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Lead Balloon Ep. 15 - Going Rogue, Battling Bears, Government Shutdowns and National Parks

Updated: Jan 20

With Julie Wright, Diane Lebow and Laura Kiniry

In public relations, "going rogue" is a notion that sets teeth on edge for most PR practitioners.


But sometimes, when the conventional approach fails, the only way forward is to throw carefully-laid plans out the window and wing it.

In 2013, when a government shutdown closed the National Parks to visitors on the eve of her long-planned PR junket, (W)right On Communications founder Julie Wright faced a choice. She could either abandon months of planning and waste an opportunity to showcase some of California's most epic scenery to a hand-picked group of influential travel writers, or she could bend the rules, take a calculated risk and skirt some barricades.


So she went rogue, and the trip that resulted was as hair-raising as it was memorable. In this episode of Lead Balloon, she shares the epic tale, as well as the important lessons she learned about asking forgiveness instead of permission... and BEAR SAFETY. Travel writers Diane Lebow and Laura Kiniry also share their recollections of the trip, and explain why every PR practitioner needs a little bit of "rogue" in them.


Learn more about (W)right On Communications, visit Diane Lebow's website and check out Laura Kiniry's Instagram feed.


Transcript


Dusty Weis:

In Hollywood lore, there's no character so beloved as the rogue. Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name, Veronica Mars, MacGyver, Agent Peggy Carter, Han Solo, hell, any character that Harrison Ford ever played. These are the plucky heroes who aren't afraid to bend the rules, think differently, improvise and win the day. They've got the charm, just enough swagger to talk their way out of whatever antics they get into, and the stories that result are the stuff of legend.


Dusty Weis:

But in the world of PR and marketing, going rogue takes on a different context altogether. After all, this is a field of having one's ducks in a row, of rigorous planning and rule following. Not everybody has the risk tolerance for a wildcard. But of course, there are some problems where the conventional approach fails, where the safe play is to give up and try again later, and that's where everyone needs a rogue on the team. They need someone to say, "Well, maybe some fences were meant to be climbed." They need someone to suggest it's all worth it for a good story. They need a Julie Wright.


Julie Wright:

Failure is not an option. I thought to myself, that was plan B, Julie, now what? I think a lot of people in our profession understand that sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission, and this was one of those times.


Dusty Weis:

Julie Wright is the President and founder of (W)right On Communications, a California based PR and communications firm with offices in San Diego, LA and Vancouver. In 2013, a national parks press junket that she'd spent months organizing was stopped cold by a federal government shutdown that closed the parks to visitors. Well, at least it was supposed to. Because Julie wasn't going to let something as trivial as the federal government stop her from doing right by her people. She went rogue and the adventures and bear encounters that resulted propelled her from PR maven, to legend.


Dusty Weis:

I'm Dusty Weis from Podcamp Media. This is Lead Balloon, a podcast about PR marketing and branding disasters, and the well meaning communications professionals who live them.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks for tuning in, Happy New Year and cheers to maybe getting out of the house sometime in the next six months. In the meantime, we are back with our second season of Lead Balloon, with new episodes monthly. So, if you get a charge out of this show, please make sure that you're subscribed so you don't miss an episode. You can follow us on social @PodcampMedia.


Dusty Weis:

Julie Wright, as I noted, is the President and founder of (W)right On Communications in San Diego. Since 1998, she's headed the agency and pioneered influencer campaigns since before it was even called that, as well as B2B and media relations strategy and most relevant to our interests today, she's an avid outdoors enthusiast who loves sharing that passion with the people around her. So, Julie, thanks for joining us on Lead Balloon.


Julie Wright:

Thank you, Dusty.


Dusty Weis:

Like so much of the intrigue that we've had over the last decade, your story ties back to dysfunction in our nation's capital. You were born in Canada, do they ever forget to fund their government in Ottawa?


Julie Wright:

I was not familiar with the concept of a government shutdown before moving to the US.


Dusty Weis:

So, no. I'm hearing no, there.


Julie Wright:

No.


