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Communications School Agenda

National Association of Government Communicators 2017 Communications School Agenda


Advanced Training Workshops: 8 a.m. – noon

Communication Planning:  Defining Success and Setting Goals 

Christopher O’Neil, Chief of Media Relations, National Transportation Safety Board, and President-Elect, NAGC
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Communication planning has never been more important to effective communication than it is in today’s information environment. Multiple communication channels, noise created by competing narratives and the dwindling attention span of your audience require purposeful communication planning to integrate, coordinate and synchronize your communication efforts.

This interactive advance workshop is a must for any government communicator working on multiple platforms, engaging multiple and diverse audiences or working to align communication efforts to a specific goal. Learn how to define communication goals, separate strategy from tactics and use research and evaluation to enhance message development.

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) Bootcamp

Laura Kirkpatrick APR liaison and Director of the Monmouth County (NJ) Department of Public Information & Tourism
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Ann Knabe, APR+Military Communications and Dean of Students, Associate Professor, and Reserve Component Chair at National Defense University
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APR Mini-Jump Start

Get started on your APR journey! Review the accreditation process and discuss the knowledge, skills and abilities needed to successfully prepare a panel presentation and complete the exam. Taught by seasoned APRs, this course focuses on 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

Advanced Training Workshops: 1 – 5 p.m.

How to Contain Crises in Today’s Viral World

Andrew Gilman, president and CEO of CommCore Consulting Group
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We all know how quickly it can happen. In today’s world it may not be a question of if — but when — a viral crisis will affect you and your organization or agency. What are the new rules for preparing for a crisis in today’s fast-moving, viral social media world? Are you prepared?

This interactive, hands-on workshop is designed to help you become aware of potential crises, create an effective communication crisis strategy, measure your response effectiveness, and prepare yourself and your agency or organization to maximize your overall communication goals. You’ll discuss current viral crisis situations and the communication reaction and responses — good and not-so-good — and then have the opportunity to test your viral crisis communications skills with role playing and analysis. You’ll leave with ideas and tips you can use immediately to prepare your organization.

How to Develop Persuasive Messages with Science of Storytelling

Gideon For-mukwai, Story Warrior Associates

Emerging neuroscience and social psychology research tells us that the best way to transmit highly effective and “sticky” messages is through storytelling. Using the science of storytelling, government communicators can craft messages that resonate with audiences. You’ll gain an understanding of story science and learn how to how to choose stories and messages that spread from person to person. This workshop will give you the tools and techniques you need to heighten messages for public briefings, press releases, and memos without resorting to bureaucratic clichés.

Plain and Simple: Plain Language Concepts and Techniques for Government Communicators

Wendy Wagner-Smith, Training Coordinator, Plain Language Action and Information Network, and Marketing Director, NAGC
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The plain language movement (also called the plain English movement) is a worldwide initiative, with countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and South Africa helping lead the charge to improve communications for citizens. However, since 2010 when the Plain Writing Act was signed into law, the federal government has been mandated to produce materials for the public and stakeholders that are clear and easy to understand. This effort is spreading across the country to the state and local levels because citizens want to be able to understand what their governments are saying.

In this course, you’ll learn what plain language is and is not, what the concepts and principles of this method of writing require, and how to apply those techniques in your own writing. You’ll learn how to self-edit and remove excessive and complicated words, rely on simple, clear options, stop sounding overly formal or “fancy,” and how to deal with the push-back you will get from managers and subject matter experts. Bring pencils — you’ll be working on exercises throughout the class to solidify what you’re learning.

Evening Activity: 6 p.m.

Cardinals Nation at Ballpark Village

Watch the St. Louis Cardinals play the Milwaukee Brewers from the comfort of Cardinals Nation restaurant, located directly across the street from Busch Stadium. The restaurant features a high-energy, memorabilia-infused space with three separate patios, two large bars, and unparalleled sports viewing with large flat screen TVs, and other multimedia features.



