Get it Covered Seminar

Media releases, media conferences: how to make them work for you. Wednesday, May 13, 2015 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM (EDT) Peterborough Lions Club 347 Burnham Street Peterborough, ON K9H 1T5 Canada How to register: Questions? Call Jane at … Continue reading

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When NOT to do a press release for a start-up, and why

 A client had booked me for a good news release. The client, a start-up, has an exciting product in the development stages. An excellent business plan, strong industry partners, an expert board of directors, and loyal local investors – all the qualities you like to see in a client who is taking good care of a fledgling new business.

We went over all the new developments as I attempted to cherry pick something that the media could find exciting and ndewsworthy.

“Well,” my client said, “We could talk about the deal we’re about to sign for a manufacturing site.”

“Photo opp?” I asked.

“Yes, but we couldn’t actually do it on the site – we could do it outside.”

Er, no. Since “outside” meant having my client standing in front of a different business, one with no obvious link to the story,  I explained that such a photo would only serve to confuse the reader.

After a bit of chat back and forth, we decided, together, that the plans for that particular development weren’t sufficiently ripe for a release, anyway. They begged more questions than they answered, and nothing frustrates the media more. Make them go digging and they might just leave you at the post in favour of a story that’s got more substance. Or worse, they’ll get it wrong and leave you backing and filling and explaining yourself to death.

Definitely not good media relations practice. And it won’t help your client’s investment prospects any, either.

Moving on to another significant development, I learned that a deal was “almost” signed – a Big deal, a Meaty deal, a deal with nice implications for investment and jobs.

The client is excited and rightly so.

But then, “We wouldn’t have to name them,” said the client.  “We could just say a company of such and such a size, based in Saskatchewan. A major mid-sized company in the fertilizer industry.”

Oh dear.

“And when the media call, can we give them any details, yet?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No? …Can we tell them anything yet? ”

The answer was: not much. Not yet.

Two things wrong with this scenario, I explained. A whiff of publicity around an unsigned business investment deal or partnership can be the kiss of death. The party being courted may go off in a huff, but knowing quite a lot about your great idea.

And this leaves the client, exactly, where???  No new money, lots of hours wasted in talks and visits, and lots of confidential projected revenues and plans in the prospect’s hands.

There was a long silence. “I’d love the work,” I admitted. “It would be great to do a release for you and tweet the living daylights out of it for traction.” (I love doing this, it’s fun, and I’m good at it.)

“But,” I went on, “You aren’t far enough along with the process to put the news out there yet. It’s just plain too soon.”

By this time, my client agreed that we needed to wait a bit.  He’d be saying way too much of this:”I can’t release those details yet,” and “Can’t name the company, except to say…”

The lesson? It’s great to be excited, pleased and happy about those deals that are “almost” signed.

Just don’t put out a release about them.

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What the OEPC editors are up to now

The Play’s the Thing: On March 30th, OEPC – – founding member Sheilagh Knight will talk about teaching youth “old-fashioned” values through play writing. Daughter of a World War II Royal British Naval Captain, she wrote and co-directed the … Continue reading

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Want trouble? Don’t have an issues management plan

business meeting picPeople often want to know the difference between issues management and a crisis. Some use “issue” interchangeably with crisis, but they are not the same. An issue is usually, but not always, slow burning, whereas a crisis is often an explosive event.
One thing is certain: if an issue is not managed properly, you may find yourselves moving to a crisis, fast. And an unmanaged issue leads to reputational damage, loss of revenues, and potential threats to health and safety.

Your reputation is an asset, and when your organization has an issue that is turning into a train wreck, it can affect your reputation, your tax revenues, or your bottom line. Sometimes the only way to measure reputation damage is in lost clients and investors. Another obvious one is being voted out of office.
Seems simple enough.

To demonstrate the importance of having an issues management process, I wondered what might have turned out differently had an issues monitor been watching a few situations in my neck of the woods?
These two issues have now morphed into debacles, as unminded issues often will do.

Witness our battle between the city mayor and the police services board. He’s suing them, and he’s been kicked off the board. Rumours are running rampant, sides have been taken, positions hardened, and the reputation of both our city and the police has taking a kicking locally, provincially and nationally.

Another one: A mega buck $40 million world class Buddhist temple complex, anticipated to bring in tons of tax revenue and tourism dollars to a local township, suddenly found itself having to deal with the threatened arrival on its serene, contemplative doorstep of none other than industrial wind turbines. Chinese developers had been banking land for over 20 years for the 7800 acre project, and are naturally horrified.

