Media relations 101 for entrepreneurs

My colleague Jane Allison and I got to spend a morning with entrepreneurs participating in the 2018 Lion’s Lair competition organized by the Innovation Factory in Hamilton, Ontario.

We offered up media relations advice to an amazing group of job creators, prosperity builders, problem solvers and change makers.

Jane and I have been running free media relations workshops since 2007 as a way to thank non-profits, community groups and entrepreneurs who have inspiring stories to share.


Start spreading the news: 8th annual media relations summer camp recap

Start Spreading the News cover-page-001 Update:

Staff and volunteers from 21 non-profits and groups took part in the 8th annual media relations summer camp at the Hamilton Spectator June 16 and 18. The camp’s offered free of charge by the Hamilton Spectator and Mohawk College as a thank you to community builders who are making Hamilton an even better place to call home. Day one started with an overview of how to turn worthy into newsworthy, with an emphasis on answering “why should I care?” and building pitches around ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the community. Campers then took part in a series of half-hour interactive talks with reporter Teri Pecoskie, columnist Susan Clairmont and photojournalist Cathie Coward. During lunch, Linda Rourke, producer and host of Hamilton Life, talked with campers about how to pitch stories to Cable 14. In the afternoon, campers learned how to build a story pitch (do your homework and email your pitches). Nine local PR pros and Mohawk College professors then volunteered as camp counselors, helping campers to polish and practice their story pitches in small groups. Special thanks to:

  • Jane George
  • Agnes Bongers
  • Andrea Johnson
  • Mary Siegner
  • Trish Nelson
  • Robert Plant
  • Kurt Muller
  • Wade Hemsworth, and
  • Reba Shahid

Day one ended with a crash course in social media by Chris Farais with kitestring creative branding. On Wednesday, campers emailed their story pitches, which were collected into a handout. Fifteen story pitches were submitted. Day two started with an overview of community partnership opportunities at the Hamilton Spectator and an introduction to The Agency at Mohawk College by PR program coordinator Tim Tuck. Managing editor Howard Elliott then reviewed how to submit letters and op-eds and request editorial board meetings. Howard also encouraged campers to highlight multi-media opportunities in their story pitches. The morning ended with a presentation on how to work with reporters (don’t be a PITA). Over the lunch hour, a panel of editors and reporters reviewed the 15 story pitches, identified their favourite pitches and offered feedback to the entire group on all the pitches. Special thanks to:

  • Emma Reilly
  • Molly Hayes
  • Joanna Frketich
  • Susan Clairmont
  • Steve Buist
  • Carla Ammerata, and
  • Cheryl Stepan

For the remainder of the afternoon, Mohawk journalism professor David Smillie, with an assist from journalism students Kristina Costabile and Josh Stewart, ran a hands-on workshop to help campers stand and deliver in front of a camera. Campers were then offered an optional tour of the newsroom and printing presses. In an evaluation completed by campers, 100 per cent agreed the camp was a good use of their time, they learned something new and they’d recommend the camp to colleagues. Each camper received a complimentary copy of Start Spreading the News: A Media Relations Handbook for Nonprofits and Community Groups and a contact list for Hamilton media. The first media camp story pitch was published in the Hamilton Spectator on June 21. More than 150 nonprofits and community groups have attended media relations summer camps since 2007 to learn how to pitch better stories and earn more media coverage. The camp won a 2015 Great Ideas Award from Newspapers Canada. For more information on the media relations summer camp, contact Jane Allison, manager of community partnerships at the Hamilton Spectator ( or Jay Robb, director of communications at Mohawk College (

Recap and evaluation of the 2014 Media Relations Summer Camp at the Hamilton Spectator


The pitch by Live Different was published in the Aug. 2 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The pitch by the Salvation Army’s Lawson Ministries was published in the July 9th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The pitch by the organizers of the BRIGHT Run cancer research fundraiser was published in the July 11th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

2014 Media Camp recap

A record number of more than 30 nonprofits and community groups took part in the 7th annual media relations summer camp (#mediacamp) at The Hamilton Spectator June 24 and 26. The camp aims to help groups make better story pitches and earn more media coverage. The camp is organized by Jane Allison, the Spectator’s manager of community relations, and Jay Robb, director of communications with Mohawk College. The camp is offered free of charge as a thank you to local community builders.

The camp kicked off with Jane  and Jay giving an overview of the four essential elements of a strong story pitch: answer why should I care and why tell the story now, highlight what’s new and find a poster child with a compelling story to tell.

Campers then got a crash course in social media by Chris Farias with kitestring. Chris showed campers how to make your audience  aware, make them care and make them do something. Chris also handed out hot-off-the-press preview copies of Start Spreading the News. All proceeds from the media relations handbook, to be sold as an ebook, will go to Spec Kids Unlimited.