Dusty Weis:

That's certainly a very patently American thing to do. But take me back to the year in question then, you had already been in business for yourself about 15 years at this point. Who was the client, what was the objective, and how did you tackle it?


Julie Wright:

We had a long standing relationship with a great client in the hospitality space, what they specialized in and continue to specialize in is stewarding iconic destinations and resorts across the country. A few of these resorts were located in national parks, and I was on the eve of a media trip, a press trip with about five writers and their plus ones or plus twos, as well as two of my employees when I got a call from a journalist asking if we were going to proceed with the media fam trip, given the threat of a government shutdown.


Dusty Weis:

I'm remembering back over the last decade, and I think there were at least five or six of these threatened government shutdowns, perhaps more. This was 2013?


Julie Wright:

This was 2013, and there had not been a government shutdown recently prior to this 2013 shutdown. So, I called my client over the weekend, and I asked the lead marketing person, "What are your thoughts on this? Should we be concerned?" He said, "We have seen this kind of brinkmanship year after year, and nobody is going to shut down. We proceed, and all will be well."


Dusty Weis:

Famous last words there.

Julie Wright:

I felt somewhat reassured, and I was able to reassure my journalist guest that all would be well. So, on a Sunday evening, we all headed up to Sequoia National Park, which was our gathering place for the first night of a four night media press trip. The plan was that we would be exploring three national parks over these five days and four nights starting in Sequoia National Park, then moving on to Kings Canyon National Park, which is adjacent to Sequoia. From there, driving about 90 minutes up to the south gate of Yosemite National Park where we would stay another two nights and go into the park and explore. It was a fantastic opportunity to enjoy three California National Parks.


Dusty Weis:

These are iconic destinations too. From your clients' perspective, generating hype about these national parks is essentially generating revenue and business from people that are coming into and out of the parks, right?


Julie Wright:

Operating the lodging in the parks, it's their role to try to attract people to stay, to enjoy, to explore, to connect with nature, to learn about the amazing cultural history that our parks represent, just to respect the beauty and the nature that national parks have preserved for all of us to enjoy. So, it's an honor to be able to share that experience with others, including my employees, including my clients, including any media guests.


Julie Wright:

We checked in on Sunday, September 30th, and had dinner. All of our media guests arrived on time, and everybody gets to know each other the first night. We talked about the pending shutdown, because it still hadn't been called off, the two sides hadn't come to an agreement on the budget. So, we followed the news closely. By nine o'clock Pacific time, midnight Eastern, the government shut down. Within about five hours of our arrival to start this four night media trip in the national parks, suddenly, the national parks are closed.


Dusty Weis:

You were presented with a conundrum, at this point. You've got a group of journalists, you've gotten them out away from their desks, which is a Herculean feat in and of itself. But with the shutdown, essentially, the entire trip is for nothing, you got nothing to show them. The accommodations are nice, but there's no national park. A lot of people would have packed up the bags and said, "Well, sorry guys, nothing we can do. Let's try again next time." What went through your head?


Julie Wright:

Failure is not an option.


Dusty Weis:

Julie was ready to go to the man to make this trip work, in part because she didn't want to let down the people that she had brought with her. This was a rogues gallery of prominent adventurers in the West Coast travel writing scene, but I had a chance to meet some of them and they're also just good, fun, interesting people. Chief among them, my new hero, Diane Lebow.


Diane Lebow:

I've been a travel writer and a professor for a million years. I'm just finishing a book, my travel memoir and escapades naughty and otherwise around the world, and my book is called Dancing on the Wine Dark Sea: A Trailblazing Woman's Memoir of Travel, Adventure and Romance.


Dusty Weis:

Well, that sounds like a fun read.


Diane Lebow:

Yeah, and it's a little bit X rated.


Dusty Weis:

I'll note here that Diane is an absolute character, the kind of person with whom you can accidentally spend an hour talking about everything under the sun, when you'd originally budgeted a tight 15 minutes, and that is exactly what I did.


Diane Lebow:

I still look pretty good for... Do you want to know how old I am?


Dusty Weis:

Oh, sure. Tell me.


Diane Lebow:

80.


