Sunday Session


Cory Cart, APR 
"Good Guys" tell great stories: Unleash the Power of Storytelling"

As a tourism and hospitality marketing professional, Cory Cart, APR, works with travel media, produces influencer campaigns, and crusades for tourism advocacy.  Through in-house and agency experiences, Cory’s expertise has benefited GoRVing, Clearwater Beach, Oklahoma Tourism & Recreation Department, National Dude Rancher’s Association, New Mexico Tourism Department, Southwest Airlines, New Orleans Plantation Country and others. He currently manages HUB, an integrated communication agency with offices in New Orleans, New York City, Florida and New Jersey.

Using a relationship-centric approach, Cory secures coverage with travel journalists and influencers from across the U.S. and Australia, Holland, Germany, England, Scotland, Japan and Canada from media outlets such as Washington Post, NBC’s Today, BBC-London, Travel + Leisure, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, and more.

Cory is nationally accredited in public relations, a member of National Speakers Association,  was selected 2016 PR Practitioner of the Year by Public Relations Association of Louisiana, and named a Sr. PR Practitioner by the Southern Public Relations Federation.

Student Session

Sadie D. Wilks, APR

With more than 17 years of experience in public relations, Wilks delivers a solid background in
nonprofit and organizational communication. She shares her experience with clients and
students, teaching them essential skills and developing practical solutions for public relations
challenges. Her strengths include strategic planning, advocacy, website and social media
management, special event planning, volunteer recruitment and fundraising. Over the years,
Wilks has worked in health care, insurance, arts, environmental and natural resources
industries, for both nonprofit and governmental agencies. She joined the LSU Manship School
of Communication as an instructor in August 2015. Wilks completed her B.A. in mass communication at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication in 1998. She achieved her accreditation in public relations (APR) in 2009 by the Universal Accreditation Board and the Public Relations Society of America. She was honored with the First Circle Award from the Baton Rouge Chapter of the Public Relations Association of Louisiana in 2012, and the Senior Practitioner Award from the Southern Public Relations Federation in 2013. 


Student Bios

Josie Bonnette studies public relations full-time at the LSU Manship School of Mass
Communication and is minoring in sociology. She also serves as the chapter president of Public
Relations Student Society of America at LSU this semester. During the summer of 2016, she
interned in public relations at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge. Now,  she is a public relations
associate at Zehnder Communications in Baton Rouge. 


Kayla Swanson is a junior mass communication major at Louisiana State University with a concentration is public relations. Kayla, who was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana loves to write, travel, and meet new people. She finds a new lesson in everywhere she goes and in every person she meets. Kayla currently serves as the public relations director for the Public Relations Student Society of America at LSU. She is also the project management intern for Grow Haus Studios, a digital branding firm in New York City. 


Kevin Miner is public relations senior at Louisiana State University minoring in business and
Spanish. He recently served as a Ketchum Summer Fellow in Chicago where he worked on
various accounts including the J.M. Smucker Company and Kimberly-Clark. Kevin is passionate
about brand marketing and strategic and creative planning.



Opening Session

Darienne Mobley, CPC

"Leading from the Inside Out”  

Darienne Mobley is a Certified Professional Coach, speaker and national strategic planning expert who brings a world of experience, expertise and wisdom to her work. As the former owner of an association management firm, Darienne managed 12 non-profit associations for more than 10 years while earning her Certified Association Executive designation. Her wide-ranging experience includes working in a hotel, a convention and visitor’s bureau and the tourism industry associations for both Mississippi and Louisiana. Darienne has consulted with more than 25 CVBs, associations and state offices of tourism across the country. She serves as a board member of the US Travel Association and had the distinct honor of serving as the Director of Tourism for Mississippi and also Louisiana. Darienne works with both individuals and organizations, dedicating herself to being an accountability partner for her clients.


Gordon Absher

"Anticipating Crisis”  

 Gordon Absher, Vice President of Public Affairs for MGM Resorts International, is a communication strategist and a principle spokesperson for one of the largest gaming hospitality companies in the world. Responsible for media relations and issue management on topics ranging from corporate and business policy to development and litigation, he coordinates messaging for issues ranging from senior-level executive interviews to crisis communications.

