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Recap & evaluation of the 2013 Media Relations Summer Camp at The Hamilton Spectator

Thanks to the 22 nonprofits and community groups from Greater Hamilton that took part in the 6th annual media relations summer camp at the Hamilton Spectator June 25 and 27.  The camp is offered free of charge as a thank-you to community builders who are making Hamilton a better place to call home. The camp aims to help nonprofits and community groups tell better stories and get more coverage that advances their vision, mission and strategic priorities.

Here’s a quick recap of the camp:

Tuesday, June 25

The camp kicked off with a media relations primer, showing that nonprofits have better stories to pitch beyond grip and grin cheque presentations, groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, fundraisers, annual general meetings and golf tournaments.  Campers were encouraged to build a story pitch around a person with a compelling story, become resident experts for media in their field of expertise and look for opportunities to get coverage through newsjacking.

Campers then broke into small groups and used worksheets to prepare story pitches. Six public relations and journalism pros volunteered their time as camp counselors to help campers polish and practice their pitches (tip of the hat to counselors Megan Bieksa, Trish Nelson, Grace Diffey, Carrie Trembinski, Kurt Muller and Reba Shahid).

Hamilton Spectator managing editor Jim Poling and reporters Joanna Frketich and Molly Hayes did a noon-hour, working lunch Q&A session with the campers, offering advice on how to pitch stories and work with reporters and editors.

The Q&A was followed by a social media primer by Stephanie Shuster, studio manager with KITESTRING.

Campers then finished working on their story ideas, which were formatted as mock email pitches and turned into a handout. A smaller group of campers ended their day with a tour of the Spectator newsroom.

Thursday, June 27

Jane Allison, manager of community partnerships with the Hamilton Spectator, gave an overview of how the newspaper supports nonprofits and community groups.

Editor Lee Prokaska gave campers a primer on how to write and submit letters to the editor and op-eds and how to request and what to expect during editorial boards.

Over a working lunch, 11 campers read their story pitches to a review panel that featured managing editor Hoaward Elliott, city editor Carla Ammerata, editors Aviva Boxer and Cheryl Stepan columnist Susan Clairmont and reporter Emma Reilly. The panel highlighted what worked and what could be improved with each pitch.

The camp closed with a workshop on how to give on-camera interviews and shoot videos by Mohawk College Journalism professors Kurt Muller and David Smillie and student Scott Summerhayes.

The story pitched by the Hamilton Youth Steel Orchestra became the first from the camp to land in the pages of the Spectator, running as the GO Weekend cover story on June 29.


Did you learn anything new at the media relations summer camp?

Yes – 100%

Was the media relations camp a good use of your time?

Yes – 100%

Would you recommend the media relations camp to a friend or colleague

Yes – 100%

How did we measure up

  • 18 – exceeded expectations
  • 3 – met expectations
  • 1 – fell short of expectations

What did you value most about the camp?

  • The advice from real professionals about how to pitch stories to the media.
  • Free of charge.
  • Pitching media releases to panel!!
  • I also appreciated the counsellor advice on day one.
  • I really valued learning about the process of pitching stories and the panel discussions about what worked and what was the catch.
  • Ability to hone my pitch by being forced to think like a reporter. It is very logical and basic but because it is not implied, we should make that known.
  • Useful to know what stories work / did not.
  • The pitch concept and practice.
  • Letters to the editor
  • Camera interviews
  • Every day / practical recommendations
  • Input for improvement / keys to success
  • Practical knowledge – great to meet people from the news industry and nonprofits
  • Media contact list
  • The sessions on pitching a news story
  • Feedback from the panel
  • Learning how to contact reporters and to know that they are accessible
  • Learning how to write pitches
  • The tips about getting a story into print
  • Thank you for taking up our story and getting us published immediately
  • Tips from the Spec reporters
  • Realizing wordsmithing  is not overly important
  • Q&A sessions
  • Hands-on, practical activities
  • Learning exactly what media is looking for when writing an article
  • Looking for pitch material that takes the ordinary and frames it as extraordinary
  • Learning how to get media coverage
  • Real people in the business being willing to share their expertise. I really felt that the fears and mistrust I had in the media has been replaced with an understanding of who the reporters are, what their challenges are and how I can best work with them. Having met real reporters, I see they are approachable.
  • Variety of presenters and topics
  • Clarification of how the Spec works and how to approach staff
  • The advice came from people who work in the industry – it’s so valuable to hear what they have to say
  • Putting a face / person behind the media makes it less scary
  • Learning how to work with reporters, make their lives easier
  • Tips for communication – I feel certain that I’ll be successful at getting media coverage in the future
  • Pitch and feedback
  • Camp counsellors helpful
  • General atmosphere was great
  • Camera interviews
  • Listening to the experts
  • Listening to the Spec journalists / editors critiques
  • Hearing from Lee on letters and op-eds
  • Jay’s lesson on how to make a pitch
  • How to access the Spec and stories in
  • On camera interviews
  • Conversations with editors
  • Learning about editorial boards
  • Writing advice – newspaper was helpful

If you could improve one thing about the camp, what would it be?