I have no idea how things will turn out in either case, but they are great examples for why it’s a good idea to have an issues management process in place.

Here is a quick guide:

• As soon as you have a new development, or a public difference of opinion, (or preferably even before that) designate someone to monitor key sources such as news media, websites, trade associations and social media.
• Map your stakeholders. I simply listed them when I did the communications plan after the Peterborough flood of 2004, but lovers of charts, coloured bars and software can get really fancy. Turns out we missed a few too, which, for me, was an important lesson: listen to more people.
• Use an impact matrix – there are lots to be found on the internet. Or hire someone to help you set it up. There are loads of examples out there:
• Keep your files and position statement refreshed so that they are always current.
• Assign ownership over an issue – this is not going to necessarily be the same person who is monitoring your issues grid for you.
• Make sure this person is clearly identified to your entire team/workplace. Often staff can alert an organization to an issue.
• Have your chain of command identified and make sure the CEO, CAO is kept up-to-speed on a regularly scheduled basis. Avoid surprises.
• Remember that boards of directors must be directly involved – boards are accountable for outcomes.
• Issue reports should be available to external stakeholders (e.g. Annual report, corporate responsibility report).
• Issue updates on your organizational/municipal website. Ensure that stakeholders can find out what’s being done, or isn’t being done, and why.

Tips: Look at it through different perspectives and lenses. Imagine yourself walking around the room and looking at something in the middle (your pet mega million project, or the police services board,for example). Now you are a backer, or an angel investor, or the family of a police officer. Now you are head office management (possibly based in another national culture where screw-ups are tied closely to a rigid concept of honour). Now you are the provincial government looking at a hot potato in your lap. Now you are a local property owner /taxpayer worried about your health and safety. Now you are the media, hoping for a hot story.

And you begin to see the complexity. You will have diverse views, competing needs, and an overarching need to manage the issue. If you leave any stakeholder group out once you’ve identified them all, you will have a lopsided picture and those overlooked will likely roar.

After the 2004 Peterborough flood when the sewage treatment centre had to be bypassed, no-one thought to tell the native community downstream at Rice Lake. As I recall, the affected community handled the deluge of untreated poop with tremendous restraint. I’d missed them on the stakeholder grid.

They didn’t roar. But they could have.

Have a plan, work it, refresh it, report on it. You’ll save your organization a lot of grief.

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Reporters hunting for controversy? 11 tips to help you manage. plans in the municipality going sideways? Staff and council not on the same page?

A chat with a local CAO (chief administrative officer) led me to write this post on municipal staff and what they can do when faced with unwelcome media calls. He was lamenting about the jam that staff members can find themselves in when certain things take a bad turn publicly, and the media, sensing a rift, call up looking for speculation or a quote.

“Happens all the time,” said my friend. “Reporters bypass the media person – if there is one – and go straight to the head of (pick one) engineering, public works, or planning.  Or to *their* admin people.  These folks often feel trapped, especially if the media sense there is a difference of opinion between staff members and municipal council.”

What to do? Here are a couple of tips:

For municipal staff :

  1. Whoever picks up the phone at the municipal office is automatically a spokesperson, even if all they can say is “we are aware of the issue.”  In fact, “we are aware of the issue” is a great start. Do remember this. If a reporter asks for your name, give it, and stress that you are not a spokesperson but will get someone to call back ASAP. Then make sure you do it.
  2. If pressed, don’t get defensive.  Be polite, even if your pulse rate is soaring.  Yes, it’s not your job to handle the call, but if there are three people in the township office (or 20) and the other two (or 19) are all out at a conference, you become The Person. Media move fast, and I’ll argue that any response is better than nothing. Nothing invariably shows up as “township not available for comment.”
  3. Which brings us to the “What if” calls. These are calls for speculation. Sneaky little devils, those. As I ponder this and think of people holding nice municipal jobs that they’d very much like to keep, I remember the old (and new) tricks that reporters love to use that can leave you opening the paper the next day and wanting to die because of an innocent slip of the tongue. “What if…” is one of those tricks.
  4. Never utter the kiss- of- death phrase “no comment.” People sometimes think this makes them look smart, and important. Nothing could be further from the truth. How it usually plays out on camera or in print is that you or your office have something to hide. This applies to management too.
  5. Text or call your manager immediately and tell him or her about the call. If media calls are coming to you first, ask for a briefing so that you won’t be caught flat-footed again.
  6.  Ask your boss for a statement you can use when you answer the phone, but here’s a caveat: put it into your own words or it will sound exactly like what it is: a rote statement.
  7.  It’s okay to ask the reporter more about what they want to know. In fact, I advise it. It shows the reporter you are taking the call seriously, and want to help.  When I acted as a media relations staff person for the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation, or for Du Pont Canada, I’d always cloak this by saying “I really want to make sure you get the right answer, so if you can just give me a general sense of what you want to ask, I’ll be better able to get Mr. Xxxx to call you back with correct information.”  It often works. You’ll get a hint of what they are after and be able to prepare your manager better when he returns the call.