Gordon led the media and communications efforts for the company’s successful 2012 bid for a Maryland gaming license and the right to build and operate MGM National Harbor, a destination resort near Washington, D.C. More recently, he served as spokesperson and message strategist for the company’s introduction of paid parking at its resorts, the first-ever on the Las Vegas Strip.

Gordon joined the resort industry in 1999, as Director of Public Relations at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino. He previously worked in the fields of journalism and politics, starting his career in Las Vegas in 1987 as a television news photographer for KLAS-TV. He traded his video camera for a producer’s chair, a move which eventually took him back to his home town of Phoenix, where he worked for the top-rated local CBS affiliate producing daily newscasts and special assignments.

Leaving television for Washington, D.C. and the world of politics, Gordon served as Press Secretary for US Congressman James Bilbray of Nevada, then Press Secretary for Nevada Governor Bob Miller.

Gordon has practiced Public Relations at multiple outposts for a variety of clients, including R&R Partners, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles & Public Safety, and an assignment with the Federal Emergency Management Agency during a flood emergency in Northern Nevada.

Arriving at Mandalay Bay Resort in 1999, Gordon assumed responsibility for the publicity and promotion of the newly opened resort, handling elements ranging from hotel, restaurants and spa, to arena concerts, Broadway shows and world championship boxing. He has led or played a role in the public relations efforts for the grand opening of six major gaming resorts, countless internationally televised boxing events, restaurants, retail centers, one of the nation’s largest convention centers, and a predator-themed aquarium.

Gordon has won awards for his work in both Public Relations and Journalism. He is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Northern Arizona University, where he studied journalism and communications. Gordon is a 2009 graduate of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber’s Leadership Las Vegas Program and has since served as the program’s Curriculum Chair and Chair of the Leadership Council. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Leadership Foundation of Greater Las Vegas and regularly volunteers at the Shannon West Homeless Youth Center. In his spare time he enjoys performing emergency home repairs, eating in his car, photography and bourbon.


Gary Hahn 

Gary Hahn is Vice President, Marketing and Media for Elvis Presley Enterprises, where he leads marketing, branding, creative strategy, public relations and digital content creation for Elvis Presley’s Graceland. He is responsible for the development and execution of all digital marketing, social media, PR and special event initiatives that drive tourism and support the iconic Graceland attraction, the new Elvis Presley’s Memphis entertainment complex, The Guest House at Graceland resort hotel, the annual “Elvis Week” fan celebration, Elvis-themed exhibits and live touring events, Graceland e-commerce, and Elvis-related affinity groups and fan clubs worldwide.

Previously, Hahn held senior marketing positions with digital, cable and satellite companies at the forefront of on-demand and subscription media. From 2000 to 2008, he was Senior Vice President, Marketing and Brand Management, for XM Satellite Radio, where he played an integral marketing role in launching the first satellite radio service, developing its brand, and driving rapid growth to 10 million subscribers, prior to its merger with Sirius. At XM, he led the strategy and implementation of a nationwide, multi-media launch campaign, which won a Gold Effie award for marketing effectiveness and a PromaxBDA Promotion & Marketing Gold award. 

Hahn also held branding, on-air promotion and public relations positions with Warner Bros. Television, indie film digital streaming platform SnagFilms, Request Television pay-per-view network and DIRECTV’s Primestar satellite television service.

Hahn currently serves on the board of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association, as well as on the Marketing subcommittee for the Tennessee State Tourism Committee, which advises the Tennessee Commissioner of Tourist Development. Hahn is also a board member of the newly-formed Greater Whitehaven Economic Redevelopment Corporation for the Whitehaven community in Memphis.


