Building our Future: Gilbert Premieres Annual Digital State of the Town

Hundreds of distinguished guests gathered at the Harkins movie theater in Gilbert, Arizona at the end of January to view the premiere of our 2016 Digital State of the Town; a high-quality video presentation created by Gilbert’s in-house digital communications team. You don’t have to attend an event to participate; you can watch it online. This year’s theme, “Building Our Future”, highlights the year's accomplishments and showcases some of Gilbert’s biggest business successes, including the booming Heritage District.

Since the premiere, we have nearly 4,000 views on YouTube and more than 25,000 native video views on social media. I’ve received calls and emails from colleagues from around the country asking what our budget is and which production company we used. I’m always proud to say that we produce, shoot and edit the entire video with our two-person team of Digital Journalists.

You can watch the 2016 Digital State of the Town online now!

Appointing a C-Person for the Digital Realm

I was recently featured in an article, Jam-Packed C-Suite: How Can 3-Letter Chiefs with Roles that Touch Tech Work Together? This is a question I get asked quite a bit. How do I straddle the worlds of Marketing and IT and incorporate all things digital? As it mentions in the profile below, the relationship with my IT Director is key to the success of my department and the vision I laid out in Gilbert’s Digital Roadmap. It also requires support from the highest levels of management down. The city manager and the mayor have to have buy-in.

Gilbert, Ariz.: Appointing a C-Person for the Digital Realm

Sometimes the chain of what constitutes IT can extend in unexpected directions. In Gilbert, Ariz., for example, former TV executive Dana Berchman signed on in 2012 as the city’s first chief digital officer. With a population of 239,000 expected to grow by 100,000 in the next five to 10 years, it made sense to put a dedicated C-person in charge of the digital realm.

Then a funny thing happened. The city manager looked up and realized there was no depth to Gilbert’s communications department: just a public information officer and a few AV techs. “It was all very reactive,” Berchman said. “We didn’t have branding, we didn’t have guidelines, we didn’t have social media channels. Our mayor was the only mayor in the area who wasn’t on Twitter.”

It’s that last bit that is worth noting: Thanks to the social media explosion, Gilbert’s digital chief found herself the C version of communications director too. Social media is digital — let’s give it to the digital person.

Melding the roles has sometimes been a challenge, like when Berchman started asking employees to build their LinkedIn profiles. “People were confused. They would say, ‘You want us looking for jobs while we’re at work?’ No, we want you to network, to build relationships.”

While Berchman works in close cooperation with the city’s IT director, “he is more focused on the internal, keeping all of the systems running,” she said.

Journalism: An Evolving Industry

I had the great pleasure of speaking to a group of international journalists visiting from Europe as part of the Edward R. Murrow Program and the International Visitor Leadership Program. These 19 journalists were part of the European delegation chosen by the State Department representing countries including Spain, Turkey, France, Germany and Slovenia, among others.

Before visiting Gilbert, Arizona, they had spent time in Washington, DC, meeting with Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, and John Kerry at the U.S. Department of State. So Mayor Lewis, Council member Daniels and I had some large shoes to fill.

During my presentation, I spoke to them about my experience in the journalism profession.  After receiving my Master’s degree in Journalism and Public Policy from American University in Washington, DC, I moved to New York City and began working for MTV in 2003. In 2004, I worked on the Choose or Lose voting initiative on both documentary and live television productions. Shortly after the election, I took a job on the documentary series, True Life, where I produced and directed two episodes. Although, it was an important and meaningful trendsetter in documentary television, the industry was transforming before my eyes. When I started in 2003, we could afford to have large crews including Directors of Photography, Editors and multiple producers for pre and post-production. But, suddenly, budgets were slashed and producer and directors were being required to also shoot and edit – to be a one-man or one-woman band. That was the expectation for how journalists were now being trained. With the arrival of Twitter in 2006, the digital influence really began to change journalism and the way we received information too.

