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2018 Communications School Agenda

National Association of Government Communicators 2018 Communications School Agenda


Advanced Training Workshops: 8 a.m. – noon

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Bootcamp Part 1

Laura Kirkpatrick  NAGC APR Liaison
View Bio

Ann Knabe, APR+Military Communications and Dean of Students, Associate Professor, and Reserve Component Chair at National Defense University
View Bio

APR Mini-Jump Start – This working session will help you get started on your APR journey by reviewing the accreditation process and discussing the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully prepare a panel presentation and complete the exam. The course is taught by seasoned APRs and focuses on numerous APR / APR+M examination topics, including:

  • What to expect during the APR / APR+M process
  • Ethics and law
  • Communication Models and Theories
  • Research, Planning Implementation and Evaluation
  • Crisis Communication Management
  • Media Relations

“Moneyball” Marketing: Using Data to Create Metrics that Uncover Value, Foster Alignment & Drive Bottom-Line Growth

Sam Ruchlewicz, Director of Digital Strategy and Data Analytics, Warschawki Company

The way most practitioners approach marketing and measurement is broken — and it lies at the heart of why marketing is viewed as a line item expenditure by every other department, and why more than 90% of communications initiatives fail to reach their target ROI. Moreover, we don’t have a framework and approach that enables us to understand what metrics are relevant to business outcomes, implement strategies to measure those metrics and accurately quantify their value, translate those metrics into actionable insights, and ultimately use those insights to inform the marketing mix to drive positive, bottom-line business outcomes. The good news is that this problem has a solution. This session will provide attendees a framework for measuring and understanding the value created by their efforts, as well as a blueprint for implementing this framework in their organization. Session attendees will walk away with a comprehensive framework that enables them to effectively:

  1.  identify the metrics that matter to their organization;
  2. align those metrics to business outcomes;
  3. use these “Moneyball” metrics to identify hidden value and optimize existing marketing mixes; and
  4. quantify the value of their efforts relative to the bottom-line outcomes of their company. And they’ll actually know how to put that knowledge into action.

Alexa, Help Me Stop Smoking!

Josh DeLung, Sr. Manager, Experience and Content Strategy, ICF

This workshop will cover the following:

The workshop will also include activities that help participants learn how to develop a dialog flow, how to build a prototype chatbot from scratch using a popular platform, how to interact with a chatbot and understand capabilities and limitations, etc.

Advanced Training Workshops: 1 – 5 p.m.

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Bootcamp Part 2

Laura Kirkpatrick NAGC APR liaison
View Bio

Ann Knabe, APR+Military Communications and Dean of Students, Associate Professor, and Reserve Component Chair at National Defense University
View Bio

APR Mini-Jump Start – This working session will help you get started on your APR journey by reviewing the accreditation process and discussing the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully prepare a panel presentation and complete the exam. The course is taught by seasoned APRs and focuses on numerous APR / APR+M examination topics, including:

  • What to expect during the APR / APR+M process
  • Ethics and law
  • Communication Models and Theories
  • Research, Planning Implementation and Evaluation
  • Crisis Communication Management
  • Media Relations

Developing Communications Plans

Christopher O’Neil, Chief of Media Relations, National Transportation Safety Board
View Bio

This workshop builds upon and applies the principles discussed in Chris O’Neil’s “Communication Planning: Defining Success and Setting Goals” workshop from the 2017 School. Participants will work in groups to craft communication goals, objectives, strategies and tactics for a communication plan, using input provided by the instructor through interactive role play. Participants will gain valuable experience in conducting a scoping session that will help them define audiences and desired outcomes. They will then practice developing a supporting communication plan. Participants should bring Microsoft Word and Excel enabled laptops or tablets for use in the group work.

Ten Ways to Use Social Media for Branding and Marketing

Erik Deckers, President, Pro Blog Service

Social media is no longer special knowledge for communicators; it’s the price of admission in reaching today’s public. People get their news via social media which means it’s sometimes just plain luck if people hear your message. There are so many networks to choose from, it’s hard to figure out where you should invest your time and energy. Do you push your messaging out to all of them, or just a few? And which ones? This workshop will look at how to use different social networks, and the kinds of communication people want on those channels. We’ll look at how blogging can help your messaging, how to build your audience, and what’s happening with Facebook, Instagram, and other networks. We’ll also look at the future of social media and content marketing, and what you can expect over the next five years.



