerce and other professional networking groups.

Megan believes her history degree, and specifically the essay-based courses, provided her with a strong set of writing and communication skills that have helped her with her current position. “Acquiring a university degree alone shows that you have gone through a pressure cooker and are able to deal with the stress and strain that comes with it.” Megan also recommends a public relations diploma as valuable to have as it helps in accessing more hands-on experience.

Megan sees the future going digital, which can be clearly seen with Laurier’s Journalism program branching out to become Digital Media and Journalism. She recommends active involvement with social media to ensure continued learning and strong communication skills are a recipe for success.