Media, Darling: Lena Almeida

Lena Almeida, a wife and mother of two feisty little boys, is a writer,
social media enthusiast and authentic shopaholic. In fact, if it’s on sale –
she’s already bought it. 
Before starting a family, Almeida worked as a corporate trainer and employee satisfaction specialist for a Fortune 100
company. As much as she loved her career, she also yearned to explore her
creative side. 
Almeida started her blog Listen to Lena as a way of communicating
the best parenting finds to friends and family, but as she continued to post,
it was not long before an old passion was reignited – writing. Her site
evolved to focus on her love of creative writing and includes product reviews
and features, humorous takes on parenthood and her famous random rants. In

Almeida was named Best Blog and Best Family Blog at the Canadian Blog Awards
and is consistently ranked as one of the highest trafficked blogs in Toronto.
In 2011, she was once again named Best Family Blog and recognized as Motorola
Canada’s Social BLAZR. Today, she is the Official Shopaholic for

Almeida has extensive experience partnering with brands and is
considered one of Canada’s top digital women. She enthusiastically uses her
skills and knowledge to help elevate women’s presence and influence in social

Twitter: @Listen2Lena

you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, so naturally I studied Human Resources and
became a Corporate Trainer. 🙂 Seriously, though – I kind of fell into media
while on maternity leave. I was looking for a way to channel my creative
energy, so I set up a little blog and began to talk about the things I love.
Before I knew it, the blog had become my business. Quite happy to be in this space!

Where would you like to be five years from now?

Five years from now I would like to be as healthy, happy and fulfilled as I am

advice for people getting started in your industry?

There is no such thing as an overnight success. Don’t start a blog with the
sole purpose of gaining popularity or quitting your day job. Post often,
frequently engage with your readers (I respond to every comment left on by
blog), and if desired, position your blog to brands in a respectful and
professional way.

are your favourite media outlets, not including your own? 

I spend an inordinate amount of time watching/listening to the news, so CP24
and 680 News are constantly streaming in the background. The only television
show I’ve bothered to PVR in the last six months was The Vampire Diaries. SUCH
a fan.

interview you’ve ever had?

While I wouldn’t call it the “best”, interviewing four women – all in hiding –
at a battered women’s shelter was certainly one of the most memorable.


I’m too polite to say.

advice you’ve ever been given?

Fear = absence of faith.

rule(s) do you live your life by?

It’s quite corny, but my high school motto (Father Michael Goetz, Mississauga) was “Take a risk, get involved, be committed.” Although I rarely subscribed
to it in high school, I live by those words today in everything I do.

the most important tip you can give PR pros?

Tailor your pitches and know the blogger (and her/his audience). Most established
bloggers have little time, but a lot of influence. Be brief and to the point;
let the blogger know in the first paragraph how you’d like to work together
(even if it’s simply to communicate a press release). Within 30 seconds of
opening your email I want to know what’s in it for my readers, what’s in it
for me, and what your expectations are.

experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.

Since I often review products, many times PR folk will ask if I’d like to
coordinate a reader giveaway as well. Recently, I had the chance to experience
Arlene Dickinson’s Persuasion line. In lieu of a reader giveaway, I asked if
rock-it promotions would mind donating the prize to a silent auction
benefitting Perinatal Bereavement Services Ontario. Y’all agreed without
hesitation – knowing that you’d be trading further press and reader engagement in order to help support something that I believed in. That, to me, is a HUGE
PR #win.


Anything with more than four legs.


In no particular order: Shopping at Wal-Mart early on a Sunday morning, finding
a Joe Fresh dupe for an OPI nail colour, writing with a 0.7mm retractable lead
pencil, watching my boys play with cars, enjoying a ripe mango out of season, the smell of crisp, clean sheets hanging on a clothesline, laughing so hard I
cry, watching TELUS commercials, realizing my husband already cleaned the
kitchen, having someone else wash my hair and this quote: “Success is getting what
you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.” – D. Carnegie


Ugh. Don’t make me admit it! I just finished the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.

place on earth?

Niagara-on-the-Lake. I was married there five years ago this July. Yes, I was one
of those 07-07-07 bridezillas.

Dinner guest?

John Cleese. But only if he came as Basil Fawlty, and stayed in character all

My two sons. They’ve taught me that unconditional love is not simply a song

app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?

Epicurious. It always tells me what to do with bok choy.

or ocean?


or email?


Media, Darling: Karen Bliss

Karen Bliss is an established music
journalist for various print and web publications. She is currently the
Canadian correspondent for, writes for
, MSN, AOL’s
Noisecreep, Elle Canada, SOCAN’s Words & Music and more. Along the way, she
has interviewed everyone from Eminem to Shania Twain, Jimmy Page to Britney
Spears. Karen also created an anti-racism animated PSA, The Girl With Pinhead Parents, voiced by Nelly Furtado, Chris Bosh, Jully Black and others
Last summer, she started a record label, Daycare Records, with
musician/producer Luther Mallory 
(former frontman for Crush Luther and now bassist
and producer with Fortune, fronted by JD Fortune)
. Their first signing is woe-is-me indie-pop
act The Danger Bees (album out this summer). She also owns and operates,
 an online magazine about people,
charities and businesses making a difference. She has interviewed many musicians
for the site.

Did you always want to be in the media? If
not, what other careers were on the horizon? 
I actually became a music journalist
because I have no talent. I wanted to be in the music business and this was the
only way I knew how. Of course, as a small child I wanted to be a veterinarian,
and later, briefly thought it would be cool to be a cop or a criminal lawyer, but that was before I discovered The Rolling Stones and started going to all
the concerts I could during high school. I still dream of being a race car driver and/or an astronaut.

