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Register online for 2012 Media Relations Summer Camp

Register online for the 2012 Media Relations Summer Camp. The camp, being held July 10 and July 12 at the Hamilton Spectator, is offered free of charge to nonprofits and community groups in Greater Hamilton. Application deadline is June 15. Up to 12 organizations will be selected to attend the camp, with up to 2 campers each. Selections will be based on the strength of the story idea proposed in the registration.

Campers need to commit to 3 things:

Attend both days (9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.).

Actively participate.

Promise not to pitch stories about cutting ribbons with giant scissors, accepting giant fake cheques, group photos of people in suits wearing hard hats and holding shiny new shovels or your next gala dinner, garage sale, golf tournament or dance-a-thon / bowl-a-thon.

Media relations summer camp July 10 & 12 for Greater Hamilton nonprofits & community groups

We're looking to start spreading the news about community builders who are making Hamilton an even better place to call home. 

The 2012 media relations summer camp takes place Tuesday, July 10 and Thursday, July 12 at The Hamilton Spectator. It's a free-of-charge, hands-on crash course in media relations for nonprofits, community groups and associations. With help from seasoned PR pros turned counsellors, campers will polish, practice and then pitch story ideas to reporters and editors. Campers will also get primers in social media and writing op-eds and a contact list of local media. Previous summer camps have resulted in front page stories in The Hamilton Spectator.

Up to 12 organizations will be selected for this year's camp. Priority will go to groups and organizations that have yet to receive much, if any, media coverage for innovative solutions that are building a stronger, healthier, more resilient and prosperous Hamilton.

Campers will need to attend both days. Camp will run approximately from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with lunch provided.

An online application form will be available early next week with a mid-June deadline. The application will be promoted through Twitter at #hamont. 

For more information on the media relations summer camp, contact Jane Allison, Community Relations Manager with The Hamilton Spectator, at or Jay Robb, Director of Communications for Mohawk College, at

Book review: The Start-Up of You

This review first ran in the May 22nd edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Start-Up of You

By Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha

Crown Business


Showcasing our city’s start-up superheroes was one of the best suggestions to come out of this month’s Hamilton Economic Summit.

Recognizing our hometown innovators and entrepreneurs is a smart move on two fronts.

First, these are the folks who are taking big risks and working long hours to launch businesses, create jobs and build prosperity. They deserve a turn in the spotlight and a show of support.

Showcasing our start-up superheroes will also benefit the rest of us in our own careers. Even if we have no interest in launching a business, everyone needs to start thinking and acting like entrepreneurs. Our careers depend on it.

“To adapt to the challenges of professional life today, we need to rediscover our entrepreneurial instincts and use them to forge new sorts of careers,” say authors Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman, the cofounder and chairman of LinkedIn. “You need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur at the helm of at least one living, growing start-up venture: your career.”

Like an entrepreneur, you need to know how to deal with uncertainty, constant change and constraint.  You need to know how to take stock of your assets, aspirations and market realities to find your competitive advantage. You need to create flexible, iterative career plans.  You need to build networks of relationships to help you along the way. You need to aggressively seek out, capitalize on and create break-out opportunities. You need to take, and know how to manage, risks.

These entrepreneurial strategies are valuable no matter your career stage, according to Hoffman and Casnocha. “They are urgent whether you’re just out of college, a decade into the workforce and angling for that next big move, or launching a brand-new career later in life.”

We need to forever be a start-up in permanent beta. “Each day presents an opportunity to learn more, do more, be more, grow more in our lives and careers. Keeping your career in permanent beta forces you to acknowledge that you have bugs, that there’s new development to do on yourself.”

Hoffman and Casnocha recommend you embrace ABZ career planning. Plan A is what you’re doing today. Plan B is the career you pivot to when you need to change either your goal or the route for getting there. Plan B tends to be in the same ballpark and related field as your Plan A. And once you’ve moved to Plan B, that becomes your new Plan A and you need line up another Plan B.

Plan Z is your fallback position and lifeboat.  “What’s your certain, reliable, stable plan if all your career plans go to hell or if you want to do a major life change?”

With any luck, you’ll never need your Plan Z. But expect to move back and forth between Plan A and Plan B because, like any true entrepreneur, you’ll be quick to adjust, change course and capitalize on opportunities.

