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Meet the Hamilton Spectator’s 2013 media relations summer campers

Thanks to everyone who applied for the Hamilton Spectator’s 2013 media relations summer camp (#mediacamp).  The free annual camp for local nonprofits and community groups will run June 25 and 27. Campers, with the help of PR pros volunteering as camp counsellors, will polish, practice and then pitch story ideas to a panel of reporters and editors.  We’re looking forward to hearing some great story ideas from a pretty cool crew of campers:

  1. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hamilton and Burlington
  2. Locke Street Festival / Locke Street Merchants’ Association
  3. Green Venture
  4. YWCA Hamilton
  5. The CASTLE project
  6. McQuesten Community Planning Team
  7. Hamilton Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
  8. Great Big Theatre Company
  9. Earth Day Hamilton-Burlington
  10. Ronald McDonald House Hamilton
  11. South Sherman Hub
  12. Hamilton Civic League
  13. Urban Native Homes, Inc.
  14. St. Joseph’s Villa – Adult Day Program
  15. Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra
  16. Dundas in Transition
  17. Bright Run (Juravinksi Hospital and Cancer Centre)
  18. Catholic Family Services Hamilton
  19. Immigrant Women’s Centre
  20. Wesley Urban Ministries
  21. Hamilton Out of the Cold
  22. Neighbour to Neighbour

Review: Ethical Chic – the inside story of the companies we think we love

ethical chicThis review was first published in the May 21 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love

By Fran Hawthorne

Beacon Press


You shop local and never set foot in a big box store.

The only coffee you drink is fair trade, shade grown and organic.

You only eat what’s grown within 160 kilometres from home and follow a farm to fork philosophy.

Nothing you wear was made in a sweatshop or tested on animals.

You’re loyal to businesses that pay living wages and let workers do community work on company time.

You’re happy to pay a premium for the privilege of looking good, feeling good and doing good.

You’re an ethically hip consumer and coveted by companies large and small, new and old. And if you’re in your teens to thirties with disposable income and no kids, there are businesses that will pull out all the stops to win your wallet.

Those companies have a lot to live up, says Fran Hawthorne, an award-winning journalist and author of Ethical Chic.

“In this age of consumer activism, pinpoint marketing and unlimited and immediate information, we want the impossible,” says Hawthorne. “Products and producers that will assure us that we are fashionable, and that don’t pollute, harm animals, or contain weird chemicals, that run on alternative energy, pay their workers good salaries, recycle their scraps, use natural ingredients, buy from local suppliers, donate generously to charity, donate in particular to their neighbourhoods, and don’t throw their weight around by lobbying.”

As more businesses adopt corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles, it gets harder to know what’s real and what’s greenwashing, marketing hype and public relations spin. By one count, there are more than 350 environmental seals and certifications. There’s no shortage of best employer lists for every category imaginable.

“The more that businesses incorporate the image of socially responsible hipness, the harder it is for consumers. How can they tell whether the picture of happy cows grazing in a meadow is a marketing mirage?

“The best way to judge whether to trust a corporate image is to remember that these companies are out to make a buck, and they will be most likely to go green, humane and squishy if it makes business sense,” says Hawthorne.

To put CRS claims to the test, Hawthorne looks at six companies currently blessed with the double halo of being loved and trusted as ethical and cool: Tom’s of Main, Timberland, Starbucks, Apple, Trader’s Joe and American Apparel.

Hawthorne goes shopping. talks to experts, weighs the data and gives these companies a mix of high marks, average scores and failing grades for how they treat people and the planet.

Take Starbuck’s coffee sourcing policies. “The image is and isn’t true,” says Hawthorne.  Yes, the company is the world’s biggest buyer of fair trade coffee. But Hawthorne says in 2009, it bought 40 million pounds of fair trade coffee which represented about one-ninth of the company total.

Environmental consultant Fred Pearce talked with farmers in Tanzania who were getting a premium price of $1.46 per pound for fair trade coffee or about 20 cents above average. Yet the buyers then sold the same beans for $12 retail.

“Even if it’s only image, CSR has become an integral part of many companies’ brands,” says Hawthorne. “Timberland would just be a bunch of sturdy boots without it. American Apparel would have no protection against accusations of sleaze. Starbucks would be another chain selling gourmet coffee, perhaps no better than Dunkin’ Donuts, certainly less cool than a neighbourhood café. Trader Joe’s would still be a cute alternative grocer but it wouldn’t be a cuter version of Whole Foods. Tom’s wouldn’t exist.”

Hawthorne also raises an uncomfortable question for us to ponder while sipping our $4 fair trade coffee, cracking open our $12 organic craft beer, grilling a $30 steak and feeling virtuous and a little smug and superior to big box shoppers chasing after the lowest prices guaranteed.

“To be socially responsible is to care about the welfare of low-income and working-class people who can’t afford $5.92-per-pound grass-fed, pasture-raised, no-antibiotic, no-added hormones ground beef,” says Hawthorne.  “Being socially responsible in terms of the environment, working conditions, animal rights, organic and natural ingredients, and other typical standards by definition requires a company to be socially irresponsible in terms of bias against working-class and low-income consumers.”

And for the companies that say well-heeled shoppers buying expensive, socially responsible products help subsidize projects for the poor, Hawthorne’s less than impressed by these acts of organic Robin Hood.

“There’s something grating and patronizing about this explanation. The poor can’t use Tom’s healthful toothpaste but they should be grateful that Tom’s staffers might hand them mashed potatoes at a soup kitchen?”

So when it comes to companies projecting a progressive image with a CSR patina, what you see and pay for may not be what you get. Caveat emptor.

