Jazz Fest skywriting inspires New Orleans panhandler to go airborne

Skywriting inspires panhandler to go airborne.Don Kiebels

Constantly looking for ways to differentiate his panhandling business from an ever-growing number of competitors in New Orleans, local beggar Matt Reagan has focused the attention of his company on dominating an untapped location: The sky — with skywriting.

“Back in the day, I’d compete with a total of maybe three other panhandlers in any given area at any given time,” Reagan said. “Now there’s at least three on every corner and an eternally pregnant woman at the light. How do I compete with that?”

Reagan admits business isn’t as good as it used to be for him, remembering the times before post-Katrina New Orleans brought a significant increase in panhandlers.

“I still operate in the green, but revenue now stinks worse than I do. It’s tough out there. I needed to do something innovative to stand out from the crowd, so I looked to the sky for answers and wouldn’t you know it I found one.”

Reagan credits his lightning bolt of inspiration to the continuing efforts of a skywriter who first caught the eyes of New Orleans during Jazz Fest 2015 while writing positive, encouraging words across the sky such as “love,” “peace,” “faith,” “believe,” “NOLA love,” and a smiley face.

“He originally said his mission was to provide hope and he certainly did for me. On a typical 12-hour day I’ll reach about 4,000 to 5,000 customers while panhandling at my intersection of Calliope and Carondelet while competing for their attention and dollars against a dozen other beggars,” Reagan commented.

“The skywriter has to have reached hundreds of thousands of people across Greater New Orleans in a matter of minutes and he didn’t have any competition up there. Now that’s great marketing!”

Now, Reagan is going from the streets to the sky. Using $8.5 million in reserve money from his panhandling funds, Reagan bought a fleet of skywriting-equipped aircraft to bring his message to the masses.

“You have to spend money to make money, and I feel like this move is not only going to set me apart and raise awareness for my brand. But most important, it will also significantly boost the amount of money people give me. This town deserves a better class of beggar, and I’m gonna give it to ’em.”