Hand-selected from the worlds of public affairs, nonprofit and association management, community and public engagement, and corporate branding, the Influence Opinions team offers a broad spectrum of experience, expertise, and wins.
Additionally, we have access to a deep pool of talented consultants, freelancers, and vendors we can call upon to fulfill each client’s distinctive needs.
Elyse Yates is the founder and CEO of Influence Opinions. Elyse offers more than two decades of experience and expertise in arenas as diverse as politics, high-tech, public affairs, nonprofits, and entertainment – not to mention amazing big-picture vision, incredible insight, and strategies that work – all delivered with a zest for life that you wish you could bottle and sell.
Prior to launching IO, Elyse was a managing director for Public Strategies, Inc., the recognized leader in public perception management for Fortune 500 companies. During her tenure there, Elyse built an interactive business unit and a media relations division, managed the firm’s marketing and branding, and led teams consulting for a broad spectrum of clients, including Perot Systems, the San Antonio Spurs, Seton Healthcare Family and Bank of America. Previously, Elyse was a media relations specialist at IBM, where she worked with broadcast media nationwide, specializing in the use of technology to distribute content. Among her earlier political credentials, Yates served as deputy spokesperson for then-Governor Ann Richards.
At IO, Elyse has worked with clients coast-to-coast – from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [ASPCA] to the Seton Healthcare Family to the Arbor Day Foundation. Her vast experience in how technology changes communication has evolved into her current expertise – creating campaigns and research methodology in the political/public-policy arena.
Elyse currently serves as a board member for The University of Texas’ School of Natural Science, and is an often-sought speaker for panels and events across the country and around the world.
Trish Hart is managing director and Senior Strategist at Influence Opinions, using her unique blend of business acumen and behavioral science understanding to help clients affect or measure the change they desire.
Trish brings more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications, public relations, and research with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, government agencies, and nonprofits – including managing multi-million-dollar federal and state grants for nonprofit entities. Previously, Trish designed and oversaw communications campaigns for high-tech companies such as EDS and SEMATECH, and in the biomedical industry, through Intermedics Orthopedics and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
At IO, Trish has led our research team, conducting national polls, email and phone surveys, and focus groups, as well as performing corporate communications audits for a broad spectrum of industries.
Trish’s advanced training includes certifications from Center for Creative Leadership, College of Executive Coaching, and In Conflict Resolution. She earned her B.A. in Marketing from The University of Texas at Austin, and her M.S. in Counseling from St. Edwards University.
Jarred Gammon is an account manager at Influence Opinions, serving as the key contact, advocate, and project manager for clients with complex issues like healthcare, public education, transportation, and social justice.
Jarred develops comprehensive communications and marketing strategies, and produces engaging content to enhance online visibility and influence. He specializes in social media, crafting and implementing social-media strategies, executing social-media accounts for clients, and overseeing Pay-Per-Click advertising.
Jarred creates customized public-relations campaigns to help clients raise awareness, share information, and better position themselves with target audiences. He also leads media-relations efforts for his clients, developing content and media kits, proactively pitching media stories, and managing reporter relationships.
Jarred is a graduate of the Leadership Austin – Emerge class of 2015, and currently serves as social media chair of the Texas Exes Public Relations Committee. He earned his B.A. in Marketing, with a minor in Advertising, at The University of Texas at Austin.
Chris Tarango is an account manager with Influence Opinions, helping cultivate communities and foster collaborations between policymakers, communities and business. Chris specializes in using peer-to-peer engagement, community outreach, and social media to move public opinion and mobilize stakeholders.
As a communications professional, Chris has worked with numerous Fortune 40 clients and municipal government initiatives on a wide variety of issue-based campaigns. He managed community engagement for many projects within City of Austin departments, including the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, the Health and Human Services Department, and the Parks and Recreation Department. Previously, Chris served as regional field director and state digital lead with the Texas branch of President Obama’s 2012 grassroots re-election campaign.
Chris currently serves as a member of Austin ISD’s Hispanic Advisory Committee and as chair of its Early Childhood Literacy Subcommittee. He has completed both Leadership Austin – Emerge program and Austin ISD’s UpClose Leadership Class, and graduated with honors from The University of Texas at El Paso.
DIGITAL & RESEARCH
Julia Schulze is the Senior Research Manager at Influence Opinions where she oversees all research products, including in-depth interviews, message testing, surveys, and the development of a client Digital Advance™.
Possessing an insatiable sense of curiosity, Julia enjoys working with the research team to determine awareness, sentiment, frame and perception around client issues in order to develop recommendations for a comprehensive communications strategy. Her creative approach to problem solving and ability to understand complex topics enable her to think about a client’s issue in a unique way – often providing new insight that informs overall strategy.
