Shine the Light – A Sister’s Story

November is Shine the Light on Woman Abuse month in my home town of London, Ontario. I was recently asked to write a story about this year’s campaign – which put me in touch with Lynn Blackburn.

Lynn’s sister, Paula Gallant, was murdered by her husband in 2005, shortly before their daughter’s first birthday.

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Paula Gallant is being honoured as part of this month’s Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign.

Many people think it must be difficult to interview people who have lost a family member or friend. But I have found the opposite is usually true. Most people are eager to speak about a loved one – to share stories and let others know how that person made a lasting impact on the world they left behind.

Lynn was no different. Unfortunately, I couldn’t include most of what she told me in my newspaper article. So she gave me permission to share our interview through my blog – in honour of her sister, Paula – and all women who experience women abuse.

What would you like Londoners to know about your sister, Paula Gallant?

Paula was a woman who loved every aspect of her life and lived each and every day to the fullest. She had an incredible smile, kind heart, generous spirit and a wonderful sense of humor.  She had a presence when she walked into a room and people just naturally gravitated towards her positive and energized personality.

Her sweet baby was the brightest joy in her life and her love and commitment to her family and friends was evident in all she did.

Paula was a born educator and her passion for culture and adventure was always incorporated in her daily teachings, both in and out of the classroom. In life she touched the hearts of many and in death, her legacy has left meaning and purpose.

Why did your family decide to honour her memory by taking part in this year’s Shine the Light campaign?

It is so important for people to realize Paula could have been their daughter, sister, friend, their children’s soccer coach or the lady at the grocery store. Men’s violence against women does not discriminate and no one is immune.

We need to help people understand this is a real issue in our communities and our family could never have imagined it happening to us, to our sister, but it can and it did.

It is also important to understand there are cases where physical abuse does not exist, such as Paula’s case.  They were no warning signs, no known triggers, no ability for her to understand or predict the risks.

Although Paula’s voice was physically silenced through murder, our participation in events like this give Paula a voice, in the hopes that we can help drive change and perhaps save a woman’s life.

What would you like Canadians, both women and men, to know about women abuse?

The statics pertaining to intimate partner violence and physical and sexual abuse in Canada are staggering.

Prior to Paula’s murder, we had no understanding of how prevalent men’s violence against women was nor would we have known there were so many agencies, organization, professional and volunteers working tirelessly to try and end violence.

Unfortunately, it took a personal experience for me to fully understand the scope of this issue and that we all have a role to play in working as a society to end this.

All women deserve to live freely and peacefully without abuse. I would challenge both men and women to ask themselves, if this was their daughter, their sister, what would they do different than they are today? My hope is that if we can create a zero-tolerant society against drinking and driving, then I have to believe that one day women will live peacefully and freely without men’s violence and abuse.

You can read my story on the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) 2016 Shine the Light on Woman Abuse Campaign here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the LAWC website.

 

How to generate more news coverage for your upcoming arts event

As some of you may know, I have covered the London and area classical music scene for more than a decade, writing regular music columns for several different publications over the years: Scene, ArtScape, The Beat, and most recently Eat Drink.

And as my deadline approached this month, I once again found myself wanting to bang my head on my computer screen. Why? Because several sources were simply not responding to interview requests.

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I currently write The Classical Beat column for Eat Drink magazine.

As a freelance classical musician turned freelance writer, I’ve been on both sides of the divide. I know that artists live busy lives and often juggle multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I know that most arts organizations can’t afford to splash out on expensive advertising campaigns. And I’ve heard the complaints about the lack of news coverage given to local arts events.

I don’t want to paint everyone with the same brush. Some arts organizations are fantastic to work with. Others, not so much. This blog is directed towards those in the second category, as well as anyone looking to see your name – and news – in print.

Have a website, and keep it up to date
In 2016, there’s really no excuse not to have a decent website. Whether you’re an individual performer or a larger ensemble, it’s simply an investment that you can’t afford not to make.

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People won’t find you if you don’t have a website….

It’s equally important to keep the information current, and to ensure that it’s accurate. Don’t forget to include contact information. (And if your website uses a contact form, make sure it actually reaches an inbox that someone checks!)

