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2019 Communications School Agenda


ADVANCED TRAINING WORKSHOPS: 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Jump Start Morning*

Laura Kirkpatrick, NAGC APR Liaison, Marketing Director for Red Bank RiverCenter
Ann Knabe,
 Ph.D., APR+M, Dean of Students, Associate Professor, and Reserve Component Chair at National Defense University
Kaye Sweetser
, Ph.D., APR+M, Director of the SDSU Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations, Program Coordinator of the School of Journalism & Media Studies Military Public Affairs Graduate Program

This day – long, comprehensive session will help you get started on your journey to the coveted APR designation 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

*Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Jump Start you must sign up for both the morning and afternoon sessions

Crop It Like It’s Hot! – Design Basics and Adobe Creative Adventures

Wendy Wagner-Smith, Founder and Principal, Wagner-Smith, and NAGC Communications Director

For a regular communications person, you can put together a pretty decent looking page in Word and an extremely legible slide in PowerPoint. But you know you need to and can do more. This half-day workshop will give you the foundational beginning skills you need to manage images and graphics and create document layouts that readers can use! We’ll start out learning the lingo of design and image management and exploring the principles of page design and usability. Then we’ll progress to the most basic functions of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign.

This will be a rank beginner’s introduction to the basics. If you’ve worked in this software previously, you’re already too advanced.

Participants must bring their own laptop and have the Adobe programs loaded (Windows-based laptops recommended, but if you work on a Mac and can follow along, you are welcome!). Those who do not have the software already may sign up for a free trial at With only 4 hours, we’ll be moving at a brisk pace, but with enough coffee and enthusiasm, you’ll be able to build a beautiful, readable page by the end of our adventure. Note: Wendy is not an Adobe-certified trainer and is not affiliated with Adobe products.

Less is More: Organizing Government Websites for User Needs

Josh DeLung, Strategy and Quality Lead, Experience, ICF Next

Government websites are often bloated and when users or stakeholders have difficulty finding information, the proposed solution is to add more content. Instead, government websites should be offering the right amount of content at the right time to the right people. When it comes to user experience, usually, less is more. The information architecture of the site should be action-oriented and task-based to meet user needs. In this workshop, you’ll learn how to better organize content using inexpensive methods such as card sorts, tree testing, and more. If you’re facing a site (internal or external) redesign or you know your agency’s sites need tweaks, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to learn Josh’s tips and techniques.

How to Use Social Media for Crisis Communications

Erik Deckers, President, Pro Blog Service

Thanks to the always-on nature of cable news and social media, there is no more “news cycle.” News is being reported as it’s happening, and crisis communicators are constantly racing to catch up. If we want to live the old adage, “Be First, Be Right, Be Credible,” we have to be early. This workshop will teach you how!


ADVANCED TRAINING WORKSHOPS: 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Jump Start Afternoon*

Laura Kirkpatrick, NAGC APR Liaison, Marketing Director for Red Bank RiverCenter
Ann Knabe,
 Ph.D., APR+M, Dean of Students, Associate Professor, and Reserve Component Chair at National Defense University
Kaye Sweetser
, Ph.D., APR+M, Director of the SDSU Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations, Program Coordinator of the School of Journalism & Media Studies Military Public Affairs Graduate Program

This day – long, comprehensive session will help you get started on your journey to the coveted APR designation 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

*Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Bootcamp you must sign up for both the morning and afternoon sessions

Channeling Your Inner Aristotle to Become a Super Hero Spokesperson During a Crisis

Dr. Joe Trahan, President/CEO, Trahan & Associates

Doc Trahan IS BACK! If you’ve never attended one of Dr. Joe Trahan’s workshops, don’t miss this opportunity to learn from a nationally recognized master of government communications. With four decades of experience, Doc has a teaching style that is dynamic, humorous, and most of all effective. And what better topic than crisis communications, the most critical skill for any communicator representing any organization.