Where would you like to be five years from
Doing exactly the same thing, but to a
higher and more accomplished degree.

Any advice for people getting started in
your industry?
I typically say I am in the music business.
I consider that my industry. But for someone who would specifically like to be
a music journalist, you have to learn how to construct news and feature
articles (take courses and also look at how well-written articles are
constructed) and become entrenched in music. Go out to see bands, get to know how
the business works, attend panels at conferences such as CMW and NXNE, and
network. In terms of the “journalist” part, I believe I make my living from
ideas. Without them, I would be broke. To me, I’m not interviewing musicians; I
am interviewing people — and everyone has a story. It’s your job to discover
that story from the interviewee and write about it in an accurate and
compelling way.

What are your favourite media outlets, not
including your own? 
I am obsessed with hard news, more than
music journalism. I watch all those one- or two-hour investigative reports,
such as Dateline, NBC Real Life Mysteries, as well as 60 Minutes and 20/20. I
also love Anderson Cooper’s interviews; he approaches them with heart and intelligence
and is not afraid to call someone out.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
Too many to mention.
I have talked about this before, but
don’t want to put it out there on the Internet, never to be erased.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
In terms of my writing, very early on an
editor was going over one of my articles and said to me, “What are you trying
to say here?” So I answered. And he said, “Well, write that. Stop trying so
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
don’t live my life by any one rule. Maybe thou shalt not kill.
What’s the most important tip you can give
PR pros?
Try and work with the journalist, even if the
request isn’t part of your current schedule ie. if an interview is requested
but it’s between albums or a tour to promote. Also, please help when
fact-checking is needed. Too often, publicists’ main agenda is to set up the
interview and afterwards there are some who can’t be bothered to help to
double-check names, dates and other information. The ones that do are the best
in their field in my books because they care about the accuracy of the final

Often, when I transcribe an interview, there are holes that need to be
filled or things people say that don’t make sense. I need the publicist to help
check facts with the artist or management, so I’m not just regurgitating false
info from misspoken quotes or the Internet. When I know the person I
interviewed, and can call or email directly, they often say, “Oh, I meant such
and such” or “Oh, it wasn’t 2005; it was 2008. Sorry.” Some publicists only
care that the article comes out. 

Also, sometimes I am asked repeatedly over
weeks to interview someone; I finally do, and the article comes out; I send the
link and I don’t hear a word back — not even a “thanks.” 
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro?
We love to hear about #wins.
Too many to mention. My best experiences
are with competent publicists who get you all the materials you need to make a
good interview, go beyond the call of duty if you need something for a
particular story, and, as noted, will help fact-check. And also actually do send
the interview request to management and don’t just say “No” without trying.
I hate? 
Laziness, incompetence, excuses,
cigarette smoke, the drunk next to me at a concert, and walnuts.
I love?  
Music, talent, drive, intelligence, British humour, exotic food, big
dogs, Withnail & I.
I most recently read Michael
Eisner’s Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed because I have two of
the greatest partners I could hope for: Farley Flex for The Girl with Pinhead
and another, still-in-the-works sports venture; and Luther Mallory for
Daycare Records. I know I’m not always the easiest partner so this collection
of stories on various successful partners — from Eisner and Frank Wells
(Disney) to Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger (Berkshire Hathaway) — provides
great insight into working together.
Best place on earth? 
I have climbed the steps inside the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt,
scuba dived in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but I still think home is
the best place on earth.
Dinner guest? 
Keith Richards, Martin Luther
King Jr., John Lennon, my friends and family.
Don’t have one. I admire many people,
usually those who are committed and hard working, don’t make excuses and go for
what they want in life.  I also admire
people who quit complaining about their jobs, quit, and pursue what they really
want to do.
Favourite app (or whatever you are
downloading these days)?
Don’t have one.
Pool or ocean? 
Does one of these come with
the completion of this questionnaire? I’m not picky; surprise me.
Voicemail or email? 
Email for quick
messages or questions, but prefer talking on the phone for anything that needs
more in-depth discussion, clarification or brainstorming.

Media, Darling: Brandie Weikle

Brandie Weikle is parenting and relationships editor for the Toronto Star and the editor of the Star‘s She’s been working on parenting publications for 12 years. Before joining the Star she helped relaunch Canadian Family magazine and prior to that, worked at Today’s Parent for five years. She’s been both a freelance writer and a newspaper reporter. Brandie made the jump into digital media in 2008 and is an avid user of social networks, especially Twitter, where she tweets as @bweikle. She’s the mother of two boys, Cameron, 8, and Alister, 4. You can find her on a pair of skis in the winter and on a bike with a goofy wicker basket in the summer.
Twitter: @bweikle 

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?

I wanted to be a journalist from about grade 11 when, predictably, I first worked on my high school paper. Before that I wanted to be an architect, until I realized I couldn’t draw well enough, and an obstetrician, until I learned I couldn’t stand the sight of blood.

Where would you like to be five years from now?
I’m not sure but I hope it involves a little more time padding around my house drinking tea and being writerly. 

