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  • Writer's pictureDusty Weis

Lead Balloon Ep. 4 - We Don't Do Ribbon Cuttings, with Patrick McSweeney and Katrine Strickland

Updated: Apr 10, 2020

Patrick McSweeney is a cliché warrior. If it's a hackneyed, over-worn marketing and PR trope, he’s gone to battle against it.

But when you choose creativity and innovation over familiarity and stagnation, there can be hidden dangers. They might result in a sticky mess and hundreds of dollars in damage, but ultimately, isn't that a lesser risk than failing as a storyteller?

In this episode, Patrick re-lives a couple of embarrassing moments from

his career, along with his former colleague Katrine Strickland. News editor Jason Maddux explains why he never runs ribbon cutting photos in the newspapers he manages. And with Patrick, we explore the importance of authenticity in PR and media relations, and how to be prepared for anything in a field where everything can happen.

(Includes music by Alavedra, McColl & Levine / CC BY 4.0)


Dusty Weis: Patrick McSweeney is a cliche warrior. Just pick a hackneyed, over-worn marketing or PR trope, and he's gone to battle against it. And it's a style of strategic communications that's raised the eyebrows of more than a few clients.

Pat McSweeney: And then they were like, we'll do the ribbon-cutting. And we said, well, we don't do ribbon-cuttings. We can do better. And we did. That's something we'll never forget.

Dusty Weis: You see, Patrick's credo is that good public relations should be memorable, and ideally head-turningly original. In that way, good PR is like a tightrope walker, 10 stories above the busy street below, and you just can't help but stare. But Patrick will tell you that, when you're operating without a net, falls happen, and the results can be messy. We'll ask him to relive the messiest moments of a career spent in pursuit of originality, but blessedly devoid of any ribbon-cuttings. 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 lived them.

Dusty Weis: Take a tumble in this business and the word gets around fast. Storytelling, after all, is at the heart of PR and marketing. So it's no surprise when a hilarious or heart-wrenching tale makes its way around the office faster than you can pick yourself up and dust yourself off. And that's okay. What doesn't kill you is usually worth a chuckle in hindsight, hence the mission statement for this show: providing PR, comms and marketing professionals with a platform for swapping the best stories they've been a part of, and parsing the lessons that they learned in the process.

Dusty Weis: I am working really hard to make this show, but ultimately it's you who's going to determine how successful it is. So, if you haven't yet, subscribe to the podcast feed in your favorite app. If you really enjoy the show, rate us, review us or leave a comment, or even post about it on your social media feeds. There's more behind the scenes goodies on the Podcamp Media social feeds by the way, and the website, and of course I love a good story. So, if you've got one to share, reach out to me directly

Dusty Weis: And with that out of the way, I want to introduce you to Patrick McSweeney. He runs his own PR consulting firm specializing in crisis communications and he's held executive roles in a few notable agencies, but he cut his teeth in the PR world at St John & Partners in Jacksonville, Florida. And that's where this particular tale begins. A couple of decades ago, with the opening of a new art school in Jacksonville, and a client that walked into Pat's office and asked him to plan a ribbon-cutting.

Pat McSweeney: The company was basically, franchising or opening art schools all around the country. They contacted the agency I was at and said, "We're coming. We've got this art school already up and running in Miami, and this will be like a satellite campus and we're going to be offering all of these different courses, for graphic arts as well as culinary arts, and we want you to do the grand opening for us." And we met with the folks from the Art Institute and said, "Yeah, we can do that." And then they were like, "Okay, now our date is such and such and we'll do the ribbon-cutting." And we said, "Well, we don't do ribbon-cuttings, we can do better." And they were taken aback because they were so used to doing ribbon-cuttings and it's standard Chamber of Commerce, either the red ribbon and a whole bunch of people with scissors, or then you have the big oversized system scissors-

Dusty Weis: The giant scissors, which are a headache in and of themselves.

