Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Communications and Industry Affairs,
MGM Resorts International
Debra DeShong has held high level communications positions in government, the private sector, on Capitol Hill, in state and national political campaigns, and in the media. She has developed media strategy for some of the highest profile campaigns and public figures in Washington.
As the Senior Vice President for Global Corporate Communications for MGM Resorts, DeShong manages the media relations, internal communications, corporate social responsibility, regional communications and executive communications teams. DeShong oversees all crisis and litigation communications and is working to design a new brand platform for the company creating modern and cohesive CSR messaging.
Prior to joining MGM Resorts, DeShong was the Chief of Staff to Ambassador Caroline Kennedy at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan. While in the private sector, DeShong founded Five by Five Public Affairs focusing on strategic communications, media relations, litigation communications and crisis communications. Previously, she was a principal of Point Blank Public Affairs. As a consultant, DeShong served clients in a variety of sectors including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, The Broadband Coalition and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. DeShong also served as the communications manager for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, and Catalist, the premier voter information data warehouse.
GENERAL (RET.) STANLEY A. MCCHRYSTAL
Former Commander of U.S. and international security assistance forces & joint special operations command
General McChrystal is a retired four-star general and is the former commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) in Afghanistan and the former commander of the premier military counter-terrorism force, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). His leadership of JSOC is credited with the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein and the 2006 location and killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Since retiring from the military, McChrystal has served on several corporate boards of directors. McChrystal is the Chair of the Board of Service Year Alliance, which envisions a future in which a service year is a cultural expectation and common opportunity for every young American. He is a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, where he teaches a popular course on leadership. Additionally, he is the author of the bestselling leadership books, My Share of the Task: A Memoir, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, and Leaders: Myth and Reality.
General McChrystal founded the McChrystal Group in January 2011. Recognizing that companies today are experiencing parallels to what he and his colleagues faced in the war theater, McChrystal established this advisory services firm to help businesses challenge the hierarchical, “command and control” approach to organizational management.
Executive Vice President, Global Communication & Public Affairs,
MOTION PICTURE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA
Emily Lenzner is Executive Vice President of Global Communications and Public Affairs at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Prior to her leadership position with the MPAA, Emily headed communications for Atlantic Media, was a managing director for public affairs at SKDKnickerbocker, and was the executive director of communications for ABC News in Washington.
She formerly managed PR for “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” and “Nightline.”
Earlier in her career, Emily worked in film production and development for Diane Keaton’s production company and was a local news producer in Seattle after serving in the Clinton White House as an assistant to then senior advisor George Stephanopoulos.
Director of online sales organization, Government & service,
Dan Horowitz is responsible for leading four sales teams within the Online Sales Organization inside of LinkedIn Marketing Solutions. He leads a team of account executives who cover associations, public affairs, economic development, and government agencies in Washington, D.C. and managers who oversee teams across the LinkedIn services vertical in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York.
Prior to his role at LinkedIn, Dan was an EVP and Senior Partner at FleishmanHillard. At FleishmanHillard, he built and oversaw digital strategy, social media, design, brand, and video teams that drove client strategy at the forefront of radical changes in public relations and marketing.
He has led the creation of award winning digital and social campaigns for major pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, as well as created talent recruitment campaigns that leveraged consumer generated content and social shares from internal employees to drive new recruits into those organizations.
stone & compass
A teacher, businessman, and environmentalist, Rob has either lived or created business opportunities in London, Puerto Rico, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, and throughout the United States. His interests are human history, cultural preservation, natural resource governance, social harmony, and business development.
Some of his most unique work includes opening a school in Cambodia, creating a restaurant chain in California, national environmental mitigation, archaeological preservation, and landscape design on large estates.
Holding multiple degrees in various fields including Archaeology, geography, and history, Rob strives to bring together cultures from around the world to dialogue and collaborate on a host of issues.
SenioR VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS, naacp
As Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Aba Blankson oversees the NAACP’s internal and external communications plans for brand management, public relations, marketing, and products and services.
Ms. Blankson has nearly twenty years of experience in the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining the NAACP, Ms. Blankson served as Senior Director for Marketing and Communications at The Common Application, where she spearheaded the development of strategic marketing and public engagement plans to advance the association’s brand identity as a thought-leader in higher education. Previously, Ms. Blankson served as a communications and outreach officer within the U.S. Department of State. She has also held roles in marketing, communications, and information technology at Hood College, Towson University, and Cornell University.
