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Social media at the water’s edge (review of Michael Hyatt’s Platform)

This review first ran in the July 30th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World

By Michael Hyatt

Thomas Nelson


A quick look at the books for the Hamilton Waterfront Trust shows there’s a big problem.

The Waterfront Trust needs to spend a lot more money on advertising. Last year’s ad buy was a meager $37,000 for seven Trust-run businesses with combined revenues of more than $2 million. Eight out of every 10 ad dollars went to the Hamilton Harbour Queen. For those of you not in the know, that’s a boat and not the winner of a nautical beauty pageant.

The Waterfront Trust can’t cost-cut its way to financial sustainable. Revenues need to grow. That means more of us need to spend more of our money at the water’s edge. But we won’t go if we don’t know what’s there.

Not only does the Trust’s brain trust need to double down on its ad buy. They need to invest in social media and build a bigger and better platform beyond a website that has all the charm and personality of an instruction manual.

“A platform is the thing you have to stand on to get heard,” says author and social media expert Michael Hyatt, who has more than 400,000 monthly visitors to his website and 50,000 subscribers to his daily blog posts. “It’s your stage. Today’s platform is not build of wood or concrete or perched on a grassy hill. Today’s platform is built of people. Contacts. Connections. Followers.

“In today’s business environment, you need two things: a compelling product and a significant platform.” Hyatt says business competition has never been greater and consumers are more distracted than ever before.

A well-built platform delivers on three fronts:

  • Increased visibility that elevates you above the crowd
  • More amplification so you can be heard over the roar of the crowd
  • And greater engagement with current and prospective customers

Social media makes up the main planks in your platform. These planks include Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest, YouTube, blogs and websites.

Taken together, social media gives you a platform to start and join conversations. Share ideas. Champion a cause. Lead the charge. Offer solutions. And build an ever-expanding tribe of raving fans and loyal followers.

“Marketing may not be dead but, in the world of social media, it has morphed. Dramatically. Tribe-building is the new marketing. Marketing is no longer about shouting in a crowded marketplace; it is about participating in a dialogue with fellow travelers. Marketing is no longer about generating transactions; it is about building relationships. Marketing is no longer about exploiting a market for your own benefit; it is about serving those who share your passion – for your mutual benefit.”

An engaged tribe will sing your praises to family and friends, fans and followers both online and off. They’ll happily offer up testimonials and endorsements. They’ll share their stories and experiences. They’ll shoot videos, take photos and create some amazing social media content that casts you in favourable light.

Hyatt cautions that you must have a wow before figuring out how to build a platform and connect with your tribe.  Twitter and Facebook won’t save a lousy product or disappointing service. If anything, it will hasten your demise. To borrow a line from marketing guru David Ogilvy, “great marketing only makes a bad product fail faster.”

The Waterfront Trust has a real wow at the water’s edge. With the right social media platform, the Trust could easily connect and engage with a pretty passionate tribe. A tribe who’s looking for a safe and scenic place to run, walk and bike. To entertain in-laws and impress out-of-town guests. To go on dates. To get the kids unplugged from their iPads and Playstations and connected with the outdoors and. To throw cool parties, events and offsite retreats. And to foster an even greater sense of community and civic pride.

@jayrobb works and lives in #HamOnt and blogs at

The 2 questions you must answer with every media pitch

When pitching a story to the media, you need to answer the first two questions that every reporter, editor and producer will ask:

  1. Why should I care? Why should our readers, listeners and viewers care about the story you’re pitching? What problem are you solving? What opportunity are  you creating? How you are making our lives easier and our community a better place to call home?
  2. Why now? Why are you pitching this story now? And why should we cover it now? Do you have an upcoming event, announcement, product launch? Are you responding to something that’s already in the news and top of mind with our audience?

The better your answers to WSIC and why now, the less likely the reporter will ask WTF.  Serve up answers that are clear, compelling and concise. Don’t make reporters dig, wait or wonder. If that happens, odds are good they’ll take a pass on your pitch and move on to the next story idea.

A foolproof way to get a job & launch your career

I met with Elizabeth this morning. Elizabeth is a freshly minted grad from Sheridan College’s postgraduate public relations program. We’d never met before.  But I know the person who suggested Elizabeth pay a visit.  So we got together for an informational interview.

I was doing informational interviews 19 years ago. Like Elizabeth, I was a recent grad. I too was job hunting at a time when the economy wasn’t exactly booming.  I applied to every job in the classifieds and fired off unsolicited resumes to more than 100 employers.

This kept me busy. I built up an impressive collection of rejection letters. But it wasn’t getting me a job.

So I started booking informational interviews with senior PR professionals. For 20 minutes, I asked questions. What did they like most about their jobs? What was the biggest challenge? What skills do they look for in new hires? What advice would they give to recent grads? I never asked if they’d hire me. And I always sent a thank you note.

One of the people I met with posted a job a month later. I applied.  The manager remembered me from our informational interview. He liked my initiative and sense of humour. I landed the gig that launched my career.