Wanting to focus on work in news and live television, in 2008, I took a job at MSNBC where I spent two years as a writer and producer for Andrea Mitchell. I loved the live television element and the fact that it was branded as “The Place for Politics”. When I started working for Andrea, she didn’t have a blog or a Twitter account and Twitter had been around for two years. In my opinion, she was and still is the hardest working man or woman in the news business, and yet she had to learn to evolve with the times as the profession that she loved changed.

After deciding to make a move back to Arizona, I faced a dilemma. I had made a lucrative career for myself in the television business in the best market in the country and yet the industry was changing right before my eyes. After being at large networks, I was not willing to take a job at a small affiliate in Arizona. After a stint in media and public relations at Arizona State University, I took a job as Gilbert, Arizona’s first Chief Digital Officer. During the past three and a half years, I’ve built a digital communications department; the first of its kind in Arizona and, perhaps, in the entire country. My team includes two terrific digital journalists, Jessica Bautista and Gardenia Lamadrid, who create both short and long-form high-quality videos. From start to finish, they create, write, shoot, produce and edit their own stories daily. In addition, they are responsible for the promotion of their stories. From posting sending press releases to local news agencies and sharing on social media, they are responsible for promoting their work and what’s happening in Gilbert.

As a sign of the times of the journalism industry, Gilbert rarely has a dedicated reporter at events or to cover the happenings in our community. Therefore, it’s important for us to be a proactive and an internal news generator. In fact, we’ve created a digital newsroom where news agencies can download high-definition b-roll and sound bites ready for air. Often when we can’t get anyone from a news organization to cover an event, they’re thrilled to use our footage. 

But, as I finished my presentation to this group of journalists from outside the U.S., their hands immediately shot up with questions. This notion that journalists exist outside of a newsroom or that a government agency could be trusted to tell a story to the public was absolutely foreign to them. In fact, a few shook their heads in dismay at the idea that we could be trusted. When I mentioned that we use our Police and Fire department Twitter pages to communicate information to the public in emergencies, versus holding a traditional press conference, I was met with even more stares and confused looks. 

I told them I could understand their reactions having been in the news business for many years.  But the fact of the matter is that with the dwindling news media, especially in local government, it’s even more important that we tell our own story to our residents, prospective businesses and people outside of Gilbert.  If not, we won’t continue to grow, thrive, attract and grow businesses, improve our schools and the quality of life in our community.  We are not pushing a political agenda but instead telling stories that would be untold without dedicated media coverage. 

One journalist from Germany raised her hand and said, “Your digital journalists are not journalists because they’re not working in a news room, for a news organization.” By definition, a journalist is a person who collects, writes or distributes news or other current information. And, like it or not, journalism is an industry that has changed drastically during the past decade in this country and continues to change. You can see it in the influence of political networks from the left and right, the power of social media and the way we’re educating future journalists.

When I went to journalism school, just 13 years ago, they had me choose a track; print or broadcast. Then when choosing broadcast, I had to choose again, either television or radio.  I chose broadcast television. Today, we’re training journalists to know all facets of production. From writing to shooting to editing and then promoting across all channels, we’re teaching, training and creating digital journalists.  Whether it’s Periscope or highly-produced video, we have to keep up with the trends and the times in digital journalism.

In my opinion, Gilbert is ahead of the curve when it comes to digital communications in local government, or government for that matter. With the state of journalism and the influence of all things digital, it will soon become commonplace, but we will continue to evolve and always try to stay ahead of the curve.

The Power of Video: Simple, Impactful & Easy

I get a lot of questions from other groups, organizations and cities asking how they can create a Digital Communications department like ours in Gilbert.  Make no mistake; it’s about the people.  But, nowadays, you don’t have to be a former video producer, like I am, to make a high-quality video or video series.  And the videos don’t always have to be highly-produced involving pre and post-production.