Ms. Blankson grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Hood College. She went on to earn an MS in Computer Science from Towson University and an MBA from the Cornell University SC Johnson College of Business. She enjoys travel, hiking, photography and writing.
BRIGADIER GENERAL PATRICK S. RYDER
Director of Public Affairs, U.S. AIR FORCE
Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder is the Director of Public Affairs, Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, based at the Pentagon. In addition to advising the Secretary, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and Chief of Space Operations on Public Affairs matters, he is responsible for developing and executing global communication processes to build understanding and support for the Air Force and Space Force. He provides guidance and support for nearly 4,500 active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen and civilians in their mission to broadcast internal Air Force and Space Force information, conduct community and media relations, plan and synchronize Department of the Air Force communication efforts, and execute security review programs.
Brig. Gen. Ryder was commissioned in 1992 through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Florida in Gainesville. His staff assignments include serving as the Special Assistant for Public Affairs to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of Public Affairs for U.S. Central Command, Director of Media Operations for the Secretary of the Air Force Office of Public Affairs, and Director of Public Affairs for the Office of Defense Representative-Pakistan.
During his career, Brig. Gen. Ryder has led public affairs operations in numerous overseas contingency operations. He served as the PAO in Hungary during the 1995 peace-keeping mission Operation Joint Endeavor and led 48th Fighter Wing public affairs operations in support of NATO during the 1999 Kosovo Air Campaign. In support for Operation Iraqi Freedom, he served as a strategic communications planner and led the DoD Public Affairs response to highlight U.S. military humanitarian support to Pakistan during floods in 2010. While at U.S. Central Command, Brig. Gen. Ryder oversaw the command-wide public affairs operations in support of the counter-ISIS campaign Operation Inherent Resolve from 2014-2016 and conducted bi-weekly press briefings with the Pentagon press corps from Headquarters U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida.
Head of Government Relations, Burundi Program, and Strategic Communications Lead,
RWANDA PROGRAM AT One Acre Fund
Yael Hartmann has worked as a communications strategist, spokesperson, journalist and editor, and brings an in-depth understanding of government relations and media strategy to StratCommWorld. She currently works in Rwanda at One Acre Fund, a non-profit social enterprise that supplies financing and training to help smallholders grow their way out of hunger and build lasting pathways to prosperity.
Formerly, she was a strategic communications specialist at an intelligence firm in Washington, DC, where she designed and directed reputation management campaigns on behalf of sovereign governments, intelligence officials and private sector clients. Earlier in her career, Hartmann headed the financial team at a boutique public relations firm in New York. Hartmann has also served as spokesperson for the North American media division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), where she was speechwriter and liaison between the North American press and army officers in the field.
She currently is an adjunct instructor in the Global Strategic Communications online master’s degree program in the College of Journalism and Communications for the University of Florida. She teaches a graduate course in Global Activism and Social Change.
VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNICATIONs,
Steve Warren is Vice President of Communications and Chief Communications Officer at Aerojet Rocketdyne. He is a communicator and spokesman at the seat-of-government level as well as a crisis management expert, and decorated combat veteran.
In his current role, Warren leads the company’s strategic internal and external stakeholder outreach initiatives and is the primary spokesperson for Aerojet Rocketdyne. Previously, he was a senior military analyst at CNN.
Prior to joining CNN, Warren served 28 years in the United States Army before retiring as a colonel in 2017. During his Army career, Warren served in senior leadership roles of increasing responsibility in the areas of communications and public affairs. From 2011 to 2017 he served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense where his roles included coalition spokesperson for Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq, director of defense press operations at the Pentagon, and senior military advisor to the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.
DR. Carmen Simon
Chief science officer, corporate visions
Dr. Carmen Simon is a cognitive neuroscientist, author, and chief science officer at Corporate Visions. She uses brain science to help people and companies create unforgettable marketing messages and content. Carmen’s most recent book, “Impossible to Ignore: Creating Memorable Content to Influence Decisions,” has won the acclaim of publications such as Inc.com, Forbes, and Fast Company and has been selected as one of the top international books on persuasion.
