You spent 370k on a PR firm?? Please say it ain’t so Hamilton….

Well everyone was in a tizzy today. All the Hamilton media picked up on a  this priceless story. A Big thanks to the Pr Firm Dialogue Partners for making us laugh.

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Firm plays down online uproar over Hamilton budget consultation project

Hamiltonians go online to show frustration with city “engagement” project

The Our Voice, Our Hamilton campaign is meant to engage the public in a discussion about the future of municipal services and how to deal with the City's $195-million annual infrastructure deficit.

The Ottawa firm spearheading the public consultation about the City’s finances is downplaying the social media uproar over the project’s rollout.

On Monday, the City of Hamilton announced it was embarking on a campaign called Our Voice, Our Hamilton to engage the public in a discussion about the future of municipal services and how to deal with the City’s $195-million annual infrastructure deficit.

The online rollout drew a harsh response from people on social media, who criticized Dialogue Partners, the company that the City has hired to undertake the project, for being out of touch with Hamiltonians.

On Monday night, McMaster student Eric Gillis sent the Our Voice, Our Hamilton Twitter account a public message, advocating for the “continuation of voluntary pay for [people with disabilities] on the HSR.”

Our Voice, Our Hamilton responded by saying, “we launched officially today. Thks for the comment – what is ‘HSR’ just so we can accurately capture your comment 🙂 Thanks!”

HSR is the acronym for The Hamilton Street Railway Company, the city’s public transit system.

The question sparked a firestorm on Twitter, with some Hamilton users accusing Dialogue Partners of being, among other things, “a garbage public relations firm.”

Dialogue Partners responds

The company, which the City is paying close to $400,000 for its services, responded to the outcry Tuesday.

“To be honest, I know that there’s been some concern and I welcome that,” said Stephani Roy McCallum, managing director of Dialogue Partners.

“To me, it says that people are concerned and that they care and they’re connected to their community.”

Roy McCallum played down the Twitter reaction to the project, adding that the social media comments don’t represent the views of many Hamiltonians. She said that only 24 hours after the launch of the Our Voice, Our Hamilton website, users had already contributed 50 responses to the page’s online survey.

“I would say very few of them reference the same comments from on Twitter.”

In reference to the HSR gaffe, Roy McCallum said the person wrote the tweet knowing that the acronym referred to Hamilton’s public transit system, but wanted to be absolutely sure.

“We want to be really certain not to assume what people are talking about.”

Raising awareness

The City hired Dialogue Partners last May for the 13-month project.

The firm has taken on similar budget consultation projects in Ottawa, Edmonton and more recently, in Calgary.

“I think they started off on the wrong foot,” said Sam Merulla, councillor for Ward 4, said of Dialogue Partner’s work in Hamilton.

However, he characterized the online furor against the company as “premature” and said the public should be patient in allowing the project to unfold.

“I think one thing we have succeeded in is creating awareness,” he laughed. “And [Dialogue Partners] have done it in a very short period of time.

“I’m sure it wasn’t by design, but I do commend them on creating such awareness in a 12-hour span.”

Hamiltonians react on twitter


  1. City Public Engagement Initiative Triggers PR Fiasco – Raise the Hammer

    This is something that frustrates me for many reasons. First, I’ve found that there are a significant number of city employees that live …
  2. Good morning @ourhamilton. Spoke to HSR today and they don’t know who you are either. #TellOHEverything
  3. Glad #HamOnt citizens are engaged w @ourhamilton fallout. Hoping city will address #tellOHeverything concerns
  4. Corktown is neither Cork nor a Town! Go figure that one out!#TellOHEverything #Hamont @ourHamilton
  5. @CBCHamilton @Sam_Merulla @ourhamilton I don’t think they even got out of bed! Not knowing the HSR is not a little thing.Basic research
  6. .@CBCHamilton @sam_merulla @ourhamilton “started out on wrong foot”? Started out as a glossy PR firm with little bkgrnd knowledge of #HamOnt
  7. This @ourhamilton account has to be some sort of joke right? I’m trying hard here to give council the benefit of the doubt right now
  8. @ourhamilton in hamilton our engagement experts, don’t diss twitter in the local press.
  9. @andreahorwath @studentvote @ourhamilton Our Hamilton – meet Andrea Horwath, she’s the chief of police in Hamilton#TellOHEverything
  10. May I politely suggest that everyone UNFOLLOW OurHamilton…that might send a message too, no? #HamOnt
  11. @ourhamilton The Piggot Building is a gorgeous skyscraper on James Street South, but there are no pigs #TellOHEverything
  12. My students could have done a better job in designing the site and the process behind @ourhamilton cc: @ourrealhamilton#TellOHEverything
Raise the Hammer

    City Public Engagement Initiative Triggers PR Fiasco

    A brand-new initiative by the City of Hamilton to engage the public on public infrastructure funding has already drawn sharp criticism and ridicule.

    By Ryan McGreal
    Published January 08, 2013


    A brand-new initiative by the City of Hamilton to engage the public on public infrastructure funding has already drawn sharp criticism and ridicule.