Our team was recently approached by the Police Department who said that they had been getting a lot of citizen questions about our motorcycle patrol.  They wanted to make a video or a series of videos that would help to inform our residents and answer their questions.  We quickly realized that this was something simple and easy to create on an iPhone.  And they don’t have to be long.  Twenty to thirty seconds is plenty of time to get your message across and keep viewers’ attention.

It didn’t take long to draft three brief scripts for each of the short PSA’s, go out into the community, shoot this on the iPhone, come back to upload them to YouTube with minimal editing and create a social media promotional campaign to go along with it.

Here’s an example: 

You can watch our other videos on our YouTube channel.

As you can see, these videos look and sound great and our residents now have their questions answered.  And, we now have a new video series, “You Asked: We Answered”, that we plan to use across various departments in the entire organization.

Gilbert Digital Awards

Someone said that September is awards season.  And for us, here at Gilbert Digital, we’ve been enjoying it during the past few weeks.  On September 3rd, our team received a Copper Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America’s Phoenix Chapter for our Digital State of the Town. 

Also, that same evening, I was honored to present my boss, Patrick Banger (@psbanger), with the PRSA Phoenix Award; given to a CEO or business leader for supporting and elevating the best practices of public relations.  You can watch the award presentation here.

We also received a 3CMA national award for TV and Video One-Time Special Programming for our Digital State of the Town.

And last week, I had the pleasure of traveling with my colleague, Jennifer Alvarez (@jenay1020), to New Orleans to receive a Driving Digital Government Achievement Award for SPARK App League, a mobile application development contest for high school students we’ve created here in Gilbert through a partnership with Arizona State University, sponsored by Google.  To learn more about SPARK, visit and watch this video explaining the unique program.

Teamwork & Technology for Emergency Response

When I started in this position as Gilbert’s Chief Digital Officer and first Communications Director three years ago, one of the first questions I asked was what the relationship was like with the Police and Fire departments’ Public Information Officers (PIO).  That question was met with silence.  Since my position hadn’t existed, there wasn’t a relationship, coordination or trust.  And it was my job to build it.

During the last three years of creating a department and assembling my team, I was also very focused on building relationships with our Police and Fire communications teams.  From social media strategy to shooting videos to planning emergency response roles during large events, we spent a great deal of time finding ways to coordinate our efforts.

And to do that, we had to understand each other.  A police perspective, on scene, is very focused on the investigation, while the Manager’s Office perspective is committed to getting information out quickly to the Mayor, Council members and the community.  And we all want to help the media to be sure they have the most current and accurate information so they can inform the public.

This week, we had an officer-involved shooting that resulted from a traffic stop.  At 9:41am, I received the dispatch alert on my phone and within minutes my Public Information Officer, Jennifer Alvarez, was in touch with the Police Department Public Information Officer and they were headed to the scene.  Once they were there, Jennifer would handle all of the social media coordination while Sargent Jesse Sanger, the Police PIO, could focus on getting the most recent details related to the investigation and set up a staging area for the media. 

This all took place just yards away from an elementary school.  Immediately, the school was coordinating with our police department and placed the campus on lockdown.  We were able to share real-time updates through Twitter so that parents would know their kids were safe.  Some students were texting their parents and parents were asking questions on Twitter and we could answer them. 

We were also encouraging all of our employees to follow us on Twitter where we were sharing road closure information and details related to the condition of both the officer and suspect involved.  We’ve made our Twitter feed available on the internal website for employees so they don’t have to sign up to see the latest information.

We manage more than 20 social media accounts for the Town so it was important that only one, consistent message was shared across all channels.  We used the Gilbert Police department’s Twitter handle as the primary source for information and then Retweeted the information from all of our other accounts.