Dusty Weis:

No, really?


Diane Lebow:

Yeah.


Dusty Weis:

Oh, wow. Yeah, you look pretty darn good for 80, I got to say.


Diane Lebow:

Thank you. I have a younger boyfriend, so that helps.


Dusty Weis:

Keeps you young, huh?


Diane Lebow:

He's 11 years younger than me.


Dusty Weis:

I'll make you a deal, if I can get 100 people to tag Podcamp Media on their social feeds, I'll edit together a bonus episode that's just my wide ranging conversation with Diane Lebow, because some of this is just too good not to share.


Diane Lebow:

I started traveling alone before women were really doing it. I was chloroformed and robbed on an Italian train. One of my friends said, "Diane, you'll do anything to get a story."


Dusty Weis:

Then there was Laura Kiniry, a freelance travel writer who joined Julie and her crew in the mountains, unaware of the government drama unfolding in Washington.


Laura Kiniry:

It was kind of a weird thing. I recruited my ex fiance to drive the car for me. So, it's already a little bit awkward for me. Coming out to this, I knew nothing about the government shutdown.


Dusty Weis:

I have to ask about it, because a lot of this is a story about peer pressure, convincing your ex fiance to drive you out into the mountains for a backpacking trip, that probably required a little bit of peer pressure too.


Laura Kiniry:

It did. He's a very nice person, though, and it was actually my 40th birthday during this trip. So, I kind of used it as that. We had broken up recently, I thought we should maybe spend my birthday together, which was very interesting, because Julie kept saying, should we get one bed or two beds, and he of course said two beds, and they're like, "You guys obviously know each other well, we are so confused about this relationship, but we kind of kept it on the low down."


Dusty Weis:

Diane, Laura, and a dozen or so other people met Julie at the lodge on that first night, and Diane says it didn't take long to realize that the trip had the potential to turn into a major bummer.


Diane Lebow:

We went to dinner. When we got there, we heard the showdown hadn't been resolved, but we had a nice dinner and everybody was really interesting. Then it was around 9:00 PM our time or midnight Eastern time that the shutdown had become official, and here we were in the park. People don't see the backside, if you will, of these kinds of stupid shutdowns and how inconsiderate our government sometimes is. The park rangers were there, and they were not getting paid, but they had to stay on duty. Then, the low level busboys and employees at the hotels, who had no extra money, and suddenly they were out of jobs and they couldn't stay in the hotels anymore.


Diane Lebow:

One guy was even crying, this nice young waiter. He lived in Oklahoma, and he didn't know how he would get home and he didn't have enough extra money to do that. It was so crazy, while those fat cats are squabbling in Washington.


Dusty Weis:

From Julie's perspective on that first night, all she had to go on was uncertainty.


Julie Wright:

We weren't told to leave immediately. That was the first thing, we wanted to understand, do we have to evacuate tomorrow, or do we go to bed and pack up and leave in the morning? We concluded we will go ahead with breakfast as planned, and our first activity of the full itinerary, which was to take a tour out to Morro Rock, which is a big beautiful outcropping of rock with a slightly treacherous route up the side, but handrails and beautiful 360-degree vistas.


Julie Wright:

The next morning, those types of attractions were all closed, they were behind barricades. What was available to us was round meadow surrounded by giant sequoias, which are the largest living organisms on the planet. We headed there with our group, everybody with a box lunch, led by a conservancy volunteer.


Dusty Weis:

Not a federal employee.


Julie Wright:

No, they were not available. As we went around this loop, everybody enjoyed the beauty, but I knew from my past experiences, well, we're not really able to deliver the experience that we would normally deliver. I think people right now in the pandemic can probably relate to that, that there might be an opportunity to host media in 2020 or early 2021, but if you can't give them the full experience of your resort or your destination, it's not really as attractive. That's how I felt back in 2013 as we walked around, I knew this was not going to hit the mark.


Dusty Weis:

Coming up after the break, how Julie Wright took a dozen reputable travel journalists and their guests and curated an unforgettable experience going off the straight and narrow path.


