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 (

Old dogs, new tricks & rebooting the employee newsletter in the Age of YouTube

I’ve spent a good chunk of my 20 years in PR writing newsletters, newspapers, magazines and blogs for employee communications.

On Sept. 18, my colleague Sean Coffey and I stepped away from our keyboards, picked up a camera and microphone and started turning stories into videos for Mohawk College.

We launched a weekly video series called MoCast.  Posted every Thursday on YouTube, the series sings the praises of our students and grads, faculty and staff and college partners. And we showcase the places where our students learn and our grads work.

Our primary audience is Mohawk’s 1,000 faculty and staff working at four campuses in Hamilton and Brantford, Ontario.


We launched MoCast for four reasons:

  1. Sean works with our Vice President Academic to put out an e-newsletter to faculty and staff. The newsletter includes a video clip from the VPA.  Lots of faculty and staff watch the videos.  The written content in the newsletter doesn’t generate nearly as many clicks and views.
  2. Other employers are communicating with their staff via video. The Mayo Clinic puts out award-winning videos that served as our inspiration.
  3. Producing and posting videos is a low-cost proposition and we had the skills, journalism training, institutional knowledge plus the tools and technology to make it happen.
  4. It’s the Age of YouTube. More than one billion unique users visit YouTube every month and watch over six billion hours of video. It’s the world’s number two search engine behind Google. And 100 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Chances are, the majority of our faculty and staff have spent time on YouTube.


We didn’t strike a task force, focus group, working group or planning committee. We didn’t put together a proposal, project charter or PowerPoint presentation.

We just started shooting segments in early September. We gave the senior leadership team a preview of episode one on a Wednesday. And then posted the video to YouTube the next morning.


We’ve loosely modeled MoCasts after CBC Canada’s Rick Mercer Report, minus the rants and without the (intentional) humour.

Sean shoots and edits and I do the on-camera interviews. We aim to make the interviews more like conversations and less like hostage videos.

We’ve found that the question that always solicits the best response is why. Why do you do what you do? Why does this matter to our students? Why does this matter to Mohawk? Why does this matter to you?

Asking that question invariably leads people to share their passion, purpose and pride for their work.

Each episode has three recurring segments so our audience becomes familiar with MoCast and knows what to expect week to week:

  1. In Focus – We drill down into a single topic – a project, initiative or issue – that would be of general interest to our faculty and staff.
  2. Spotlight – We showcase students, grads, faculty and staff who are making a difference at the college and in our community. We interview folks who’ve received awards and accolades for their work and set the bar in terms of best practices.
  3. Roadtrip – We get show and tell guided tours of cool places where students are learning and our grads are working. Many of our faculty and staff don’t have the opportunity to travel between campuses so this is a good way of highlighting what’s happening across the college.

In most episodes, we also include some self-deprecating outtakes and bloopers after the credits roll.

We’re getting better at wrestling the segments down to around eight or nine minutes. Early episodes were running 14 to 15 minutes. However, we found the length wasn’t an issue for most of our primary audience because the content is relevant and their interest in the videos is high.


Sean shoots the videos in HD using a Canon Rebel T5i and a wireless Azden microphone.  He then edits using Adobe Premiere Pro. Sean uses a single camera and we try to keep edits to a minimum.

Beyond attending a Ragan Communications video boot camp, Sean’s self-taught when it comes to shooting and editing.


We have just two rules for MoCast.

  1. We’ll never interview anyone who’s parked in a meeting room or sitting behind a desk in an office.  We do all our interviews in hallways, labs and classrooms, with the hustle and bustle of the college as our backdrop.
  2. We treat all our guests with respect. While we don’t script and rehearse the interviews in advance, we don’t ask trick or surprise questions that catch people off-guard. If they ask for a retake, we do a retake.


We post MoCast every Thursday to the college’s YouTube channel. We share the link to the videos through social media (Twitter at #mocast, Facebook, LinkedIn and the college blog). The videos also play on hallway monitors throughout Mohawk’s largest campus.


We’ve received excellent unsolicited feedback from faculty and staff (informative and entertaining is a recurring theme) and we’re getting a lot of story ideas and requests sent our way. The feedback and ideas far exceed what we ever received when we were putting out traditional print pubs.

A formal survey will likely happen next Spring once we’ve broadcast a full season of MoCast.

The episodes are averaging 600 unique users (our goal was 500 users) and the views climb week by week.  While far from 14 or 140 million views, our goal isn’t to produce viral videos. It’s to build and maintain a core audience of faculty and staff.

The videos have also been shown at open houses for prospective students and programs are posting segments on their webpages.


There are three key benefits to a video series for employees:

  1. It’s informal recognition on steroids. MoCast is proving to be a great way to publicly celebrate the contributions and achievements of our students, grads, faculty and staff. And the folks we showcase can easily share their video clips with friends and family.
  2. It makes the rest of our jobs easier. Yes, there’s a time commitment (Roadtrips take about 90 minutes while the In Focus and Spotlight segments can take up to 30 minutes each).  But we recycle the segments for speeches, media pitches and award nominations.
  3. It gets us out from behind our desks and onto the frontlines. One of the concerns in launching MoCast was that we’d run out of stories and the series would end after three or four episodes. If anything, we’ve had the opposite challenge of too many stories and not enough episodes (we’ve shot the first 12 episodes and have the Winter schedule fully booked). We’ve had the opportunity to meet with dozens and dozens of students, grads, faculty, staff and college partners which has strengthened and widened our networks across the college and in the community.


So if you’re thinking of adding video to your mix of internal communications, we highly recommend it. Pick up a camera, follow your news judgment and start striking up conversations with folks on the frontlines. Your videos don’t have to be perfect and polished, just authentic.

And feel free to give us a shout for advice or suggestions. We’re still working our way up the learning curve and looking to get better with every episode. Students aren’t the only ones learning at Mohawk College.

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

Media relations summer camp July 10 & 12 for Greater Hamilton nonprofits & community groups

We're looking to start spreading the news about community builders who are making Hamilton an even better place to call home. 

The 2012 media relations summer camp takes place Tuesday, July 10 and Thursday, July 12 at The Hamilton Spectator. It's a free-of-charge, hands-on crash course in media relations for nonprofits, community groups and associations. With help from seasoned PR pros turned counsellors, campers will polish, practice and then pitch story ideas to reporters and editors. Campers will also get primers in social media and writing op-eds and a contact list of local media. Previous summer camps have resulted in front page stories in The Hamilton Spectator.

Up to 12 organizations will be selected for this year's camp. Priority will go to groups and organizations that have yet to receive much, if any, media coverage for innovative solutions that are building a stronger, healthier, more resilient and prosperous Hamilton.

Campers will need to attend both days. Camp will run approximately from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. with lunch provided.

An online application form will be available early next week with a mid-June deadline. The application will be promoted through Twitter at #hamont. 

For more information on the media relations summer camp, contact Jane Allison, Community Relations Manager with The Hamilton Spectator, at or Jay Robb, Director of Communications for Mohawk College, at