Informational interviews aren’t just good for job seekers. They answer the one question all employers ask. Could I see myself spending 8 hours a day working with this person? Would they be a joy or a pain? Would they be a problem solver or a problem child?  Would they make my life easier or more stressful? Are they firmly grounded or have they cut the tether to reality?

Now,the person you meet with may not be hiring anytime soon. But odds are they have a colleague at another organization who is. And that colleague is open to endorsements and recommendations because they too want to make a low-risk, drama-free hire.

So…have you ever done informational interviews? Did it work for you?  And what was the best question you asked during your interviews?

Four non-stories that nonprofits love to continually pitch to the media


The always popular ribbon cutting ceremony, even with some guy in a Darth Vader costume with a light sabre, just isn’t news. 

There’s no question your organization does amazing, worthy work.

But don’t confuse worthy with newsworthy.

Yes, it’s great that you’re moving into a new home or a bigger place. Or that you got a major donation and  you’re looking to raise a pile of cash for a big community project.

But groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, giant fake cheque presentations and your latest fund-a-thon aren’t news.  If you’re really lucky, you might get coverage on a very, very slow news day. But don’t bank on it. Some media outlets have policies against running grip-and-grin cheque presentation photos or covering a dozen people in suits and hardhats pretending to dig a hole in the ground.

By all means, do these events to warm the hearts of your donors, Board members and senior management team. But just don’t count on much, if any, media coverage. And if you do manage to get coverage, will anyone but you actually care?

Media Relations Summer Camp Roundup

Jane Allison, the pretty remarkable Manager of Community Partnerships with The Hamilton Spectator, and I are more than happy to share our media relations summer camp gameplan with other communities that are looking to bring nonprofits & local media together.


Nearly two dozen campers from 13 community building organizations in Greater Hamilton got the chance to share their stories during  during Media Relations Summer Camp 2012 on July 10 and 12 at The Hamilton Spectator. The camp was offered free-of-charge by The Hamilton Spectator to thank local groups and organizations that are making Hamilton an even better place to call home.


The idea for Media Relations Summer Camp came out of a Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction community event a few years ago. During the event, more than 60 nonprofits and community groups prepared posters outlining how they were making Hamilton the best place to raise a child. Those posters showcased a ton of great stories that were just waiting to be told.

Further inspiration came courtesy of the Community Media Workshop. Since 1989, the Chicago-based Community Media Workshop has worked to diversify the voices in news and public debates by providing a unique mix of communications coaching for grassroots, arts and other nonprofit organizations and sourcing grassroots and community news for journalists. In connecting the community with media, the Workshop promotes news that matters.

Here in Hamilton, the Media Relations Summer Camp gives community builders a unique, hands-on opportunity to polish, practice and pitch stories to reporters, columnists and editors with The Hamilton Spectator. 


A call for applications to the 2012 Media Relations Summer Camp went out on Twitter in early June. Nearly 30 organizations registered online. To make sure every organization got a chance to make their pitch, 13 organizations were selected. Groups were picked based on the stories they wanted to tell and the media coverage they'd received in the past. The 2012 campers were:

  • The Hamilton Academy of Medicine
  • Hamilton / Burlington SPCA
  • Hammer City Roller Girls
  • Centre Francais Hamilton
  • Community Living Hamilton
  • Living Rock Ministries
  • Stolen Sisters / Sisters in Spirit Action Committee
  • Hamilton Safe Communities Coalition
  • Hamilton Arts Council
  • I Heart Hamilton Tour
  • Habitat for Humanity
  • Bob Kemp Hospice
  • YMCA of Hamilton-Burlington-Brantford

Seven PR pros generously volunteered their time and expertise to serve as camp counselors. A special thanks to our all-star line-up of counselors: 

  • Consultant Robert Plant
  • Media relations trainer Joy Shikaze  
  • Grace Diffey (Hamilton Community Foundation)
  • Brent Kinnaird (Inspire Marketing)
  • Wade Hemsworth (McMaster University)
  • Chris Farias (kitestring creative branding studio) and
  • Debbie Silva (St. Joseph's).

So here's how the camp played out…


Media Relations 101: Campers got a primer in what stories not to pitch (avoid groundbreakings, ribbon-cuttings and giant cheque presentations) and better stories to tell (focus on how their organizations create solutions, provide opportunities and build hope, resilience and prosperity). Campers also learned how to pitch (build around a person, send a clear, concise email and make it as easy as possible for the media to tell your story). 

Campers also got the details on The Hamilton Spectator's ongoing Young Professionals profiles of business and community leaders who are under 40 years of age.

The media relations primer was posted on SlideShare and also to Dropbox, along with the Young Professionals overview, tips on how to write an op-ed, media contacts in Greater Hamilton and 100 tips for effective media relations.


Campers spent the afternoon polishing their pitches with our camp counselors. Two counselors worked with 2-3 campers reviewing and strengthening their story ideas.


Conversations and key points from the day were captured on the #mediacamp Twitter hashtag.

Campers first practiced their pitches to our panel of counselors who offered constructive feedback. Each camper stood before the panel and talked about their story ideas. Campers pitched the one story they'd most like to see on the front page of The Hamilton Spectator.