One of the other most effective forms of communication during this incident was Periscope.  For those of you who don’t know what Periscope is, it’s owned by Twitter and is used to live stream video and allows you to interact with viewers while streaming.  And why would that be used in local government or during an emergency situation?  Because more than 10 million people have created Periscope accounts and almost two million are using the app every day.  It really is the best tool to take your viewers live to a scene before the 5 o’clock news is even in pre-production.  We were on the air and on the web before anyone else.  We were able to answer questions live from parents who had children to pick up from school and others who were just curious and looking for more information. 

It is in these major incidents, although sometimes unfortunate, that we learn what works and what doesn’t.  All of the practice exercises in the world can’t truly prepare a team for what will happen when the sirens blare, the water main breaks or the streets flood.  And it’s the nontraditional methods of communicating that are helping to connect us to each other and our audiences.  

Yesterday, as we debriefed the incident, Police Chief Tim Dorn, praised the efforts of the teams coming together; the relationship, the coordination and the trust.  And you can be a part of it.  Follow @GilbertYourTown on Twitter and Periscope and watch local government set a new standard for street journalism and reporting.  


What Can Big Cities Learn About Online Video Strategy from Gilbert, Arizona?

Recently, the two terrific Digital Journalists who work for me spent a few days at VidCon.  They met a blogger, Greg Jarboe, who was fascinated by what we’re doing here in Gilbert with digital communications.  Check out his latest blog post:

Celebrate Social Media!

Last spring, I attended the Chief Digital Officer’s Summit in New York City where I saw Sree Sreenivasan, Chief Digital Officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, give an engaging presentation about using social media.  He has more than 69,000 followers on his own Twitter page and had some simple suggestions for how we can all use social media more effectively to promote our work, our businesses and ourselves.

He talked first about training.  All employees must go through social media training and he suggests assembling a social media task force within the organization.  He also suggested looking for ambassadors, employees within the organization, who will be champions of your company and brand.  Employees are your best advocates and influencers.

Also, social media must be simple, measurable and fun.  And, working in government, there can be roadblocks from those who don’t understand its purpose.  I remember when I started in my new role and my boss, Patrick Banger, the Town Manager, was encouraging employees to put their LinkedIn profiles in their email signatures and some thought he wanted them to look for jobs while at work.  No, he wanted them to connect, engage and be relevant.  And remember, on social media, it’s not about followers.  It’s about engagement.

And it’s important to focus on making smarter content that fits with each platform.  Spend time creating your content.  Sree mentioned that he spends, on average, 3 to 6 minutes composing each Tweet.  He says, “Imagine every Tweet is your last”.

Don’t ask people for things on social media.  Connect with them when you don’t need them and then, when you do, they’ll be there.

As leaders or when we’re focused on managing our organizational social media accounts, we often don’t make time for our personal social media accounts.  This is one of the reasons I was inspired to start this blog.  I had people asking me what we were doing in Gilbert, how I assembled my team and I felt that it was important to share this information with others.

Social media is literally changing how we communicate and is influencing the future direction of our organizations.  Remember to listen, test and try all of the different social media tools and find the ones that make the most sense and work best for you.



What is a Digital State of the Town?

When I came to Gilbert as their first Chief Digital Officer, just a little more than three years ago, video production was not in my job description.  There was “Audio Visual work” but along with the skills in marketing, communications and public relations, I brought nearly a decade of experience working in both short and long-form and live television.  Right away, I knew I would work on eliminating the press release.

And, soon after I began working, I hired two Digital Journalists who would handle all of our video production.  A few months after they were on the job, we got to together with our wonderful Mayor to plan his annual State of the Town address.  He had quite a few ideas about themes and items to cover and, while we were sitting together, we decided that much of what we needed to cover would play out quite well in a video production. 

So over the next two months, our in-house team wrote, shot and produced a 20-minute, high-definition documentary video highlighting the year in review and featuring Council members, business owners and residents.  And, so, our first annual Digital State of the Town was born.  The digital format allowed people across Arizona and around the country to view the production from home, their tablet or mobile device.  They didn’t have to come and sit in a dreary Council Chambers or attend another luncheon.