8:30 – 10 a.m.: General Session

Welcoming Remarks by NAGC President Kathryn Stokes

Opening Keynote:
Reimagining the Arch:  Working with Multiple Agencies to Communicate a Monumental Transformation

Ryan McClure, Communications Director, City Arch River Foundation
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CityArchRiver Project, a $380 million public-private renovation of the Gateway Arch grounds and surrounding areas, is the back drop of Ryan’s discussion of how to effectively communicate a complex project to the public while working in a partnership with multiple agencies and organizations. The CityArchRiver Project involves federal, state, local and private organizations all working together to transform the Gateway Arch experience for all.

10:15 – 11:15 a.m.: Breakout Sessions

 “Fail-Proof” Media Coverage

Kesha Whitaker, Public and Media Relations Manager, Shelby County Trustee’s Office, Shelby County, Tenn.
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We live in a 24-hour news cycle world, where reporters are harried and working on multiple stories every day. Time is of the essence, and if your story idea is sitting in an inbox with hundreds of others, how will it get noticed? Government communicators have to stay ahead of the game to reach busy journalists who thrive on urgency. Make your pitches irresistible to journalists by becoming an information architect. Through research and shaping the story for consumers, you can make it easier for journalists to give your organization coverage. This session will feature strategies for packaging stories, case studies and video feedback from print and broadcast media professionals on what catches their eye when looking for a great story.

Case Study:  The Gatlinburg Fires

Dana Soehn, Management Assistant/Public Affairs/Great Smoky Mountains National Park
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Marci Claude, Public Relations Manager, Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau
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Perrin Anderson, Public Information Officer, Sevier County, TN
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On November 28, 2016, a complex of wildfires burned 17,904 acres across Sevier County, Tenn., turning the mountain resort town of Gatlinburg into a disaster zone. The fires originated from multiple locations including the Chimney Tops 2 fire in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and downed power lines outside the park. A total of 11,410 acres of national park lands and 6,494 acres outside the park burned. Worst of all, 14 people lost their lives in the Gatlinburg fires. This panel discussion will describe the experience from several different points of view. What would your agency do if confronted with such a disaster?

Seven Ways to Explain Complex Ideas to the General Public

Michael Pina, Program Manager, Communications and Outreach, U.S. Department of Transportation
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In a society that communicates in two-minute sound bites and 140 characters, how can your agency explain its complex, live-saving work concisely and effectively? Today, government communicators must effectively educate the media, stakeholders, and senior leadership, as well as train subject matter experts to effectively communicate key messages. This session will teach you seven ways to break down and explain the complex work of government.

11:30 a.m. – 12:45 p.m.: Lunch and General Session

The Internet is Magic (And Other Crazy Things We Believe About It)

B.J. Mendelson, Writer, Editor, and Mall Santa
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He’s the guy who dares to question the veritable religion of social media marketing, and he’s making people serious about effective communications stand up and listen. B.J. Mendelson, author of Social Media is Bullshit (St. Martin’s Press), joins us today with his latest presentation that answers the question, “If social media is bullshit, what should I be doing to effectively communicate with my audience online and off?” This presentation will answer that question and many more you may have about marketing in the age of fake news, algorithms, and short-attention spans.

B.J. has been known to use profanity and salty language unapologetically, and we do not want people to be surprised by this. If you need to exit after lunching before his talk begins, we’ll understand.

1 – 2 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

Social Media Stories: How to Communicate Government Information in the Land of Emojis

Jessica Milcetich, Director of Social Media, USA.gov
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Social media “stories” have been introduced through various platforms as an effective communication tool. Come learn the ins and outs of sharing your agency’s mission through the story format to engage your audience. Participants will leave this session armed with answers to questions about how government can communicate in stories, how to develop a strong strategy for using stories and how to address accessibility and records management issues. Note: This session is not an endorsement of any social media platform using story format.

Accreditation in Public Relations (APR)

Laura Kirkpatrick, NAGC APR liaison and Director of the Monmouth County (N.J.) Department of Public Information & Tourism
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Ann Knabe, APR+Military Communications and Dean of Students, Associate Professor, and Reserve Component Chair at National Defense University
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If you’ve been thinking of pursuing your APR certification but could not attend the half-day workshop, this short breakout session will give you a speedy overview of the accreditation process and help you set a timeline and expectations for the APR application, presentation, and exam.  