Dr. Simon also teaches at Stanford University and she holds two doctorates: one in instructional technology and another in cognitive psychology. Carmen speaks frequently on the importance of using brain science to craft communication that is not only memorable but sparks action. After all, what’s the use of memory if people don’t act on it?
Larry Brantley has more than 30 years of experience in the communications, marketing and advertising fields. One of his first key jobs was as a packaging designer at Frito-Lay where he developed his networking and people skills. He eventually started the first creative staffing firm in the DFW area. Since then he has been involved in recruiting and placement of industry professionals both nationally and internationally.
Larry has worked with such firms as JCPenney, HP, EDS, Texas Instruments, Lord&Taylor, Sears, TracyLocke, Ryan Partnership, ConocoPhillips, Frito-Lay and Alcone Marketing. He has placed brand, creative, account service, interactive/web, public relations, marketing, media, traffic, production and other executive level talent.
Larry has been interviewed as a staffing industry expert by The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, The Houston Chronicle, and more. He is an award-winning designer through IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) and is an active member of AAF (American Advertising Federation) where he serves as a part of the executive leadership for one of its largest districts.
PROFESSOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
NATIONAL SECURITY COMMUNICATION ANALYST, CNN
Shawn Turner is an expert in communication leadership, strategy, and crisis management. As an experienced practitioner, Turner’s teaching focuses on the intersection of communication theory, and the execution of effective communication practices. Turner’s research interests include examining the role of disinformation in decision making related to civic engagement, and the use of persuasive communication strategies in extremist ideology.
Turner is also a retired Marine Corps officer and has served in communication leadership roles with governmental, private sector, and non-profit organizations. His previous positions include Director of Communication for U.S. National Intelligence, at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Assistant Press Secretary for Foreign Affairs at the National Security Council, and Deputy White House Press Secretary for National Security under the Obama administration.
Turner is co-author of “Best Practices in Risk Communication for National Defense” published in The Handbook of Science and Technology for Homeland Security.
FOUNDER AND CHAIR,
THE NEXT PRACTICEs GROUP
Bob Pearson is Founder and Chair of The Next Practices Group, a US-based founder-driven agency collective of seven companies that form common teams to create competitive advantage for clients. Its offering incorporates analytics and data science; digital media; technology services; software; stories; and social purpose.
Bob Pearson also has played a key role in building two media firms that are ranked in the top 50 worldwide. He was employee #1 for GCI Health, where he and the GCI CEO launched a new health division, and he was involved in building an 800-person firm, W2O Group, where he served as Chief Technology Officer, President and Vice-Chairman.
Previously, Bob worked as VP of Communities and Conversations at Dell to develop the Fortune 500’s first global social media function—an industry-leading approach to the use of social media. Before Dell, Bob was Head of Global Corporate Communications and Head of Global Pharma Communications at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in Basel, Switzerland, where he served on the Pharma Executive Committee. Also, he was Vice President of Media and Public Affairs for Rhone-Poulenc Rorer (now Sanofi).
He is an author, frequent speaker, and blogger on digital marketing, as well as an adjunct professor at The University of Texas McCombs School. He is a Visiting Scholar at The University of Southern California, and a guest lecturer at the U.S. State Department’s Marketing College with a focus on digital media and how to counter disinformation and extremism. He works in a digital media capacity as a contractor for OTI/USAID and the U.S. Agency for Global Media and serves as an advisor for the Global Engagement Center for the State Department.
He has written four books—PreCommerce, Storytizing, Countering Hate, and Crafting Persuasion, and Bob currently is working on his first novel (a technology thriller).
Senior manager of communications,
Tampa International Airport
Emily Nipps is the spokesperson and senior manager overseeing media and public relations at Tampa International Airport, which is consistently ranked one of the top U.S. airports by publications such as Wall Street Journal, Condé Nast Traveler and J.D. Power. During her seven years at TPA, she has helped shape messaging and branding efforts around a $2 billion construction program while also handling various crises that come with booming passenger growth, rapidly changing technology and a lot more planes in the air.
Prior to her PR career, Emily was a reporter covering the Tampa Bay region for 12 years, 10 of those at the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times where she covered breaking news, including the story of some NFL players lost at sea with only one survivor to tell the tale. She was also featured on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report after her relentless coverage of a monkey that terrorized the streets of St. Petersburg. While with the paper, Emily also did a three-month ICFJ Knight Fellowship in Austria, working at the German-language Kleine Zeitung in Klagenfurt.