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Just be flexible and keep at it. If you’re not held down by a mortgage and kids or other commitments, be willing to leave Toronto. Be curious and open-minded about all kinds of subject matter. I wrote about everything from real estate to pig farming before I landed any kind of a staff job. If anything, that flexibility has become more important. Don’t despair about the field being competitive. There will always be room for people with tenacity who want it enough.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own? 
Online I wind up wherever the links take me from the tweets I find most compelling, but in free time I enjoy, epicurious, and all kinds of others. I think the magazine Psychology Today is a bit underrated. It is so lively and well-reported, and the art direction is really clever and unexpected. New York is a city magazine that manages to be entertaining and relevant to both residents and non-residents, without taking itself or the city too seriously. I like that.

Best interview you’ve ever had? 
Hard to say. I really find so much that’s interesting from people’s ordinary experiences.

Raffi. I guess I got all flustered and star struck or something? 

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Journalistically, someone told me “there’s always another source.” While sometimes there isn’t – a profile hinges on getting a particular person, of course – I remember this mantra helping me as a young journalist with that feeling of vulnerability to people getting back to you. If there isn’t another source, there is always another story. It’s good to have one in your back pocket.

In parenting, my mom gave me the best advice. She said, “You don’t have to love every minute of it.” That helped me go easy on myself about those times when you have a screaming baby and you just wish you could head for the hills.  

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
I don’t know. We’re all just trying to figure this out, right? I guess my main thing is just to try to be decent to people. Some believe you’ve got to be a hard ass to be taken seriously in news. I think that’s old school and, often, contrived. 

Apart from that? When you’re in too deep, call someone. Otherwise, put on something pretty and trudge on like it’s not a crap day. 

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
I think a tailored pitch that’s realistic for the publication is important. Understand what the website, magazine or paper you’re pitching does and doesn’t have in the way of regular departments where the product you’re representing could fit. And when you suspect your pitch might be a stretch, it likely is. I’m just not buying that your shower spray is going to liberate all kinds of time I can spend with my kids. 

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
My best experiences have started with realistic, helpful pitches I can turn into useful service for readers, and have ended with sources I’ve turned into friends.

I hate?
Emails with subject lines that only say “media release” and those containing loads of unsolicited PDFs and Jpegs that paralyze my work account.
(Ed note: PR people – please stop sending attachments – it gives us all a bad name. There is a great invention called Flickr. Learn it.)

I love?

What do I love? Are you sure this isn’t an online dating profile? Skiing, dancing, Saturday mornings, cheese.


I have two on the go: Esi Edugyan’s Half-blood Blues and Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing up Bebe.

Best place on earth?

Wrestling on the bed with my two boys, eight and four.

Dinner guest?

I know I should reach back in time here and select someone important from history or something, but I’m rarely happier than when my dinner table is surrounded by a quirky group of friends old and new — preferably all enthusiastic eaters.


My younger sister, Erica, is my hero for surviving mental illness. It takes a lot of bravery to keep going when your mind regularly betrays you, especially given that these conditions are still poorly understood and frightfully under-resourced.

Favourite app?

I use my phone for email, Twitter and Facebook, but I’m not especially taken with any apps. I’m trying to put my iPhone down a little more often these days.

Pool or ocean?

No contest. Ocean.

Voicemail or email?

Email, please.



We’re Not Just Pretty: Deb McCain

Deb has over 15 years of experience in public relations and communications.  After completing her Master’s degree at the London School of Economics, she worked as a communications advisor to cabinet ministers in the Ontario Government before rounding out her communications experience across a number of sectors with Hill & Knowlton and GCI Group in Toronto and Hill & Knowlton, New York. Deb worked in-house for a media agency during the dotcom boom, and ultimately returned to Toronto to set up her own shop, launching Deb McCain Communications in 2004.

Since starting DMC, Deb has worked with many HGTV personalities from Sarah Richardson and Tommy Smythe to Peter Fallico, Suzanne Dimma and the original Designer Guys, Steven & Chris.  She was involved with the creation of
Inside Entertainment magazine and FQ Magazine (with editor Jeanne Beker) and has worked extensively with Canadian fashion brands Ron White, Smythe jackets and Dealuxe. Deb has substantial experience in Canadian television across a range of production companies and networks including CBC, CTV, W Network, HGTV, Slice, Discovery and TVO.

DMC works with a number of charitable initiatives throughout the year including CAMH (Unmasked Fundraiser 2008-2011), The Ron White Foundation (White Knight Galas 2009-2011), The Writer’s Trust (Gala Dinner 2010), and Casey House (Snowball 2012). Outside of the office, Deb stays busy on the home front with a husband and two young girls.

How long have you been in your current position?
10 years.

How does your company leverage PR (i.e. to generate press, to build reputation, to manage crisis communications, etc)?
We use media to extend our client’s brands. We look for opportunities to layer stories and create multiple points of contact. We know the right people to get it done.

What qualities are most important to you when hiring a PR team member (PR degree, internships, etc.)?
Strong knowledge in the sector and loads of initiative.

Who gave you your first big career break?
Mike Coates, CEO of Hill & Knowlton Canada. He let me talk him into transferring me to the New York office. The rest is history. 

What’s your biggest piece of advice for PR pros, both junior and senior?
Know your journalists and what they’re writing about. Read as much as you can and stay current. Some of the best pitches have a hook that ties in with this week’s news.

What do you love most about your job?
The thrill of the kill.  There’s nothing like opening  three newspapers on a Saturday morning and seeing our stuff in ALL of them.

If you weren’t doing PR, what would you do?
I’m a media junkie so I don’t know. Maybe work in TV? Or magazines? I should definitely NOT own a bar.

A little more from the fourth floor:

Website:, Twitter,, LaineyGossip.