Using Social Media and Other Communication Tools to Pass a Public Safety Sales Tax

Sharon Watson, Director of Public Affairs, Johnson County, Kan.
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Anytime a tax is necessary, government communicators face a major challenge!
Let Sharon teach you how her county used social media and other communications tools to educate the residents about a public safety sales tax ballot initiative to fund a new courthouse and coroner facility

2:30 – 3:30 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

Using Protocol to Brand Your Agency

Cheryl Chambers, Civility and Business Coach and former NAGC Competitions Director
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Kathleen “Kathy” Zona, Protocol Officer, National Aeronautics and Space Administration
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Every good public relations staffer knows that you don’t have to have the word communications in your job title to be a full-time communicator. Communications occur through your interactions with your customers every day. You will learn what protocol is and is not, how exemplary protocol can be achieved with few resources, and how your protocol style can shine through in all your agency’s communications — verbal, online and written.

Plain and Simple: Plain Language Concepts and Techniques for Government Communicators

Wendy Wagner-Smith, Training Coordinator, Plain Language Action and Information Network and NAGC Marketing Director
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State and local governments are not bound by law as the federal government is to write in plain, clear language. But this effort is spreading across the country because citizens want to be able to understand what their governments are saying. In this short, high-speed version of the half-day workshop, you’ll learn what plain language is and is not, what the concepts and principles of this method of writing require, and how to apply those techniques in your own writing. You’ll leave knowing new ways you can begin immediately improving your writing.

Communication, for a Change: Helping Your Leaders Talk About Change

Blythe Campbell, Senior Communications Director, NANA Development Corporation
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Learn what to do when big changes are coming the senior managers turn to you for the right words. In this fast-paced session, Blythe will teach you how to prepare yourself and your leaders now so you are ready to communicate effectively when change comes. You’ll leave knowing:

  • How to build and share context around organizational change with employees
  • The five ways communications professionals can bring value to the change process
  • How to collaborate with senior leaders throughout the change process

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

Evening Activity: 6:30 p.m.

Guided walk to the St. Louis Arch. Visit the museum and/or ride to the top!



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

Morning Keynote
Uprising: A City Divided

Mark Basnight, Senior Public Affairs Training Specialist, Argonne National Laboratory, Public Affairs Academy
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In the wake of an officer involved shooting, the city of Charlotte (N.C.) was thrust into the national spotlight after the unexpected and unanticipated uprise of civil unrest. The dramatic events of Sept. 20 – 24 left one dead, several injured, hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, and a city divided until the release of information exposing the facts and truth of the police investigation were reluctantly released. Mark will tell us the lessons learned from this extraordinary situation that might be critical to other government communicators in the future.

10:30 – 11:30 a.m.: Breakout Sessions

Monitor, Analyze, Engage: Your New Blueprint for Benchmarking Data in the Public Sector

Ben Kessler, Director of Government Solutions, Meltwater
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Ben will teach you how to use metrics for your public relations strategy, break down reporting, and share examples of best practices in federal, state, and local government. You’ll leave this session understanding how to:

  • Give your agency a public voice with social media
  • Justify program decisions by measuring growth and quality of media
  • Identify new media opportunities through current trends outside of typical journalism beats

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

Jennifer Miller, Principal, Rockford Gray
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Good media and communications skills don’t just happen — they’re learned and perfected over time. Think you already know how to work with media? We all can always learn more, right? A former CBS News correspondent, Jennifer is also a seasoned and engaging NAGC trainer. She’ll teach you skills you had not realized you needed in this fast-paced session that will leave you wanting even more.