8:30 – 10 a.m. General Session

Using Social Media During A Crisis: Our Hurricane Irma Story

Jamie Johnson, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office
Michael Ryan, St. Johns County Government
Melissa Wissel, City of St Augustine
Kelly Wilson, Emergency Operations Center
Jeremy Robshaw, St Johns Fire and Rescue

Our opening session features government communicators from our host State of Florida. Representatives from five different agencies will describe joint efforts to present a unified front on social media — before, during, and after Hurricane Irma. Featuring St. Johns County, Fire and Rescue, the City of St. Augustine, the Emergency Operations Center, and the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, you’ll learn how local government and law enforcement effectively used social media to communicate crucial information to constituents.

10:15 – 11:15 a.m.: Breakout Sessions

Executive Presence: Communication Techniques for Executives

Jennifer Miller, Rockford Gray

This discussion focuses on both the good and bad impressions leaders make when they walk into a room and begin to speak. Studies show that executive presence counts for 26% of what it takes to get promoted. We will discuss vocal executive presence – which focuses on how one uses his/her voice, as well as the broader picture of how those in leadership positions can look and carry themselves to be effective. Our goal is to get participants thinking about how they use their voice, body language and choice of dress, and then consider the message they are sending. Participants should leave with an understanding of what constitutes executive presence and the knowledge that there are things they can do to enhance their own sense of executive presence.

Planning for Disaster: A Crash Course in Crisis Communications

Lori Lawson, Digital Engagement Specialist, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs

Social media has dramatically shifted expectations surrounding access to information, particularly during a crisis. The evening news and news releases posted on websites no longer satisfy the public’s desire for updates. Rather than wait information, the public now turns to social media for a real-time account of events. Are you prepared to join the conversation? Do you know how to effectively communicate during a crisis? What if lives are at risk? As a crisis communicator, you must be agile, accurate, and able to capture the right tone – all within minutes. This session will give you a crash course on responding to ongoing threat situations through examples from recent crises.

Twelve Ways to Improve Your Writing

Erik Deckers, President, Pro Blog Service

It’s frustrating for beginning writers who want to hone their craft, but aren’t given much direction beyond “write every day,” and “read a lot.” Most so-called communication secrets are nothing more than “write good stuff,” which is completely unhelpful. Wouldn’t it be great if there was just one list of tips you could follow?

This session will look at different writing secrets professionals use to produce tight, interesting content and break them down into simple steps everyone can use to improve their own writing. We’ll learn how to cut out unnecessary language and filler words, how to harness metaphors and similes to better understand complex ideas, and which grammar rules you should ignore. We’ll look at some unusual advice that every professional writer knows (and even does), why inspiration is the downfall of many writers, and one psychological trick that will cut years off your learning curve.

11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.: Lunch With Keynote Speaker

Soon to be announced. 

1 – 2 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

What’s Your Story? Best Practices for Engaging with Media in Good Times and Bad

Jennifer Miller, Rockford Gray

Good media and communications skills don’t just happen. These skills are learned and perfected over time. Rockford Gray’s Jennifer Miller shares the Rules of the Game: what everyone needs to know before talking to the media. We discuss how to manage the interview, respond to difficult questions and why you should never treat the interview as a conversation. We believe the best spokespeople know how to prepare for an interview, set their agenda and use it. Jennifer will walk you through those steps and show examples of what it looks like when someone uses their agenda effectively. We conclude with an exercise that breaks down the process reporters use to compose their stories, revealing the spokesperson’s true role is in any news story.

Effective Crisis Communication in the Urban Environment

Elan Freudenthal, Watch Command Supervisor, NYC Emergency Management

Dense and diverse environments present unique challenges to crisis communication. With an international population of over 8.5 million residents, New York City exemplifies this type of environment. Specifically, how do local authorities quickly and effectively communicate life-safety information to large populations speaking various languages? NYC Emergency Management has launched the Notify NYC program, a free, customizable emergency alert service that delivers information via various communication modalities, including e-mail, text, social media, and a mobile app. It also offers alerts in NYC’s 13 most commonly spoken languages. This workshop will stress the importance of information vetting, the credibility of the messenger, redundancy, consideration of stakeholders, and other critical lessons learned through the implementation and development of the Notify NYC program.