Breakout Sessions

Lauren Hannaford
"When a String Breaks During a Performance - Mastering a Social Media Crisis"

Lauren grew up in Memphis and shares in the city’s excitement in seeing revitalization, positive change and progressive resources for underserved communities. Her passion for making a difference has been instilled in her for as long as she can remember. Prior to beginning herpublic relations career in 2008, Lauren was pulled toward the nonprofit world in college when she served as an intern for The Baptist Children’s Village in Jackson, Mississippi. Since then, she’s had the privilege of working with many of Obsidian’s nonprofit clients. In fact, she got her proverbial “nonprofit” feet wet with her very first client at Obsidian – DeSoto Animal Rescue Society. When Lauren is away from the office, she enjoys spending time with ​the main men in her life – her husband, Chad, ​her ​​son, Charlie, ​and their goofy Weimaraner pup, Jackson. ​Now, her free time is mostly filled with baby laughs, trips to the dog park and trying to catch some Zs.


Whitney Albert

When a String Breaks During a Performance - Mastering a Social Media Crisis"

From a tender age, Whitney knew she loved to do two things – write and talk. According to
those closest to her, talking was one of her greatest skills… as long as it was put toward
something useful. In college, Whitney was introduced to the field of public relations by a
professor who said, “I see it in you.” At the time, Whitney knew nothing about public relations
but soon fostered a deep appreciation for the unique art of storytelling that is PR. A native of
Little Rock, Arkansas, Whitney graduated from the University of Central Arkansas with a
Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations. She started her career as a public relations assistant for a
small financial services company while also obtaining her Master of Arts in Applied
Communications Studies from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. At Obsidian, Whitney
manages several client accounts and a team of account assistants. Outside of the agency,
Whitney enjoys singing, shopping and spoiling her two young nephews. She is in her ‘element’
when she meets new people and embarks upon new life experiences.


Christina Babu

Obsidian's Symphony No. 11 - A Content Marketing Masterpiece

Christina was born and raised in Memphis. Coming from a family of doctors and having a natural aptitude for science, she went against all odds and moved to Columbus, Ohio, to studymusic at Capital University. She later took on a minor in public relations after dipping her toes in communications writing and strategy. She then moved to New York City, working in event planning before going to graduate school at New York University for public relations and corporate communication. During her time in New York, Christina assisted clients in the music, performing arts, tourism and nonprofit sectors with public relations and social media strategies.

Christina returned home to Memphis to assist with in-house marketing and communications at a local architecture firm. She’s happy to be back on the agency side and working with Obsidian’s wide range of clients. When she’s not doing PR, you’ll find Christina traveling the world, attending concerts, binge-watching old Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes, and rooting for the Tennessee Titans and Memphis Grizzlies.


Taylor Jolley

Obsidian's Symphony No. 11 - A Content Marekting Masterpiece

Most of Taylor’s life has been lived in a quiet South Florida town, but when it was time to head to college, she packed her bags for Auburn University, where she found her passion for communication arts and servant leadership. She grew in these areas by serving on campus in Auburn’s Director of Athletics office, as her sorority’s president, and as head counselor for Auburn’s freshman orientation program. Never one to shy away from a challenge and adventure, Taylor moved to the Music City and started a business after graduation. She used her PR knowledge to grow her business and interact with her client base. After realizing that her heart was truly with PR and Memphis, Taylor handed her business to her partner and took a position with the firm she most admired – Obsidian PR. At heart, Taylor is a quirky girl with a love of trying new things. She is unapologetically herself, and this shines through in all of her personal and business interactions. In her free time, she enjoys listening to podcasts, learning new recipes and catching up on all forms of social media. She hopes to spend the rest of her life falling in love with cities she has only dreamed of visiting.


Ginger Guttner, APR
"The 420-pound Tiger in the Room and How to Be His Spokesperson"

Ginger Guttner, APR, is communications manager for the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, where she is responsible for publications, media relations, website and social media management, and marketing. She joined the staff at the LSU SVM in 2004. Ginger received her BA in English (College Honors) from LSU in 1992 and her Master’s of Mass Communications from LSU in 1997. Ginger received her APR in 2010 and her veterinary school publications have received Awards of Excellence from the Southern Public Relations Federation.