During lunch, Spectator reporter Molly Hayes and photojournalist John Rennison talked with the campers about ways to make it easier for reporters and photographers to cover events and announcements.

In the afternoon, PR pros from the private, public and nonprofit sectors volunteered  to help campers polish and practice story pitches and write mock emails. Special thanks to camp counselors Trish Nelson, Jane George, Grace Diffey, Brent Kinnaird, Kurt Muller, Lise Diebel, Margaret Lintott, Alyssa Lai, Sherry Mousavi, Marie Verdun, Megan Bieksa and Maria Hayes.

The first day of camp ended with an optional tour of the Spectator newsroom and a workshop on how to use Twitter taught by Margaret and Alyssa .

On day two of the camp, Spectator editor Lee Prokaska-Curtis talked about how to submit letters to the editor and op-eds and request editorial board meetings. Lee advised campers to keep letters to around 100 words and op-eds to 750 words. The Spectator receives more than 20 letters a day and has space to publish five.

Campers then got an overview from Jane and Jay on how to work with the media, from pitching stories to giving interviews.

At noon, a Spectator panel from the newsroom reviewed a handout with 18 email pitches from campers.  The panel was asked to provide first impressions and suggestions on how to improve the pitches. Special thanks to reporters Joanna Frketich, columnist Susan Clairmont, photojournalist Barry Gray and editors Cheryl Stepan, Aviva Boxer, Carla Ammerata and Howard Elliott. The panel stressed that less is more in story ptiches. Quickly get to the point and highlight what’s new, why Spectator readers should care and who the reporter could talk with in covering the story.

The camp ended with a hands-on workshop on how to do on-camera interviews, along with how to shoot and edit video. Special thanks to Linda Rourke, Kurt Muller, David Smillie, Scott Summerhayes and Sean Coffey. Linda also gave an overview of how to pitch stories to Hamilton Life on Cable 14.

Presentations from the camp and a Hamilton media contact list were posted on Dropbox.


Thirty  campers completed a survey at the end of the camp.

Did you learn anything new about media relations while at media camp

100% yes

Did you gain a better understanding of what reporters and editors are looking for when you pitch a story?

Yes – 100%

Was media camp a good use of your time?

Yes – 100%

Would you recommend media camp to other nonprofits and community groups?

Yes – 100%

What did you value most about media camp?

  • It was great to have the reporter panel go over the pitches. I also really appreciated the opinion piece overview – really useful. Learned a lot. Thanks
  • Up to date media approach instead of old school approach
  • The opportunity to learn how to pitch and who to pitch stories, and that the process isn’t as formal as I’d previously thought.
  • The interaction of reporters and professionals was invaluable. Their in-person delivery of expertise is something that would have been as impactful being delivered without them. It really makes a difference.
  • The information on how to properly pitch a news story and all of the info on how to get press. Having real editors and reporters was a huge plus.
  • Direct advice from media professionals.
  • I really enjoyed the panel of reporters and editors. Their insight was invaluable.
  • The panel with the reporters and editors.
  • Chris Farias was highly engaging and informative.
  • The most beneficial was the media training and panel sessions. Having no insight in the world of traditional media, I found it fascinating.
  • Wow! I have such a fuller understanding of the media.
  • Panel and on-air training
  • Completeness and deeper understanding of the needs of the journalists.
  • Access to reporters, editors, journalism professors. Most importantly, I am leaving with a better understanding of how media works and how much our media (the Spec) care about the community.
  • The booklet we got to take home, full of tips.
  • The upbeat feel of the camp.
  • It was structured to be of value, specifically to nonprofits so they took into account our perspective and resources. I liked how interactive it was and the constructive criticism.
  • The practical tips of what not to do, almost as important as what to do.
  • Being able to work on a real pitch.
  • Learning that we can send out our own media and don’t need to completely depend on mainstream media.
  • Direct access to the professionals who we need to contact.
  • All of the information. A lot of great tips. The media contacts were great.
  • All of the guests were enthusiastic and wanted to be there. It was a great two days.
  • The chance to learn how to pitch a better story.
  • The opportunity to meet other local nonprofit groups.
  • I learned a lot about strategy behind when you may pitch and story / media release and who you should send them to (ie not a mass send to all reporters). Build rapport.
  • The advice from the reporters, specifically, learning that they really care about our community and want to tell our stories.
  • I really appreciated the Q&A with reporters who gave honest feedback about pitches and what not to do.
  • It was also great to be able to put a face to a name to get a sense of how to pitch to them.
  • Hands on experience
  • Direct feedback from journalists and PR specialists.
  • Helps shift thinking.
  • Meeting with other nonprofits
  • Everything was valuable.
  • I like the booklet that was handed out the first day.
  • I valued hearing the perspective of journalists and photojournalists, having feedback from experts and the chance for revision before presenting to media.
  • Learning the ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ of interacting with the media
  • How to speak the news language
  • Developing a pitch for your story.
  • The feedback from the panel on the email / story
  • The workshop on interviewing and videotaping was great.