Implementing Culturally and Linguistically Relevant Communication to Diverse

Leslie Quiroz, Public Affairs Specialist, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health
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Kelley Elliot, Writer-Editor, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health
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Communicating with diverse audiences is a huge challenge for government communicators. Leslie and Kelley will describe best practices developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health to ensure culturally and linguistically appropriate communications to diverse audiences. Learn how the National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health (National CLAS Standards) can be embedded in your communications strategies. Leslie and Kelley will also discuss the importance of delivering information in a culturally and linguistically appropriate way and explain how their agency tailors information and outreach activities for various audiences.

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

Reaching Your Next Summit: Seven Vertical Lessons and One Essential Question for Leading with Impact

Manley Feinberg, International Speaker and former CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop

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Known for his Vertical Lessons, Manley has an award-winning reputation for teaching businesses and organizations leadership solutions that yield measurable results every day. But that’s not what makes groups stand in line to get on his calendar. Manley will vividly share compelling lessons from his adventures and leadership experiences with NAGC members. He’ll leave you inspired and motivated to make real changes to develop the most important asset your agency has — you!

1:15 – 2:15 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

Communicators Communicating:  Break Down Silos to Work More Effectively

Bethany Hornbeck, Mother Communications and NAGC Professional Development Director

Christian DeLeon, New Life Arts Design
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In 2016, Bethany and Christian paired their skills in a website revamp for a state university-based youth development program. They took an unconventional approach to their partnership that gave each of them more latitude than usual to do their jobs . . .and let them have lots of fun along the way. They’ll teach you how to initiate a trend to break down barriers among communicators in government agencies.

Community Branding that Works

Ben Muldrow, Partner, Arnett Muldrow & Associates
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Learn about successful community branding tactics that have been developed over the last 15 years by one of the nation’s top community branding experts. You’ll leave with a new understanding of what works and what doesn’t in community branding.

What Now?  Connecting with the Media and the Community Post-Ferguson

Vera Culley, Social Media Coordinator, St. Louis County Police Department
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What if “why” was the first of the five Ws? Having worked in the field during a period of unprecedented civil unrest, Vera will teach you how to create a better vision and plan for working with media and the community by starting the famous listing in the inverse order.

2:45 – 3:45 p.m.: Breakout Sessions

Balancing Your Personal and Professional Brands Online

Mike Koehler, President, Smirk New Media
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We’ve all heard about someone who made a poor decision with an online post and didn’t fare well. Having a personal and a professional face online can be tricky. When you are working as a communicator for a government agency, public perception of is critical. And sometimes avoiding crisis is Job No. 1. Mike will teach you how to successfully juggle the public and the private, prevent personal Twitter feed from alienating constituents or employees, and most importantly, prevent an interaction on
Facebook from ending up as bad PR.

The Role of Government Communicators and Transition in Government 

Christopher O’Neil, National Transportation Safety Board
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John Verrico, Department of Homeland Security
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This panel discussion will examine the role of career, professional government communicators during transitions in government leadership. If you work in an agency experiencing a major transition in leadership, you won’t want to miss hearing the perspectives of senior communicators who have experience with transition teams. These career government communicators understand the need to champion transparency, accountability, and excellence in government communication with incoming administrations and their appointees.

4 – 5 p.m.: General Session

The Media Today….and For At Least the Next Two Weeks!

Dennis Kendall, Director of Broadcast News, QNI, St. Louis
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Chris Regnier, Reporter, Fox 2 Now, St. Louis
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Kent Boyd, Public Information Officer, Springfield/Branson Airport, and former journalist
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Who better to talk about the changing media landscape then those who work in the industry?  This panel discussion will focus on how government communicators can help the media….and how the media can help government communicators.


Sponsors for Communications School



U.S. Gov. Publishing Office

U.S. Gov Publishing Office

Mississippi Department of Employment Security

Mississippi Department of Employment Security

Laura Kirkpatrick

Laura Kirkpatrick, APR, is the Deputy Director of Public Information for Monmouth County, N.J., where she helps create, manage and deliver public relations and marketing communications to residents, visitors and employees. Laura began her government career in parks and recreation. In 2015, with more than two decades of public relations experience, she earned her Accreditation in Public Relations. She now represents NAGC on the Universal Accreditation Board.

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.