Gone are the days of guaranteed lifetime employment. The skills you have today will likely be redundant tomorrow. We’re all part of a global economy where technology is driving rapid change, creating, reinventing and killing off entire industries without a whole lot of advance warning.

And if that wasn’t enough to stoke your entrepreneurial spirit, know that there are lots of people who can and want to have your dream job. You need to outsmart and outhustle the competition.

“The gap is growing between those who know the new career rules and have the new skills of a global economy, and those who clutch to old ways of thinking and rely on commoditized skills,” say Hoffman and Casnocha. “The question is, which are you?”

100 media relations rules

Download 100 Media Relations Rules

Lessons learned & words of wisdom from PR pros and journalists       


  1. Always start your pitch with a clear & compelling answer to the question WSIC – why should I care?
  2. Anchor and build your pitch around a person with a compelling story that we can relate to
  3. Accept that the media have no obligation to promote or cover your latest fundraiser or gala
  4. Make it as easy as possible for the media to tell your story
  5. Reporters want two things – they want a great quote and they want to go home on time (don’t keep them waiting)
  6. Never lie to cover up bad news. Your lie becomes the bigger story while trust and respect take a hit with reporters
  7. When serving up a quote, be bold, be brief and then be quiet.
  8. Reporters aren’t out to get you. But they generally don’t suffer fools gladly.
  9. If a reporter gets it wrong odds are you didn’t get it right in being clear, concise and easily understood.
  10. If you pitch a story to the press, make sure you’re around to pick up the phone if they call.
  11. When pitching a story, a three-sentence email is always better than a three-page fax.
  12. Pitching a reporter who’s on deadline is not a good way to build a good working relationship.
  13. Know that good editors and news directors will always side with their reporters when they’re in the right.
  14. Never ask to approve a reporter’s story before it’s filed. That’s the editor’s job.
  15. Showing up unannounced at a newsroom to pitch a story doesn’t work. And it sets off alarm bells.
  16. Never ask the reporter to send you a copy of the story once it’s run. Make the effort to get it yourself.
  17. Threatening to pull advertising if a story runs guarantees it will and your relations with the reporter are shot.
  18. After talking with a reporter for 30 minutes, never a good idea to say “but don’t quote me on that or use my name”.
  19. A giant fake cheque presentation is never news.
  20. Know that the reporter at your daily paper didn’t write the headline that went with your story.
  21. If you can’t comment, say why (HR matter, investigation underway).
  22. Don’t be a fair weather friend – be accessible whether the reporter’s working on a good news or bad news story.
  23. Read, watch and listen to the media you’re pitching stories to.
  24. Know that your snarky, ALL CAPS rant to a reporter will be forwarded to the entire newsroom (same for late night phone calls)
  25. Include the agenda and times with event invites so reporters don’t waste 60 minutes watching you eat a rubber chicken dinner.
  26. The ideal op-ed (opposite editorial) is 750 words with one big idea, three supporting facts and a close that has a call to action.
  27. Unless you have really big news to announce, don’t waste your time holding a news conference.
  28. The best interviews with reporters are like two-way conversations and not Q&A sessions or cross-examinations.
  29. When a crisis hits and media call, acknowledge the problem and highlight your solution to fix and avoid a repeat.
  30. First three questions to ask a reporter – when’s your deadline, what’s your story angle and who else are you talking to?
  31. Cutting ribbons with giant scissors is not news.
  32. When pitching a good news story, put a real client / patient / student front and centre to tell your story.
  33. Boardrooms are boring. So too are office cubicles. Get out to the frontlines for photos and video. Makes for a far better backdrop.
  34. Who in your organization has the most compelling story? That’s the poster child to build your pitch around.
  35. Charity golf tournaments are not news, even with big name celebrities teeing off.
  36. Before talking with a reporter, nail down a clear, concise and compelling key message.
  37. Reporters are not obligated to publicize your fundraiser, no matter how slow ticket sales may be.
  38. Never bait and switch. The story you pitch to the media is the story you talk with reporters about if they follow up.
  39. It’s never about you. Your pitch is about the people you serve and how you’re making their lives easier and our community better.
  40. Don’t pitch a story until you can pitch your big idea in one sentence (and not a run-on sentence).
  41. If you don’t like the media, do yourself and your organization a favour. Change jobs.
  42. Pitching a story to everyone in a newsroom all but guarantees that no one will run with it.
  43. Pitch the right story to the right reporter. The court reporter is not likely to do a story on your new community garden.
  44. Anticipate the tough questions reporters could ask. These questions shouldn’t be a mystery.
  45. Your job is to pitch what your story is about. The reporter’s job is to decide the best way to tell the story.
  46. Every good news story is a deposit in your organization’s trust and forgiveness account. You never want a negative balance.
  47. When a reporter asks a negative question, don’t repeat the question in your answer.