The Cake is a Lie: Making Portals Great Again

Josh DeLung, Sr. Manager, Experience and Content Strategy, ICF

This talk will cover:
1) What are web portals (see also: gateways)?
2) How have user expectations changed since portals were created?
3) How can government adapt to evolve its many portals?
4) Example case study of a content and UX strategy and implementation plan for ChildWelfare.gov

2:30 – 3:30 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

READY. SET. GROW with Facebook Ads

Danielle Dupree, TheIntrovertMind

In today’s sophisticated social environment, Facebook Pages, Facebook Live, and Facebook Ads go hand in hand. However, a government agency shouldn’t care about fans, followers, and likes. It should care about connecting with its constituents directly. But the information is useless if it never reaches the designated audience. So how do you reach them? This interactive presentation is the result of real-life lessons and professional training on the art and science of Facebook marketing used to increase the engagement on http://Facebook.com/TheIntrovertMind. Attendees will:

  • Learn secrets on how to expand an agency’s Facebook Page reach through Facebook Ads
  • Utilize the science of storytelling and create messages that resonate with audiences
  • Make Facebook worth their time, money, and effort.

Water Seeps into the Ground: How to Talk Science to Normal People

Steven Sobieszczyk, Hydrologist, U.S. Geological Survey

Jargon. People hate it, yet unsurprisingly we as government employees continue to use it. Whether you are a politician, scientist, or something else, chances are you’re institutionalized into a certain way of communication. You’ve been indoctrinated into that culture and lost your way from how the rest of the world speaks. Break the mold…be bold and speak clearly. Remember, it’s not that people don’t care, it’s that you suck at talking “normal.”

State of Rebranding: Modernizing Your State’s Brand Identity

Laura Cederberg, Assistant Chief of Staff, Communications, Office of Governor Mark Dayton (MN);
Janelle Tummel, Assistant Commissioner, Enterprise Communications and Planning, Minnesota Management and Budget

In 2017, the State of Minnesota launched one unified brand identity across all executive branch agencies – shedding 23 outdated state agency logos for one cohesive look. The end result? A modern employer profile for employee recruitment, increased consumer confidence, and cost-savings across the enterprise. Project Directors will share how they oversaw change management and inter-agency collaboration to roll-out the new brand across state government in a cost-effective way.

3:45 – 6 p.m.: Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards Presentation and Reception and Communicator of the Year



8:30 – 10 a.m.: Annual Business Meeting and General Session

12 Communication Complexities, Rise of the Holocene

Mark Basnight, Emergency Management Communication Analyst, Public Affairs Science & Technology Fusion Cell;

Holly Hardin

10:30 – 11:30 a.m.: Breakout Sessions

Blood, Guts, and Glory – Employee Engagement at USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service

Aaron Lavalle, Deputy Assistant Administrator, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service

A committed and engaged workforce is the holy grail of any healthy institution, organization, or government Agency – but employee engagement is as much an art as any science behind it. The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) employees over 7,000 “front-line field employees”, many of whom are unwired employees, without access to a government issued email address or computer. In 2016, FSIS launched a new employee engagement initiative, titled “i-Impact;” this was delivered to the majority of FSIS employees as a one hour, in-person workshop. We will discuss the structure and successes of the 2016 i-Impact initiative, approaches to internal communications and demonstrate how employee engagement was utilized to create FSIS’ 2017 i-Impact workshop. Takeaways from the session include:

  • Tips and approaches building an employee engagement initiative from scratch or livening up what programs exist.
  • Moving from talk to action; practical advice about how to turn employee engagement and internal communications from buzzwords into something that is all the buzz.
  • The importance of bridging the communications gap between “Headquarters” and “Field” employees and overcoming logistical challenges,
  • How to convince leaders that employee engagement and internal communication is an investment worth making.

Improving Outreach Through Social Media

Nichole Hacha-Thomas, Media Relations Director, Indiana Department of Transportation

So you’ve planned an outreach event. Now what? This presentation will focus on how to use social media to market your event to your followers and their network. The break-out would highlight marketing tactics to use prior to the event, during the event, and post-event. The information shared can be easily implemented within any agency/organization/company and uses tools already in your toolbox: Facebook Live, Periscope, iMovie and many other free or low-cost apps and programs that can be utilized to get more people at your event, or at the very least, following it along on your social media channels.

Break Out of Your Cultural Comfort Zone to Communicate Globally

Annalisa Nash Fernandez, Intercultural Strategist

Break out of your cultural comfort zone. People are communicating more than ever but still blocked by language and culture. In a globalized world, teamwork, collaboration, and business growth mean communicating across real and perceived borders.  In this dynamic presentation based on business cases and current events, learn how cultural differences present challenges in everyday situations (including on social media) whether we perceive it or not. Explore cultural decorum across world regions, see American culture through a foreign “lens,” and understand cultural expectations. You’ll learn how to effectively penetrate foreign markets and build relationships across cultures without knowing the local language. Presentation content is based on a range of material including personal experiences from this multi-country expatriate executive turned expert in sociolinguistics, Harvard Business Review case studies, culture related events in the news, and the latest academic theories on intercultural dynamics.