For managers:

  1. If you are the manager, call the staff together (if possible) and brief them on the issue. Otherwise, call them. Don’t email them. A quick look at the present Senate debacle tells you why this is not advisable. Emails can go astray.
  2. Tell them what you’d like them to say and what you’d like them to gracefully avoid. They’re sure to be asked about it. They are, after all, ambassadors for the municipality, and can get nailed with questions in the grocery store checkout line, at their service club, or while clutching a Timmie’s at Johnnie’s hockey practice.  Hopefully you’ll have done this before the first call comes in, but one call should alert you to take action, because more are coming.
  3. If staff members are not in accord with a position taken by elected councillors, and the media gets wind of this, you will really need to be on your toes. You’ll be asked to speculate. (see #3 above) Hint: These questions usually start with the words, “what if…”, or “suppose”. Don’t go or the bait. Say you can’t talk, but say it nicely. To get more help with this, you can attend my upcoming workshop designed specifically for municipal staff and managers.
    “Tough Calls: Tough Issues. What to Do When the Media Come Calling.” 
    Wednesday, 20 November 2013 from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM (EST)  
    Peterborough, ON | Peterborough Chamber of Commerce
  4. Refer the caller back to the councillor-in-charge or the mayor or deputy mayor, or whomever is the agreed-upon spokesperson.

Note: If the reporter tries the chummy approach, which they are certain to do in a smaller municipality where everybody knows everybody else, rely on your personal charm while you politely and firmly redirect the call back to where it belongs. This is where you are protecting your staff, and they will thank you for it.

There are lots of examples where this can, and does happen – looming garbage or transit strikes, proposed casinos, fights between various services and council.  In our community, there’s an ongoing battle between the Police Services Board and the mayor, and it makes for great news copy both locally and further afield. City staff members, I’m told, have been invited to hang themselves publicly by commenting on this issue.

And a fresh one: A $40 million Buddhist Cham Sam Temple complex in the Township of Cavan Monaghan is currently under construction. Planned for the past twenty years, the temple complex now stands threatened by a proposed industrial wind turbine development. The deputy mayor has done a great job handling media calls, and the local M.P. has tabled a question in the house on wind turbine policies.

However, the temple and the wind farm is an object lesson in issues management, the overarching umbrella for media management. I’ll talk more about issues management in my next blog.














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The Flood – A crisis communications case study

The Challenge

To restore public trust in the administration and municipal council of the City of Peterborough following a devastating flood in July 2004. The flood caused people to flee from gushing sewage in their homes, overwhelmed the sewage treatment plant, flooded main roads, destroyed businesses in the downtown area and did millions of dollars worth of property damage.

The communications process had to be transparent, respectful and accountable to all stakeholders.

My role:

 As communications consultant to the City of Peterborough, I designed and executed a communications strategy with ongoing measureables that identified and addressed the concerns of all key stakeholders throughout the flood review process.

Thanks to my experience as senior public relations specialist with Du Pont Canada during the storming of head office by Greenpeace and a second demonstration that shut down the company’s annual meeting, added to my ongoing mentoring by leading public relations experts throughout North America, I was able to step in and quickly provide the needed action steps in the early days following the crisis, and throughout the ensuing public review process.

 My actions:

  • After an outside engineering firm was hired to a) carry out a formal flood review process and b) make recommendations to repair and improve storm/sewage infrastructure, I provided a quick, short-form communications plan.
  • Partnered with the engineering firm hired to carry out the flood review process and write the final report.
  • Organized regular press briefings, press releases and editorial board meetings to explain and outline the firm’s work plan, and environmental assessment process.
  • Worked closely with the Mayor, Chief Administrative Officer and the city’s legal department to ensure messaging was compatible with legal strategy and concerns.
  • Media trained all spokespeople, including the lead outside engineer who gave regular reports to council (and to media attending council).
  • Ensured city’s website had up-the-minute information as the process unfolded, and publicized and advertised a public questionnaire on the engineering firm’s flood project website.
  • As more issues began to surface, I developed a more thorough and comprehensive communications plan to guide the city through the spotlight of public opinion. The plan was designed to create and sustain trust in the review and repair process.  This involved establishing a critical path for communications, and identifying methods that would speak to each stakeholder/audience group.  The process was two-way: I sought and got public and stakeholder input so that the plan became a more responsive and relevant tool.