  48. Before demanding a correction, ask yourself if anyone else cares that you’re a director and not a manger as reported.
  49. Read Ryerson Review of Journalism cover to cover. Best magazine on media trends and personalities.
  50. Never corner and pitch stories to reporters who are off the clock and spending time with their families.
  51. Earn a reputation as a resident expert on a specific topic. Be accessible, knowledgeable and quotable.
  52. Package your pitch with one to two folks from your organization, a 3rd party expert plus some key facts and stats.
  53. Always fire off an email thanking reporters for their coverage and highlighting how their stories made a difference.
  54. Be as forthright with bad news as you are when news is good.
  55. You’re not a reporter’s friend. You’re a resource for the reporter. Don’t confuse the two.
  56. Tell the story about how your organization has a proven solution to a big challenge facing your organization.
  57. Meeting a reporter’s deadline is good. Beating a reporter’s deadline? Even better.
  58. 20-second answers work best for TV and radio. Any shorter or longer and you’ve served up an unworkable soundbite.
  59. Steer clear of anyone who asks you to pay for advertising that’s dressed up and disguised as news.
  60. It might work for your kids but badgering a reporter over and over again to run your story doesn’t work.
  61. Run away from any PR consultant who offers to blast your story idea to 1,000+ reporters. It’s called spam and no one reads it. Although you’ll pay for it.
  62. Beware the pregnant pause. Don’t ramble to fill the silence after your answer and the reporter’s next question. This is where many folks stray off message.
  63. Taking shots at reporters in speeches might get you cheap laughs but it will definitely make you seem thin-skinned.
  64. Use this pre-interview briefing template from Heather Whaling with Geben Communications.
  65. Don’t know the answer to a reporter’s question? Say so. Never guess. Get back to the reporter when you have the answer.
  66. For good or bad, how you respond to a crisis will become the story.
  67. Get in front of bad news as fast as you can. And focus on what your organization is doing to avoid a repeat performance.
  68. What if no one shows up? First question to ask if someone helpfully suggests “let’s hold a press conference!”.
  69. Make your story pitches hyperbole free. Strip out all adjectives and adverbs. And never use the word “gamechanging”.
  70. Read and then reread Damage Control by Eric Dezenhall and John Weber. Best book on crisis management.
  71. Avoid doing any interview cold. If a reporter calls out of the blue, buy yourself 30-60 minutes to prepare.
  72. Get right to the point with your pitch. Say the most with the least amount of words possible.
  73. Do not call reporters three minutes after emailing your story pitch to see if they got your email.
  74. For an event or announcement at 10 a.m., don’t send out your media invites at 9:45 a.m.
  75. Don’t speculate on the motives, intentions or thoughts of others. Have a reporter talk to that person themselves.
  76. When sending out a media release, include contact information for follow-up (you’d be surprised how often this doesn’t happen).
  77. Don’t email attachments with your pitches. Include links to web-posted information instead.
  78. If you have big news to announce, try an editorial board meeting instead of a news conference.
  79. Never promise a reporter what you can’t deliver (interview with a client / patient / senior exec / employee).
  80. Know when to shut up.
  81. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. is the sweet spot for events and announcement when you’re hoping for media coverage.
  82. If your organization only gets bad news, don’t blame the media. Do a better job of pitching good news story ideas.
  83. Just because your cause is worthy doesn’t mean it’s automatically newsworthy.
  84. Make it easy for the reporter to pitch your story to their editor / producer.
  85. TV needs great visuals. Radio needs great sound.
  86. Skip the swag. Reporters don’t need trinkets and trash. They want compelling stories.
  87. Don’t call the newsroom and ask to talk with a reporter. Do your homework. Know who to talk with.
  88. When making your pitch, reference related stories the reporter has filed.
  89. Quality trumps quantity. Be known for pitching good story ideas. Reporters will look for what you send. Less likely to automatically hit delete.
  90. Be a gracious host when a reporter pays a visit. If you charge for parking, comp it.
  91. Is it new, the first ever or unusual? Lots of people affected? Compelling human interest story? That’s news.
  92. Best litmus test for clear messaging – will your mom understand what you’re saying? And will she care?
  93. Assume everything is on the record. Don’t talk for 20 minutes and then say but don’t quote me on that.
  94. A website refresh or launch of a Twitter feed and Facebook page for your organization is not news.
  95. A picky point but it’s called a media release and not a press release. Radio and TV don’t use printing presses.
  96. Have check against delivery copies of speeches and remarks on hand for reporters (a bonus if you can email the speeches in advance).
  97. Don’t put exclamation marks in your email tips and pitches to reporters! Doesn’t make it more newsworthy!
  98. Don’t take it personally when a reporter postpones or cancels your interview to cover breaking news.
  99. Refusing to talk with a reporter won’t kill a story. Good reporters always find someone else to interview.
  100. When you come across a great story that's not about your organization, pass the tip along to a reporter.

