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.



Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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