It was a huge success.  We’ve won various awards including multiple 3CMA Silver Circle Awards for “One-time Special Programming” and “Most Innovative” as well as a Public Relations Society of America Award of Merit for “Integrated Communications”. 

This year we premiered the third annual Digital State of the Town, with the theme “Growing up Gilbert”, at the local Harkins movie theater to a sold-out audience.  And it’s only grown since with more than 10,000 views on YouTube.

Learn about what it's like to be "Growing Up Gilbert" in Gilbert, Arizona. To learn more, visit:

SPARK App League: Students Participate in App Resources and Knowledge

By 2020, it is projected that there will be 1,000,000 more computer science jobs than there are students.  According to, 9 out of 10 schools do not offer computer programming classes.  We have created and developed SPARK App League, a nonprofit program where high school students from across Arizona use the Town’s data to compete in a contest to create Gilbert’s next mobile application.  With the help of a sponsorship from Google and a partnership with Arizona State University, SPARK focuses on piquing student interest in computer science before they choose their area of study.  In our largest event yet, more than 250 students from across Arizona participated this year.

Visit the website, check out a recent Op-ed from our Mayor and watch our latest video to learn more this unique program.

Gilbert will soon be getting a new tourism mobile app, thanks to high school students participating in the third annual SPARK App League. Learn more at

Growing Up Gilbert

I grew up in Gilbert, Arizona.  I graduated from Gilbert High School in 1997. Then my journey led me to Spain and Washington D.C. and then to New York City.  But, nearly a decade later, I came back to Arizona and ended up getting my dream job in the town where I grew up.  My early experiences in Gilbert shaped my desire to pursue a career in journalism and politics and it all led me back home to a community that I love.

Last year, our digital communications department started a campaign called “Growing up Gilbert” where we highlighted the stories of people who grew up here and are now giving back to the community in various ways.  It was also the theme of the Digital State of the Town which premiered in February at our local Harkins Movie Theater in front of a sold-out audience.  And now that video is being shared online and has nearly 8,000 views.

From a firefighter to a teenager who started a teddy bear drive for children, all of these compelling stories showcase what a wonderful place Gilbert is to be raised and to have a career.  So many years ago, Gilbert was a small town.  And when I say small, I mean small.  I remember vividly attending a student council convention in high school and someone from a Phoenix school asking me if I rode a horse to school.  Those days are long gone and today you’ll find a bustling and thriving downtown as well as many new and growing businesses, major developments and hotels.  Gilbert’s growth and development continues to attract new residents, visitors and businesses and garner national attention.

Leading up to the premiere of the Digital State of the Town, we ran four commercial spots on local cable to promote the theme, “Growing up Gilbert”.

Visit for more information

As you heard in that spot, I’ve come a long way but am not that far from home.  As the Chief Digital Officer in Gilbert, there are so many stories to tell and now my team and I get to tell them every day. 

If you would like to share your #GrowingUpGilbert story, email it to or post using the hashtag on a social network of your choice.

How Did I Get Here?

I recently was asked to give a presentation to the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council about my unexpected career path.  I hadn’t really thought about it that way until I started putting the presentation together.  All of the decisions I’ve made along the way, from choosing a college and a major to where I took my first job, led me to where I am today.  And it has been a unique journey.