Smythe – I’m biased, but I’ve loved their stuff since day one and probably have one of the largest existing collections outside of the designers themselves (and Sarah Richardson).

Again, biased…Ron White Shoes. But, c’mon, where else can you go and get a foot massage and luxury water (chilled or room temp) and get to try on things for hours??

Naked by David Sedaris and Catcher in the Rye both have a perm spot on my nightstand. Guiltily half-read at the moment is My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler.

Rainforest crisps with any and all cheeses.

Barry White.

My daughters Davis and Daphne.

Plenty of white wine.

Motto in two words:
Under promise/over deliver (take your pick but they are best together).

Idea of perfect happiness:
The sweetspot of the weekend – Friday night 7 to 11 p.m.


Celebrity crush:
Owen Wilson, hands down.

Favourite tweeter to follow: 
@j_knoxy, @debgee, @MissMarlowG, @shinangovani.

Media, Darling: Gabrielle Johnson

Gabrielle Johnson graduated from London’s Central Saint Martins with a Master’s degree in fashion journalism. Her dreams of becoming a muse to fellow alum Alexander McQueen never came true, sadly, but she did sit next to Stella McCartney at a café once, and that was pretty exciting.
She began her career as the associate editor of FQ and SIR magazines, where she worked with a fantastic team and was given a surprising amount of creative freedom. She spent a year as the beauty editor of Rouge Magazine before joining the family, where she now very happily works as the editor of SweetLife, overseeing fashion, beauty and more restaurant/boutique/spa openings than you can shake a stick at.
Gabrielle lives in Toronto with her husband, their two cats and a small army of shoes. 

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
When I was four, I wanted to be a cocktail waitress; I thought it sounded like an incredibly glamorous career choice.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
Still working in fashion, but I’d eventually like to spend a little less time at my computer and a little more time playing with clothes (preferably in exotic locales).
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Show people that you’re a hard worker. Say yes to everything. Stay late once in a while. It absolutely sucks that we don’t pay our interns in this industry, but giving off an I’m-too-good-for-this attitude won’t impress anyone. We all have to start somewhere.  
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
I don’t think I’ll ever stop hoarding magazines, and I never miss an issue of British Vogue, American Vogue, Lula, The Gentlewoman, Living Etc. and Elle Decoration UK.
Online, I get my news from the Globe and Mail, New York Times and The Guardian, my celebrity gossip from DListed, and my fashion and design updates and inspiration from too many websites and blogs to list here. I’m also obsessed with the Tumblrs of angsty teenage girls who like to post photos of Parisian cafés and crumbling castles and Sofia Coppola and macaroons.
Best interview you’ve ever had?
The best was probably Paul Smith, who was lovely and charming and made it seem like we were two old friends having a nice chat. I also enjoyed interviewing Andy Samberg when I had a huge crush on him about five years ago. Nothing wrong with mixing business with pleasure, right?  
I once drove out to the middle of nowhere to interview a flaky socialite at her faux-Georgian mansion. It was 30 degrees outside and she answered the door dressed in head-to-toe riding gear (including boots and a heavy tweed jacket) despite the fact that she didn’t own a horse and had no plans to ride that day – so of course I included that detail in the opening paragraph of my story.
She was friends with my editor-in-chief at the time, and for reasons I can’t explain, this editor broke one of the most basic rules of journalism and sent her a draft of the story before it went to print. The socialite threw a giant hissy fit and demanded we take out basically everything that made the story interesting.  
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Don’t get too caught up in what other people are saying about you — even the good things. Other people’s opinions are usually more about them than they are about you, so don’t give them the power to make or break your day.
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Also: you can’t make friends with salad.
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Please, please, please read my website before contacting me so that I don’t spend half my day responding to irrelevant pitches. Please don’t call me 10 times in one day without leaving a single message; I have call display and you’re being kinda creepy. Please update your media lists on a regular basis so that you’re pitching to the right people (it helps if they’re people who actually still work at the company you’re pitching).
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
I’ve had a lot of fantastic experiences with PR people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty, but honestly, as long as you’re friendly, helpful and get back to me quickly with the info I’ve requested, I’ll think you’re pretty awesome.
I hate?
Noisy neighbours, slow walkers, endless winters, confined spaces, Gwyneth Paltrow.
I love? 
Carbs, napping, fancy tea and freshly baked scones, Saturday morning quiet time with my kitties and a stack of books, new nail polish colours, being in London, laughter that leads to snorting, my husband’s mad breakfast-making skillz, taking pictures of trees, looking at pictures of trees, packages from Miu Miu waiting to be unwrapped, moody British period dramas and very long walks.
I’ve been reading The Beautiful Fall since 2006 and I’m determined to finish the damn thing this month; I’ll throw a party once I finally reach the last page. I’m also working my way through The Marriage Plot and Sophie Dahl’s new cookbook From Season to Season. I don’t cook, but I enjoy reading about food and imagining myself cooking someday.
Best place on earth? 
It’s a tie between the Four Seasons Maui and the swan pond at Kensington Gardens in London.
Dinner guest? 
Tilda Swinton.
Daisy from the 1980 Judith Krantz classic, Princess Daisy.
Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I’m an online editor with Luddite tendencies. Pass.
Pool or ocean?
Either, as long as there are no sharks around (yes, I believe in swimming pool sharks).
Voicemail or email? 
Unless we’re actually real-life friends, email.