She has served on the board of PRAL Baton Rouge and PRAL State, serving as president of both. She is also a member of the Baton Rouge Social Media Association (BRSMA). She received the PRAL-Baton Rouge chapter 2013 Member of the Year Award and the 2016 Practitioner of the Year Award. Mike VI, LSU’s most recent live tiger mascot, won the 2013 Consistently Social award and the 2014 Red Stick Kodiak award from the BRSMA for his social media accounts, which she manages.


Echelle Lance Rutschman, APR
"CASE STUDY: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital"

Echelle Jobe Rutschman, APR, joined St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2016 as chief communications officer. She manages internal and external communications for the renowned hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, including strategic communications planning, media relations, crisis communications, public relations, marketing communications, digital communications, social media and publications.

She was previously at Youth Villages as its first director of national communications. Prior to joining Youth Villages, Echelle was senior communications officer and system director of corporate communications for Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp., one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health care systems. Before joining Baptist, she was marketing communications manager for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where she managed national marketing communications and public relations efforts for the nation’s third-largest charity. Her work prior to that was at Walker & Associates, a Memphis advertising agency.

Echelle’s career began as the editor of the university newspaper in college and as a newswriter for the university’s Public Relations department. She has taught as an adjunct professor at The University of Memphis and as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Echelle’s work has earned numerous national and regional awards, including Emmy awards, Silver and Bronze Anvil awards, Telly awards and Addy awards. She has received the Mid-South’s highest honor for public relations work from the Memphis Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America five times since 1999, and was named the organization’s Public Relations Professional of the Year in 1996.  The Memphis Business Journal named her one of the “Top 40 Under 40” young leaders in Memphis in 2001, and Memphis Woman magazine named her one of “50 Women Who Make a Difference” in 2002.

Echelle has served on the boards of both the PRSA Memphis Chapter and the Memphis Advertising Federation, and she frequently speaks and leads training workshops for various nonprofits. She earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations and political science from Oklahoma Baptist University and a master’s degree in communication from the University of Missouri at Columbia.


Kimberly Rossie, APR

Kimberly Speros Rossie, APR, is a strategic communications practitioner with more than 10 years of experience helping clients build relationships with their stakeholders through public relations and marketing strategies and tactics. She is the director of strategic communications at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

 Prior to joining St. Jude, Kim served as senior public relations coordinator at Youth Villages, where she led communications in five states and worked with the organization’s development teams to help spread Youth Villages’ message on a national scale through special events.

Before coming to Youth Villages, Kim worked as an account executive at Archer Malmo, the Mid-South’s largest full-service marketing agency. There, she coordinated projects and campaigns for national and regional clients including Verizon Wireless, AutoZone and Varsity Spirit. Kim began her career at Baptist Memorial Health Care, where she managed public relations for seven of the system’s 15 hospitals, including the system’s flagship hospital, Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. 

Kim has served on the boards of the Public Relations Society of America’s Memphis Chapter and Southeast District, where she was recently voted district chair-elect to represent the district’s 13 chapters on a national level in 2018. In 2015, Kim was named Professional of the Year by the Memphis Chapter of PRSA. 

She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a concentration in public relations from the University of Memphis. She earned her Accreditation in Public Relations from the Universal Accreditation Board in 2016. 


Jennifer Jenkins, APR
"Best of Show - 2016 - Public Relations Council of Alabama"

Jennifer Graham Jenkins, APR, has more than 20 years professional experience in the field of public relations, marketing, advertising, publicity, research and communications planning. Jennifer received her accrediation in public relations from the Universal Accreditation Board. She is a summa cum laude graduate of The University of Alabama where she received a bachelor of arts in Communicatin and majored in Public Relations with a minor in marketing.

Jennifer launched JJPR, a full service public relations and marketing firm in May 2010. JJPR specializes in strategic marketing, corporate positioning, public relations planning; media relations, special event planning, web development, conceptualizing and creating promotional material for healthcare, tourism, communications, technology, finance and business-to-business clients. 


