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Hamilton high school director succeeds with local press

Written on October 18th, 2010

Hamilton District Christian High (HDCH) director of recruitment and advancement Harry Meester has experienced significant success in piquing the interest of local media recently, resulting in great coverage of a school activity, with the strong likelihood this won’t be a one-time case.

Like many Christian schools, HDCH had found it difficult to attract mainstream media attention.

In fact, Meester says he had reached a point of frustration and all but given up as most press releases the school sent to local media, including print, television, radio and online, were routinely ignored.

This past spring, however, his attendance and presentation at the Hamilton Media Advisory Council meeting, resulted in a noteworthy turnaround.

The council’s mandate is to act as a conduit between the media and Hamilton’s diverse communities. An annual meeting allows for people to make their case for why the groups they represent should be featured in the news.

As the 16th of 18 presenters, Meester delivered a five-minute speech that both engaged the audience through humour while driving home a couple of key points about the importance of HDCH in the community fabric, as well as the rich supply of stories it can provide.

Meester recalls one point in particular drew notable audience interest.

“Think about it,” he said. “At our school you’ve got 350 families shelling out 10 grand each for something they could get for free.”

He also noted there are 3,000 children in the City of Hamilton that attend Christian schools every day.

“They’re your neighbours, they’re your friends, the people going down the street. You need to know more about them,” he said, noting he ended the presentation with an open invitation for the press to meet with him and chat, as well visit the school to learn more.

Evidence of the presentation’s effectiveness is that after the meeting, representatives from the seven or eight local media channels present, all approached him to learn more and, in many cases, make a commitment to ensuring they did better at responding to the school’s request to be storied.

Since that time, one story in particular about the school’s fundraising campaign for a local food bank received significant coverage both in print and online by the Hamilton Spectator.

Meester says the lessons he’s learned through all of this is that it’s important to have a personal connection to media personnel.

As a result of the council meeting, for instance, he was able to meet with many key people, put a face to a name and exchange cards.

“So I’ve developed a bit of social capital with these people, and that’s important,” says Meester, noting he recommends other schools check with their local media to see if their area has a media advisory council.

“I think it’s important for us to recognize that it’s not that the media is hostile to us,” he adds, highlighting the sparse coverage can probably be largely attributed to both lack of information about independent schools and the fact that media outlets tend to be inundated with leads.

Being aware of what the mainstream media is looking for can also help, he says, pointing out they tend to prefer human interest, good news and positive, community-affirming stories.

“Keep the information flow going, and I think we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the media and look for things that they are looking for,” he says.

Following up any coverage with a thank-you is also important, says Meester.

He adds another item schools can consider when seeking to attract more media attention is to ensure they have dynamic websites that provide an accurate picture of current reality at the school.

HDCH is exploring the inclusion of more livestreaming and a YouTube series, among other elements to make its site as informative and engaging as possible. Meester says the school’s communications technology class will likely be recruited to help with this.

To learn more, contact Meester at 905-648-6655.