Susan Neely

Former Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; President and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI)

Susan Neely
  • 25 years of experience in senior communications and management positions
  • First woman President of both the Washington Rotary Club and the University Club of Washington, DC
  • Gives audiences her unique, first-hand perspective of Homeland Security, as well as advice on business strategies

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Over a career that spans more than 30 years, Susan Neely has served as strategist and counsel to national and state leaders ranging from the President of the United States and a cabinet secretary to the longest serving governor in America’s history and CEOs of Fortune 50 companies. One of the architects of the nation’s first Department of Homeland Security, she has been at the heart of policy and politics regarding the security and protection of the United States from the beginning. In her current position as President and CEO of the American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI), Neely drives public policy and advocacy on behalf of ACLI's member companies that represent 95 percent of industry assets and serve 90 million families. She formerly served as CEO of the American Beverage Association, helping the $140 billion non-alcoholic beverage industry navigate the complex obesity crisis and take the lead on creating solutions. She is routinely named one of the top association CEOs in Washington, DC and recognized as an expert on risk and crisis communications, adroit message development, and navigating the smart path forward through the stormiest of seas. Exclusively represented by Leading Authorities speakers bureau, Neely is an engaging presenter who speaks with authority on issues from the perspective of a Washington insider.

In the Circle of Trust. Neely talks about being a member of Secretary Ridge’s inner circle from the White House to the new department. She describes playing a key part in the decision-making that led to new security measures that the public participates in every day, whether at airports, major bridges, tunnels, ports, chemical sites, National Parks, highways, or train stations. She articulates how she shaped the policy of threat warnings, national preparedness and response, visa issuance, privacy rights, and information sharing. Audiences get a first-hand account of what it is like to be special assistant to the president for Homeland Security in the White House and then assistant secretary for public affairs in the department – and the gravity of being responsible for the public face of the homeland security. She discusses the management of everything from threat announcements, to branding, to public education campaigns, to crisis communications.

Leader in Communication. Neely has 30 years of experience in senior communications and management positions in the public and private sector. At the American Beverage Association, she provides leadership and expertise in health policy and communications. She has also held leadership positions on the staffs of Governor Terry Branstad, Congressman Sid Morrison, and Congressman Jim Leach. She advised and ran Governor Branstad’s successful campaign after the bottom dropped out of the farm market in the 80s and 38 banks were closed in his first term. Neely also served as an executive at the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Health Insurance Association of America. She created and managed numerous issue-campaigns, including the award winning “Harry and Louise” television commercials. Neely also founded a Washington, DC, office for the advertising and public relations firm of CMF&Z, then the largest agriculture communications agency in the country and a subsidiary of Young & Rubicam.

Neely was elected the first woman president of the 90-year-old Washington Rotary Club, and the first woman president of the 100-year-old University Club of Washington, DC. She served as chair-elect of the Public Affairs Council. Susan received the 2002 Trailblazer Award from Dialogue on Diversity and the 2003 Drake Alumni Achievement Award.

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Speaker Video

Susan Neely Discusses the Soda Tax Debate

Homeland Security. One of the architects of the nation's first Department of Homeland Security, Susan Neely shares her insider perspective on how the first new Cabinet department in 50 years is evolving, the nature of the new enemy we face and what that means for American business and society. Through her war stories and experience, Neely addresses questions like: How real is the threat? What in the world is "chatter?" Does airport security actually work? Is all this inconvenience and anxiety permanent? Where are the department and the issue of homeland security going?

Communicating About Terrorism. Susan Neely shares her strategies and lessons learned from being the first to tackle one of the world's toughest issues: the threat of terrorism and homeland security. Neely's experiences in the Department of Homeland Security spanned the gamut from the birth of the color code system, to duct tape jokes, to launching a $300 million national preparedness movement, to setting up a first-of-a-kind international crisis communication network, and branding a 180,000 person cabinet department.

Risk and Crisis Communications. One of the architects of the nation's first Department of Homeland Security, Susan Neely lead the creation of a new national network to help the private sector and government at all levels communicate when disaster strikes. Having weathered natural disasters, a shuttle crash, power outages and numerous terrorist simulations from dirty bomb explosions to smallpox attacks, Neely shares strategies and practical tips on how to prepare your company now for the business crisis of tomorrow.

Strategies to Advance Corporate Policy Agendas. From the White House to the corporate executive suite, Susan Neely has 25 years experience counseling cabinet secretaries, governors, members of congress and CEOs on the elements of communications strategies to win policy debates. Whether it was the crash of the agriculture economy in the 1980s, or the national debate over health reform in the 1990s, creating a public face for medical schools and teaching hospitals, or securing the homeland in a post 9-11 world, Neely has created scores of comprehensive national strategies to shape public opinion and produce public action. She shares lessons learned and strategies for success to help organizations win.

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