Case Studies

Cielo Waste Solutions

The Goal: Media attendance to what was effectively a ribbon-cutting ceremony, marking the opening of a refinery that turned garbage into renewable diesel.

The Challenges: Many, including:

  • The event was a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which the media at the best of times, does not cover.
  • Bad timing. It was held during Stampede. This is a time when the media typically doesn’t go on holiday or cover anything outside of Stampede. The whole City of Calgary shuts down for Stampede.
  • Distance. This event was outside of the city of Calgary, and a considerable drive away – 45 minutes.
  • Strapped newsrooms – very difficult to get journalists to commit to attending anything these days as so few actually still work in newsrooms.
  • Competing news agenda: The Prime Minister was in town. This made the competition for media attention even fiercer than normal, as we were not only competing with Stampede, we were competing with the Prime Minster’s events.
  • Not news. This was a re-announcement of a news release that had been issued and widely distributed a month earlier, on June 11th, 2019. There was nothing actually “new” here, therefore the event wasn’t really newsworthy.

The Solution/Strategy: We just packaged the story and pitched it in a way that made it newsworthy. How did we do this? 

    • We created a media event — a tour of the facility. 
    • We pitched the technology as the story, NOT the event itself.
    • We created a catchy headline that addressed a societal problem (single-use plastics): “From Trash to Treasure; Cielo refinery transforms all garbage, including single-use plastics, into diesel fuel”
    • We framed it around current news stories, including:
      • The issue of what to do with 69 shipping containers of mis-labelled trash on its way back to Canada from the Philippines, which Cielo offered to process at its refinery.
      • The City of Calgary’s clamshell plastics problem. The City spent $350,000 to store 2,000 tonnes of clamshell containers over a period of two years during which time it sought, and failed to find a recycling solution. It ended up sending the plastics to the landfill. Cielo’s technology is able to recycle clamshell plastics, and so we brought a container of the city’s clamshells to the event, to show how it could be turned into diesel.
    • We invited the Prime Minister, getting much further with the Prime Minister’s Office then the actual Ottawa-based Government Relations firm hired by Cielo.We received a favourable response, were successful in putting it on the PM’s radar, were told attempts were made to reschedule his trip to accommodate a visit, and that he would very much like to visit at a future date.  


Media attended in full force, including CBC, CTV, Global, a magazine writer, a Postmedia columnist, and a Calgary Herald photographer. 10 In total.



The Results: Off the Charts. This story went viral. More than 12 members of the media attended the event, including four television cameras, a national newspaper columnist and a magazine writer. See details below.

By telling its corporate story clearly, and compelling, in the context of why the public should care, the company also saw a positive response by the capital markets. Its stock jumped 12.5% the day of the first interview with Gord Gilles, trading at $0.14 and again at those levels following the event. It had a previous 50-day moving average of $0.8 and a 52-week high of $0.11.  

Coverage Prior to Event

  • Global News’s 770 CHQR Radio did a seven-minute interview with the CEO on their morning show The Morning News with Gord Gillies and Sue Deyell. We couldn’t have asked for a better promotion for Thursday’s event. Sue said: “this is a massive announcement.” Gord added: “Everyone who is anyone will be there, they will be tripping over themselves to be a part of this one.
  • CP Calendar: Major coup. While CP didn’t cover the event, they put it on its news agenda for July 11th, circulated to all media members on its daily calendar advisory in the days leading up to the event. 
  • Broadcast News (BN) also sent it out on its news advisory, first circulated July 10th and again on July 11th

Coverage Day of Event

We couldn’t have asked for a better turn out. We had four television cameras, one Postmedia columnist, one national-news magazine reporter, one Postmedia photographer/videographer and four news reporters. 

  • Postmedia Licia Corbella’s column appeared in the Calgary Herald, the Calgary Sun and A video by the Postmedia / Calgary Herald photographer appeared with her story on

  • CTV’s video journalist Simon Jones wrote a piece for digital online. Reporter Kathy Le did a story on the supper hour news, 11 o’clock news and the next day’s morning news.

  • Global TV’s Tracy Nagai did a report for Global News which ran on the supper hour, 11 p.m. and morning news casts in Edmonton and Calgary. This story also ran with the digital piece below.
  • Tracy’s piece ended up on Canada News  — Canada’s Central Hub, see link.
  • Global online reporter Heide Pearson wrote a digital piece that ran on the Edmonton and Calgary Global digital sites, under Canadian News.


Don Allan, president and CEO of Cielo, Postmedia columnist Licia Corbella and Paula Arab

Coverage Following Event

  • Breakfast TV July 12, 2019 

Show Notes: Today on BT!