In this half-day training, Doc will teach you to effectively develop and always use Command Messages, effectively prepare for hostile or ambush interviews by using the “5good-X -5Bad-X-5ugly Question-Answer Technique,” how to respond to tough questions in a tight, concise 10- to 12-second soundbite, how to communicate nonverbally to effectively answer reporter questions, and how to use the “Listen-Pause-Think-Answer Technique” when answering reporters’ questions, and so much more. Doc will teach you how to build a bridge to your constituents in a crisis.

Spaces are limited. First come, first served. Register as early as possible to ensure you have a seat!

Building a Strategic Community Outreach Plan

John Verrico, Chief of Media & Community Relations, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Science & Technology Directorate
Jason Golden, Manager, Dynamis Inc., serving as the Public Affairs Officer at the US Department of Homeland Security’s Plum Island Animal Disease Center

With a strategic community outreach plan, negatives turn into positives, rumors and myths can be debunked, and agencies can use public engagement as a positive way to successfully execute their mission. Building effective relationships can help achieve the most valued objective – trust. Attendees will review case studies (as well as their own situations) and learn how to create a framework they can use to build their own strategic community outreach plan. In addition to being a lifetime government communications professional, John is a nationally known speaker who also has the distinction of having been a director and president of NAGC. John and Jason will teach you the steps and methods to envisioning, blocking out, and building an effective and efficient community outreach plan.

Tapping the Power of Women’s Leadership

Jenny DuFresne, CEO, DuFresne Solutions Group

If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we get! Despite volumes of research about the importance of women’s leadership, too few women are in leadership roles. The #MeToo and #TimesUp movements shine a bright light on gender and structural inequities. When women are in leadership roles profits increase, companies, and employees thrive. Women’s leadership is the key to building a world that works for all. In this dynamic session, we will explore women’s hidden strengths and nation-building genius. Discover how women can activate the power, vulnerability, and authenticity required to create a world that works for all.






Chris O’Neil, NAGC President

From Potential to Leadership Power: Master Passion, Purpose, and Performance

Nomi Bachar, White Cedar Institute for Expanded Living

BREAKOUT SESSIONS: 10:15 a.m. – 11:15 a.m.

12 Steps to Improve Your Writing

Erik Deckers, President, Pro Blog Service

Beginning writers who want to hone their craft usually aren’t given much direction beyond “write every day,” and “read a lot.” Most content marketing 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 give you a handy list that you can put into practice immediately to improve your writing and self-edit effectively.

How to Drive Engagement Through Digital Channels

Melissa Harrison, Chief Executive Officer, Allee Creative

In an age where 4-plus generations are collaborating in the workforce, how are you managing engagement of your target audience through your digital marketing efforts? What pieces of information could you give out for “free” versus as a paid benefit? This session will walk you through best practices in digital marketing, including how to engage your audience at all levels, a look at the different generations and how they use digital channels to gain insight into your organization, and best practices for keeping up with digital in addition to all the other tasks you do!

Recraft Your Pitch to Get Reporters to Respond

Susan Apgood, President & CEO, News Generation, Inc.

Do you ever feel like your pitches go into the inbox, or junk mail abyss, never to see the light of day again? Ever wish you had some set-aside time to rethink how you write your pitch emails, all while getting input from experts and your PR peers? In this session, you will build and tailor a pitch for an upcoming campaign of yours. Media relations experts from our team will walk you through tried and true practices to actually get an email back from reporters and get them to stay on the phone with you when you call. You’ll spend time recrafting your pitch using NewsGen’s template, you’ll share and offer feedback with your peers, and you’ll walk away with tangible tools you can take back and use the next day.

Keys To Becoming an Influential Communicator

Dr. Jessica Houston, Lead Consultant, Jessica Houston Enterprise

Did you know that introverts can also be great presenters? Effective communication is a tool that you can use to expand your impact and amplify your influence in your area of expertise. In this highly interactive training, you will learn how to conquer the fear of public speaking. You will also learn how to confidently engage any audience or stakeholder. As a participant, you will leave this training with relationship building strategies that you can begin implementing immediately!


Communications Amid Chaos: How to Rise Above the Challenges

Thomas H. Olshanski, CPM, EFO – Director of External Affairs for the United States Fire Administration (USFA)

BREAKOUT SESSIONS: 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.