Diane Lebow:

The park ranger, he was standing there in his little uniform, and it's a nice, cute young guy. One of the advantages of being an older woman is I can flirt-


Dusty Weis:

Then Julie is served up a reminder of who's really in charge out in the national parks.


Julie Wright:

I need to make sure that this bear doesn't do any damage to any of these reporters' cars, and if it does, that is on me, 100%.


Dusty Weis:

That's coming up in a minute here on Lead Balloon.


Dusty Weis:

This is Lead Balloon and I'm Dusty Weis. In 2013, Julie Wright had spent months planning an epic wilderness press trip for a half dozen travel writers on behalf of her client, a hospitality company with a lodge situated on the peripheries of Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, only to show up and discover-


Barack Obama:

If the United States Congress does not fulfill its responsibility to pass a budget today, much of the United States government will be forced to shut down tomorrow.


Dusty Weis:

That elected leaders 3000 miles away were weltering on their responsibility to run the country and making a mess out of our carefully laid plans in the process. With lodging secured, they spent a morning hiking the one area that was open to them, and then Julie made her first attempt to get members of the group to go rogue.


Julie Wright:

I started walking up to each journalist and suggesting, "At the end of this hike, why don't you grab your boxed lunch, and just poke around a bit? I don't need to know where you went. I don't need to know what you did." I can't take them there myself, but I can encourage them to explore. Being journalists, I expect that there's a certain amount of rogue in them, if you will.


Dusty Weis:

I would hope so. You're a former journalist, I'm a former journalist myself, I always thought that that was implicit in the job description.


Julie Wright:

When we regrouped for happy hour in the restaurant, I asked our other guests, "What did you see? What did you do?" Four out of the five groups had gone back into their room and worked to finish up some stories that they were working on-


Dusty Weis:

Stop.


Julie Wright:

... and seemed quite happy for the downtime, and I was really surprised. I thought to myself, that was Plan B, Julie, now what? How am I going to introduce people to these parts, if they're not willing to or afraid or just don't know where to go and what to see? I thought, well, the National Park Service has said, if you were already in the park and have lodging, you can stay that first night and that second night, but we would need to leave the next day.


Julie Wright:

That night at dinner, I announced to our group, we will be leaving the park tomorrow morning and we will be heading a little early up to our next destination which is outside of Yosemite National Park. But in the meantime, we're going to move this itinerary up. We're going to meet for breakfast at 6:30 in the morning. We're going to then convoy behind my vehicle, which was appropriately, a rented Nissan Rogue, and-


Dusty Weis:

How much did they pay you to sponsor?


Julie Wright:

Right? We're going to drive from Sequoia National Park into Kings Canyon National Park which is separated by the Sequoia National Forest, and we will go and see the bottom of the Kings Canyon where there is a beautiful picturesque river, The Kings River, John Muir Rock, a giant rock where he reportedly stood and or rated back in the day about preserving Kings Canyon. Sheer cliffs, a beautiful meadow, the roaring river falls. It's an amazing magical destination that few people have seen. That's the itinerary. We are going to take some box lunches with us, we are going to do some very quick exploration but I'll be darned, we're going to see all this stuff.


Dusty Weis:

I have, at times, in my life been, let's say a bender of rules. From that experience, I know that when you're playing a little bit fast and loose, being able to feign ignorance of the rules is a really great first fallback. A park ranger shows up and you say, "Oh, is the government shutdown? Is the park closed? We didn't know, we'll go quietly."


Dusty Weis:

I assumed that having that as your fallback was what emboldened you to feel like you could take these folks out and not really run the risk of getting into any trouble.


Julie Wright:

I think a lot of people in our profession understand that sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than it is for permission, and this was one of those times. If I had come across a barricade, if I had come to a point where national park people had asked us to turn around, I would absolutely have turned around.


Dusty Weis:

The convoy rolled on, a delight and amusement of Julie's guests. Laura Kiniry says, there was no doubt in anyone's mind, they knew they were supposed to pack it in and head home.