Julia earned her B.A. in Business Management from Texas State University.
Catherine Gustafson is the digital media and research manager at Influence Opinions. Catherine is our thought leader on emerging research resources and tools, and the key person gathering and producing content for our proprietary Digital Advance™ offering. She manages client relationships and research projects, ensuring superior quality from beginning to end.
Additionally, Catherine provides day-to-day digital support for clients, including development and oversight of Pay-Per-Click campaigns, Search-Engine Optimization strategies and execution, onepager design for proposals and reports, and often, website management.
Catherine earned her B.A. in Sociology, with a minor in Communications, at The University of Texas at Austin.
Darcy Bickham is a social media and research strategist with Influence Opinions. Darcy provides day-to-day digital support for clients by managing Pay-Per-Click campaigns, executing social-media strategy to reach target audiences, and coordinating with the project manager on client communications.
She also uses research resources and tools to determine awareness, frame, perception, and sentiment around client issues, which contributes to the comprehensive communications recommendations we offer our clients.
Darcy graduated from Texas A&M University.
Cindy Salazar is executive administrative assistant/project coordinator at Influence Opinions, coordinating the staff’s administrative activities, as well as CEO Elyse Yates’ always-full business calendar. Cindy tracks project schedules and budgets, oversees purchase orders and vendor invoices, and maintains licenses, certificates, and subscriptions for the firm.
A U.S. Air Force veteran, former middle-school health and fitness teacher, and active competitive triathlete, Cindy continues to lead corporate group fitness classes and serve as a personal trainer. She earned her B.A. in Physical Education at the University of North Florida.
Emily Torgerson is a senior communications strategist that offers extensive experience in public affairs and comprehensive marketing campaigns, and is especially adroit at navigating complex issues in the areas of energy, water, waste, economic development, and education.
Prior to joining the firm in 2008, Emily served as director of marketing for Periscope Holdings, Inc., a venture-backed software company specializing in government procurement solutions. During her tenure there, Emily created Periscope’s media relations program, designed and developed a national users’ conference, and led a full-scale company rebranding. Previously, Emily worked as an account manager at TateAustin (now Hahn Public Communications), where she developed an expertise in high-profile, high-demand projects such as AISD’s Apple At Work and the Mueller Redevelopment.
At IO, Emily led the Austin-based consumer launch of car2go, managing a $350K budget, developing and implementing a paid media plan and social media strategy, and producing a full-scale public event that included business partnerships, food vendors and live music. She also helped launch PlastiPure; Emily built the company’s communications program from scratch, including messaging, collateral, media relations, and tradeshow strategy. Emily managed local media outreach and onsite media coordination for the SXSW Film Festival from 2009 to 2015.
Emily is certified in Systematic Development and Informed Consent, and is currently getting certified to moderate focus groups. She is a graduate of Leadership Austin’s essential class, and she helped found The Creative Fund, a local nonprofit. Emily earned her B.A. in Public Relations at Texas State University.
Mike Lavigne is Influence Opinions’ government and public relations strategist. Mike began his career over 15 years ago in electoral politics, then transitioned into legislative policy. While working on health and education issues in both houses of the Texas Legislature, Mike used the interim periods to sharpen his communications skills by working on campaigns – from mayoral to presidential – across the state.
Mike spent two years as executive director of the Texas Democratic Party; under his leadership, the party enjoyed its first legislative gains in a generation. Since then, Mike has worked as a successful independent strategist, specializing in all levels of public policy, as well as business communications.
Mike serves as a board member for the Austin Creative Alliance and as an executive board member for the Austin Neighborhoods Council. He graduated from The University of Texas at Austin.
Jeff Tieszen is a senior strategist at Influence Opinions. With two decades of experience in corporate communications and media relations in the high-tech industry, Jeff delivers an extraordinary ability to grasp complex issues, shape powerful messages, and create engaging storylines that resonate.
Prior to joining IO, Jeff coordinated external communications for IBM across Texas and much of the Western U.S. He worked closely with state and local governments to highlight public-private initiatives around important issues such as healthcare, public safety, smart energy, STEM education, and transportation. Tasked with promoting IBM’s vision of a “Smarter Planet” in his region, Jeff spearheaded a variety of tactics and campaigns that helped establish IBM as a thought leader on the intersection of government and technology.
Previously, Jeff held several other external and internal communications positions across IBM’s businesses, and spent four years as public relations manager at software development tools company Metrowerks, a former subsidiary of Motorola and Freescale Semiconductor.
Jeff earned his Bachelor of Journalism at The University of Texas at Austin.