Intergovernmental Collaboration for Ballot Issues

Erick Gill, Communications Division Director, St. Lucie County, Florida
Sarah Prohaska, Assistant Communications Director and Public Information Officer, Port St. Lucie, Florida

In 2016, the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners added an amendment to the November ballot asking residents to consider a half-cent sales tax increase to create an annual revenue stream of roughly $18 million for the county and its two cities (Port St. Lucie and Fort Pierce) to use for capital infrastructure projects. The measure failed. Only 46 percent of the voters supported the measure. Two years later, the County teamed up with key staff members from the two cities to launch an aggressive educational campaign focused on another half-cent sales tax ballot amendment. This time, 56 percent of the voters approved. What was the difference? This session will teach you how St. Lucie County and Port St. Lucie changed minds with a limited budget, without a political action group, ushering in a decade of progress on long-anticipated projects.

Don’t Ignore 60 Million People: How to Make Your Content Accessible

Stephen Tidmore, Vice President of Technology, Mighty Citizen

It’s too easy to create online content that people with disabilities cannot access. Creating accessible content is easier than you think and it’s a smart business decision. But mostly, it’s the right thing to do. In this dive into “accessible content design,” you’ll explore the principles and practices that produce accessible online experiences. Full of examples and fresh insights, this talk will help you transform your inaccessible content.

Let’s Do Some Shots

Wendy Wagner-Smith, CEO, Wagner-Smith, and NAGC Communications Director with Special Guest Simo Ahmadi, Photography by Simo

Smart phones allow everyone to capture voice, video, and image recordings with just a tap. But to get quality that’s professional enough to use in your working world, you need to understand some basics of setting up and taking shots and how to get the most from the device. This seminar will teach you about lighting, setting up shots, and what to do when you’re in an action-packed situation. Participants should bring whatever brand of smart phone they are most comfortable using, and they should be willing to have photos taken of themselves by other class participants during the class.

Marketing Out of the Box

Ericka Davis, Chief Communications Officer, Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority

Developing a comprehensive marketing and communications plan can be a daunting task, especially for a project the public may not favor, such as a toll lane. This session will show you how the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority developed a marketing and communications strategy that not only allowed it to meet strategic goals, but also gained the agency favorable media coverage and positive public sentiment for the project.

BREAKOUT SESSIONS: 2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

How to Start a Voice of the Customer Program

Josh DeLung, Strategy and Quality Lead, Experience, ICF Next

The President’s Management Agenda lists “improving customer experience” as a major goal. But many government agencies and other organizations around the world have yet to take the most important first step to successfully increasing customer satisfaction — formally designing a voice of the customer (VoC) program. Josh will teach you the importance of collecting useful customer feedback. You’ll learn the basics of how to start designing a VoC program that integrates with your planning and design processes. He’ll show you how two federal agencies started VoC programs, and you’ll learn how to go back to your home agency and put a VoC program in place.

Never View Media Searches the Same Way Again!

Dirk Fillpot, Communications Coordinator, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Federal and state public affairs professionals face significant challenges in targeting vital safety information to populations affected by public health emergencies and disasters using existing tools. U.S. Department of Agriculture led a multi-agency effort to address this challenge by developing a first-of-its-kind, geographic-based media system that allows government communicators to identify populations that need vital public safety and health information and to develop targeted media outreach strategies. This new tool is being shared free with federal and state communications professionals and can be tailored to specific agencies’ needs. Learn about the system, see a live demo, and learn how your state or federal agency can get connected to it.

So What? How to Help Agency Leadership Understand the Impact of Public Affairs through Effective Outreach and Media Analysis

Ben Kessler, Head of Government Solutions, Meltwater Group

Learn the current best practices for solving the age-old challenge of PR and public affairs — highlighting the impact of your work as it relates to your agency’s mission.

You’ll learn how to develop public affairs strategy planning and keep leadership interested in outcome-driven metrics and cutting-edge approaches to your reporting and assessments.