Laura Kiniry:

Julie decided, since we were already in the park, we could just keep doing whatever we wanted, until they kicked us out of the park. She was such a trooper and I think the first day was very well organized, the second day was more going rogue, and by the time we got to Yosemite, we weren't allowed in the parks at all. But Julie completely changed the itinerary so that we... It was almost like you didn't even notice. She just made it work. She's amazing.


Dusty Weis:

Diane Lebow says, for her, breaking the rules was half the fun.


Diane Lebow:

The park rangers were all really nice. I remember when we wanted to go see, I think it was the General Sherman tree, they were supposed to be blocking off the path that went down there, and he was standing there in his little uniform, and it's a nice, cute young guy. One of the advantages of being an older woman is I can flirt shamelessly.


Dusty Weis:

You flirted shamelessly?


Diane Lebow:

Yeah. Well, I chatted with him, and he said, "Oh, well, I'm looking over there now, if you want..." He didn't say go on down, but he said, "I don't see you. I can't see where you're going." Something like-


Dusty Weis:

Julie Wright says, the last thing she wanted to do was make life difficult for the national park staff who were already doing their jobs without pay, thanks to the federal government shutdown.


Julie Wright:

I felt like my passions were aligned with their mission, and that's one reason... Maybe that was mental gymnastics on my part, in not beating it out of the park right away. But the National Park Service and the people that I have encountered who are the rangers in the parks, who are talking about the flora and the fauna, educating about these big beautiful majestic sequoias in Kings Canyon, they are passionate, they deeply feel the mission of the national parks, and I felt aligned with that. I felt I am also a custodian or a steward of these national parks.


Julie Wright:

I've convened these people, I'm been doing this for my client, I need to complete the mission. I can't not show people what there is to see in these parks. Who knows if they'll ever make it back here? I thought, if they had been in my shoes, they would have probably done the same thing.


Dusty Weis:

They continued north into Kings Canyon and arrived at their lunch spot.


Julie Wright:

At the bottom of the canyon, as planned, we brought our boxed lunches, we went out to John Muir Rock, we sat in the dappled sunshine with this beautiful river flowing gently by us looking at these giant majestic granite cliff walls, and it was a transcendent experience. The stress had been building up in me over the last day and a half at this point. So, I actually took my lunch and found a quiet spot where I sat and ate alone and just took deep breaths.


Julie Wright:

My team mixed and mingled with our media guests. Everyone was very happy. I have some fantastic photographs from this event. It was just a special moment. I'll never forget it. I think I have a photograph that I took of my running shoes hanging over the river, just to take it all in. But I took my deep breaths, and then I returned to everybody having decompressed and feeling a lot better about the situation, because I felt like I had succeeded, I had won. I didn't quit, I persevered, and everybody's so happy right now.


Julie Wright:

We walked back to our cars, there's a little bit of forest, we walked back to the roads end, it's called, and we see that somebody has put a flier on our windshields. I pull mine and see it's the National Park Service. They're asking us to now leave. I see the National Park Service across the lot. I think, well, I should really be straight with them. So, I walk over and let them know, this is a media group, that their public affairs officer would have known we were coming into the park because we had been coordinating for weeks and that all I wanted to do was show them one or two more things on the way out of the park.


Dusty Weis:

On the way out, keywords there.


Julie Wright:

I thought so, but I still got the stink eye. I realized this is no joke, we need to leave the park. So, we need to be quick about this. We now leave roads and we had to Zumwalt Meadow, which is stop one on the way out. Journalists are grabbing cameras. One of them says, "Should I be concerned about our half eaten lunches that we've left in our vehicles? If we're going to go look at the meadow and we leave half eaten food in our park, won't that attract a bear?"


Julie Wright:

By now, I am somewhat overconfident. By now, I have completely misjudged my ability to control nature, and I say, "You don't need to worry about that. It's not like there's a bear that is hanging around this parking lot and just waiting for people to leave half eaten food in their cars, so they can come and rip that car apart like a can of tuna."


Julie Wright:

I made a promise I couldn't keep, and I told everybody, "Let's go." We've walked from the parking lot over a bridge that crosses the river and make our way to the meadow, and the meadow is really beautiful. There's a slightly elevated boardwalk. It's cooled in reads, as far as the eye can see. These giant canyon walls, the trees, and the beautiful river.