Pat McSweeney: Yeah. And we just said, "You're an art school, let's try something different." And we had suggested creating a piece of artwork, like a Jackson Pollock type painting. So, we convinced the client that we could do this. And we actually got a five foot by eight foot canvas. And then we were going to do a paint splashing where we actually had tempera paint in little cans with their logo on it. And it had the date for the grand opening and all of the VIPs and invited guests would come and be able to toss a little bit of paint onto this canvas. And it was incredibly successful. So much so, that the company that owned all of the art schools made that their grand opening event, they ditched the ribbon and scissors and as they opened other schools around the country, they would hire an ad agency to go and do the canvas.

Dusty Weis: Just picture it in your mind's eye, a postmodern lobby, lots of glass and steel, stylish, maybe marble, dozens of well-dressed movers and shakers from the community. The VIPs all lined up in a row and... Open buckets of paint. What could go wrong? Of course, I said earlier that PR is about making memories. Ideally, these are the kinds of memories that are captured on camera and that's what Patrick was boldly trying to achieve here when he inadvertently made some memories another way.

Pat McSweeney: As part of that we thought, we've got a former newspaper photographer that we've hired to document the event. How could we get what it would look like with the paint splashing, as if you were the canvas, and might that be an even cooler picture?

Dusty Weis: So here comes this outside the box thinking, we're going to take a great concept and we're going to build on it. We're going to create some lasting photographic memories that really document the experience-

Pat McSweeney: And we did. That's something we'll never forget. So we went out and we got a big sheet of plexiglass. It was probably three and a half foot by five foot or six foot. So, we went about and said, okay, we're going to do the first paint-splashing, if you will, on the plexiglass. And that could be a practice for our VIPs who are up there, and then they will splash and actually create the artwork. But that way we also get that first shot, rather than afterwards.

Dusty Weis: So, wait a minute, hang on. Paint the physical map of the picture here for me. You've got a piece of plexiglass, you've got VIPs with paint cans and they're flinging paint at the plexiglass-

Pat McSweeney: So we had our, the news photographers behind the plexiglass, and I was behind them then with another camera and directing it. And all seem to be going well until the first two got up, tossed the paint. And what we found was when you go to toss a little can of paint, it arcs at a higher angle than one would think, and the green paint from the first VIP went over the plexiglass, hit the very top of it and then came down on me and the camera I was holding and shooting with. So I ended up being covered in green tempera paint and having to direct the rest of the event.

Dusty Weis: If this were a slapstick comedy flick, this is probably the point where everything would drop into 10x slow motion and someone would yell out, "Noooooooo".

Dusty Weis: Instead, Katrina Strickland, one of the team members from St John says it happened in an instant, and before they even had time to process, there was Patrick dripping green paint.

K. Strickland: I think we were just shocked and didn't know what to do at first. And we're waiting to see how Pat would handle it. And he handled it in a laughing way.

Dusty Weis: What was his reaction when he got nailed by a pile of paint?

K. Strickland: Well, in typical Pat fashion, he had a laugh about it. He doesn't take things too seriously most of the time, he's always looking for a laugh. So, he was a good sport about it. I was happy that it was him and not someone else.

Dusty Weis: Like someone with a $10,000 TV camera? Yeah.

K. Strickland: Right, right. So I think we just were trying to clean it up and make the most of it, and hoping that we still got the shot.

Dusty Weis: Yeah. Yeah. Well, at the end of the day, the whole point of any PR event is to be memorable. And it sounds like this one definitely made the cut.

K. Strickland: Yes. Yes. I would say it absolutely did. It was not your traditional ribbon-cutting. There were no scissors, just paint. Everywhere.

Dusty Weis: In the biz. This is what they call taking one for the team. And as a guy capable of laughing at himself, the only real disaster for Patrick would have been to waste this very memorable moment. Fortunately, he says, his now paint-coated camera was not the only one in the room.

Pat McSweeney: So there is a series of photos, you see very quickly going from great expectation, to horror, to laughter, within about three seconds. And it's one of those things that afterwards we looked at and said, "Okay, let's do a debrief." And the first question my boss said was, "Well, what would you do differently?" And I said, "I'd get a bigger sheet of plexiglass," and then, "Well, what about testing it?" And a couple of my teammates said, "Oh yeah, while you were in Pittsburgh at that other event last week we went out in the parking lot and tested it with sheets of cardboard. And we did notice that when we tossed the paint that it arced higher and hit higher on the cardboard than what we'd expected," to which I turned to them and said, "Information that would have been valuable had it been shared in a timely manner."