Book review: Return on influence by Mark Schaefer

This review first ran in the May 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Return on Influence: The Revolutionary Power of Klout, Social Scoring and Influence Marketing

By Mark Schaefer


I’m influential when it comes to magic.

So says Klout, a company that measures our online influence by pulling data from social networks like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn.

I’m not sure where the data is coming from.

I’ve never tweeted about magic. Never followed a magician, fired off a link to a magic video or joined a discussion group for aspiring magicians.

Truth is, I enjoy magicians about as much as mimes.

When watching talent shows, I cheer when the magician bores the judges, blows the trick and makes an early exit. And I feel bad for the wife or girlfriend who, out of desperation or denial, stands by her man in a bedazzled bikini.

While I’ve yet to tweet about magic, I’ve offered up more than 50 rules on how to pitch stories to reporters.

I’ve also shared some reasons to love Hamilton beyond bike lanes, food trucks and James St. North.

I’m not sure any of these tweets make me influential. But I know beyond a doubt that Klout is finding ways to sell this information to a growing roster of 3,000 corporate clients that include Nike, Disney and Virgin America.

Author and business consultant Mark Schaefer says status-ranking companies like Klout are at the forefront of a new marketing gold rush. “For the first time, the world’s biggest brands have a way to cost-effectively and rapidly identify, connect with, and nurture customers who are their megaconnectors in niche markets.”

Citizen influencers with high Klout scores get showered with swag and treated like VIPs. With more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, Valentina Monte is one of those citizen influencers that companies covet. Monte got a $10 gift card from Subway. She tweeted and took pictures when she got her card and ordered her sandwich. She checked in with Foursquare while she was Subway. Friends retweeted and tweeted Monte. Subway got a lot of mileage out of a $10 gift card.

But Klout cuts both ways. There’s the cautionary tale of a marketing exec who got called out on his low Klout score during an job interview. The job went to a candidate with a higher score.

“To many, this whole trend is starting to feel a lot like high school,” says Schaefer. “The people with high Klout scores are the cool kids. But in addition to the very emotional and visceral reactions of being rated in a public way, there are many legitimate concerns about the social scoring trend, privacy, the underlying methodology and its implications.”

Of course, there’s an underground economy of cheating and gaming the algorithm used by Klout to set scores.  On eBay, you can buy false Twitter accounts preloaded with thousands of followers. There’s autoposting, tweet blitzes, spam bots and fake Foursquare mayorships.

If you want to improve your Klout score without cheating, Schaefer recommends three steps. Build a relevant network by choosing wisely who to follow.  Have a strategy to provide compelling, value-added content. And engage influencers with high scores who will distribute your content to their networks.

“We are entering the age of the Citizen Influencer, in which every person has a chance to get behind the velvet rope and be treated like a rock star. You too can discover the power of your own return on influence. And in fact, many companies already have.”

@jayrobb works and lives in Hamilton and has a Klout score just shy of  40.