Media, Darling: Chantel Simmons

Chantel Simmons is the Hair Editor of The Kit and a beauty expert on The Marilyn Denis Show. After graduating from Ryerson’s Journalism program, she got a gig proofreading at the Toronto Sun, and quickly learned that accompanying the male photographers on the Sunshine Girl shoots at Cherry Beach paid better than finding typos in the paper. It was then she realized she must really like words. 

She has worked at ELLE Canada, TV Guide, Elevate and and has written for FASHION, Best Health, MoneySense, Maclean’s,, and She’s also the author of two bestselling novels, and teaches magazine writing and editing at Centennial College in Toronto.

All this is just a front for the fact she’s a stage mom to her cat, Mr. Baz, who has appeared in exactly one film, but has a whole wardrobe of costumes in case he gets a call from George Clooney.

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
I always wanted to be a writer and I’ve always been a magazine junkie (isn’t that what the space under beds is actually for?). So when I discovered I could marry the two – and never have to buy another mascara – I was sold. Though when I was five I was sure I was going to be a cashier. I could really man a plastic till back in the day.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

Doing more of what I do now. And getting a few novels closer to having a whole shelf full of my books at the bookstore. (I just hope there are still bookstores in five years.)

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Say yes to every opportunity (within reason). You never know where it will lead.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own? (i.e.: what do you read/listen/watch?)
The Grid, The National Post, The Globe & Mail, Marie-Claire, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Ted Talks. And for real news, and Dear Sugar’s advice column on

Best interview you’ve ever had?

Anyone who surprises me.

Hilary Duff. It was a phoner, and every question I’d ask her, she’d repeat to her publicist (who was clearly sitting beside her in the car). The publicist would then tell her what to say and she’d repeat it to me. I felt like saying, “Why don’t you pass the phone to your publicist and we can get this over with quicker.” In fairness, she was really young at the time.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s never too late to be what you might have been.

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Success is 99 percent hard work and 1 percent luck. And always pack a sweater.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros:
Include prices in the press release. It saves us both another round of emails.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins. 
Too many to mention, but a few things that make me love certain PR reps on a daily basis: knowing the magazine they’re pitching, coming to the rescue within minutes to help me meet a deadline, and being understanding that sometimes, things get cut. It’s not the product, it’s just life. (Okay, sometimes it’s the product.) 

I hate?

Rudeness, negativity, raccoons, pants without back pockets.

I love?

Wittiness, getting mail, exploring new places, Chateau de Bourgogne cheese, the perfect manicure, those crinkly laugh lines around the eyes, the word “swoon”.


On my Kindle right now: The Forgotten Waltz, And Then Things Fall Apart, and Ellen DeGeneres’ “Seriously…I’m Kidding”.

Best place on earth?
A hotel room. It usually means I’m on vacation.

Dinner guest?

Anyone who says yes to dessert.


My parents.

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?

GPS. I have zero sense of direction.

Pool or ocean?

Ocean. Salty air, bare feet, beachy hair.

Voicemail or email?

Email. I have a thing for written words.

Media, Darling: Mackay Taggart

Mackay Taggart lives for early mornings, if for no other reason than the excessive napping they permit.  After getting his start as a high school radio intern and part-time traffic reporter, Taggart headed east to attend university.   
After four years in Halifax, Taggart graduated with a Political Science and International Development Studies degree from Dalhousie University. He returned to Toronto as the evening and weekend talk show producer at NEWSTALK 1010 CFRB
In 2008, Taggart took a year-long hiatus from Canadian radio to work in Sierra Leone with the NGO Journalists for Human Rights.  Upon his return from Africa, Taggart rejoined the team at NEWSTALK 1010 to co-produce Moore in the Mornings with John Moore and serve as the Assistant Program Director.  
In the spring of this year, Taggart left radio to help produce The Morning Show with Liza Fromer, which debuted on Global this fall. The Morning Show airs weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. 

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
The short answer: Yes. I’ve always been a news junkie and always wanted to be a part of the action. The beauty of working in news media is that you feel like you work in whatever field is dominating the headlines that day – politics, finance, sports, entertainment – it’s always changing.  I studied political science in university and used to think that I might want to work in diplomacy…little did I know, working with TV talent often requires more diplomacy than any other type of career.

Where would you like to be five years from now?
I’d like to still be working in a capacity where I get to be creative and inventive in my role. I love working in Toronto media, though I’ve often thought of one day going abroad and seeing another part of the world through a journalistic lens. 

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Reach out to people. You’d be amazed how easy it is to get access to some of the top people in the field simply by picking up the phone and asking people to lunch. If your objective is simply to pick someone’s brain, you’ll rarely encounter resistance. The key to having a successful career in media is being smart, being curious and being engaged. All the other skills will fall into place. 

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
Tough question! There are a lot. I tend to get great local ideas from talk radio.  I pick up the magazine Monocle for the production value and the aesthetics. I find online news aggregators like The Daily Beast really helpful, and I rarely let a Sunday go by without watching 60 Minutes and downloading the latest podcast of the public radio program This American Life

Best interview you’ve ever had? Worst?
I had the chance to interview a lot of Canadian athletes while covering the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  Their passion, enthusiasm and dedication was inspiring.  You’re going to have to get a couple beers in me if you want to hear about the worst!

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Work hard and play hard.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Know the show/outlet you’re pitching. Don’t simply go on the website, consume the product and pitch accordingly. Be short, be direct and don’t be afraid to follow up.  