Dusty Weis: It seems like what we have here is a failure to communicate.

Pat McSweeney: Yeah. It could have helped. Because that was a $200 charge to clean the camera, ruined a shirt, a pair of pants. The shoes weren't ruined, but the tempera paint did not come out of everything. And it was a little bit of embarrassment on my part, but you know what, you just play along. And it is what it is. And actually, by continuing to direct the event that way, I can poke a little bit of fun of myself, as I'm doing today, but it's also a learning, and I think it also kind of humanizes it for other people to say, "Okay, something totally unexpected happened. It's not like a pie in the face, but almost," and you learn from it.

Dusty Weis: I like to tell people that one of my favorite things about public relations and marketing and communications in general, but also one of the most stress-inducing parts of the job, is that when a mistake happens, it's immediately apparent, and often broadcast to thousands or even tens or hundreds of thousands of people. But it's also captured, and those memories last forever. And in this case, in which no harm, no foul, you got the pie in the face, but overall we're able to continue with the event. I imagine that looking back at it, even to this day, you're almost grateful that there were so many photographers there to capture this moment?

Pat McSweeney: I'm grateful for it. I'm also grateful that there was a terrible storm that whipped up at about 5:30 or six o'clock that night and it knocked us out of the newspaper the next day. Spot news prevented me becoming the story, but it really was a great event, and I think the client saw the value of it. It really cemented bonds very quickly with the VIPs in the community, at the Chamber of Commerce and at City Hall, and the County Courthouse, that this school was going to make an impact and be something that was great for the city of Jacksonville.

Pat McSweeney: And we were able to do that with that kind of thinking rather than the conventional, "Let's cut the ribbon," and then to have the client say, "We're going to replicate that every time."

Dusty Weis: Well, almost entirely replicate but with a few modifications.

Pat McSweeney: With a few modifications.

Dusty Weis: It's fun to me, because at the end of the day you're the hero of the story. You took one for the team, got the paint splattered on you, and thankfully none of the TV cameras or newspaper reporters wound up in the position that you did, or it might've soured the enjoyment of the occasion a little bit.

Pat McSweeney: Absolutely. And I think the other thing to really remember is, it was a great experience. And I think the media liked that we were doing something different. They're always looking for something different as well, and having something that is really out of the ordinary and reemphasized what the school was all about. I think that the journalists appreciate that as well, because it does tell a story.

Dusty Weis: Well, and to me it's a great example of what I think is one of the most overlooked aspects of the craft of public relations, knowing who your audience is and tailoring your message to them and presenting, in this case, reporters with something that is going to fit perfectly with the medium in which they are telling your story. A good visual. When I worked in the newspaper, my editor, Jason Maddux, had a rule and it was, "There will be no ribbons and no scissors on the front page of our newspaper, that has been done to death."

Jason Maddux: I wanted to run the best content that we could, in the Daily Register, and ribbon-cuttings were not that, I guess would be the easiest way to put it right off the bat.

Dusty Weis: Reliving that moment with Pat inspired me to reach out to Jason Maddux, my old editor at the Daily Register in Portage, Wisconsin. I started there as a reporting intern around the age of 21, and Jason eventually brought me on full-time. And when I left the paper, two short years and felt like a lifetime later, I was a better reporter and a better storyteller for his exacting standards and expectations.

Dusty Weis: During his tenure at the paper, Jason led that scrappy small town team at the Daily Register to win a handful of Best Newspaper in the State awards from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association. Then he finally headed back east, where he's the editor of the Press & Journal in Middletown, Pennsylvania these days.

Jason Maddux: It wasn't only a matter of having good quality photos in the newspaper, which did we always? No. There were times where he had some photos that probably weren't the best, but-

Dusty Weis: Probably the ones I shot.