Lights…Camera…Fail: Facebook Live Videos Gone Wrong

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

Facebook Live is a great tool for engaging your audience. But what happens when you spark massive public backlash while the cameras are still rolling? Hear recent real-life examples and learn practical tips for working with internal players to minimize fallout, interacting with the press and the public after the incident, and restoring your organization’s public image. You’ll leave knowing how to create your own organization-specific plan for responding to a Facebook Live video gone wrong.

AWARDS RECEPTION 3:45 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Blue Pencil & Gold Screen Awards and Communicator of the Year

Presentation and Reception




Media Relationships Forged in Hawaii’s Volcanic Eruption

 Toni Schwartz, Public Information Officer, Hawaii Department of Public Safety
Jeffrey D. Hickman, Director of Public Affairs, State of Hawaii, Dept. of Defense

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 10:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Social Separation: Best Practices to Maximize Platform Efficiency

Taylor Brune, Communications Specialist, Missouri Department of Transportation

What succeeds on Twitter might not resonate with your Facebook audience. And how do you know what your Instagram audience wants to see? It’s time to stop treating social media platforms equally. Organizations must tailor their messages to align with the unique and specific audiences, algorithms, and functions of each platform. Taylor will teach the latest best practices and how to reevaluate your social media strategy to help maximize the brand exposure your agency needs.

Is Your Crisis Communications Plan Still in a 3-Ring Binder?

Jeffrey Davis, Managing Partner, Van Eperen

When a crisis hits, you’re not necessarily sitting at your desk with the plan at your side. You’ll most likely be at a mall, at an off-site meeting, or on a soccer field when that call comes in. Now is the time to convert your crisis communications plan to a mobile version that can be accessed by multiple people, wherever your team happens to be. Jeffrey will teach you the basics of crisis communications planning, what should be included in a crisis plan and how to ensure that plan is quickly accessible.

Take Command – How the Military Health System Communications Team Led a Culture Change Campaign

Col. (RET) Richard Breen, Jr., APR, Director of Strategic Communications, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Pentagon

In the United States military, the decision on selecting your personal health plan has always been easy. The government did it for you! Until now. In late 2018, the 9.4 million beneficiaries of the Military Health System had to make these decisions on their own, a huge culture change in the Department of Defense. Learn how the Military Health System’s Defense Health Agency led this culture change through a series of aggressive and effective communications strategies and tactics, all the while building strategic partnerships with numerous organizations. Learn what worked and what didn’t — you’ll be glad you did if you’re facing similar challenges now or in the future.

LUNCH AND GENERAL SESSION 11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Behind the Sunglasses: Changing the Communication Landscape of the U.S. Secret Service

Cathy Milhoan, Director of Communications, U.S. Secret Service

BREAKOUT SESSIONS 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.

Start to Finish: Create Awesome Videos for Social Media

Marianna Moles, Public Communications Specialist, County of Santa Clara Public Health Department

Transform your passion and eye for storytelling into videos that engage your audience. Marianna will teach you about the data behind videos on social media, how to film great video using your mobile device, and how to write a script and prepare to shoot. You’ll also learn about video compliance for the web.

When Hip Hop Met Health Insurance

Amy Palmer, Director of Communications, Covered California

Covered California works to reduce the number of uninsured Californians through comprehensive marketing and outreach, including events designed to generate media coverage and digital attention. This year, Covered California enlisted local hip-hop dance crews to for a campaign that focused on a 13-day bus tour with local dance crews performing at media events. Throughout the campaign, Covered California captured content for local news and digital platforms, attracting prominent U.S. media coverage, as well as Spanish- and Asian-language media outlets. Learn about thinking visually and collecting visual content in multiple ways, and how it helped Covered California maximize attention on reducing the number of uninsured Californians.

Create Social Media Reports Your Agency Can Understand!

Sabrina Merritt, Founder & CEO, October Social Media

You need to show the boss how effective your social media program is. What’s the best way to do that? Sabrina will teach you how to create social media reports that will earn you credibility as a subject matter expert. You’ll learn a three-piece approach to reporting and tips and tricks to save you time.

NETWORKING: 2:45 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.

CLOSING SESSION: 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Using Empathy & Education to Improve Trust in the Era of Political Polarization

Boris Sanchez, CNN U.S. Correspondent