    • 6:50am
      Peter Demong, Don Allan
      From Trash to Fuel. Is there a solution to Calgary’s growing plastic problem? Ted Henley finds out why one Calgary City Councillor says a new facility east of the city that is being dubbed as the “greenest refinery in the world”, may have the fix.
      Video: From Trash to Fuel
      More info:
    • 630 CHED AFTERNOON NEWS: Live interview at 3:05 MT with host Morgan Black – 10 minutes.
    • CBC EYEOPENER – Calgary morning show. Pre-interview with researcher on Friday July 12th, live interview with host Monday July 15th at 6:35 – It starts at 8:25 on the podcast:
    • Today on the podcast: the UCP look at overhauling the controversial Farm Safety Bill; a feature on Cielo Waste Solutions, a company south of Calgary that can turn most waste into diesel fuel; we start our series looking at unusual Calgary yards; and the bizarre research done by Calgary’s “Faculty of Lesser Known Arts and Sciences.
  • Mention in the Medicine Hat News roundup by Collin Gallant:
    • Rubbish roundup
      A local push to build a biodiesel refinery that would use trash as a feedstock received all sorts of publicity as Cielo Waste Solutions gave a Stampede Week barbecue to open its prototype refinery in Aldersyde, Alta., (near High River). An extension was announced on a June 28 timeline for an independent investors group to exercise rights in Medicine Hat, Brooks and Grande Prairie. The new timetable concludes on Sept. 30. 
  • Sun Country 99.7/ AM 1140 and High River online news – By Morgan Patterson – See article below.
  • High River online July 15th by Morgan Patterson see story:

Making Treaty 7

PR Publicity of a national tour

Paula Arab represented Hill & Knowlton Strategies to promote indigenous theatre tour for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations.

The Goal

Promote in the media the national tour of the local theater production Making Treaty 7, which explores the historical significance of the 1877 signing of Treaty 7, from an indigenous perspective. This treaty is the founding event that established modern southern Alberta.

The Challenges

  • Competition for shrinking media/arts coverage from numerous arts groups performing alongside Making Treaty 7 in the Canada 150 celebrations, including at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre’s Canada Scene festival.
  • Internal challenges within the Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society, including an unclear identity forward following the death of founder and artistic director Michael Greene and Narcisse Blood, who were the visionaries behind the ground-breaking production. The two were killed along with two others in a car accident north of Regina, while working on their Making Treaty 7 vision.
  • Leadership challenges that threatened to cancel the national tour, especially after the unexpected resignation of the organization’s artistic director, followed by one of the actors, who went public with their grievances.


The Solution /Strategy

  • We worked in collaboration with Indigenous and National Arts Center artists and leaders in Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, to promote the tour. 
  • We talked about reconciliation, and we promoted the show’s director as a story in and of herself. Michelle Thursh is a rare voice of female directors, never mind a voice of an Indigenous woman, directing a national play.
  • Our strategy was flexible enough to change as circumstances, especially negative ones, dictated. For instance, we initially planned to hold a media launch at Grey Eagle Casino that would coincide with a reconciliation dinner an hour later, called Common Ground Dinners Series. However, we decided to change this strategy at the last minute for fear that bringing the two events together, after the resignations of some of the artists associated with the play, would be bad optics. Therefore, we launched the tour as a news release, and held the dinner privately, without media in attendance.
  • We created a national media list with local arts, news and First Nation media in Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa, and National media. 
  • Following distribution of the news release announcing the national tour, we actively pitched the media.

The Results: Earned media galore

Earned media included the following: 

  • Performing Turtle Island, 2017 
  • Summer Solstice Indigenous Festival, 2017 
  • Alberta Views, March 1, 2017 
  • The Globe and Mail, March 18, 2017 
  • The Globe and Mail, March 22, 2017 
  • Ottawa Start, April 4, 2017 
  •, April 4, 2017 
  • Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 2017 
  •, April 5, 2017 
  • The Hamilton Spectator, April 6, 2017 
  • Derek Beaulieu Blog, May 10, 2017 
  • Canada Newswire, May 18, 2017 
  • Calgary Herald, May 22, 2017 
  • Metro Calgary, May 23, 2017 
  • Calgary Herald, May 29, 2017 
  • Ottawa Family Living, June 2017 
  • Leduc-Wetaskwin Pipestone Flyer, June 8, 2017 
  • La Liberté, June 13, 2017 
  • CBC Radio-Canada, June 14, 2017 
  • Ottawa Life Magazine, June 18, 2017 
  • Mixed Bag Mag, June 19, 2017 
  • Winnipeg Free 
  • Press, June 20, 2017 
  • Ottawa Citizen, June 20, 2017 
  • CBC Radio One, June 20, 2017 
  • Youth Are Awesome, June 23, 2017 
  • Calgary Herald, June 21, 2017 
  • Calgary Herald, June 24, 2017 
  • The Calgary Sun, June 24, 2017 
  • North Country Public Radio, June 24, 2017 
  • Maclean’s, June 30, 2017 