Jason Maddux: No, I don't know about that. I don't know about that. I mean it's, I want it to be consistent. So, if Holly's Animal Cracker store wanted to have a ribbon-cutting photo and the Nationwide XYZ Corporation wanted to have the ribbon-cutting photo in, I wanted to be able to just be fair to both of those companies, and just say, "We don't do it." There's a fine line. I just was having a discussion with my current boss the other day about what's promotion and what news, and I think too often it just depends on, you really have to judge that. And I think just saying that our policy at the time was that we weren't going to do ribbon-cuttings is that it took a lot of that decision making out, between what's promotion and what's news.

Dusty Weis: And ultimately I think that it was an effective policy because not only did it keep you away from that blurred line of, what's news and what's promotion, but I think it also helped you connect with your readership, by not serving up to them these staged opportunities and trying to present it as something authentic. You said that staged photos and ribbon-cuttings were not the type of content that you wanted to provide to your readers. Why exactly was that your thinking, in terms of connecting with your readers?

Jason Maddux: When I think about a ribbon-cutting, there are ribbon-cuttings that could be a natural action. You could be capturing a moment in time, with a ribbon-cutting. It may be a big deal and you may have a bunch of people there and they may actually cut a ribbon and people are cheering. But a lot of these are where, what I very specifically described before, you ask a bunch of people to come to this location and they stand there like morons and try to look happy about this, even if they're not, which obviously most time they are, but it's just, you're putting people in a position and we're going to capture a photo of it.

Jason Maddux: And the ribbon-cutting isn't for the public. The ribbon-cutting is for us. It's not a natural occurrence. So, but what we want to give to the readers is truth. So I doubt that, I don't think that'll ever change. I think we need that more than ever, unfortunately. So, that doesn't mean we're not going to acknowledge it in some way, it doesn't mean we may not do a story on that. Explain to me why this is important. Explain to me why is there's a story here that we can do this past just a ribbon-cutting. And I think I honestly, and truthfully, even though it sounded like I was probably just trying to appease them, I would say that, "We can do more than a ribbon-cutting and it would probably benefit you and our readers more than just a photo of you guys cutting a ribbon." So, tell me what is going on and maybe we can find a way to write a story of interest.

Dusty Weis: We can find an actual story there.

Jason Maddux: Yes. Right.

Dusty Weis: Jason's thinking on this is not unique, not in the journalism world, and not in the world of public relations. Pat McSweeney's former colleague, Katrina Strickland, who's now the head of Cerulean Communications in the Jacksonville area, says, "Even if it makes your job harder as a comms professional, you have got to think beyond the low hanging fruit."

K. Strickland: Just simply opening your doors and having the ribbon there to cut, that doesn't make an impact. I always look for, what are the stories? How are they connected to the community? What are their plans for growing in the community? Those types of things, versus just getting that photo op. So yeah, I would say it's well overdue for a revamp, something different.

Dusty Weis: Between us, I almost feel like the big scissors are no longer for the TV cameras and the general public. The big scissors are something that makes whoever, the VIPs and the clients, it makes them feel good about having the event, and it's almost become something that they expect, not everybody else.

K. Strickland: Right, right, exactly, exactly. But it's not going to, while they do expect it, if they want to get coverage for it, I think there's a lot more interesting visuals that you can share and stage for members of the media and the community, because there's just, it's not unique to a business. Anyone can get some scissors and cut a ribbon? Again, it's what makes the business unique, what are the stories behind the people involved, that sort of thing, that I think make a bigger impact.

Dusty Weis: Ribbon-cuttings are not the only PR cliche that need to crawl away and die a quiet death. Coming up after the break-

Pat McSweeney: "You know, I'd like to hit somebody with a golden shovel."

Dusty Weis: Other uses for some of that grand opening hardware, AKA how Pat McSweeney really earned the title of BS Butcher. That's in a moment, on Lead Balloon.