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
There have been many – usually involving last minute requests and great executions on the part of publicists.  Most recently, I remember we had a high-profile guest bail at 9 p.m. from the next day’s The Morning Show. I happened to be out at an event when I got the last minute email stating the cancellation. A couple of minutes later, as luck would have it, I ran into Michelle Lewis of Fleishman-Hillard. I began venting about our drop out and within 15 minutes, she had two or three great back-up guests standing by. Not sure if I mentioned it to the rest of our production team, but she was definitely the one who saved the show that day.

I hate?
Hearing my alarm go off at 2:15 a.m. every weekday (worst part of working in morning television).

I love?
Fresh powder on a ski day.

A bio on former Pan-Am CEO Juan Trippe – a fascinating look into a business icon, but I’ll be honest: I was inspired by watching the cheesy TV series. 

Best place on earth?
Lamu Island, off the coast of Kenya.

Dinner guest?
Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes.

My dad is pretty awesome.

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)? 
Drink Owl.

Pool or ocean?

Voicemail or email?

Media, Darling: Kevin Naulls

Kevin Naulls attended the school of hard knocks at the University of Toronto (St. George Campus), where he studied English, History and Philosophy. His humble beginnings started with an internship with designer Pat McDonagh (which he did simultaneously with a night job at Sun Media), and sneaking into shows at “the tents.” Around that time, he began writing a blog that would eventually deal almost exclusively with contemporary menswear and dudes with beards named Dressed for Dinner, which led to more pictures of bearded men on the Internet.

After writing for Sharp, The Sharp Book for Men, Eye Weekly, the Toronto Sun, The Block, and more, and still working nights at Sun Media, he was offered a job as Associate Online Editor at Toronto Life, where he lives and breathes today (and sometimes allows him to sleep at a reasonable hour). He very much enjoys it. 

Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon? 
Like any idealistic young lad, I wanted to be a cartoonist, an actor, a lawyer, a criminologist and a philosopher. I gave up on those dreams long ago, but I still aspire to be a television comedy writer, and I’m writing spec scripts on the side. No, you can’t read them (not yet anyway).

Where would you like to be five years from now?
In five years? Well, I like the experience of working at Toronto Life – I am allowed to have a voice that is my own, and I’m learning new skills every day that I wouldn’t have (at least not as quickly) as a freelancer.  But I’d love to be the next Mindy Kaling, because I like fashion shows, fashion shows at lunch.

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
I didn’t sleep before I got my job at Toronto Life. I ran my blog, worked nights and freelanced for multiple publications. I don’t want to recommend an unhealthy lifestyle, but everyone wants these jobs, and having a take-on-all-comers attitude is a clear sign to employers that you’re willing to push yourself to your limits. And stories don’t just fall into your lap every day, so it is important to get into the habit of fighting for a scoop.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own? 
What I read: Fantastic Man, V magazine, Interview, the New York Times, New York magazine, The Gentlewoman, Corduroy, The Awl, Gawker, Workwear magazine (when I can find it (send it to me! Or find me .PDFs!))

What I listen to: to ensure a person’s sexual issues are much more complicated than mine, I listen to the Savage Love podcast. To laugh out loud, I listen to Julie Klausner’s podcast How Was Your Week (I like to pretend she’s my girlfriend when I’m listening). I hate Slate’s Culture Gabfest—if I wanted to listen to lukewarm talk radio that is basically a roundtable of people with convoluted ideas about pop culture, I’d go to Trampoline Hall.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
“Talk is cheap, motherfucker.” – DMX

DMX may not have said it to me personally, but it resonated. I have no patience for people who do not speak for themselves in a critical way. I work in an industry where the emphasis is on brand building, and I refuse to pretend to care about something for free drinks and VIP experiences. 

Everything should be broken down, illustrating positives and negatives, because no one will learn anything otherwise – you’d tell your children that some things are right, and some things are wrong, and while “right” and “wrong” are subjective, I’d rather someone speak openly and be slightly wrong than lie down and take it, spilling adjectives onto a page that do not rightly reflect the subject. 

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
A couple of good friends once said “there are no rules on girls weekend,” and I tend to live my life that way. I’m not a cat though, so it isn’t all fancy free – I am professional, and stick to deadlines, even when I’m writing jokey captions or living in sewers.  I promise to always love the people I love, even when they sing karaoke better than I do. And like Maestro, I always stick to my vision.

Best interview you’ve ever had?
I had the opportunity to interview Robert Geller, and what could have been a 15 minute interview turned into an hour and 15 minutes. Most of the time subjects are so media trained that they become resistant—there’s this wall that they hit, as if someone is tapping them on the shoulder (sometimes there is someone) telling them it is time to wrap it up. We chatted like old school chums, and his level of candidness helped me with my story immensely. I like when people aren’t in a rush. If it is going to be a media circus, it almost isn’t worth it. I don’t have 2 minute interviews and I feel as if no one really should.

Oh, and obviously chatting with Felicity Jones during TIFF. That was unforgettable, and I thank Alex Thompson from Joe Fresh for making that happen. It might mean nothing to everyone else, but I was a huge Worst Witch fan and we gabbed about it briefly, which made my night. I’m willing to fight for a story, but it is nice when meetings happen so easily, and the other party (celebrity or otherwise) is actually really nice about having a chat.

Worst interview you’ve ever had?
Interviewing Alicia Silverstone during TIFF. It lasted all of 30 seconds, and 20 seconds of it was her trying to sell me her book. It was incredibly disappointing to say the least.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
I love PR girls when they relax. So many are high strung, sporting impeccably bleached teeth and a perma-smile. Girls (and guys), I know it is your job to rep your clients (I know). Get off your game once in a while and have a bit of fun with the media you’re working with. Some of my best PR-media relationships are with those who know when to be professional, and know when it is cool to let loose a little bit. 