Editorial Writer and Letters Editor Lee Prokaska-Curtis dropped in and gave campers an overview of how to submit both letters to the editor and opinion pieces and how to book meetings with The Hamilton Spectator's editorial board.


For 90 minutes, campers delivered their pitches to staff from The Hamilton Spectator's newsroom (Jane did the recruiting). Each camper went before the media panel for approximately five minutes to tell their story and answer questions. The panel provided both specific feedback to each pitch and general feedback to all the campers on how best to connect with The Hamilton Spectator.  A special thanks to:

  • Editor-in-Chief Paul Berton
  • Managing Editor Howard Elliott
  • Sports and Business Editor Rick Hughes
  • Columnist Susan Clairmont, and
  • Municipal Affairs Reporter Emma Reilly 


Campers got a 2-hour primer on social media courtesy of Chris Farias with kitestring. Chris demystified social media by walking the campers through Facebook, FourSquare, Twitter, Pinterest and blogs.


On Friday, a survey went out to the campers courtesy of Survey Monkey. One camper suggested that pitches be submitted by email, with the media panel then asking follow-up questions and offering feedback.

"I cannot say enough good things about the Media Relations Summer Camp. First let me say thank you for picking our organization to be part of this year's camp. This experience so exceeded  my expectations. The information you shared was right on the money. This was exactly what we needed to dramatically improve our dealings with the media and, ultimately, the amoung of ink and airtime we might be able to generate in the future. I hope you smile in the future when you hear and see more about our organization in the weeks and months ahead." — A happy camper.



Book review: The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited

This review was published in the July 16th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited

By Richard Florida

Basic Books


Back in May and at the 11th hour, city politicians put pressure on the public school board to renovate and relocate their headquarters to the former Cannon Knitting Mills in the downtown core. The school board said thanks but not thanks. So the building sits vacant and the search for a savior continues.

At around the same time, a Toronto company inked a $61.75 million deal to buy the former Lang Tannery in downtown Kitchener.

This deal was eight years in the making. In 2004, the City of Kitchener introduced a special 10-year property tax levy. The 1.25 per cent tax hike was expected to generate $110 million for an economic development investment fund earmarked specifically for postsecondary education and knowledge industries.

The city drew $30 million from the fund to help build the University of Waterloo’s $147 million school of pharmacy across from the former leather tannery. Another $6.5 million brought Wilfrid Laurier’s faculty of social work a few blocks over. A new transit hub will be also going in nearby to bring regional light-rail, Via Rail, GO Transit and buses under one roof.

Impressed by the renewal happening downtown, a developer asked about buying the former tannery in 2007.  The mayor cut his vacation short to close the sale and the city and region gave the developer just shy of $900,000 to help cover environmental clean-up costs.

The developer in turn transformed the factory into the Tannery District. The 350,000 square foot district covers two city blocks and is 95 per cent leased to dozens of companies and start-ups from technology, digital media and life sciences industries. Tenants include Google, education software company Desire2Learn and Communitech, the association representing Waterloo Region technology companies.

In our knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy, these are companies you want setting up shop in your city. And you want the people working in those companies to call your community home.

Richard Florida, the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, first christened these workers the Creative Class in 2002.

These highly skilled and sought after people work in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment. They create the new ideas, new technology and new creative content that drive productivity and prosperity. There’s also a broader group of creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields who are well compensated to solve complex problems.

On the 10th anniversary of the Rise of the Creative Class, Florida has revisited and revised what quickly became the playbook for urban renewal in many communities. His predictions and prognostications have proven true while his critics seem to have missed the mark.

The Creative Class has fared far better in weathering the economic storm compared to the Service and Working Classes. The same holds true for communities that have recruited and retained a critical mass of creative workers.

“These places are prospering, distinguished by a new model of economic development that takes shape around the 3Ts – technology, talent and tolerance. The most successful and prosperous metros excel at all three,” says Florida, citing U.S. cities like Boston, Ann Arbor, Boulder, and Ithaca where the Creative Class accounts for more than 40 per cent of the workforce.

Florida adds to the economic development mix a fourth T in territorial assets. Quality of place matters to the Creative Class. When deciding where to live and work, they ask what’s there, who’s there and what’s going on?

“Successful places do not provide just one thing; they provide a range of quality of place options for different kinds of people at different stages in their lives. Great cities are not monoliths, they are federations of neighbourhoods.”

Building a creative community is an organic process, says Florida. He argues that public boondoggles like stadiums, casinos, convention centres and entertainment districts don’t work. It’s the small things that matter most to the Creative Class. “Real economic development is people orientated and community-based. It’s a matter of providing the right conditions, planting the right seeds and then letting things take their course.

“The bottom line is that cities need a people climate as much as, and perhaps even more than, they need a business climate.” Cities like Hamilton need a smart and focused strategy for attracting and retaining charter members of the Creative Class and building our own homegrown talent. Get that right and the companies, developers and investment firms will follow. And, as Florida spells out, that’s how buildings like the Cannon Knitting Mills are reborn, cities are revitalized and the creativity inherent within us all is fully realized.