Leadership Miscommunications – the Seven Deadly Spins of Connecting with Employees

I didn’t bake sourdough bread, adopt a rescue dog, attempt a home reno or train for a marathon. Rethinking my playbook for leadership communications was my 2020-21 pandemic project.

Those revisions began after my boss shot down a tried and true tactics. She was looking for new ways to communicate. I pitched an old idea. She nixed that idea by pointing out obvious problems – problems that hadn’t been obvious to me while I rolled out the idea at two previous employers.

I was also looking at leadership comms from a new perspective. For the first time in my career, I wasn’t in a central PR team or working out of a president’s office. I spent my days closer than ever to the frontlines working alongside colleagues who weren’t in PR.

So I revisited my playbook for leadership communications, rethinking everything from social media, videos and podcasts to coffee chats and breakfast meetings, thought leadership, strategic planning, speechwriting and town halls.

I’ve summed up what PR pros like me say, what busy, weary and slightly cynical employees think and what leaders could do instead when it comes to communicating and connecting with folks on the frontlines.

Leadership Miscommunication draws on 28 years worth of some hits, more than a few misses and lots of lessons learned from dozens of senior leaders who I worked with and watched in action during tour stops at a non-profit, hospital, steelmaker, college and university.

I’ve pulled together a series of earlier posts that went up during the fall. Leadership Miscommunication is a free, no obligation download. I’m not trying to sell you anything. I don’t want your email address. And I’m not angling for a speaking gig or consulting work. This revised playbook, along with figuring out how to make a flipbook, were my pandemic projects.

Always happy to hear what you think I got right or wrong about leadership communications. And whether I should’ve spent the pandemic learning how to bake bread.


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 (jallison@thespec.com) or Jay Robb, director of communications at Mohawk College (jay.robb@mohawkcollege.ca).

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?