Dusty Weis: This is Lead Balloon, and I'm Dusty Weis. Ribbon-cuttings suck. That's the general consensus on the show so far. And I think nine out of 10 PR professionals would agree, if push came to shove. So why do we keep doing them? Well, for one thing, they're an easy way to signal an event's significance to the press and the public, even if they're not a particularly effective approach. And above all, they're safe. They're a known commodity. And the PR playbook, it turns out is full of these cliches that if you stop to think about it, really aren't good plays at all.

Dusty Weis: But Patrick McSweeney, who's already on record as preferring a face full of green paint over another dumb ribbon-cutting, says we can do better.

Pat McSweeney: Developers and real estate folks love golden shovels. I'd like to hit somebody with a golden shovel. As the PR guy. And several years ago there was a golf course community in Florida that was about 50 years old. It was getting pretty long in the tooth, and a developer came in and walked the golf course and was going to reconfigure the golf course, keep a lot of it the same. But they were looking at building new homes, and then they were going to also build the amenity center, so, new pool and clubhouse and everything else. So, because it was going to be a very focused, family community, they wanted to stage their ground-breaking in golden shovels. And I suggested, I tried to dissuade them from golden shovels.

Pat McSweeney: I saw that wasn't going to work. And I said, "Well this is a family community, right?" They said, "yeah". "And you've pre-sold a couple of homes to families, right?" Yes. "And they have children." They said yes. I said, can we get those children and the children or grandchildren of the developers, and the real estate team, and have them, have the kids do the ground-breaking. So we got child-size, hard hats, with the logo for the community and child-size, small golden shovels, and had the adults in the background. They had their shovels, but they coached the kids.

Pat McSweeney: It was a much better picture, especially because one four-year-old started digging before the signal was given, and he was just digging his way to China, and it became such a great moment because there was no stopping him and rather try to corral the kid, let him go, and let the other kids start digging. Everybody relaxed at that point, and could have fun. And that's what that whole community was about.

Dusty Weis: It was unscripted and it was authentic. And your job as a storyteller there was not to direct it, but to create a stage on which it could happen-

Pat McSweeney: Create a stage and then get out of the way. And what I like to say is the difference between public relations and advertising is, in advertising you control the message, the visuals, everything. But I'm working without a net. I'm Nick Wallenda, I'm blindfolded, I'm on a high wire and there's no net below me and the wind is howling at 40 miles an hour. Hopefully I get to the other side, no-one dies.

Dusty Weis: Here's what I like about this approach and, in my experience, granted, my experience in the public relations and marketing world is more limited. But in the time that I've spent there, and in the time that I've spent in the media, I often find a reticence, among public relations professionals, to create that environment in which something authentic can happen. Very often, I feel like the impulse is to control it carefully, and to have everything almost perfectly choreographed well ahead of time, and while perhaps that makes some people feel better about it, it very often does not create the best story. It doesn't create the best photo ops, and it doesn't create a desire on the part of the media to cover that story. Why do you think that is? Why that impulse to control, rather than let things happen?

Pat McSweeney: Well, you want to set the stage and set the expectations, not only of the client, but also what the client wants to say. And if you've done the preparation work, then you know what the key messages are and you've rehearsed, then you have a better than even chance of being able to deliver that message. You have to also understand that reporters are thinking a little bit differently and saying, "What's the real story here? Is there a story, beyond this photo op?" There again, that's where you're working without the net. You have to trust your gut that you've done all of the preparation that's necessary, and then stand back.

Pat McSweeney: You know, you can plan and anticipate as much as you can, but you also have to leave a little bit of wriggle room because something unexpected can happen. Or, there might be a wrinkle. You try to minimize all of those and make all of your variables constants, so that you can plan effectively. But you got to realize that sometimes something's going to go wrong, or something is going to happen that you didn't plan for, and you try to accommodate for that.

Pat McSweeney: One of the things I learned over time was, you create a special events bag. So, I had a full toolkit. Go down to Home Depot and buy one of those Husky nylon bags and purchase a set of tools, so everything from pliers and hammers and screwdrivers to work gloves, lots of duct tape, electricians tape, needle-nose pliers, have a whole line of Sharpies and highlighters and bailing wire, where you're going to be able to make adjustments in the field and make somebody look good. Even just spring clips to make somebody, if somebody's wearing some clothes that are ill-fitting, can you pull a clip in the back and make it look better? It's been done.