Julie Wright:

What happens on a media trip like this is everybody wants to take photos, and there are no short stops for photos. We're there a little longer than I think I ever intended, when two women come running up, and they're out of breath. I don't know why, something about the way they were running bothered me. There was something about it, that didn't seem good. So, I said, "Hey, ladies, why are you running?" They stopped and said, "Because there's a bear." "Where's the bear?" "On the other side of the river." "What direction is it going?" "Towards the parking lot." Oh, my worst nightmare.


Julie Wright:

I immediately set off running in the direction they just came from-


Dusty Weis:

Running toward the bear.


Julie Wright:

Yes, because I need to make sure that this bear doesn't do any damage to any of these reporters' cars or my Nissan Rogue, and if it does, that is on me, 100%.


Dusty Weis:

Now you were unarmed. You're not carrying bear spray, nor any firearms, any of the other sorts of accoutrements that one would expect when battling a bear. Presumably, this was not the brown bear, the ferocious mountain grizzly, but one of the black bears that also frequent that area, because I don't know anybody that would run toward a brown bear.


Julie Wright:

You should never run toward a brown bear. I would not do that. But all of the bears that are in these national parks are black bears, even if they look golden, because I have seen golden shaded bears, but they're still the black bear species. They're omnivores. They would be very happy just eating berries and fish, but I think a peanut butter and jelly sandwich-


Dusty Weis:

Preferable.


Julie Wright:

Yeah, sure, it's a real treat.


Dusty Weis:

Easier to catch.


Julie Wright:

Now, I cross the bridge, and fortunately, one of the other writers, she's a few feet behind me. I see the bear, and I start yelling, "Hey, bear, hey, bear, I see you." I clap, I wave my arms. I would say I'm probably 60 feet behind it, walking towards it as it's walking towards the parking lot. Susan is behind me, and she's also shouting and clapping.


Dusty Weis:

I have to interject here, having encountered black bears in the wild myself, I just have to reflect for a moment on the ridiculous things that come out of our mouths when we are yelling at black bears because they tell you just make as much noise as possible, and they don't tell you what is an effective thing to say or reason with a bear. Certainly, "Hey, bear, hey, bear get out of here, bear." Is as effective as yelling in Russian, but it makes me think of a time in New Mexico when a black bear wandered into our campsite, in the middle of the night.


Dusty Weis:

I was roused from a dead sleep by one of my compatriots yelling, "Douchebag, hey, douchebag."


Julie Wright:

I didn't think of that one.


Dusty Weis:

Equally effective, it turns out, because the bear looked over his shoulder with some disdain and then rumbled his way out of our campsite.


Julie Wright:

This bear was lumbering toward the parking lot, as only bears can do. It's a slow, steady, strong walk-


Dusty Weis:

And unconcerned with-


Julie Wright:

Unconcerned. No, unconcerned-


Dusty Weis:

... with people yelling obscenities or otherwise.


Julie Wright:

You're yelling and you're clapping, and it continues to walk, and then it slows down, and it's head does this slow turn for an over the shoulder, who is this? Now the bear knows that we are following it and that we are speaking to it, and it just turns its head back and continues its slow march to my worst nightmare. At the corner of the parking lot where the pavement meets the trail, the bear turned to the right, and walked the other way.


Dusty Weis:

The bear encounter may have gotten Julie's heart rate up, but with no harm and no foul, Laura Kiniry says, it was just one more epic photo op on a memorable trip.


Laura Kiniry:

I remember my training from working in a national park, don't get too close. Of course, I was one of the people with the camera getting closer than I should have, even though I know... I think because I think that I have some sort of expertise which does not exist in the wild. But, I do remember getting a little closer than I should have.


Julie Wright:

We all reassemble in the parking lot. But at that point, I lost my sense of humor, and said, "Okay, everybody get in the cars, it's time to go." We headed out of Kings Canyon, without further incident.