Mount Royal University Budget Crisis 2013

The Goal

To get Mount Royal University’s handling of the budget cuts of 2013 off of headline news, after a week of being hammered in the front pages of local newspapers and leading the television newscasts. The goal was turn the communications from reactive to proactive on this contentious issue. 

The Challenge

Mount Royal University was hit with a 7.3% cut in the province’s operating grant for universities at a time when it was expecting and promised an increase so it could complete its transition to full university status. 

The university responded by immediately cutting all of its non-degree programs, which included suspending eight popular programs – including the engineering university transfer program; theater arts diploma; music performance diploma; disability studies diploma and the journalism certificate diploma. It was the cuts to music and theater programs that got the most negative coverage, as it meant no more jazz or theater arts programs offered in southern Alberta.

The Solution/Strategy

I put together a comprehensive communications plan leading up to and including the Board of Governors’ vote of this contentious budget. This involved creating a comprehensive issues-inventory.

  • For the department-by-department issues inventory, I interviewed every department head to find out exactly how they planned on implementing the cuts, how many jobs they were cutting, and what impacts it would have on students and their departments.
  • I developed key messages for every department based on the issues inventory.
  • The VP of Finance and I dug deep to understand the math so that we could explain it clearly and accurately to the public. The public did not understand that this was the province’s doing, not the university. They also didn’t understand that MRU stood out from the rest of the universities, who all faced the same blanket cut. MRU should have been treated more favorably, as it was still ramping up to university status, and was in the third year of rolling out its four-year university degrees.
  • Practised good-media relations, such as responding in a timely manner to every media request.
  • Practised good crisis-communications, by giving media coaching to the executive leadership team, helping them internalize their key messages and speak with authenticity and compassion.
MRU faced harsh criticism from faculty, students, the pubic and the media, after cutting all of its non-degree performing arts programs in response to unexpected provincial funding cuts. Paula Arab was helicoptered in to move the dial from negative, reactive media to positive and proactive coverage.

The Results 

Our communications became proactive. The media began reporting the Mount Royal story as part of a bigger story involving provincial cuts to post-secondary education. They covered the budget fairly, and it was no longer front-page news. 

What started off as a three-month crisis communications contract, resulted in two years at the university as their sole media relations spokesperson and director. I created an institutional media-relations plan for the university during this time, trained the executive leadership team, and proactively pushed the universities professors as experts in the news. We knew the dial had been turned a full 360 degrees when the Calgary Sun ran a front-page story about an MRU student who saved another swimmer in the pool from drowning. I was told by one professor it was the first time in his 16-year history at the university that the Calgary Sun ran a positive story about MRU on its front page.

BILD Calgary Region - Merger of UDI-Calgary and CHBA Calgary

Developers meet homebuilders – Overseeing the successful information and PR-campaign for the merger of two building-industry associations, creating BILD Calgary Region.

The Goal: Overseeing the communications leading up to and following a vote to merge two industry organizations – Urban Development Institute – Calgary and Canadian Home Builders Association – Calgary.

The Challenges: Convincing members of both organizations to approve the merger that was unanimously endorsed and recommended by their boards. The biggest challenge was each member had one vote, yet one organization had fewer but larger member companies (UDI), while the other had more members, who were much smaller (CHBA). The second challenge was bridging the culture of the two groups.  UDI Calgary was mainly dominated by large, wealthy developers. CHBA Calgary represented many more smaller independent shops and individual home builders and service-industry providers.

The Strategy: A two-prong approach. We developed a comprehensive information and PR campaign that individually targeted messages to individual members, while developing and articulating a clear and consistent case for the overall benefits of the industry speaking with one unified and stronger voice. We communicated individual and targeted messages to the  various types of members, all of whom stood to gain far more in benefits than they were currently receiving.


The Results: In July 2017, members of both organizations voted overwhelmingly in favour of the merger, creating the Building Industry Land Development association of Calgary. (BILD Calgary Region). Members of UDI voted in favour by 88 per cent, while members of CHBA Calgary voted a whopping 94 per cent.