Also, this is such a small matter because I know a lower case ‘i’ can look like an ‘l’, but my last name is NAULLS, not NAULIS. And I am a Mr., not a Ms. (which, again, usually just makes me laugh). My biggest pet peeve though is when someone follows up on an email the day of sending it. Yes, your email is the most urgent email I’ve received all day.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins
My favourite PR person in the world is Steve Sane from Sane PR in the UK, but that has a lot to do with who he represents and how awesome everything is—not to mention his entire staff must work around the clock, because every single time I’ve asked for photos or information, it gets to me in mere moments. I’ve waited days in Toronto. The girls and guys in Toronto know who they are, because they continue to make my life easier by getting things to me on time, and not harassing me by phone. Not everything a PR person represents fits in at Toronto Life, and I’m sorry your job requires you to pitch me toilets, but please learn that I do what I can with what is given—sometimes a turd is just a turd (to be crass).

I hate?
Everything. But really, I don’t care for people who insert French words into sentences because they’ve been to Paris once (or twenty times). I find that I read this a lot in fashion journalism, but a good editor will strike that out and recast it using the English word (or equivalent). I hate walking to the streetcar on a cold damp day, and I hate when I forget to pack my lunch in the morning. I also don’t like when people talk about their jobs all the time, but in this industry, there is so much one-upmanship, that someone is always doing something fabulous (well, guess what, sometimes I eat dinner in my underwear while I watch television on my laptop).

I love?
Brassy women and hilarious men (my friends), beards (hilarious beardos go to the top of the class), meta-jokes, plaid shirts, Happy Socks, Mark McNairy shoes, fried spaghetti sandwiches, Cruel Intentions, Home Movies (cartoon series), Archer, American Dad, Life and Times of Tim, ice water, dark denim, scotch on the rocks, a good IPA, 13 Going on 30 and Aaron Spelling, 

I bet you think I’m reading Jonathan Franzen, but I’m not. I’m re-reading Tyler’s Cape by Darren Greer in hopes that my book club Literection (this is real) will re-emerge.

Best place on earth?
Any hotel with a gigantic king-size bed, and a mattress you can just sink in enough (while still being firm). The important part of this scenario is that I have zero obligations while I am there, so I can come and go as I please. This one time I was in New York, my phone died on the first night and I forgot my charger, and it was the best trip ever.

Dinner guest?
Dead: River Phoenix; alive: Brenda Strong.
These require no explanation.

Other than Cara Pifko, Tina Fey? Is this as obvious as Rory writing an entrance-to-Harvard essay on Hilary Clinton? Because I don’t care. She has the best comic timing, and everything she does is relatable, no matter who you are or what circle of friends you claim to be part of. I’d also have dinner with her, but with Tina Fey we’d also drink bourbon and shoot pellet guns at stop signs.  

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
I was playing Words With Friends pretty regularly with my colleague Fraser Abe (but we are both pretty good and just started to annoy each other—we kept the games going for a long time by only placing two letter words). Now I play Family Feud and Friends and Instagram pictures of my shoes and socks.

Pool or ocean?
Give me a lap pool to myself and I’m a kid in a candy store. I love just swimming and swimming without people bothering me (or fish, or sharks, or octopi). But really, I’ll swim anywhere, especially at night.

Voicemail or email? 
Always email me, unless the matter is urgent (or be like me and annoy your friends by leaving not-so-urgent messages on a Saturday afternoon). But seriously, I prefer emails unless we’re close enough to have each others phone number for not-work shenanigans. 

Teacher’s Pet: Education vs. Experience

Lorena Laurencelle is currently a Public Relations student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. 

Her Question: What level of education is necessary to succeed in the public relations field? Is education more important, or is experience more valued?
Our Answer: Our team comes from a variety 
of backgrounds, experience and education. We look at both sides of this question by asking some with PR education backgrounds (Amalia and Meg) and some with PR experience (Natalie, Debra and Abby) for their advice.
Debra – President
I didn’t go to school for public relations. I have a degree in creative writing and started working when I was 14 years old and moved out when I was 18. I learned from experience. I took every lesson and like to think I got a bit smarter with each mistake I made. I loved to write, always had an easy time meeting new people and I spent years doing shitty telemarketing jobs where I honed my phone skills. Get good at what you love to do and you can succeed without getting a degree. Spend time in a really good internship or two and that’s going to do you a world of good in the PR world.