Friendly tip: Websites like Eventbrite now make it easy for anybody to sell tickets online. If you’ve got an upcoming concert, why not set up an account and link it to your own site?

Make a media list, and keep it up to date
Pay attention to who is covering the arts in your area, and make a media list. Don’t rely on generic info@ email addresses – who knows where they go? Try to find contact information for the individual reporters.

Friendly tip: Most newspaper websites list individual contact information…you just have to find it. Try scrolling to the very, very, very bottom of the Home Page. That’s where they like to hide the link to the Contact Us page. When in doubt, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone to ask for a reporter’s contact information.

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Do some detective work to track down the emails of individual reporters.

Then, when you’ve got an upcoming event, let the media know. A formal news release is great, but a friendly email with some key information can also do the trick.

Give enough lead time and understand the news cycle
It’s the first week of October, and I just filed my November / December Classical Beat column. I’ll soon start working on a story that won’t be published until Spring 2017. That’s why it’s so important to get your information up on your website as soon as possible. I can’t cover your upcoming concert if my story was filed last week.

Having said that, most newspapers will only cover your event the day of, or if you’re lucky, the day before. Same goes for radio and television.

Respond to interview requests
There’s nothing worse than sending out interview requests and leaving phone messages that are never returned. (Other than finally hearing back two weeks after the story has been submitted.)

We’re all busy…but please respond quickly so we can find a mutually-convenient time to chat. If an email interview works better, just let me know and I’ll send my questions along. Please don’t make me chase you, or have to stalk you on Facebook….

Be prepared
Have the list of repertoire ready, as well as the names of any special guests. If you’ve got bios, send them along. High resolution photographs? Even better!

Take some time to think about what you’d like the public to know about your event. If you think you’ll be nervous during the interview, jot down some notes. If the reporter doesn’t ask about something important, just go ahead and tell them. And if you go blank and forget a crucial detail, send a follow-up email.

If you’re an artist, or part of an arts organization, what challenges do you face getting the word out? 

Nicole Laidler is a London, Ontario based freelance writer and copywriter and the owner of Spilled Ink Writing & Wordsmithing. 

My stop-and-go summer

The summer months can be challenging when you’re a freelancer who works from a home office and the mom of a busy 10-year-old. Throw in home renovations, a steady stream of house guests and a dead laptop, and the regular summer juggling act gets thrown into high gear.

Me and skye

Our 120-lb “lap dog” is also part of the juggling act!

So I’m trying to forgive myself for being less productive than usual over the past two months.

That’s not to say that my keyboard has sat completely idle. Between overseeing new carpets, windows, and painting, chauffeuring my son to soccer and a few weeks of goalie camp, supervising various Pokémon Go outings, and showing visiting family and friends around our beautiful corner of the world, I somehow managed to string together a few words.

Website copy, blogs, a victim impact statement, and a handful of magazine articles have kept me busy. But they’ve all been written in short bursts, at some extremely odd hours of the day and night.

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I did manage to churn out a few stories this summer….including my regular music column for Eat Drink .

On the one hand, I recognize how lucky I am to have the freedom to work when I like. On the other, it can make for some extremely long days.

So I am eagerly anticipating the first day of school, when I hope to sit down at a clean desk, in my freshly-painted home office, and do a full day of uninterrupted work on my speedy new laptop.

I’m signed up for a September conference for women entrepreneurs, I’ll be participating in a sold-out evening of fashion in support of Make-A-Wish, and I have a list of story ideas ready to pitch, as well as a new Spilled Ink website – launching soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to spend as much time as I can savoring the last few weeks of summer. If you need me, I’ll be at the lake, refueling for a busy and productive fall.

Slice of paradise

No words needed….

How was your summer? And how are you getting ready for fall?

Following their passion….while paying the bills

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times: Do what you love and the money will follow.

If it were only so simple, we’d all be millionaires!

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so straight forward. You can’t pay your bills with enthusiasm, or fill your plate with passion. But recently, I met two individuals who are pursuing their business dreams without giving up their day jobs.

As the owners of Harris Flower Farm & Pastured Pork, Janis and Mark Harris are literally watching their business grow one flower and heritage piglet at a time.

Janis with the first bunch of tulips

Janis with the first tulips of 2016.