Pat McSweeney: So I've learned that over the years, and each place I've gone, I've asked, can we create a toolkit? And once you're out in the field and you've seen that used, especially your bosses realize, "Wow, you're really thinking ahead. This is a good deal." And yeah, it's a one-time business expense that is going to save your bacon out in the field.

Dusty Weis: It's sort of the old Boy Scout mentality for me. I'm a former Boy Scout.

Pat McSweeney: Me too.

Dusty Weis: Well then, that doesn't surprise me at all because you've got to be prepared for anything. But what you learn again and again in the field, and as a Boy Scout, is that you can't be prepared for everything.

Pat McSweeney: Right. So then, you adapt and overcome.

Pat McSweeney: So, at grand opening events where you're going to give access to the CEO, you've prepped that CEO, hopefully. If you've done your job right and you've worked with the CEO, so you know what their key messages are, you have prepped them also, "This is the reporter, this is their background. Here's what they really focus on." You've done your research, you've done your homework and you've set everything up for success. And then, a lot of PR people will be right by the CEO's side. The reporter's not going to like that. They know they're on a leash. If you've done your homework properly, then you step back and, I've had reporters look at me and I say, "Yeah, CEO's over there, go over, walk the new store or whatever with them." A couple of them are looking at me like, "Aren't you coming over?" It's like, "No, you don't need me there. You don't want me there and he's ready to speak with you." And they're not used to that. They're used to being controlled.

Pat McSweeney: I was told once, when I worked for the government, that, "You think too much like a reporter." And I said, "Well, thank you." And I was told it was not a compliment. And to me, it was. If I can think like a reporter and understand and be able to tell a story, then that's the value I bring to a client, and be able to tell their story and tell it effectively, or find what is the story, what is the differentiation between this company and another company, and where is the story we can share about that?

Dusty Weis: With your approach to public relations, anticipating the needs of reporters and perhaps giving them a little bit more rope because you've done the preparations in the background. Do you find that reporters are, in the future, more willing to come to you for stories, that they are more interested in the events that you put on, and that they generally find you more credible because you are not as, I guess, controlling as certain PR professionals?

Pat McSweeney: A little bit of that, but I also want to be seen as a trusted source, so I will reach out to a reporter or an editor to say, "Hey, I saw such and such. It's not a client of mine, but I thought you'd be interested. I think there's a good story there." Or, I will send an email to a reporter or an editor when I see a story, and tell them they did a good job, or, "Hey, I was just wondering why you didn't cover this angle?" And even reached out to one reporter who was writing about real estate deals and other things, such and such building at such and such address was sold, or going to be redeveloped.

Pat McSweeney: And I emailed and said, "Could you give the closest cross street, because otherwise I have to do a Google map of the address, to then get a picture of the building. But if you told me, it's this building, such and such address, near the corner of," I have a better idea of where this is in the city, or whatever. And the response I got back from the reporter was, "Thanks. I'd never thought of that. And nobody had ever said that." So ultimately, I want to be seen as somebody, because I've been on that side of the the notebook. If I make their job easier, they can do a better job of it.

Dusty Weis: It's this notion, I think, and I think it's an underrated notion of treating public relations less like gate-keeping and more like an ongoing partnership.

Pat McSweeney: That's correct. And, and really that's the difference between marketing and good public relations. Good public relations is doing good and being caught in the act, and marketing, or advertising, is saying, "Hey, look at me, aren't we great?"

Dusty Weis: You describe your style of public relations as operating without a net, and when you are making the pitch to an executive, or a company, that they should do something like the paint throw ribbon-cutting, or do something like allowing the kids to use the golden shovels at the ground-breaking, do you ever encounter pushback from executives that are like, "Well no, I always get the golden shuffle. I like having the golden shovel," or, "I like the big scissors. We've got to have the big scissors." And how do you go about making the case that your approach is better?