11:45 a.m. – 1 p.m. Lunch and General Session 

From Chaos to Collaboration: Changing the Way We Communicate With the Public

Larry Schooler, Senior Fellow, National Civic League

Too often, government communicators find themselves besieged by angry constituents who feel excluded from key decisions their government is making that will affect them. In this plenary, Mr. Schooler will examine what has made talking with the public so challenging in the past–and how government communicators can refine their engagement philosophy to produce better outcomes.

1:15 – 2:15 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

Using Nextdoor for Public Agencies

Erick Gill, Communications Division Director, St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners

This presentation will cover best management practices for using the social media platform Nextdoor, including how to target specific neighborhoods and make sure there is compliance with records retention.

“The Kentucky READ Poster Project”: Influencing Hearts and Opinions

Carly Gill, Program Compliance Coordinator, KY Department for Libraries and Archives
Paige Davidson, Executive Staff Advisor, KY Department for Libraries and Archives

In Kentucky, the General Assembly controls budget appropriations to public libraries, yet some legislators still question the need for libraries in the Internet age. With a budget of $0, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and the Kentucky Public Library Association Advocacy Committee found a way to get legislators excited about libraries, inform them of all that libraries do for communities, invite personal conversations about library experiences, and potentially increase library funding. How did they do it? Through “The Kentucky READ Poster Project,” which boasts 100% participation from the state’s General Assembly and all Constitutional Officers. Learn how this was accomplished through a very clever program.

How to Get Booked on the Speaker’s Circuit

Mike Pina, Program Manager, U.S. Department of Transportation

Speaking engagements provide a great opportunity to reach key stakeholders and increase awareness of your agency’s work. Industry conferences, in particular, are a prime opportunity to get your message out and engage with stakeholders and colleagues. However, the competition can be fierce. Major events like South by Southwest (SXSW) can attract thousands of proposals vying for limited number speaking slots. This session will provide a step-by-step strategy for booking speaking engagements — for your boss, your colleagues or yourself. Identify speaking opportunities that make sense for your organization, contact show organizers, track events, develop exciting speaker proposals that stand out, and even draft a justification memo for travel approval. The session will also explain ways to prepare for your speech and use social media and on site promotion to capitalize on your speaking opportunities.


2:45 – 3:45 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

Managing the Rumor Mill

Kara Roberson, Communications Manager, City of Wentzville, Missouri

A growing number of citizens are engaging in citizen journalism by contributing to blogs, creating Facebook pages, and more. So, how do municipalities/counties best engage in a constructive dialog with citizens using technology? What are the best ways to avoid the rumor mill without oversharing? How do we tell our own story when so many others are telling it for us? Citizen journalism has had a major impact on the way public institutions disseminate information. This session will explore ways to combat the rumor mill through citizen engagement, social media campaigns, best practices and more.

Science Communication in the Digital Age

Greg Leatherman, Managing Editor, ECO Magazine

What’s the most cost-effective way to communicate? Enlisting someone else to distribute your message, of course. Original content remains the most valuable element in publishing. To get yours published, all you need are some insider tips on how to make it irresistible to editors.

Join us as Greg Leatherman presents Communication Tips for the Multimedia Age, including how you can turn material from your existing job into copy that is ready for publishing. He will also share tips on finding outlets that want your story.

Social Media, eMail Marketing, and Website Content: Developing and Measuring Integrated Multi-Platform Messaging

Davika Rao, VP Account Services, O’Neill Communications
Jhai James, Communications Officer, Strategic Energy Institute, Georgia Institute of Technology

Today’s information moves fast. In order to be effective and compete with the virtual “noise” of the internet, savvy communicators have to reach their targeted audiences and hold their attention over what can sometimes be a substantial amount of time. In this session, attendees will see examples of key messaging strategies that deliver relevant, fresh, and impactful information, using a variety of platforms without redundancy.

4 – 5 p.m.: General Session

Local Media Panel?


Laura Kirkpatrick

Laura Kirkpatrick, APR

Laura received her Bachelor of Science in urban affairs and planning from Boston University and a masters in corporate and public communication at Monmouth University, West Long Branch, N.J.