I drove out to meet Janis on a miserable snowy morning in April. Janis greeted me with a warm smile. She had recently picked her first spring tulips, grown in a hoop-house greenhouse on her family farm.

Janis explained that her parents still run one of the first organic farms in our area and that she inherited her love of flowers from her grandmother.

But instead of following her parents into farming full-time, Janis trained as an optometrist. She still works in the profession – when she isn’t looking after her three small children or tending the thousands of flowers she now sells every season.

Last year Janis hired part-time help to get her through wedding season; this summer her sister is moving back to the area to lend a hand.

Mark also works “off the farm” but finds time to help out with the flower crop and to look after a small group of pigs who feast on organic leftovers before being turned into tasty sausages and bacon available at local markets and directly from the farm.

You can read my story about Janis and Mark here.

Emilio Barbero is another entrepreneur who is dreaming big in his spare time.

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Emilio has a passion for geometric design.

By day, Barbero works as the creative director at a London interior design firm. In his off hours, he is the founder of Marbleknot Design Studio, where he lets his imagination run wild as a surface pattern designer.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the field, Barbero recently made his second trip to Surtex – North America’s largest art licensing show. If Barbero’s dreams come true, you’ll soon see his bold, geometric patterns on everything from gift wrap to coffee mugs. In the meantime, he’s producing a small range of consumer goods – including colourful hand made bow ties – all available from his online store.

You can read my story about Emilio here.

So what’s the moral of this blog?

You don’t have to give up your dreams when adult responsibilities hit. You just have to have enough drive to pursue them in your off-hours. And maybe one day you’ll be able to turn your passion into your full-time career.

What passions are you pursuing? 

 

On board with MainStreet London

I’ve been writing about downtown London for more than a decade. In fact, my very first cover story was about Kingsmill’s department store. Founded in 1865, this retail icon predated Confederation.

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    Kingsmill’s was founded in the heart of  London in 1865. (Kingsmill’s store for Francine Kopun.)

In 2004, when my story was published in Business London magazine, the family-owned retailer was an early adapter of online sales. In 2014, Kingsmill’s closed, marking the end of an era for anyone who grew up in London.

(Although I can’t seem to find a copy of my 2004 story, you can read more about the history of Kingsmill’s and its closing here and here.)

That cover story – penned as a J-school assignment – was the first of hundreds I have written that are in some way connected to the core of my home town.  So when some Londoners claimed that the closure of Kingsmill’s signaled the death of downtown retail, it got my blood boiling.

Luckily, I have a pen (or keyboard).  I pitched, and wrote, a second cover story on the new wave of independent retailers setting up shop in downtown London.

Declaration of Independance

I turned my anger into another cover story….

You can read the full story here.

Around the same time, I saw a Facebook posting about a board opening at MainStreet London – an organization tasked with supporting and strengthening all aspects of downtown.

I know that I am not the only Londoner frustrated by the snail’s pace of progress in the core. But being an optimist at heart I decided the time was right to join the fight for downtown at a more formal level. So I sent in my application – and was accepted to the board in January.

I am looking forward to seeing the revitalization process from another angle, and am hoping to learn more about the challenges of bringing meaningful – let alone transformational – change to the heart of my hometown.

A Five-Step Approach to Writing a Killer Press Release

There’s no doubt that social media has changed the marketing and PR landscape.

But when it comes to getting your story heard – whether you’re launching a business, introducing a new product, holding an event, or announcing a new hire – you still can’t beat a good news story (or two) to help spread the word.

But how can you make sure your news makes the news?

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An old-fashioned press release can help you make the news!

While a savvy online post or tweet can reach a targeted audience – including the media – when it comes to convincing news outlets that your story’s got legs, nothing beats the good old-fashioned press release.

Luckily, everything you need to know about writing an effective news release can be summed up in five steps:

Write a great headline
Your headline is the hook that will reel the media in and make them want to learn more. So it needs to be compelling and specific. It needs to answer the question: Why should I care?

If you’ve got something exciting to say, put it in your headline!

Summarize your news in the opening paragraph
Your press release should begin with the location and the date, followed by a one-sentence summary of your announcement. Try fleshing out your headline with a bit more detail!