  • More info on social media
  • Turn down the air conditioning
  • Hear more about Mohawk’s assistance to nonprofits and community groups
  • Provide microphones – I couldn’t hear 60% of the speakers until they were microphoned
  • Make the room warmer
  • Incorporate a lunch break – even if 15-20 minutes. I felt that eating and moving around while presenters were talking could be distracting and I might miss something
  • Perhaps turn off the LCD display while presenters are talking
  • Oval seating might make hearing each other easier
  • Please turn up the heat
  • More on-the-spot practice – loved pitching to the editorial board, loved practicing on-camera.
  • Make the camp longer – maybe a full week – lots to learn and a great use of time
  • The temperature in the room
  • Climate control
  • If it were twice as long, we would learn twice as much
  • Please do not schedule pitches while food is sitting. Move pitches to earlier in the morning. Second morning had wasted time. It felt uncomfortable pitching while judges were looking at food.
  • The room was freezing. Please turn down the air conditioner.

Other comments:

  • Great camp. Thanks to all for presenting and organizing.
  • Great venue, great speakers and food
  • Instead of pitching directly, what can we do as organizations to leave a trail and give reporters the tools to come to us asking for a story? Perhaps a primer / workshop on marketing our ideas, making it easy for reporters to gain information without having to speak to us too much
  • Thank you so much for helping to build my media relations tool belt
  • Thanks to Jane Robb and Jane Allison
  • Thank you for this opportunity – a wonderful learning experience
  • Thank you for the opportunity. It is a valuable resource to the community, increasing accessibility and removing barriers between community and media. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us.
  • Jay and Jane were awesome facilitators.
  • Jay and Jane, you guys are awesome. Thanks so much.
  • Would love some social media training and tips as it is a growing component of the media package
  • I really enjoyed my time and feel much more confident and comfortable with getting media coverage for my organization
  • This was such a great opportunity. I learned a lot. I also enjoyed the tour of the newsroom.
  • Jane and Jay were wonderful facilitators. Thank you.
  • Loved it.
  • I hope this happens again.
  • Greatly appreciated Spec and Mohawk collaboration on providing a free workshop
  • Thank you for the opportunity and for providing snacks and lunch. It was greatly appreciated.
  • Valuable program. Well worth time off work.

For more on the camp, email or . Highlights from the camp were also tweeted at #mediacamp

Review: Happy Money – The Science of Smarter Spending

happy moneyThis review first ran in the June 17 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending

By Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton

Simon & Schuster


Anyone who says money can’t buy happiness is lying, denying or not being smart in how they spend their disposable income.

Money is buying me and my kids a three-day stay at Darien Lake to kick off the summer. During our 2013 No Parental Supervision Summer Road Trip to the amusement and water park, we’ll aim to set endurance records on the motorcycle roller coaster, river rafting ride and swinging pirate ship. We’ll turn self-serve slushies into a food group. And we’ll stay up way past our bedtimes.

I’m jazzed than the kids and not just because the price is right, the park is spotless, the staff are friendly and the line-ups are short.

I’m banking on happy roadtrip memories to carry me through the fast-approaching,  door-slamming teenage years where I’ll get recast as       the clueless and uncool dad who denies my kids their fun and freedom and totally ruins their lives.

Springing for experiences like summer roadtrips is one of five principles put forward by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, associate professors and authors of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.

When it comes to happiness, it’s less about how much we make and more about how we spend our hard-earned dollars. “Around the world, income has surprisingly little influence on whether people smile, laugh and experience enjoyment on a typical day,” say Dunn and Norton.

According to the research, once we earn around $75,000 a year, making more money has zero impact on our day-to-day feelings of happiness.

“Before you spend that $5 as you usually would, stop to ask yourself is this happy money? Am I spending this money in the way that will give me the biggest happiness bang for my buck?”

To get more bang for your buck, incorporate these five research-backed principles into your day-to-day spending habits:

Buy experiences.  Most of us already know what the research shows. Material things like 80-inch flatscreens, monster homes and luxury SUVs deliver less happiness than experiential purchases, like roadtrips, family vacations, concerts and events. The rush we might get from buying stuff fades fast while the experiential high lingers. “Experiential purchases not only provide us with entertaining anecdotes but also add texture to our broader life stories.

Make it a treat.  “If abundance is the enemy of appreciation, scarcity may be our best ally,” say Dunn and Norton.  Routinely drinking a Caramel Ribbon Crunch Frappuccino from Starbucks every day won’t make you as happy as having it once a week or month. “While there is no convincing evidence that reducing consumption provides a panacea for increasing happiness, a growing body of research suggests that altering consumption patterns can provide a route to getting more happiness for less money.”