Media coverage changed from highly critical of the city’s infrastructure and administration to balanced and fair coverage that kept citizens informed of every step of the compensation, review and repair processes.

Editorial board meeting outcomes were highly successful, shifting media tone and resulting positive and useful coverage.

Public forums were altered from the original walk-through information board design, explaining causes of extreme flooding, to a more blended approach. This included a professionally facilitated and much-needed public venting.  Officials from the city were on hand to take questions and reassure stakeholders that all possible fixes could and would be made.

The City of Peterborough was publicly praised for its actions to quell dissent and reassure an angry populace at the annual meeting of the Ontario Association of Municipalities.

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New local partnership promotes unique flat screen information system worldwide

PETERBOROUGH,ON/April 23, 2012—Emmatt Digital Solutions and Sign-A-Rama of Peterborough showcased a new partnership today designed to take Emmatt’s interactive BallyHooTV into the international marketplace.
“The market for this system is expanding rapidly worldwide, and to capitalize on this we have teamed up with Sign-A-Rama Peterborough as an authorized reseller and franchise distributor,” said Chris Calbury, partner, Emmatt Digital Solutions Inc.
“We are confident they will quickly generate sales of BallyhooTV both locally and internationally.”
U.S. shipments of signage and professional displays in 2012 are projected to reach 17.3 million units, up from 15.4 million units last year and 13.5 million units in 2010 in the U.S. according to information and analysis provider HIS, Calbury noted. Deliveries in the fourth quarter alone were worth an estimated $3.8 billion.2011351
Morgan Smith, Sign-A-Rama,, recently returned from the annual worldwide Sign-A-Rama conference in Las Vegas, where he promoted the system to Canadian and international franchises. Sign-A-Rama has more than 1000 locations in 50 countries around the world, Smith noted, and potential reach for the BallyhooTV system is significant.
“We came away from the conference with five strong leads for enthusiastic franchises in B.C. and Alberta. One has a restaurant client requiring exactly what BallyhooTV has to offer.
“Additionally, Sign-A-Rama Canada has become a sister-country to the eighty-eight Australian Sign-A-Rama franchises and we are looking forward to launching BallyhooTV into the Australian market later this year.”
Sign-A-Rama’s Rye Street store was the location of a demonstration of the large screen information system, where Emmatt partners Calbury and Kimberley Appleton donated a complete system to the local YWCA Crossroads Shelter for women and children.
Lynn Zimmer, YWCA Peterborough executive director, got a short lesson on how to operate the user-friendly system.
“We plan to use BallyHooTV to make information about the shelter more available to our clients,” Ms. Zimmer said.  “With this system, a woman can learn about special activities or groups taking place in the shelter or community that day. She’ll be able to learn about the services that are available to her, and watch staff profile videos to help her put a name to the face of the counselor she may not yet have been introduced to.”
The system could also show emergency fire alarm procedures to women with hearing loss through video with closed captioning options, Ms. Zimmer noted.
“We can even run beautiful photographs and soothing music, inspirational messages, stress relief suggestions and offer women the latest news or the weather forecast through the RSS feed. The possibilities seem endless.”
For further information contact:
Jane Davidson
Best Write Communications

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Politicians join Shining Waters board

Public leaders’ presence intended to assure public of railway’s sound management, economic viability

PETERBOROUGH, ON/May 16, 2012—Tony Smith, president, Shining Waters Railway Board of Directors, today emphasized the importance of the addition of Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett and Peterborough County Warden J. Murray Jones to the railway’s board.
While both the mayor and warden’s presence on the board was accepted by city and county councils a month ago, no formal announcement was made at the time, Smith noted.
“We hope people will understand that these appointments are significant to our board and to our building momentum to bring the rail line plans on to the next level. This highlights the importance both gentlemen place on this project for the region,” Smith said.
The Shining Waters Railway (SWR) line will restore commuter rail service between Havelock, Peterborough and Toronto, and strengthen and upgrade existing freight service. The line will feed in to the VIA national and GO regional networks. Planners anticipate ridership of 1900 people a day with passenger growth projections of 8.2 per cent annually. SWR will be a locally governed, private, non-profit railway owner and manager, Mr. Smith noted.  Experienced railway providers will handle daily operations of passenger and freight services and track maintenance.
“It alleviates all fear that any perceived economic burden on the city or county will ever happen. Both Jay and Daryl will have total insight into the board decisions and be able to report back to their respective councils with hard facts, not rumors.”
Mayor Bennett said, “I support the rail line and the economic advantage we expect it to bring to the City and the region. I also welcome the opportunity to ensure accountability for the people of Peterborough.”
Commenting on his own board appointment, Warden Jones said, “This important infrastructure project has an impact well beyond man-made boundaries. It’s important that everyone work together on this unique and very important common cause.”
The rail line is expected to create an estimated 2000 jobs, a number which includes both economic spinoffs and ongoing operating activity. The board anticipates an additional 110 jobs and $13 million in revenue annually from the operation of the commuter rail line alone.
For more information:


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Leading Kingston-based educational editor to present to local editors’ group


Peterborough, ON/May 17, 2012 –A leading science-based editor will be speaking to the Peterborough editors group on the use of social media in managing a freelance editing career.

Adrienne Montgomery, who started the 70-member Kingston “twig” of the Editors Association of Canada (EAC), www.editors.ca3256488, conducted a year-long experiment blending the use of social media with editing and will relay her findings at the Peterborough Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday evening (7-9 p.m.), May 22.

Ms. Montgomery has acted as a mentor to the start-up Peterborough group, which has grown from five to about 20 members.

An active blogger as well as an editor, Ms. Montgomery www.catchthesun, specializes in editing both electronic and printed materials, teacher guides, assessment banks and slides.

While she says she would love to work on adventure sports material, “I’ve slipped into an expertise in high school science; chemistry in particular.

“I’ve even slipped into math editing, which would surprise my old teachers. The stuff I learn is the best part of the job. Actually, working with inspired and creative people is why I keep showing up for work. I’m glad the publishers put me on the team with the writers, artists, and designers.”

“Most of my work is structural and stylistic in nature, which makes me really appreciate the rhythm and precision of the copy editing tasks I receive,” she says. “New media like interactive white boards, e-readers, and the array of support/ ancillary products get me excited about the future of publishing, and the future of education.

“Most of my projects involve novice authors, tight deadlines, and a team of editors and writers. New technology like Skype is actually bringing me face to face with clients for the first time in my 14-year career.”

Ms. Montgomery says she has also been an advanced first aid trainer and rescue technician (high-angle, ice water, and moving water), a part-time firefighter, a flat water canoe instructor, a sea kayak guide-in-training, and a karateka.

“In my spare time, I like to sail, ski the back country, take photos, and play with my family,” she notes in her profile on the Editors Association of Canada (EAC) website.

The presentation is open to all local editors and those interested in learning more about editing.

For more information:
Jane Davidson

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More dos and don’ts for taking the client to see the editor…

business meeting picGround rules for a successful Editorial Board Meeting…cont’d

Find out in advance who will be at your editorial board meeting.

You’ve got your foot in the door, the meeting time is set, your presentation is ready to go and you’ve limited the number of people you are bringing with you to three….but remember, the Editorial Board (often the publisher, managing and/or executive editor, and possibly the city editor) can pull in a “citizen” – and that’s fair ball.  If this happens, don’t whine or complain. Fall all over yourselves to be gracious and to field questions from everyone.

Designate a single spokesperson or when you have a hot issue – an “issues manager.”  Two at most.

Too many voices clutter the message and can add a quixotic component.  This is something you do not want.

Don’t give the other side (if there is one) any ammo. Stick to your purpose.  This means you cannot dissect the newspaper (or radio station) editorials, news coverage or commentaries.  You can refer to a news item or editorial when questions are asked, if appropriate and purposeful.  Remember the goal:  you want the media outlet’s top decision-makers to understand the issue and the process, and to give fair coverage so that all stakeholders are well and fairly informed.   This means you take the high road, no matter how miffed or unfairly treated you may really feel.

Find out how long the meeting will be and take no more than half the time to do a presentation.  (An hour is optimum).

Then use the rest of the time to field questions and do your best to answer them all.  If you don’t have the answer, note the question down and promise to get back to them with the answer.  If you can text somebody to get it right then and there, do so. 

Don’t expect the Board to do an about-face.

It’s very hard for a newspaper to change editorial policy, so that’s why you are going in and ignoring any negative history and asking for something new:  their support.  That gives them a chance to shift in the near future and save face at the same time.

Ask the writers to back your cause. Tell them at the very end of the meeting that you would appreciate their support and the community needs it.  Stress community benefits throughout your presentation.

Do not engage in argument. The editorial board meeting is designed to come out with handshakes,  a better understanding and a new path forward.


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