PR Firm Apologizes to Citizens of Hamilton, Ontario

It's embarrassing when a PR firm doesn't know the city its hired to represent. Dialogue Partners is trying to regain credibility for the company-and for the city of Hamilton, Ontario.

Contracted for $376,000, the Dialogue Partners began working on "Our Voice, Our Hamilton," a public engagement project. But the firm made several missteps that drew strong criticism from Hamilton citizens:

  • On the Twitter account, @ourhamilton, a company representative asked "What is HSR?" The correct answer is, Hamilton Street Railway, the city's transit system, a basic fact that a PR firm should know. The firm said it just was clarifying information.
  • Posted on the company's Pinterest board is a photo of Hamilton, Ohio, a long ways from Ontario. The firm said it didn't post the image.
  • The firm's website displayed malicious comments, and the company blamed a hacker and took the site down temporarily.

Representative Sam Merulla called the company "a stranger to competence," is hoping to avoid paying the bill, and is planning to bring the campaign in-house.


Dialogue Partners has been listening and responding. In an open letter to Hamilton citizens, the firm apologized and asked for forgiveness: "We hope that you'll give this important conversation a chance." The company also posted a very long, explanatory blog post. A managing partner said, "We are humbled by the loudness of the voices we've heard. We totally want to acknowledge the missteps we've made."

Discussion Starters:

  • How could the city have prevented this PR disaster?
  • What could Dialogue Partners have done differently?
  • Assess the firm's letter to citizens. In what ways does it work well as an apology letter, and in what ways could it be improved?