Checky Herrington, APR, Fellow PRSA

PRAM Best of Show Winner: MS State We Ring True

As a senior member of the public affairs team at Mississippi State University, Checky
Herrington is spearheading the institution’s branding strategy to inspire better brand
storytelling throughout the university. Already capturing national attention, the initiative
is generating improvements in enrollment, reputation and social media performance.
Prior to returning to his alma mater in his current role in 2014, he served nearly 30 years
as a communications leader for Entergy Corporation, where he directed the company's
first brand strategy and led the team responsible for improving the company's customer
satisfaction ratings to among the highest in the nation. A member of the Public Relations Society of America, Herrington is accredited and a 2015 inductee to PRSA’s prestigious College of Fellows. His public relations work has yielded more than 100 awards, including PRSA’s coveted Silver Anvil Award for his role as a team member during Hurricane Katrina.
Recently inducted into the Southern Public Relations Federation’s Hall of Fame,
Herrington writes and speaks frequently on the concept of the living brand.



 Linda Orrison
 "The Buzz, the Brand and the Beauty of Success"

 Multiple winners of the Memphis in May and other  BBQ competitions, The Shed is a Mississippi BBQ  and blues joint run by the Orrisons: Food Network's  first family of barbecue. A segment on Diners, Drive- Ins, and Dives spun into a single season “reality”  show that aired in Fall 2013. According to Thrillist,   "the clan has celebrity status on the circuit thanks to their TV spotlight, dedication to pork perfection, and because they're really fun to hang out with." 

Linda Orrison (aka Mama Shed) is the marketing director for The Shed and The Saucery and is hands-on in the world of BBQ. She is also a member of The Shed competition team and is the Immediate Past President of the National Barbecue & Grilling Association.

According to Thrillist.com, Linda's responsibilities "center around upholding the family image. Marketing, branding, whatever you want to call it, Linda's ensures that The Shed looks and feels like The Shed. The hard work has paid off and, in addition to running a restaurant that can feed up to 8,000 people in a week and helping win the biggest competitions in the sport, she recently completed her reign as President of the National Barbecue snd Grilling Association."


Trey Williams
Crisis Communications

Trey Williams has more than 23 years in the public relations, marketing and crisis communications fields, and currently serves as senior director of marketing for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, one of the largest hospitals in Louisiana.

Trey’s career has taken him to Capitol Hill to work for two Louisiana Congressmen, to Baton Rouge to serve on the staff of two Louisiana Governors, as well as working on several local, state and national political campaigns.

Trey also was responsible for implementing and supervising Louisiana’s first Joint Information Command (JIC) after Hurricane Katrina during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, assisted with the crisis management plan after the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill and handled communications for the longest disaster food assistance program in the state’s history after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

Trey currently serves on the board of directors of the Public Relations Association of Louisiana, and the LSU Manship School of Mass Communications Alumni Association. He is former president of the Baton Rouge Chapter of the Public Relations Association of Louisiana, and former Louisiana representative on the Southern Public Relations Federation board.  He is a past recipient of the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Top 40 under 40 award and the Public Relations Association of Baton Rouge 2014 Practitioner of the Year Award. Through his work, Trey has received four Telly Awards, as well as led a team that won “Best of Show” at the Baton Rouge Advertising Federation Awards in 2015.


Bridget Castle
SEO 2.0 - Search Engine Optimization and Marketing Tips

After graduating from the University of Alabama, Bridget Castle has worked for numerous fortune 500 companies and partnered in a family retail wine/liquor store over the last 20 years. After the markets shifted they decided to close the family business.  While working for a midsize construction company that required a daily commute that took her away from her community and family, Bridget discovered SEO and began to immerse herself in learning. SEO offered not only a profession that allows her to work from home and be available to her family but it also gives her the opportunity to work with businesses that enhance and enrich the community.  Helping businesses thrive in and of itself provides the goodwill that Bridget hopes to foster through SEO services.  Bridget started the search engine marketing agency, Fluxfish. Fluxfish specializes in SEO services for established websites and videos to increase their rankings on Google and YouTube. Recently Fluxfish has begun to branch out into SEO services on Amazon as well.