Pat McSweeney: What I'll say, is the media is looking for something different. This sends the same message, but it sends it more successfully and really is a little bit different. Sometimes you have to say, "Trust me on this." Now I've had clients that overrule and say, "No, I want to do scissors." We can do scissors. But now I've got to come up with, what other storylines do I have? Because, nine times out of 10, except for the Chamber of Commerce publication, media is not going to use the ribbon-cutting. So I've got to come up with something else. So, if it's a human services agency, instead of talking about all they do, show me whose life got changed through your program. Do you have an example? And can that person, family, or something, be able to relate how you know that social service agency changed their life for the better? That's the story the media wants. It's not that you raised $3 million. Congratulations. That's great. What is that $3 million going to do? And the giant oversized check. You can't take that to the bank, they won't cash it.

Dusty Weis: There's one more story, that combines all the elements that we've already covered here. It combines strange substances that you don't necessarily want to get on your suit, and it combines shovels, and it combines unconventional approaches to public relations, and it takes you back to your career in Florida. What's that story? Set the stage for me.

Pat McSweeney: Well, sometimes people will say, a PR person is just a BS artist and is just slinging a lot of bull. One time I was working for a state agency that had just purchased about 24,000 acres adjacent to Lake Lochloosa, in North Florida, and this was going to preserve the woods, and the wetlands, and the lake, and water quality, and it would be some great passive recreation. The state had purchased this parcel from, I think, a timber company, and there was a cattle lease on it, and I drove up a couple hours before the governor was going to be there, and a few others, for the dedication of the property.

Pat McSweeney: And as I drove up to set up the sound system, there were still some cattle grazing and I was able to get them out, to then close the gate behind them. And then I was lucky to find a shovel. And sure enough, I did have to sling an awful lot of cow droppings to clear the area where we are going to have the event. And I did have a couple of state senators, and others in the governor's office come in and look at me and they're kind of tiptoeing around some cow patties, and looking at me, and I'm like, "I didn't put that there, it's not mine," and-

Dusty Weis: Cattle are going to do what cattle are going to do.

Pat McSweeney: Yeah. And that was another situation where, should have worked with land management guys and made sure that a) the cattle lease had been ended, and the cattle were off, and then make sure to run a mower or something through there, clean up the land prior to the governor and everybody else getting there.

Dusty Weis: But on the flip side, you were the guy that showed up two hours early and happened to have a shovel at the ready.

Pat McSweeney: Yes.

Dusty Weis: Had neither of those things been the case, this could have been a different situation.

Pat McSweeney: Yeah, the governor really would've stepped in it.

Dusty Weis: I think that's a perfect note to end on. Patrick McSweeney, public relations professional, cattle wrangler, BS shoveler, and many other titles that you've held throughout your career. Thanks for joining us on the Lead Balloon podcast.

Pat McSweeney: Good to be here.

Dusty Weis: Do your homework, prepare for everything, and then get out of the way and let the story happen. That's Patrick McSweeney's secret to doing good public relations, PR without a net. Ultimately, you might fall and make a bit of a mess, but maybe that's a lesser risk than coming off as inauthentic, and failing as a storyteller.

Dusty Weis: Thanks again to Pat McSweeney, for sharing his stories and his philosophy, as well as his old colleague, Katrina Strickland, and thanks to Middletown Press & Journal editor, Jason Maddux, not just for sharing the view from his side of the notebook, but for pushing me to get beyond my comfort zone when I was just starting out in this business.

Dusty Weis: If you enjoyed what these folks had to say, make sure you subscribe to the Lead Balloon podcast feed. I promise there's more good stuff on the way. Maybe leave a comment, or share an episode with a colleague of yours who also enjoys doing PR without a net. I'm always looking for new guests and good show topics, so email me, if you've got either.

Dusty Weis: Lead Balloon is produced by Podcamp Media, where we provide branded podcast production solutions for businesses. Check out our website, we're on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well. The opera in this episode comes courtesy of Montserrat Alavedra, accompanied by Joseph Levine and William McColl under a creative commons license. There's a link in the show description. Until the next time, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

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