Your opening paragraph should be brief, and should include all the key information you’d like to share about your announcement.

Ask yourself: If people only read this first paragraph, what do they need to know?

Elaborate in the body
After the opening paragraph comes the body – three or four paragraphs where you can elaborate on the who, what, when, where and why of your announcement. The most ‘news-worthy’ information should come first.

Don’t forget to include at least one quote from a company representative, industry expert, or satisfied client.  This gives your message a human voice (and makes it easier for print media to use your release as-is).

The boring boilerplate
The boilerplate is a short paragraph that helps bring journalists up-to-speed about your business or organization. A boilerplate can include your mission statement and any key facts you want to share, as well as a link to your website.

(To identify that it’s a boilerplate, simply write the name of your company in bold above the text).

Put your boilerplate after the body, but before the contact information.

Don’t forget the contact details
It might seem obvious, but don’t forget to include the name and contact information of the best person to handle any follow up questions. Make sure they are able, willing and available to speak with the media!

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Make sure your contact person is prepared to do an interview!

A few more tips:

Include visuals
A photo is worth a thousand words….so if you’ve got a great, high resolution image to help tell your story, include it with your release. Don’t forget the photo credit (if needed)! In today’s online world, a video link can be great, too.

Check your facts
Journalists work on tight deadlines. That means they may decide to pull information directly from your release to write their story, or simply ‘dump’ your release as-is…without doing a follow-up interview.

So before you send out your release, make sure your facts are correct, your sources are happy with their quotes, and that you are properly representing your brand.

Send it to the right people
You can always use an online distribution system like newswire.ca, but getting your release into the hands (or inbox) of the right journalist greatly improves your chances of making the news.

Pay attention to local bylines, and take some time to dig up personal (work) emails. Most media outlets have contact information somewhere on their websites. Or, try picking up the phone and ask.

Sound complicated?

If writing a press release sounds like a lot of work or you just aren’t sure you’ll get it right, consider hiring a PR professional or copywriter (like me!)

How do you get your story heard?

Musing on millenials and Eiskaffee

Having the opportunity to meet young people who are trying to change the world is one of the best things about being a freelance writer.

I recently had that chance when I interviewed the founders of Ezzy Lynn – a group of women who are using fashion for social and environmental good. Their weapon of choice? The scrunchie.

[For those who aren’t in the know, Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines a scrunchie as   “a piece of elastic covered in often brightly-coloured cloth that is used to hold long hair at the back of the head.”]

Sound crazy? That’s what I thought when the assignment dropped into my inbox.  Then I met Western University grads and Ezzy Lynn co-founders Samantha Laliberte, Sonja Fernandes and Bianca Lopes.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

The ladies of Ezzy Lynn.

This trio of 25-year-olds have their act together, and I wouldn’t bet against them. Intrigued? You can read my cover story here.

It made me think about what I was doing when I was 25…living in Geneva Switzerland, working as a freelance musician with no plans to change the world.  Without many plans beyond next week, actually.

Worrying about the bottom line and trying to build a business in a socially and environmentally responsible way was definitely not on my radar screen.  But eventually I gave up my bohemian ways, returned to Canada, and went back to school…

Fast forward 15 years and I have a new career and a family that includes a 9-year-old and two Newfoundland dogs.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

The geriatric and the young b**ch enjoying a swim.

Last week, we made a quick trip to Geneva (minus the dogs)…

We visited some of my old haunts…

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

We took a boat ride to the medieval village of Yvoire, France.

… drank real Eiskaffee…

Why can't I find this in London, Ontario?

Why can’t I find this in London, Ontario?

…and escaped the heat wave by jumping in the lake.

Yes, you can swim in Lake Geneva!

Yes, you can swim right downtown in Lake Geneva!

We also went on a day trip to Chamonix and took the gondolas up Mont Blanc – something I couldn’t afford to do as a twenty-something musician.

On top of the world....

On top of the world….a pricey day trip, but worth it!

It was wonderful to revisit a city that was once my home and that holds so many great memories. And so, while I am in awe of this generation of  driven, entrepreneurial millenials who are working so hard to change the world, I hope that they’ll also take some time to explore it. Responsibilities will wait.