Director, STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS,
Brian Wagner is Director of Strategic Communications of Peraton, leading external and internal communications efforts for a next generation national security company that provides innovative, reliable solutions to the nation’s most sensitive and mission-critical programs and systems. As a trusted provider of highly differentiated space, intelligence, cyber, defense, homeland security, and communications capabilities, Peraton is a critical partner to the Intelligence Community, Department of Defense, and select federal agencies and commercial entities.
Prior to joining Peraton, Brian was the president of ScoutComms, the nation’s leading communications, marketing and research firm focused on the veteran and military family communities. He also previously worked as a director and vice president at multiple public relations agencies, counseling Fortune 500 companies, non-profits and international cultural organizations; as a health care association director supporting the widespread adoption of electronic health records; and as a Congressional staffer in the Washington state delegation.
Brian currently serves as a U.S. Navy Reserve public affairs officer and is a veteran of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan. In 2019 he was selected as the Navy Reserve’s Junior Public Affairs Officer of the Year.
Senior Vice President and Head of Communications, Government Relations & Policy, BAYER U.S.
Ray manages all communications, government relations and policy for Bayer Corporation. He oversees the Bayer U.S. Foundation and is a member of the Bayer U.S. Country Council. Ray serves as Vice-Chair of Bayer’s political action committee.
Previously, Ray was Vice President of external affairs & worldwide communications for Pfizer overseeing communications, internal & external, for the Company globally. Prior to Pfizer, he was Executive Director of public affairs for Merck & Co.
Ray is the recipient of many company and industry awards, including being named “2017 Outstanding In-House Professional Award” by PRWeek Magazine; “2010 Public Relations Professional of the Year” by PRWeek Magazine; “2010 Media Relations Professional” by Bulldog Reporter; and was also named “Top 40 under 40” executives by PRWeek in 2009.
He is the Chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) and serves on the Center for Disease Control & Prevention’s Business Roundtable on Global Health Threats.
Ray holds a Master of Science degree and Bachelor of Arts degree from Iona College.
Program manager of nexus, bell
As Program Manager of Nexus at Bell, Linda Flores is responsible for bringing the Urban Air Mobility vision to life through certification of the world’s first autonomous, all-electric air taxi.
Previously, Linda implemented the strategic alignment concept developed by General (RET.) Stanley McCrystal at Bell as it evolved its presence in the dynamic military and commercial vertical lift markets. In addition to leading technical efforts in the commercial rotorcraft space, Linda has led military program development efforts at Lockheed Martin and Rockwell Collins.
BRIAN E. CHASE
Director, gLOBAL GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS & PUBLIC POLICY, BELL
Brian Chase leads Bell’s international and U.S. state and local public policy efforts, legislative affairs, corporate philanthropy, and community affairs.
He previously served as Director of Future Vertical Lift Enterprise Alignment, where he led changes across the Bell enterprise – including manufacturing, assembly, IT, supply chain, sustainment, and human resources – to support the U.S. Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift program. During his tenure at Bell he has also led the global communications team, where he was responsible for the company’s media relations, crisis communications, issues management, executive communications and employee communications.
Chase joined Bell Helicopter in December 2010 after serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for former U.S. Congressman Jeb Hensarling (TX). Prior to his tenure with Congressman Hensarling’s office, he served in President George W. Bush’s Administration as NASA’s Assistant Administrator for Legislative Affairs, where he was responsible for the agency’s federal, state, and local government affairs.
He held increasingly senior roles in the space industry before joining the Bush Administration, including Vice President of Washington Operations for the Space Foundation, leading state relations and strategic communications for NASA contractor United Space Alliance, and serving in senior policy and communications roles for former U.S. Congressman Dave Weldon (FL). He began his career at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC, working on the International Space Station program.
EVAN KROPP, PH.D.
Director, graduate programs
University of florida, college of journalism and communications
Dr. Evan Kropp is the Director of online graduate programs for the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications (UF CJC). A leading expert of online education in higher education, Kropp has led initiatives at the undergraduate and graduate level that have positively impacted thousands of communication students throughout the world. At UF CJC Online, Kropp oversees all operations including marketing, admissions, student advising, faculty and curriculum.
