Interview with Fiona MacAulay - Marketing & Comms Manager, Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Canada
MSc Communication, Advertising and Public Relations, Jordanstown
- Can you tell me a little bit about what you do?
I am the Marketing & Communications Manager for an awesome charity called Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, here in Canada. Spinal Cord Injury Ontario is a charity which delivers and champions excellence in service, support and advocacy for people with spinal cord injury and other physical disabilities.
In a nutshell, I’m a gatekeeper for the organizations brand identity. I produce marketing collateral, manage the website, social media, internal communications and public relations.
- What aspect of your role do you most enjoy?
Storytelling sits at the core of everything I do. I love hearing and telling a person's story. I am truly honoured to have the opportunity to meet and speak with people who use our services. It means the world to me when people are prepared to open up about a great challenge they have faced in their life and explain how the work of our charity has helped them move forward and live the life that they choose.
- Did you plan out your career or has it evolved along the way?
A little from column A, a little from column B. I always wanted to work in a job that had the potential to change lives but for a long time, I had no idea what career path I’d follow that would help me fulfill this dream.
- When/how did you decide this is what you wanted to do and what helped you decide?
I never even considered working in the charity sector until I attended the work experience fair on the Jordanstown campus when I was studying my Masters at Ulster University.
I’d been living in Northern Ireland for a year, away from my family and two black labradors who are in Scotland.
Across the crowded room, I spotted the most adorable Labrador Retriever and, missing my own two, couldn’t help but make a beeline for him.
That’s when I met Marshall - fully qualified guide dog and total dreamboat.
I got chatting to the ladies looking after him and learned all about the charity Guide Dogs and the incredible work they do for people with sight loss in the UK. That’s when I signed up as a volunteer and started helping out, promoting events for them in Northern Ireland. After a year of volunteering I started to research career opportunities with the organization and after applying for a job as Communications Officer, I found myself packing up my life in Belfast and moving to Reading in England to work at Guide Dogs’ head office.
- What has been your biggest challenge to date?
Believing in myself. It’s really difficult! But it comes with experience and I’m certainly getting there
- What is the most extraordinary thing that has happened to you in your career or your greatest achievement?
This sounds cheesy, but it’s kind of hard to narrow it down. I’ve been so lucky and my life in the charity sector has taken me on many an extraordinary adventure. At Guide Dogs, I ended up on set with Ricky Gervais for his film David Brent: Life on the Road. He was keen to promote the charity by featuring a Guide Dogs collection box on the reception desk of his office, so we took the most adorable puppy (Zebedee, 13 weeks old at the time) to meet him.
Also, whilst at Guide Dogs, I was given the opportunity to project manage the organizations first ever national television documentary. Three episodes of ‘Me and My Guide Dog’ aired on ITV prime time and encouraged an accumulative audience of over 9 million. It was the most incredibly rewarding project and I was bursting with pride to see it on the big screen…Even Stephen Fry tweeted about it!
There was also the two years I spent working with Blue Peter, while they followed guide dog puppy in training, Iggy. As someone who grew up watching Blue Peter, I never thought for one minute I’d end up on set hanging out with the presenters.
Since moving to Canada and starting my role with Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, I’ve also had the huge pleasure of working with Canadian Kings and Queens of comedy - Dan Akyroyd, Catherine O’hara, Rick Moranis, Martin Short and Rush frontman Geddie Lee.
It’s hard to choose a favourite from all of the above, but they all feature in my top 10 career moments so far!
- Most importantly, do you love what you do? Would you ever give it up?
It’s pretty hard to make me stop talking about my job. I adore working in the third sector. It’s the most incredible feeling to wake up in the morning and go to work, knowing that what you do will really change someones life. I have no plans to leave, I think it might break my heart!
- Do you think it is important to love what you do in order to excel and be successful or extraordinary at it? Why?
I don’t think it’s important to love what you do to excel or be successful. You could easily do that whilst hating your job.
I think it’s important to love what you do because life is short and your health and wellbeing is crucial. Having a job that you love gives you a sense of fulfillment and happiness that you can carry with you. I think people who love what they do excel and succeed in work and in life.
- What inspires you? Do you have any mottos or people who have inspired you along the way?
Every day I’m inspired by the people I work with - both clients and colleagues.
Two mottos have stuck with me on this journey - My Dad (The Champ) always says “you’ve got one kick at the ball”, one chance in life to give it your best. I’ve relied on those words for years and they push me forward, to try my best and make the most of every opportunity.
My Mum always tells me “what’s for you, wont go by you”. This helps me live a life without too much pressure. I know that if I try my very hardest with something and it doesn’t work out, then it wasn’t meant to be.
- What is your best memory of Ulster University?
We recorded the most hilarious video for our Corporate Broadcasting course. My classmates and I created this story about a girl who gets into student debt. We shot scenes all round Belfast and had the best time doing it.
- Who or what at the University influenced you most?
It has to be the work experience fair. I wouldn’t be where I am today without that fair.
- If you could give any advice to someone just starting out or even to your younger self, what would it be?
Believe in yourself more and worry less. We’re all way too hard on ourselves. Give it your best shot, live your dream. If you really want to do something, go and do it. What are you waiting for?!
- What are your top tips for Ulster University students to get the most out of their time at University?
Don’t be afraid to go to your lecturers for help - they are awesome and will be delighted if you speak to them about any concerns or ideas you have. Use the gym! I found a wee jog on the treadmill did wonders for any stress.
Enjoy yourself! Don’t get bogged down by stuff. Speak up and ask for help if you need it, that’s what the staff are there for!
- What do you think makes a person ‘extraordinary’ or successful at what they do?
Just be yourself. Be kind, find something that makes you happy and do that. All of those things make you extraordinary and successful.
- Do you have dreams or goals that you have yet to fulfill?
I’d like to eventually be the Director of Communications for a national charity.
Other than that, I’d like to travel more, go to more music festivals and maybe eventually learn how to play my guitar properly.