Buy time. Wherever possible, outsource the tasks you dread so there’s more time to do what you love. “People who feel they have plenty of free time are more likely to exercise, do volunteer work, and participate in other activities that are linked to increased happiness.” And think long and hard if you’re considering a longer, happiness-killing commute just to earn more money, live in a bigger house and drive a bigger car.

Pay now and consume later. We tend to get more joy from things coming to us in the future than from things that we’ve already received.  Delay builds positive expectations. This is why planning a vacation is often just as exciting as the trip itself.

“Spending money on others can increase your happiness even more than spending your cash on yourself.” Look for ways to make it a choice, make a connection and make an impact. The authors sing the praises of Spread the Net as a nonprofit that lets donors make a clear impact by giving $10 to buy one net and save lives.

“Fifty years of psychological research has shown that most of the action in human thought and emotion takes place beneath the level of conscious awareness – and so trying to uncover the causes of your own happiness through introspection is like trying to perform your own heart transplant,” say Dunn and Norton. “You have some idea of what needs to be done, but a surgical expert would come in handy. Consider us your surgical experts.”

While there are stacks of books and armies of experts ready to tell you how to make more money, Dunn and Norton show you how to spend smarter and buy yourself more happiness.  They also show how companies can apply the five happy money principles to win the loyalty of customers and employees.

Review: Give and Take – A Revolutionary Approach to Success

a takeThis review first ran in the June 3 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

By Adam Grant



I stole the idea and then Jane Allison kicked it up a notch.

Back in 2008, the good folks at the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction asked if I’d proofread a whack of posters. The posters showcased the good works of about 70 local nonprofits and groups. True to form, I didn’t find a single typo. But I uncovered a trove of great community building success stories that were also best kept secrets.

Around the same time, I read about a Making Media Connections Conference in Chicago. It’s an annual event that brings nonprofits and journalists together for a day’s worth of workshops and speed-dating where story ideas get pitched.

So I borrowed the conference idea from the Windy City and brought it to Steeltown. About two dozen nonprofits that had been featured in the posters signed on for the free media relations summer camp. Jane, who’s the manager of community partnerships with The Hamilton Spectator, was one of the PR pros who volunteered as a camp counselor and helped the campers polish and practice their pitches.

Not only did Jane offer to host the next camp in the Spectator’s auditorium. She also recruited a panel of reporters and editors who met the campers, critiqued their pitches and demystified the process of working with the media. And over the years, some of the best pitches from campers have wound up in print.

If Adam Grant went to the camp, he’d quickly peg Jane as a giver. Grant’s the author of Give and Take and Wharton’s youngest tenured professor and single highest rated teacher. He’s out to show that how we interact with our colleagues can have as much bearing on our success as hard work, talent and luck.

“Every time we interact with another person at work, we have a choice to make,” says Grant. “Do we try to claim as much value as we can, or contribute without worrying about what we can receive in return?”

That choice reveals whether we’re a giver, taker or matcher.

Takers are out to get more than they give. They see work and life as a dog-eat-dog, zero sum game. If you win, they lose. At their worst, takers are shameless self-promoters with a compulsion to be smartest person in any room. They’re loathe to admit mistakes, which can be bad news if takers are leading up projects that have gone off the rails. For takers, it’s all about squeezing you dry and then moving on once you have nothing left to give.

Matchers aim to strike an equal balance between giving and taking. They believe in an equal, tit for tat exchange of favours. They’ll scratch your back now with an expectation that you’ll scratch their back in the not so distant future.

Givers in the workplace are a rare breed, says Grant. They prefer to give more than they get.  They’re generous in freely sharing their time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas and connections with no strings attached.

Grant is out to dispel the myth that givers at work are chumps and doormats. Yes, some givers are at risk of burning out and getting burned by misleading takers who mask their true motivations. But other givers figure out how to spot takers and adjust accordingly and prove to be superior workers, leaders, communicators and negotiators. Good guys finish first.

There’s a wealth of research showing that on the ladder of success, givers hold the top rung ahead of takers and matchers. When takers succeed, the rest of us look to knock them down a peg. When givers succeed, we cheer them on. As one giver tells Grant, it’s easier to win if everybody wants you to win.

“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers,” says Grant. “They get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. There’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades. When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses.”

Grant ends his book with 10 practical actions. There’s a free online assessment at to find out if you’re a giver, matcher or taker.

Grant also endorses setting up a reciprocity ring at work. Each week, you bring coworkers together for 20 minutes to ask for help and offer a hand.

And then there’s the five minute favour practiced by Silicon Valley’s Adam Rifkin, who’s been crowned America’s best networker by FORTUNE magazine. “You should be willing to do something that will take you five minutes or less for anybody,” says Rifkin. Instead of trading value, Rifkin looks to add value and encourages the people in his ever-growing network to become givers and help others.

At the end of the month, Jane will be adding value for campers and community builders from 21 local nonprofits and groups.  And as a gracious host, she’ll prove why it’s better to give than to receive.