When Laura is not on the beach with family and friends, she teaches marketing at New Jersey City University.

Dr. Ann Knabe

Ann Peru Knabe, PhD, teaches public relations at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. She is currently on military leave, serving as Dean of Students at the College of International Security Affairs at National Defense University. Col. Knabe has almost three decades of experience in public relations, public affairs and strategic communication. She also owns a crisis communication firm located Milwaukee.

She is Accredited in Public Relations with a Military emphasis (APR+M) and serves on the Universal Accreditation Board.

Wendy Wagner-Smith

Wendy Wagner-Smith is a plain language expert and the training coordinator for the federal working group, the Plain Language Action and Information Network. Wendy also is the outgoing marketing director for NAGC.

She started her career in journalism and later moved to the publishing industry before entering federal service. She has written editorial style guides for three federal agencies and is known for her outstanding editing and communications work, which includes photography, web content management, graphic design, and publishing. She currently works for the U.S. Department of the Treasury Office of Financial Research.

Wendy has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Virginia and has done postgraduate coursework at the Harvard Extension School and Virginia Commonwealth University. A Virginia native, she now lives in Chevy Chase, Md., with her husband and daughter.

Kesha Whitaker

Kesha R. Whitaker is Manager of Public and Media Relations for the Shelby County Trustee’s Office. Kesha oversees communications for the largest county treasury office in the state of Tennessee. She develops strategic messaging and marketing campaigns for major community initiatives and manages all internal and external communications, media relations, social media, and event coordination, as well as providing support for community outreach and special initiatives.

Kesha also has worked for U.S. Bobsled team, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the New Jersey General Assembly. Whitaker was a journalist at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, a Senior Public Information Assistant for the Ivy League Conference in Princeton, N.J., and Director of Media Relations for the Atlantic Sun Conference in Macon, Ga.

Kesha is a graduate of the University of Memphis where she earned a bachelor’s in journalism with a concentration in public relations. She was recently named one of the Top 40 Under 40 by the Memphis Business Journal.

Perrin Anderson

Perrin Anderson has been Communications Coordinator for the Sevier County Mayor’s office in Sevierville, Tenn., since 2009. He manages internal and external communications and public relations activities for county government offices and departments, serving as a contact and liaison with local and regional governmental agencies, social service agencies, charitable organizations and the public.

During college, he began his career at WIS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbia, S.C., moving from there to WBIR, the NBC affiliate in Knoxville, Tenn., in the spring of 1997. In 2002, he began work at Ruby Tuesday corporate headquarters, eventually becoming Communications Manager. In 2006, he was named Public Relations Specialist/Producer for the National Wild Turkey Federation, a nonprofit conservation and hunting organization.

Perrin graduated from the University of South Carolina with a B.A. in Broadcast Journalism. He and his wife, Amy, have two girls and live in Sevierville, Tenn.

BJ Mendelson

B.J. Mendelson is a public speaker and author of the book, Social Media Is BS.

In the early 2000s, B.J. turned his financial struggles as a millennial in the great recession into media coverage for himself. After an unsuccessful national breast cancer tour, B.J. went on to write Social Media Is BS based on the experience and his research into the social media marketing industry.

B.J. has appeared in various venues to talk about the myths of social media marketing, including an appearance at the United Nations to debate the ambassador to Pakistan about the larger effects of social media on society.

B.J. was born in Oyster Bay, N.Y., and attended Alfred State College and the State University of New York at Potsdam.

Cheryl Chambers

Cheryl V. Chambers is a civility and business etiquette coach. She lectures and writes about a variety of issues aimed at improving professional and personal relationships, reducing stress, and increasing productivity. Cheryl founded the Census Civility and Business Etiquette Group in 2011.

A licensed business etiquette instructor, Cheryl is a 2012 graduate of the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt. She has an extensive background in speechwriting, media training, media and congressional relations, public speaking, and strategic communications planning.

She has been an active member of the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) since 1992, having served two terms as national secretary, Competitions Director, and chair of the Blue Pencil & Gold Screen (BP&GS) Awards Committee.

Cheryl holds a B.S. (Summa Cum Laude) in mass communication from Towson State University, with minors in theatre arts and political science.

Ben Kessler

Ben Kessler has been the Director of Government Solutions since 2015, having joined the firm in early 2012. He oversees Meltwater’s relationships with various government agencies at the federal, state and local levels. Ben is responsible for working with senior government public affairs and media relations leaders to develop key performance indicators, measurement methodologies and public affairs strategies, and proposals for government contracts.