Dusty Weis:

With the rangers' goodwill drying up, and her luck beginning to run thin, Julie Wright was only too relieved to deliver her guests back to civilization safe and sound. They went their separate ways, and then she took a moment to reflect on the trip, still pumping adrenaline from her bear encounter.


Julie Wright:

I completely overestimated what I could control, and you can't control nature. I know you probably hear from so many people who talk about how weather destroyed the perfect media event. In my case, it was a few different, very unrelated factors, the government shutdown, first of all, and then a bear.


Dusty Weis:

I think there's wisdom in that. You can't control everything, as a public relations practitioner. You can mitigate, you can respond, but you're not God. I think that having those humbling experiences is to our benefit, and certainly you seem to feel that you're better for having had this experience. But ultimately, this is a story of bending the rules a little bit, your words here, going rogue. The ability to go rogue, would you say that these are attributes that have benefited you in your professional life, and how so?


Julie Wright:

Because if you have the ability to go rogue or go off script, you have the ability to pivot, which we've all been talking about in 2020, and improvise. Going rogue was a fun term, and we all embraced it during this media trip. The journalists, my team, myself, my client later, we all realized we were making this up as we went along, we really had no script. The itinerary, all the plans, the months, the weeks, the money that had gone into pulling together this great vision for an amazing press trip, we needed to make it up on the fly, and try to turn what could have been a colossal failure into something of a success.


Julie Wright:

I think if you talk to the reporters, or the travel writers that joined us, we all made some incredible memories, and we all had the kind of experience that you can't possibly plan and it's better for it.


Diane Lebow:

As the famous travel writer, Tim Cahill says, when you take a trip, you want something to go wrong, so that you have something to write about, and if it doesn't go wrong, then you have a spiritual experience.


Dusty Weis:

I think based on what I've heard from Julie, that when the government shutdown happened, she made up her mind at that point that come hell or high water, she was going to give you writers an experience that you could remember. Why, Diane Lebow, do you think she was so bound and determined to make sure that you guys had a good time?


Diane Lebow:

Well, I think she is a professional and she just enjoys every minute of her life, I think too. This was an opportunity to do her job and friendship, I think was not just a job for her but bonding with all of us as human beings. She's just a really upbeat, wonderful person. She loves what she does, and we all love the outdoors, and it really didn't matter to us very much what the government was doing. We didn't get arrested.


Dusty Weis:

Did you have any concerns about that? Based on what I've very briefly learned about your background, I get the sense that you didn't have a lot of concerns about going rogue, as Julie puts it, but-


Diane Lebow:

No, no, I love to do that, actually.


Dusty Weis:

Laura Kiniry, likewise, had no compunctions about putting her faith in Julie Wright.


Laura Kiniry:

This was something that was really close to her heart, and she had it all planned out, and she just thought there were people coming from LA, there were people coming from San Francisco. She just wanted us to have a good time. I felt like she was like the den mother. It was sort of, as long as Julie thinks everything's okay, everything will be okay. We'll just look to her and if she has a smile on her face, then it's all going to work out, and that's really what it felt.


Laura Kiniry:

She really made it feel like an adventure field trip. We were going rogue, we were rogue in the national parks, this is so amazing, this is an experience unlike any other experience you would ever have. So, it was just was really fun. It was actually more adventurous than you would have expected this kind of trip to be. So, it was very exciting.


Dusty Weis:

You've traveled all over the world, you're a travel writer, you've had other experiences with other PR practitioners in other spaces where the great outdoors can be celebrated. How does this experience stack up with some of those other PR experiences that you've had in your career?


Laura Kiniry:

Some PR people might just call it quits. I think that in the very beginning, I was afraid that was going to happen. I thought they were going to send us all home, there's nothing we could do. But she, for me, is the kind of PR person that I would want to travel with, again, because she just made it happen. She made it work... There was a story even if there wasn't a story, you could easily say that the government shut down, shut down the story, but I was still able to write everything I needed to write. I do feel like more PR people should be in that vein. She did such a great job.