What’s the one thing you’d change about media camp:

  • I’d like some time at lunch for networking with other groups. there was a lot of content and panels (which was also great) but I would have liked the space at breaks to speak with other groups about their work. Instead of a five minute coffee break, maybe 10 minutes?
  • Nothing
  • Have one-on-one time to work on a pitch with a reporter or counselor. I had questions about our pitch but wasn’t comfortable asking in this forum.
  • A little more break time. Even lunch became a learning session.
  • Promote the different components not just media camp (ie. working with video media, what are print media looking for in a story)
  • Perhaps have more media relations experts. My group ran out of time before everyone had a chance to discuss their story.
  • I would add a hands-on how to create video with our smartphones. I would also linke to hear from previous alumni from the program on how they are currently engaging the media.
  • A little thing but have the tour of the newsroom and the Twitter 101 at separate times. I really wanted to see the newsroom but wanted insights into Twitter more.
  • More practice on how to focus on your message verbally.
  • Maybe practice interviews in small groups or with partners.
  • At the segment on the first day where we work with our counselors, having time to work one on one on our pitch would help. The group approach was helpful too – just having some one-on-one time would help.
  • More opportunity to connect with other organizations and the media.
  • More time to talk with the counselors about our pitch.
  • The groups at the end involved a lot of standing around which was tiring.
  • I thought I would hate on-camera time, but now that is done I think more hands-on time would be great. I would like to know more about framing / editing.
  • Start at 9 a.m.
  • Nothing
  • Would have been nice to have a longer period of time with camp counselors.
  • Nothing
  • Perhaps on Day 2 afternoon have options such as video / photography. There was some overlap at stations (maybe overlap was beneficial thought)
  • More time to get to know other organizations – I’d be happy to go till 4 or 5 p.m. and then have a lunch break to get to know other nonprofits attending
  • Longer, more, more, more, more

Other comments:

  • Thank you!!
  • Thank you
  • Thank you
  • Awesome event. It was a lot of fun.
  • Thank you!
  • Absolutely fascinating! Great job and thanks for having this opportunity.
  • I love it! I am like a kid in a candy store. So much info! Thanks so much.
  • Thank you so much Jane and Jay.
  • Great job. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • Thank you.
  • Thank you so much for doing this
  • Very cool
  • Great camp! Enjoyed learning about cost-effective technologies for nonprofits to be able to produce their own media
  • Really great camp, thank you! La Luna lunch was awesome.
  • Jane and Jay are the new Abbott and Costello
  • Thank you for this opportunity – amazing. Very valuable.
  • This was a great workshop. Very well organized, informative and definitely impacted our approach to PR. The most helpful and directly applicable that I’ve been to.
  • Excellent! Perfect! The only way to improve – more.
  • Thank you very much

7th annual media relations summer camp for Hamilton community builders June 24 & 26

Volunteers, staff and board members with Hamilton nonprofits, community groups and associations are invited to the 7th annual media relations camp June 24 and 26 at The Hamilton Spectator.

With help from local PR pros, campers will polish, practice and then pitch story ideas to a panel of Spectator editors and reporters. Some of the best pitches from past camps have wound up in the print and online versions of The Spectator.

Campers will also get hands-on crash courses in how to give on-camera interviews, pen letters to the editor and op-eds and use social media to spread the news.

The camp is free as a thank you to community builders who make Hamilton an even better place to call home. Register online by Friday, May 23.

Highlights from the 2013 camp and evaluations from the 22 organizations that took part are posted here.

5 questions worth asking Hamilton residents

Courtesy of Neighbourhood Centers and borrowed from The Metropolitan Revolution, five appreciative inquiry questions worth asking Hamilton residents that focus on strengths & assets rather than problems & deficiencies:

  1. What’s good about Hamilton and your neighbourhood?
  2. How do you know you are home?
  3. What attracted you to Hamilton and your neighbourhood?
  4. What would make you want to work or live here in Hamilton even longer?
  5. What skills and abilities can you contribute to make Hamilton and your neighbourhood better?

And from Neighbourhood Centers President CEO Angela Blanchard, the starting point for community change is “looking at your city and the DNA of your city and understanding what is that city really built around. What are the aspirations here?”



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