Interview: Chris Bicknell, IC Manager for McDonald’s in the UK and Ireland
Welcome to the latest installment of my interview series with internal comms professionals.
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Chris Bicknell is the internal comms manager for the UK and Ireland, a post he’s held for just a few months. Previously he was the internal comms manager for easyJet. At McDonald’s Chris manages the flow of information from the center to a variety of distinct audiences: office staff, restaurant workers, and franchisees. The corporate center, McDonald’s UK and Ireland, has about 800 employees, while franchise owners and restaurant “crew members” add up to about 120,000.
I wanted to speak with Chris while he was still new at McDonald’s to get his “outsider” take on the comms operations before he became embedded in the culture, operations, and brand.
In this interview Chris:
- Describes a unique internal comms series that puts everyday employees in connection with executives, including the CEO
- Lists the four main ways his team communicates with employees, franchise owners, and restaurant workers
- Compares and contrasts internal comms between easyJet and McDonald’s
- Reveals his favorite McDonald’s menu item
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Describe your team.
There are four of us. I report to the head of Internal Communications. He partners with execs for leadership comms, ad hoc messaging, and generally sets the direction for our team. One of my colleagues started as a crew member working in a McDonald’s restaurant, so he can give valuable insights into what will be of interest to our audience. Another of my teammates has a background in PR. They manage day to day activities, operational comms (e.g., announcing new products or new processes), and newsletters.
What exactly do you do?
My remit is broad at the moment. I’m trying to take our comms “off the page,” make it more exciting, do something different. It gives me freedom but it’s a big thing to explore and to get right. So that’s why I am looking at crew storytelling. I want to help bring the company strategy to life. I want to help the main office see how their projects affect people who work in our restaurants. I want to bring it altogether and give it purpose.
What has surprised you about internal comms at McDonald’s so far?
I’m surprised at how small the team is given that our business is massive. There are 120,000 people working under the McDonald’s brand in the UK and Ireland, but we are a team of four.
Also, we don’t have direct contact with our franchisee audience — crew members don’t have corporate email addresses or devices. It’s almost as if we’re more in marketing than in comms. The crew member newsletter, for example, is opt-in only with personal email addresses.
And every franchisee runs their business differently. Some franchises run their own comms and some groups may use alternate channels like WhatsApp to communicate with employees. We produce content for them, but it’s up to franchise owners to share that content with their crew members.
Between easyJet and McDonald’s, what are the similarities in internal comms?
The biggest similarity is in the type of audience. At easyJet our main audience consisted of cabin crews and pilots. At McDonald’s it’s restaurant employees. Both audiences are customer-service-driven. At both companies employees are time-poor, remote shift workers, not all of whom have company-issued devices.
And what are the main differences?
easyJet has a strong trade union culture across eight countries that works based on local conditions with local unions. The unions have a powerful voice with their members, which then influences the broader employee base. When it came to change communications, we needed to make sure that we were in sync with the union leadership.
Because most crew members work for individual business owners there is less of a structured union culture at McDonald’s. We are marketing to these people to see what works. It’s relatively light touch. It’s not a corporate-to-employee thing — it’s communicating about the brand you work with.
🚪 How do you communicate?
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- McDonald’s’ four distinct employee audiences
- the types of communication they receive
- the tools the team uses to publish and distribute communications
- and see a screenshot of one of the publications
What is the most popular type of content?
Franchisees like detail. They are business owners. They want to know how the bottom line will be impacted and want to be involved in decisions. We don’t need to be succinct with them. We can go into nuts and bolts details. For example, we can explain in detail how an order goes from placement to delivery to the customer and the developments around in-store versus delivery, as well as the costs of installation, equipment, options for layout, estimations for improvement, estimates in increases in customers, and so on.
For crew members the feel-good stuff works. It helps them see how what they do has an impact on the world outside their restaurant. It puts a local face on a very global brand. Leaders in local communities and charity partners know franchise owners, so showing how they connect to the community resonates well.
What’s your morning routine?
I get out of bed at 8:30 and I’m at my desk at 9:00. In the summer I’ll go for a walk before I get to my desk.
What’s your favorite McDonald’s menu item?
What’s your most-used app?
WhatsApp or Spotfiy.
Shuffle your Spotify playlist. What are the first three songs that appear?
“Always” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
“White Flag” by Dido
“Escape Artists Never Die” by Funeral for a Friend
I’m quite happy with that result!
If you weren’t in internal comms, what would you be doing?
I think about this all the time. When I was at easyJet every year I thought about becoming a pilot. But it costs about 110,000 pounds. Even if I had that sort of money I am fickle and I get bored easily, so I didn’t want to spend all that money and then give it up after three years.
What do your parents think you do for a living?
[laughter] They know I do internal comms but I think they just say it. I don’t think they know what it is. I say it’s like being a journalist for a company. When I was a child I thought that I would be a journalist one day, but internal comms is easier to get into and you get a stable paycheck.