Prior to joining UF CJC Online, Dr. Kropp was the Associate Dean of Communication at Southern New Hampshire University where he oversaw efforts to develop a professionally focused undergraduate program that allowed students to seamlessly transition between on-campus, online, and competency-based programs. He has over a decade of professional communication experience in various industries including promotional products, workplace safety products and real estate. During his time at the prestigious Peabody Awards, he implemented a new strategic communication plan to create greater awareness of the award beyond individuals working within media industries.
The UF CJC Online program is consistently ranked as one of the top online master’s programs in the country. Recently, it was ranked #1 by Intelligent.com in their annual list of Best Online Master’s in Communications Degree Programs.
laura m. genova
Senior Marketing Manager of the Professional Sports and Summer Camps divisions, The headfirst companies
Laura M. Genova leads a cross-functional team of associates who operate summer camps in partnership with eight MLB, NFL, and MLS franchises around the country as well as Day, STEM, Creative Arts, and Multi-Sport camps in the DMV area.
Prior to this role, Laura headed the corporate marketing and communications function for global public affairs and association management consultancy, Interel. At Interel, Laura created marketing and communications infrastructure to support marcomms efforts across 70 markets. She oversaw digital strategy, design, brand, internal communications, event marketing, and group thought leadership. Laura also contributed to policy communications and business development for international clients in AI.
Earlier in her career, Laura worked for non-profits in higher education and sustainable agriculture, including Field to Market and World Wildlife Fund, and in the apparel industry with Gap, Inc.
Laura received her BA in International Affairs and Italian Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. She went on to earn an MA in Global Strategic Communications through the online master’s degree program in the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.
Ben Feller leads media strategy at Mercury. An award-‐ winning writer, Ben offers strategic counsel on communications after a 20-‐year journalism career. Ben specializes in crafting powerful messaging for corporations, universities, foundations and leaders, and in managing complex, fast-‐moving media campaigns. He has a rich understanding of how the news media works and how to shape a communications strategy that delivers real results.
Prior to joining Mercury, Ben served as the chief White House correspondent for The Associated Press, Associated Press where he spent more than six years covering President Barack Obama and President George W. Bush, reporting on all facets of their domestic, foreign and political agendas. As chief correspondent, Ben helped set the tone for the press corps and often got the first question at news conferences. He also managed the AP’s White House reporting team and served as a liaison to bureaus around the globe.
Ben was twice honored for his excellence in reporting on the presidency. He won the Gerald R. Ford Prize in 2010, with the judges describing him as “an astute analyst of the meaning and significance of President Obama’s initiatives and actions.” The same year, Ben won the Merriman Smith Award for his coverage of President Obama’s tribute to soldiers returning from war in flag-‐draped caskets.
Senior communications coordinator, AUTISM SPEAKS
Alana Kiss serves as a key liaison for external partners and internal departments, ensuring consistency of messaging and identifying opportunities to tell the Autism Speaks story to a broad audience.
Previously, Alana was an Account Coordinator at Nicholas & Lence Communications (NLC), a strategic communications, public relations and government affairs firm in New York City. There she coordinated a variety of media activities and created content for agency clients including Caesars Entertainment, Chipotle, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Prior to working at NLC, Alana was the Public Relations Assistant for Jazz at Lincoln Center, an organization dedicated to entertaining, enriching and expanding a global community for jazz through performance, education, and advocacy.
Alana graduated from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and went on to earn an Master of Art in Global Strategic Communications through nationally-recognized online master’s degree program in University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications.
This is the best conference that I’ve attended throughout my life and career.
Awesome! This Summit gets better every year.
It’s an excellent opportunity to network and build relationships.
Very excellent diverse topics covered in a short amount of time.
Fantastic way to network and connect.
Great opportunity to hear how strategic communications is being used across industry, government and non-profit.
Fantastic information and impressive list of speakers and attendees!
Eye opening and inspiring.
A good experience. Helpful to my career.
Fantastic event full of useful information from very different perspectives and background.
Fantastic and enlightening information.
Well-run, right-sized with a robust and thoughtful agenda.
Smooth, professional and very informative.