Leslie Quiroz

Leslie Quiroz is a Public Affairs Specialist at the Division of Information and Education of the HHS Office of Minority Health. She is the Spanish-language content lead overseeing the development and implementation of health observances for the people the agency serves. A skilled cross-cultural communicator, Leslie has experience in advertising, public and media relations, journalism, social marketing, and social media.

Before joining HHS, Leslie served as a communications consultant for almost 13 years in the private sector. She started her career in her native Puerto Rico, as writer in the newsroom of El Nuevo Día, the main newspaper of the island.

Leslie earned a Bachelor of Arts in public communication from the University of Puerto Rico, a Master of Arts in organizational communication from the University of Colorado, and a professional certificate in translation from New York University. In 2015, she published her memoir Victorious: My Story as a Cancer Survivor.

Manley Feinberg

Manley Feinberg is an award winning international keynote speaker, business leader, and author. He served two
terms as the President of the National Speakers Association, St. Louis chapter, and is a member of the National GeospatialIntelligence Agency Leadership Development Staff.

Manley is a former leader of the Build-A-Bear Workshop company. During his 11 years with the company, his
leadership helped take the revolutionary retail concept from 40 stores to more than 400 worldwide, realizing revenue
growth from $55 million to more than $474 million, and a successful initial public offering on the New York Stock
Exchange. Manley’s leadership influence contributed to a workplace culture that landed Build-A-Bear on the FORTUNE
100 Best Companies to Work For® List four years in a row

Ben Muldrow

Ben Muldrow is a talented graphic artist with experience in a wide variety of marketing applications. He provides community identity and branding services for communities across the United States. Ben has worked on a number of projects specializing in the development of city and neighborhood identities, wayfinding strategies, and promotional marketing material.

Ben was a speaker for several years at the National Main Streets Conference on community branding.


Mike Koehler

Mike Koehler is the president and chief strategist at Smirk New Media LLC, a consulting firm he founded in July 2010. Smirk is recognized as one of the largest and fastest growing digital consulting firms in the region.

Mike speaks around the country about how to use social media tools and integrate them into marketing and public relations plans. He was a featured speaker at the 140 Characters Conference in New York City in 2009, the first national conference on the impact of Twitter on business.

Chris Regnier

Chris Regnier joined FOX 2 News as a general assignment reporter in January 2001. He previously reported at KFOX-TV in El Paso, Texas. He reported from Kuwait during Operation Desert Fox, from Oklahoma City during the deadly tornadoes, and from New Mexico when wildfires were destroying parts of the state.

Chris also spent time in radio, hosting and producing a medical news talk show on KELP in El Paso. Before that, Chris was a weekend anchor, reporter and producer at KAUZ-TV in Wichita Falls, Texas, and he began his career as a morning anchor, reporter and producer at KVTV in Laredo, Texas.

Chris received his bachelor’s in communication from the University of California in San Diego. He’s been a part of news reports that have won such awards as the Edward R. Murrow Award, Emmy Awards and Associated Press Awards in Texas and New Mexico.


Kathy Zona

Kathleen A. Zona has spent her career working in the federal government for NASA’s only Midwestern Center, the Glenn Research Center (GRC) in Cleveland, Ohio. Kathleen is currently the Executive Protocol Officer in the Center Director’s Office. She handles important visitors to the Center and is critical in coordinating management participation in events, conferences and other venues.

Before taking this position, Kathleen spent 10 years as a Public Affairs Specialist, managing the Glenn Research Center’s web portal and social media channels. Under her leadership, the Glenn Research Center web team held its first social tweetup event to mark the 50th Anniversary of the first human in space, John H. Glenn, the Center’s namesake.

Blythe Campbell

Blythe Campbell is a trainer and consultant in essential communication skills for executives and emerging leaders through her business, Blythe Campbell Communications. She is the author of the upcoming book, Communication, for a Change.

Blythe has worked for eight different CEOs and their teams in local, state and federal government, as well as in the engineering, telecommunications, energy, finance, and nonprofit sectors. Blythe has played a key role in organizational change, from strategy to execution, for more than 25 years. She has supported senior leadership transitions, restructuring, layoffs, mergers, and acquisitions — big changes — as well as smaller changes like implementation of new human resources programs and office relocations.

Jessica Milcetich

Jessica Milcetich is the product manager of USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). Jessica helps millions of people get answers to their questions about navigating the complexities of the federal government through USAGov’s websites, call center and social media accounts.