Review: Producing Prosperity: Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance

Building ProsperityThis review first ran in the May 6 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Producing Prosperity: Why America Needs a Manufacturing Renaissance

By Gary Pisano and Willy Shih

Harvard Business Review Press


It’s a view of Hamilton that’s launched more than a thousand hours worth of rebranding consults, workshops and roundtables.

Drive across the Skyway Bridge and what do you see?

Maybe you keep your eyes on the road and dream of a postindustrial Hamilton where art is the new steel, everyone’s a knowledge worker and the factory floors and blast furnaces of Burlington Street are replaced with parks, biking and hiking trails and independent, fair trade coffee houses offering free Wi-Fi.

Or maybe you look out from the Skyway Bridge and see jobs and prosperity. You see thousands of Hamiltonians earning decent wages, paying off mortgages, putting their kids through school and saving for retirement. You see entrepreneurs and business owners finding new and smarter ways to sell even more made-in-Hamilton products close to home and around the world.

If we took Building Prosperity authors Gary Pisano and Willy Shih for a drive over the Skyway Bridge, they’d see an industrial commons worth fighting for.

Think of an industrial commons as a collection of manufacturers, suppliers and workers from different industries along with post-secondary institutions. Within a commons is a wealth of technological know-how, operational capabilities and specialized skills that make fertile ground for innovation.

“In an increasingly globalized world, location paradoxically matters more, not less, for companies because it can mean privileged access to capabilities in a commons that can keep you ahead of the competition,” say Pisano and Shih. “The presence of an industrial commons can exert a powerful gravitational pull on the location of industries and innovation.”

But the commons is under siege thanks to North America’s experiment in deindustrialization.

“Some economists see no cause for concern,” say Pisano and Shih. “In their eyes, the decline of manufacturing is a natural and healthy evolution toward a more knowledge-based economy focused on services and innovation. We argue that such a perspective is deeply flawed. The data tells a consistent and alarming story. When a country loses the capability to manufacture, it loses the ability to innovate.”

Yet when we talk about fostering a culture of innovation in Hamilton, do we think about it happening in the industrial heart of our city or in renovated downtown lofts and west end research labs?

“Innovation and manufacturing are often viewed as residing at opposite ends of the economic spectrum – innovation being all about the brain (knowledge work) and manufacturing all about brawn (physical work),” say Pisano and Shih.

The myths and misconceptions don’t stop there. There’s the belief that innovation requires highly skilled, highly paid white collar professionals while manufacturing gets by on low-skilled, low-paid blue collar workers. Or innovation is a high-valued-added specialty while manufacturing is just a low-value-added commodity. And innovation is creative and clean while manufacturing’s dirty and dull.

Having toured hundreds of factories in every industry the world over, Pisano and Shih say it’s a wildly inaccurate view. “In most factories we have visited, we have seen a lot more brain than brawn at work. Manufacturing has become knowledge work.”

And here’s why believing you can have innovation without manufacturing is a dangerous assumption. When manufacturing pulls up stakes, the industrial commons starts eroding. Suppliers struggle and go out of business. Companies in other industries that rely on those suppliers join the exodus. Highly skilled workers leave. “Even worse, the loss of a commons may cut off future opportunities for the emergence of new innovative sectors if they require access to the same capabilities,” warn Pisano and Shih. “The foundation upon which future innovative sectors can be built is crumbling.”

Four decades ago, American companies offshored to Asia what was then seen as low-value-added consumer electronics manufacturing.  But the commons that built those products is now the innovation hub for designing and building compact, high-capacity, rechargeable lithium ion batteries.  The same holds true for photovoltaic cells.

Pisano and Shih aren’t making a blanket call to save all manufacturing and don’t see an industrial renaissance creating a whole lot of new jobs thanks to technological advances. But they are calling on political and business leaders to do far more to strengthen advanced manufacturing in key industries that set the foundation for future innovation.  More investments in basic and applied research and greater awareness of the critical link between designing and making products are among their prescriptions.

“Manufacturing matters when it is integral to the process of innovation. The common assumption that the United States can prosper as an innovator without manufacturing is a dangerous one. In some contexts, manufacturing is just as important to the innovation ecosystem as strong universities, outstanding research and development and vibrant venture capital.”

So here’s hoping made-in-Hamilton light weight steel is the new art.  We stop apologizing and agonizing over the view from the Skyway Bridge.  And we start seeing our city’s industrial heart as an innovation hub and one of our city’s best competitive advantages.

Apply today for 2013 Media Relations Summer Camp in Hamilton

NOTE: As of May 3, we only have 12 spots left.

Nonprofits and community groups from Greater Hamilton are invited to apply for the 2013 Media Relations Summer Camp presented free of charge by the Hamilton Spectator and Mohawk College. This year’s camp runs Tuesday, June 25 and Thursday, June 27 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Hamilton Spectator.

Working with local PR pros, campers will polish, practice and then pitch story ideas to a panel of editors and reporters. Pitches at previous camps have led to coverage in The Hamilton Spectator.  Along with pitching stories, campers will get:

  • A primer in media relations, including 3 ways nonprofits and community groups can get more and better press
  • Advice on how to pen letters to the editor and op-eds
  • Advice on how to request and what to expect at an editorial board meeting
  • And a contact list for local media

Register online by May 24. Up to 20 nonprofits & groups will take part in this year’s camp. Successful registrants will be notified by May 31.

The Media Relations Summer Camp was launched five years ago to help local groups spread the news about their community-building successes.

WHAT: 2013 Media Relations Summer Camp

WHEN: Tuesday, June 25 and Thursday, June 27, 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

WHERE: Hamilton Spectator auditorium

WHO: Up to 20 nonprofits and community groups from Greater Hamilton

COST: Free of charge as a thank you to local community builders