Natalie  – Publicist

I attended the University of Western Ontario, majoring in Media, Information and Technoculture and minoring in Comparative Literature and Civilization. While at Western, I also completed a Certificate in Writing. While I think that post-secondary education can be helpful in developing your writing and critical thinking skills, I don’t think that a B.A. is necessary for a career in public relations. At university, I learned more about my strengths and weaknesses and began to think that I wanted to work in PR. It wasn’t until after graduating and completing two internships that I knew that PR was for me.
Ultimately, my advice for anyone looking to get into PR is to volunteer/intern as much as you can. While being a good writer is a necessary skill for a good publicist, first-hand experiences are what make a great publicist. So much of what we do at rock-it involves events and the type of on-the-ground experience you get in a (good) internship is what I believe you need. Learn how to run a door, make a guest list, create a clippings package, etc. – these are the tasks that seem menial, but which are SO important to a functioning PR team. You can read about it in school, but nothing can ever beat real life experience.
Abby – Publicist
Ultimately, a bachelor’s degree of some sort is required to succeed; you need basic levels of writing, comprehension and time management to make it in any career. For PR, it boils down to a combo of natural skills and learned skills. For some types of PR, these skills are best learned in school. For others, they’re best learned in the trenches. If you are willing to work hard, ask smart questions, have great people skills and are a strong writer, you don’t necessarily need a PR-specific education. There are lots of related degrees that will help you out – English, communications, journalism, film, a technology background or even science can be relevant. It depends on what area of PR you’d like to work in. 
Communication skills are a must, so if they come naturally to you, then you’re likely able to make it without a post-secondary PR degree. If you’re not the strongest writer, take a few courses to brush up, or start a blog to develop your style. 
PR education never hurts, but landing a great internship, meeting people in the industry and participating in social media are the alternate route to making it in public relations.
Amalia – Assistant to the President
Having a bachelors degree and a certificate in PR (or something related) is very important. I think that having a PR-geared post-secondary diploma is something that will benefit you incredibly. The things that I learned on the first day of school (Algonquin College) are still getting me through the work day…so pay attention and don’t skip class!
Interning is something EVERYONE should do. I did three internships one summer, and it really paid off. Although the money isn’t great, you need to see it as a learning experience and an investment in your own future. They are paying YOU to learn.
Keeping in touch with former bosses and colleagues is also something everyone should do, especially in our field. Staying on someone’s radar is just as important as your experience, education and skill set combined.
Meg – Junior Publicist
After getting a B.Sc. and working in unrelated jobs for a couple of years, I went back to school for a post-grad diploma in PR. I definitely value that education – it taught me PR writing styles and other basics, and gave me an idea of what to expect in this business. I think a PR-specific education is a strong start to a career in this industry. Writing, editing and style are the base of everything we do, and a PR-specific education will prep you with that knowledge.
That being said, all the education in the world won’t allow you to succeed without real-life experience. Interning is hands down the best way to really learn the biz. I would be nowhere without what I gleaned from my time interning. An education is the foundation for the knowledge you gain from job experience. I continue to learn every day by watching the awesome and experienced pros I work with and listening to their advice and know-how.
In Conclusion: There’s no one right answer as everyone comes into this industry with different skills, education and experience to draw on. However, we all agree on the strength and importance of internships and that some form of education is necessary, even just to hone your writing skills.
Have a PR question you want answered? Send it to We’ll choose the best and answer it on our blog.

Media, Darling: Jason Anderson

Jason Anderson is a film critic and columnist for The Grid (Eye Weekly before that). He also writes about movies regularly for the Toronto Star, Cinema Scope, Movie Entertainment and He won a Western Magazine Award in 2006 for his music columns for Swerve Magazine in Calgary, and is the author of Showbiz, a novel.

He teaches film criticism at the University of Toronto, programs for the Kingston Canadian Film Festival and plays keyboards in the Toronto band The Two Koreas. You can read his blog at


Did you always want to be in the media? If not, what other careers were on the horizon?
I always loved writing but discovered in my teen years that scribbling record reviews was a great way to get free music, too. I never really believed that there was a career in writing about whatever art works or cultural ephemera I was most (or least) enthusiastic about – after two decades or so, I still have a hard time believing it. If this all hadn’t transpired, I would have comfortably slid into a life in academia, which is why I’m happy the journalism has led to some opportunities to do some teaching at U of T.

Where would you like to be five years from now?

Hoping to continue to diversify my career with lots of other endeavours beyond journalism (e.g., teaching, programming for film festivals). I also hope to have found the time to crank out a second novel — hell, maybe a third, too.

Any advice for people getting started in your industry?

Don’t put your eggs in any one basket, make sure to cover your bets and… damn, I can’t think of a third cliché. Anyway, my experience suggests that the wisest thing to do is have lots of projects on the go and not be precious about any of ‘em. You never know what’s going to pick up momentum – it could be your most seemingly practical idea or your looniest, most self-indulgent lark.

What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
Still loyal to lots of print magazines, especially about film and music (e.g., The Wire, Mojo, Entertainment Weekly, Sight & Sound, Film Comment, Cinema Scope). The New Yorker and the Sunday NY Times, too. Like a lot of folks (young ones, too), I can’t read anything but the shortest items online so my existence is still cluttered with paper.

Best interview you’ve ever had?

I’ve had so many good interviews but I’m proudest when I have pleasant, lively conversations with subjects generally deemed to be impossible or downright nasty (two words: Lou Reed).

The worst of all time was an especially bored and sullen Jewel, who entertained herself in between her monosyllabic answers by lighting matches and flicking them into an ashtray in front of us. How charming!

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

Keep your head down and keep moving.

What rule(s) do you live your life by?
See previous.

What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Please don’t be mad at me if I make an otherwise reasonable request that may deviate from your plans. I don’t mean to be difficult.

Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
Too many positive ones to mention. Always impressed with the professionalism and friendliness of 99 per cent of the PR people I deal with in Toronto.

I hate?
Rudeness, small-mindedness, Maroon 5.

I love?
My wife and daughter, heavy metal, Stevie Wonder, racquet sports, Scandinavian movie comedies, dessert.

Lately: Simon Reynolds’ Retromania, Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, recent tomes on American horror movies in the ‘70s and Hollywood screenwriting.

Best place on earth?
Negril, Jamaica or my backyard.

Dinner guest?
Dr. John

John Berger

Favourite app (or whatever you are downloading these days)?
Mostly fresh music.

Pool or ocean?

Voicemail or email?