Before joining GSA, Jessica was a journalist who covered business and consumer news at the York Daily Record in York, Pa. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in business administration from Auburn University. When she’s not busy working, studying or cheering for the Terps, Jessica spends her time running marathons and triathlons.

Chris O’Neil

Chris O’Neil is the Chief of Media Relations for the National Transportation Safety Board and President-elect of NAGC. Previously, Chris was Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Office of Public Affairs, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and NAGC’s Communications Director.

He joined U.S. Customs and Border Protection in 2014 after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard at the rank of Commander with more than 29 years of active-duty service first with the U.S. Air Force and then with the U.S. Coast Guard (he enlisted in 1991) — more than 26 of those years in public affairs. Chris became the Chief of Media Relations for the Directorate of Governmental and Public Affairs, Coast Guard Headquarters in 2008.

He has a Master of Public Relations degree from Boston University’s College of Communication. O’Neil has a Bachelor of Science degree in Communication and an associate’s degree in criminal justice from the University of Phoenix.

Andrew Gilman

Andrew Gilman is President, Chief Executive Officer and founder of CommCore. Andrew is an award-winning journalist and a lawyer. He has counseled clients for challenges that include “60 Minutes” interviews, congressional hearings, Food and Drug Administration advisory committees, town halls, teleprompter speeches, new business pitches, crisis response and product launches. Andrew was counsel to Johnson & Johnson in Tylenol 1 and the Government of Canada during a SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) Outbreak. He also has had global training assignments for General Motors, PepsiCo and several pharmaceutical companies.

Ryan McClure

Ryan McClure is the Director of Communications for the CityArchRiver Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure that the Gateway Arch, its grounds and neighboring public space and attractions will be a vital resource for decades to come. Ryan serves as the main spokesperson for the ongoing renovation of the Arch grounds and surrounding areas. He oversees all public information about the foundation and CityArchRiver project including messaging, media relations, social media and web development.

McClure previously worked on public affairs and civic improvement campaigns at global communications firm Fleishman-Hillard and corporate communications at Safety National. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri.

Dana Soehn

Dana Soehn is the Park Spokesperson and Management Assistant at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Originally from Missouri, Dana started working for the National Park Service 28 years ago at Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a college intern.

She received her Bachelor of Science in wildlife and fisheries biology at the University of Tennessee and Master of Science in wildlife and fisheries science at West Virginia University while continuing to work seasonally in the Smokies. She has worked permanently at the park since 1996 in Resource Management & Science, Resource Education, and Volunteer Outreach. As Park Spokesperson, she serves in the Superintendent’s Office coordinating public and media affairs, partnerships and community relations, special park uses for park events, and the volunteer program for more than 2,500 active volunteers.

Dana lives in Gatlinburg, Tenn., with her husband of 25 years, Park Ranger Heath Soehn, and their sons, Garrett and Grant.

Mike Pina

Mike Pina is a Program Manager with the U.S. Department of Transportation where he provides communications and outreach support for the Connected Vehicle research program. He supervises all work related to communications, website content, meeting planning, publications, media relations and stakeholder engagement.

Previously, Mike was Director of Public Relations for AAA, responsible for AAA’s nationally recognized holiday weekend travel forecasts. Mike also served as manager of communications for the U.S. Travel Association and was Deputy Washington, D.C., bureau chief for Travel Weekly, North America’s largest travel trade publication.

Sharon Watson

Sharon Watson is the Public Affairs and Communications Director for Johnson County, Kan., the largest county in the state. She is the spokesperson and oversees all external and internal communications. Sharon also manages the county’s Joint Information Center during emergencies.

Previously, Sharon served as Public Affairs Director for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Department which includes Kansas National Guard, Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (2006 to 2015). Before that, she was Communications Director for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for five years. She also was a broadcast journalist for more than 10 years.

Sharon has a bachelor’s degree from William Jewell College with a double major in communications and public relations and a master’s degree in homeland security from the Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey, Calif.

Mark Basnight

Mark Basnight is an Emergency Management Communication Analyst for Argonne National Laboratory’s Public Affairs Science and Technology (PAST) Fusion Center. He is responsible for assisting government agencies, nongovernmental organizations and private sector groups with plans, training, exercises and support materials for media and public affairs before, during, and after a crisis or emergency. He is a former Public Information Officer for the Charlotte (N.C.) Fire Department.