It all started here in Gilbert, where I now work, when I got involved in Student Council and various other groups and clubs in high school and decided I wanted to major in Political Science.  While at Arizona State University, I spent a summer interning for Hillary Clinton’s New York Senate campaign in New York City.  From there, I lived in Spain and then moved to Washington DC, where I attended American University and earned my Master’s in Journalism and Public Affairs.  Then it was time to make some major career choices.  Did I want to pursue on-camera journalism or did I want to produce, direct and write?  I made the decision to move to New York City where I soon landed a job at MTV.  I spent the next six years in various Producer/Director roles for Choose or Lose, True Life and was the original casting director for 16 and Pregnant.  But I wanted to be in news – and in live television.  I made the jump to NBC News where I worked as a producer and writer for Andrea Mitchell Reports and various other MSNBC shows.  It was the perfect combination of my political and journalism backgrounds.  I quickly rose through the ranks because of vast experience and political knowledge.  But, after having my first daughter, I decided to make a daring move back to Arizona where my family lived.  But what would I do career-wise?  After where I had been, I didn’t want to work in local news.  So, I took a job at my alma mater, Arizona State University, where I handled media relations and taught Journalism courses.  After nearly two years there, I was hired as Gilbert’s first Chief Digital Officer; a role which truly does combine the skills from all of my previous work experiences.  As one of the fastest growing communities in the country, there is something happening in Gilbert every day.  Whether it’s opening its first University or expanding and growing businesses, there is always something to promote.  We focus on video production, moving away from the traditional press release and incorporating video into our releases.  We turned our annual mayoral address into a high-definition, year in review video production.  It’s rewarding, challenging and fulfilling.  We are setting new standards for communications in local government and people across the state and country are taking notice.  I love the work I do and the people I work with.  I’m learning every day and still have the opportunity to teach others.  Based on my experiences, where I’ve been, traveled, lived and worked, I bring a unique perspective back to Gilbert, to government, to my colleagues and to the work I do each day.

I often talk to my staff and others about the importance of building relationships.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without the many wonderful and motivational people who have helped me along the way.  I also take great pride in knowing that I could call up anyone I’ve worked for, in any job I’ve held, and I could confidently say they would hire me again if they could.  At least I hope they would.

Choices matter.  All of them.  No matter how big or small, they all lead you down a path that will ultimately end, if done carefully and with hard work, with being fulfilled, in both your career and in life.

“Scottsdale?” I answered, “No, Gilbert”.

Three years ago I became Gilbert, Arizona’s first Chief Digital Officer.  After recently attending the Chief Digital Officer Summit in New York City, it has never been clearer that this role is becoming more and more prevalent and necessary across multiple industries.  It was inspiring to be in a room with so many other digital leaders who are watching this industry grow and transform each day.  I was also reminded that digital is a progression; and it only happens when senior management is engaged.  I’m fortunate to have a City Manager, Patrick Banger, who had a vision for creating a digital communications department in Gilbert, a growing and thriving suburb of Phoenix.

An interesting journey got me here.  I grew up in Gilbert and graduated from Gilbert High School.  After earning my Bachelor’s degree in Political Science at Arizona State University, I attended American University in Washington, DC, where I earned a Master’s degree in Journalism and Public Policy.  From there, I moved to New York City, where I worked for six years at MTV as a Producer and Director and then to MSNBC where I was a producer and writer for Andrea Mitchell Reports.  After having our first daughter in our small Brooklyn apartment, my husband and I looked at each other and decided to make the move back to Arizona where I had been raised.  I took a job at Arizona State University teaching and handling media relations and then saw a job posting for Gilbert’s first Chief Digital Officer and knew the job was a perfect fit for me.  

During the past three years, I’ve built a team and have established the first municipal digital communications team in Arizona and, perhaps, in the country.  We have two digital journalists who handle both short and long-form video production and a Digital Applications Specialist who handles all of our mobile applications and data platform.  We’ve created a mobile app development contest for high school students, sponsored by Google; SPARK App League.  And we’ve created the first in the country Digital State of the Town; the Mayor’s annual address in a video format.  The digital format allows people across Arizona and the country to view the production from home, from their phone or on their tablet devices.  Every single aspect of the entire production was produced in-house.  When I traveled to New York City for the Summit, people asked me where I was doing all of these interesting and innovative things.  I replied, “In a suburb of Phoenix.”  They replied, “Scottsdale?”  I answered, “No, Gilbert”.  There are amazing things happening in this growing Phoenix suburb of 235,000 people and I’m glad you’re following me so you can hear all about them.