    Called “Our Voice, Our Hamilton”, the initiative seeks public input on which city services Hamiltonians most value in an era of declining transfers from higher levels of government.

    The City hired a PR company, Ottawa-based Dialogue Partners Inc, to run the campaign. It includes awebsite, as well as social media presence on Twitter and Pinterest.

    The website includes a letter from Chris Murray, City Manager for the City of Hamilton: “Knowing what services Hamiltonians value most will help the City make more informed decisions when it comes time to prepare the budgets for future years. The input you provide will help my colleagues and I invest our limited dollars according to what you value.”

    The City is paying Dialogue Partners to undertake broad public consultation on how to prioritize public spending, followed by a summary report in the Spring.

    May 24, 2012 Information Report [PDF] said the City is paying Dialogue Partners $402,450. However, according to a September 19, 2012 Information Report [PDF], the approved budget for the project is actually $376,000.

    The work will also include several “legacy items” for the City that will outlive the consulting contract, including: online and mobile tools for citizen engagement, a “comprehensive communications/media plan template” that the City can use for future initiatives, an “internationally certified five-day citizen engagement training course” for 25 City staff, a City citizen engagement policy, and a citizen engagement stakeholder database.

    According to Kelly Anderson, spokesperson for the Department of Public Works, “Dialogue Partners was hired through the City’s usual competitive bidding process that considered both cost and related experience.”

    The PR firm helped administer public consultations in Calgary and Edmonton, including Calgary’s Our City. Our Budget. Our Future program.

    PR Fiasco

    Do you know the difference between civic engagement and PR? Civic engagement is authentic communication, whereas PR uses phrases like “capture your comment”.

    Our Voice, Our Hamilton launched a shitstorm on Twitter when the consultants responded to a comment by Eric Gillis expressing support for “the continuation of voluntary pay for disabled [people] on the HSR” with this reply:

    we launched officially today. Thks for the comment – what is “HSR” just so we can accurately capture your comment 🙂 Thanks!

    Things sort of went downhill after that. After taking some flak for not knowing what the HSR is, the consultantreplied, “had to ask. We can’t assume anything”.

    This prompted another wave of outrage, including a satirical new Twitter account called @OurRealHamilton and a humorous suggestion that the consultant could try Googling “HSR”.

    Things really got going when Michael Pett proposed a new hashtag, #TellOHEverything, to inform the out-of-town consultant about all things Hamilton:

    Comedy ensued, but so did a more critical look at the initiative, including the discovery by independent journalist Joey Coleman that Our Voice, Our Hamilton was using a photo of the Hamilton Ohio Courthouse on itsPinterest page.

    Coleman also noticed that the Hamilton t-shirt on the Our Voice, Our Hamilton Pinterest page was for Hamilton, Washington.

    T-shirt for Hamilton, Washington (Image Source: Pinterest)
    T-shirt for Hamilton, Washington (Image Source: Pinterest)

    Essentially, a case study in how not to conduct civic engagement.

    Update: Updated the cost of the consultant based on the city’s audit, finance and administration committee information report. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

    Update 2: Updated to add a more recent Information Report citing a project cost of $376,000. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

    Update 3: A city spokesperson confirmed that the PR company was contracted through a competitive bidding process. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

    Update 4: Updated to include more detail in what the City is receiving for the $376,000 cost of the project. You can jump to the added paragraph.

    Tuesday, January 08, 2013

    Hamilton website struggles

    The City of Hamilton has launched a program to engage its citizens — it’s called ‘Our Hamilton’.
    The goal is for residents to provide input about the city’s services as it grapples with a $150-million annual infrastructure deficit. But there’s already been some backlash. And just one day after launching the website, there’s already been some major criticism about the program.
    The whole point is getting people talking about what they think city funding should be used for — in terms of infrastructure through the website and ‘our hamilton’ on Twitter.
    The City of Hamilton has hired an Ottawa-based firm – “Dialogue Partners.” to the tune of $376,000.
    It will last three months and use other forms of social media, plus public meetings, to gather input from the public on their service priorities to help make funding decisions in the future.
    But what really seems to be getting people up in arms is that the firm has posted questions, asking for clarification of what the ‘HSR’ is — apparently not knowing the well-known initials of the Hamilton Street Railway.
    The site includes a picture of the Hamilton courthouse, except that it’s not from Hamilton, Ontario– it’s the Hamilton, Ohio courthouse.
    The site also includes a t-shirt promoting a Hamilton in Washington State. That’s led to some tounge-in-cheek comments…
    Janet Rymal tweets — The Jolley Cut is a mountain access, not a happy wound. And another tweet by Megan Smith/Meg Smith — “How can we engage with a city that doesn’t engage with it’s own businesses?” – what a wasted opportunity for them.

    The public relations firm will summarize the community’s feedback and present a report to council in the spring.
    It’s sparked the creation of a whole new Twitter account, called, “@our real hamilton”.


    08. January 2013 by Gunner
    Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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