Basnight is a founding member and a past chair for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Virtual Social Media Working Group. He served as a Lead Public Information Officer during the 2012 Democratic National Convention and had a significant role in planning, coordinating and implementing the Joint Information Center for Charlotte- Mecklenburg. Mark is an alumnus of the inaugural Federal Emergency Management Agency 389 Masters Public Information Officer Course and an adjunct instructor for the National Emergency Training Center – Emergency Management Institute in Emmitsburg, Md.

Jennifer Miller

Jennifer Miller is a principal at Rockford Gray, LLC. She has more than 15 years experience in news reporting, including 7 years at CBS News. At Rockford Gray, Jennifer developed a media training program specifically for elected officials, government leaders, political candidates and members of the military.

Jennifer holds a master’s in professional studies from the University of Denver. She also graduated cum laude from the University of Minnesota with a degree in Journalism and French. Jennifer serves on the board of directors for Remembering the Brave, a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring fallen service members and their families.

Kelley Elliott

Kelley Elliott is the lead messaging strategist and writer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. She is responsible for leading development of communications plans and key editorial products, including those that support National Minority Health Month.

Kelley’s previous work at a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm included leading campaigns for award- winning public relations programs on behalf of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Kelley began her career at Merck & Co., Inc., where she developed her passion for improving the lives of patients and reducing health disparities. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies from Northwestern University and a Master of Science in Communication Management from Temple University.

Christian DeLeon

Christian DeLeon of New Life Arts has worked as a freelance artist and designer for more than 15 years. During this time, he has worked on numerous and varied projects including packaging design, corporate branding, sculptural design and fabrication, and website development. He is known by his clients as the go-to person to manage difficult projects and develop specialized solutions.

He currently lives in Morgantown, W.Va.

Vera Culley

Vera Culley is the Social Media Coordinator for the St. Louis County Police Department. Under her supervision, the department’s social media accounts increased by more than 75,000 followers in the first year. Vera is responsible for all department social media and assists the public information officers with community engagement projects and crisis management strategies.

As a guest instructor at the St. Louis County Municipal Police Academy, Vera teaches proper social media use and department expectations. Since 2015, Vera has helped several local police departments establish their social media accounts, policies, and strategies and respond to crisis events.

Vera’s work during the Ferguson unrest helped earn KTVI the 2015 Emmy for Breaking News. She also received a 2015 Telly Award for her participation in HEC-TV’s “Social Media and Current Events” live broadcast. In March 2016, she was honored by her hometown of East St. Louis, Ill., as an “Unsung Hero of 2016,” for her volunteer work, professional career accomplishments and community service.

Dennis Kendall

Dennis Kendall is a Peabody, Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist who is now Director of Broadcast News for Quincy Media. He oversees 18 affiliated stations generating 70 hours of local news a day and more than 500 journalists.

Previously, as a partner at The Coaching Company in Dallas, Dennis was a performance coach at CNN and lead consultant for 18 television stations across the country, along with a 24-hour news network in Canada. Having started as a broadcast journalist in the U.S. Navy, Dennis has spent over four decades working every facet of television news.

John Verrico

John Verrico, MSOL, is the Past President of NAGC. John has more than 34 years of experience as a public affairs professional in federal and state government agencies, working extensively in media, community, and employee relations. He is currently the Chief of Media Relations at the U. S. Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate. As a senior spokesman, he has trained hundreds of subject matter experts and organizational leaders in the public and private sectors to deliver messages to media, stakeholders, employees, special interest groups, and the general public.

A retired Navy Master Chief Journalist, John is also a professional trainer of motivational leadership and interpersonal communication. He earned his Master of Science in organizational leadership from Norwich University and a Bachelor of Science in communication from the University of the State of New York.

Kent Boyd

Kent has been with the airport since 2006. Prior to working for the Airport, he spent five years as district Community Relations Manager with the Missouri Department of Transportation. Before that, he spent 18 years in broadcast journalism. He worked as a newsroom manager, reporter and photographer. His reporting work won numerous honors, including a regional Emmy Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Areas of expertise include crisis communication, media relations, interpersonal communication and electronic media.

Marci Claude

Marci Claude is the Public Relations Manager for the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Her background in television news and promotion are the foundations for her success in the role as city spokesperson.

Marci began her career in news and station promotion at the Knoxville (Tenn.) NBC Affiliate WTVK and later at the CBS affiliate WVLT. She also worked in public relations for the Tennessee Valley Fair and Ober Gatlinburg Ski Area and Amusement Park.

Marci has a bachelor’s in communications from the University of Tennessee. She and her husband of 28 years have three adult children.