Eugene A. “Gene” Sheehan III | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Eugene A. “Gene” Sheehan III

Background:  

Hartford-based Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations Inc. was founded in 1988 by Patrick Sullivan, Paddi LeShane, and Gene Sheehan. It is known for its work on issues-oriented government affairs, public relations and strategic and crisis communications. Past clients have included MetLife, NRG Energy, SPX, Homes for America, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson, Citicorp, MassMutual, Verizon and American Medical Response. It is currently the agency of record for United Technologies Corp., Pratt & Whitney, BlumShapiro, Saint Joseph College and Farmington Bank.

High-visibility cases that Sheehan has worked on include the workplace shooting at Hartford Distributors Inc. in Manchester in which nine people were murdered, the awarding of a contract to a private company to run the Hartford Public Schools system, and a sex scandal involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport. Sheehan also was creative director for the Connecticut State Lottery for six years and managed the lottery’s $5 million advertising/public relations budget.

The Mistake:

Not being focused when I was younger. I frittered away a lot of time. In college, I was a lackluster student. I didn’t immerse myself in the opportunities. I kind of drifted. I had to spend a lot of time later working horrendous hours to make up for that.

In my mid 20s, I finally became directed. I got married, so I figured it was time to get myself together. I didn’t want my wife to become the breadwinner in perpetuity.

Still, it was a struggle to zero in on what I’m really good at, which is creating compelling messages that both serve my clients and communicate important information.

I tried advertising for a while and I did OK. I wrote radio spots for a night club and was paid $10 per spot if the spot was accepted. But advertising always seemed a little fluffy for me. I even managed a nightclub for a couple of years. That shows you how I floated around so much.

It was in 1988, at age 42, that I found my sweet spot with the founding of the agency. Crisis communications, advocacy issues, and public issues – that’s what interests me. Frame a message and get it out – that’s what I’m good at. When you’ve matched interest and skill, then you’ve probably found your sweet spot.

Define yourself or somebody else will define you.

The Lesson:

I should have taken different courses, done an internship, and worked in a major market like New York. I encourage young people, especially those in my line of work, to do those things.

Be strategic. Make good use of your time. Immerse yourself in things that will put you on the fast track.

Define yourself or somebody else will define you; that is so true and it fascinates me. It drives me and the agency to succeed for our clients.

Ours is a service-intense, client-intense business. We are available 24/7. So those long hours I worked catching up was a training of sorts.

As long as I feel at the top of my game, why not continue? I’m more of a senior adviser now, but our agency has stayed small in order to remain a high-level consultancy. We’re all coordinated. I still want to get my arms around everything we do.

Follow Sullivan & LeShane Public Relations on Twitter at @SullivanLeShane.

Photo courtesy of Gene Sheehan III.

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