Julie Wright:

Diane, and Susan, and Laura, and Lynn, and Debbie, those five reporters and writers, I'll never forget them. This will not be one of those media trips where one fades into the other and you can't remember was that April 2014, or was that March 2016? There will always only be one October 2013 press trip into California's national parks for me.


Dusty Weis:

Julie Wright, President and founder of (W)right On Communications, I get the sense talking to you that for sure back in college and probably still today, you are the type of person who is really good at applying peer pressure, egging people on to maybe do things that they didn't necessarily think they wanted to do, but ultimately have a great time doing. Sort of the, come on, let's just go to one more place, or come on, it's just one karaoke song. Have you found that that changes the way that people look back on time that they've spent with you either in a personal or professional capacity?


Julie Wright:

I think it's important to have fun, no matter what you're doing, and I am almost pathological about making sure everybody else is having a good time. That works really well, on a press trip. I also think, and believe that part of my role, if I'm leading anything is bringing out people's best. That may or may not have had its roots in finding the after party during college. But, we all acquire a lot of skills over our life, and I do think trying to deliver great experiences for people and see them enjoying themselves and learning something about themselves or about a place is a joy for me.


Dusty Weis:

How is karaoke night at (W)right On Communications?


Julie Wright:

Yeah, there have been some brutal karaoke nights at (W)right On Communications.


Dusty Weis:

When other professional communicators hear this story, and some of them are going to tense up and go, "Oh, my gosh, she did that?" What would you say are the lessons that they can take away from it and apply it to their own style of public relations and marketing?


Julie Wright:

You have to balance your inner control freak with your inner freak flag. You have to let them both fly at the same time, because your inner control freak is necessary to do the planning, and to be on top of the details and to have anticipated everything that can go wrong. Then that side of you that can be spontaneous, and that is comfortable improvising, you need to have evolved that side of yourself as well, because things will go wrong that you couldn't possibly have predicted. If you are too rigid and stuck in that control freak mode, you aren't going to be any fun to work with. When things do go wrong, if I may allude back to Grumpy Cat in the Meme Manager, when things didn't go well for the meme manager in your original debut episode, because I'm a fan, he didn't take it well, and that left a mark.


Dusty Weis:

I think that there's certainly a lot of wisdom in that and more than anything else, I think back to my own training and background and a mentor that I had very early in my career, a fella by the name of Steve Walters, he was an instructor at the University of Wisconsin Journalism School, and the Madison Bureau Chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He opened every class with a saying that he liked to preach, and it was, "It's all about the story." Ultimately, at the end of the day, the risks that you take, the plans that you make, it's all about facilitating a great story that's going to be memorable to you, for the people that accompany you, and hopefully, to your broader audience required.


Dusty Weis:

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Julie. Julie Wright, the President and founder of (W)right On Communications in San Diego. Thank you for joining us on the Lead Balloon podcast.


Julie Wright:

Thank you, Dusty, and keep telling your great stories.


Dusty Weis:

Thanks as well to travel writers, Laura Kiniry and Diane Lebow for sharing their recollections of going rogue with Julie Wright. You can follow Laura on Instagram @Laurajkin. Diane's book comes out this spring, I'll be ordering a copy. Her website is dianelebow.com, that's Diane with one N, L-E-B-O-W.com.


Dusty Weis:

I'm dead serious about this, if enough people tagged Podcamp Media on their social feeds and demand it, I'm putting together a bonus episode that is just my conversation with Diane because I cannot get enough of this lady.


Diane Lebow:

I used to say the four most wonderful things in my life are scuba diving, riding the most beautiful championship horse, when it goes really, really well and you just get immersed in it, and the fourth, if I can say on air is really good lovemaking.


Dusty Weis:

Well, you can't make me blush, Diane, I'll tell you that.


Dusty Weis:

But for now, that is going to do it for this episode of Lead Balloon. Make sure you're subscribed in your favorite app and tell all your friends in PR and marketing if you haven't already. Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses, check out our website podcampmedia.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and if you've got a great story to share, reach out to me directly dusty@podcampmedia.com. Till the next time, folks, thanks for listening, I'm Dusty Weis.

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