Getting a Start in Public Relations
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with LaTina Emerson, one of Georgia State’s Public Relations Specialists. Ms. Emerson composes articles and press releases that pertain to significant scientific research at the University, and she promotes the scholarly work that professors are publishing. Ms. Emerson’s career, though impressive, was accidental. As an undergrad, Emerson studied Psychology and Pre-Med, but instead of going straight to medical school, she decided to pursue a M.F.A. in Screenwriting at Boston University. After a short stint writing about business for a newspaper in Georgia, Emerson took a position at the Augusta Chronicle as a business reporter. The struggle of writing about business in the recession prompted her to look into other options: thus began her career in PR.
After working in media relations for the Colleges of Dental Medicine and Nursing at Augusta College, Emerson found herself missing the bustle of a bigger city and took her current position at Georgia State. She enjoys what she does here at GSU because it allows her to combine her interest in scientific research and her love of writing. She has published numerous articles and press releases for the University, but her favorite story so far is “America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic.”
“It kind of took on a whole life of its own,” she reflects. The original story was supposed to focus on the work of GSU’s Dr. Eric Wright, but after researching the issue, Emerson discovered the inherent connection between prescription drug abuse and the heroin epidemic. “It just kind of snowballed into this bigger thing,” she remembers. This story, unlike other research articles that Emerson has published, allowed her to look outside of walls of Georgia State. The article features interviews with a former heroin and prescription drug user (now an addiction counselor), the founder and chief medical officer of the Atlanta Healing Center, and even a technical consultant to the Georgia Health Policy Center.
Rhetoric in Public Relations
As a writer, Emerson recognizes that audience awareness is crucial. “We always try to make sure that we’re reaching a general audience. . . I try to break down the language as much as possible.” Emerson writes research- and data-heavy articles for such a broad audience that it is crucial to make the content relatable and intriguing. In order to keep reporters and readers from glossing over the content, Emerson says “I have to make things understandable and interesting.”
In regards to the shift away from a linguistically dominated realm of composition, Emerson reflects on her own experience in working as a PR specialist. In recent months, GSU’s public relations department has been incorporating more videos and images into their stories and press releases. Emerson has experienced this firsthand; she’s learned through social media that people like images and videos, but she’s hesitant to make a shift to a visually-dominant style of writing. She states that the writers and photographers/videographers are “. . . still trying to figure out what that balance [between visual and linguistic] is.”
Georgia State in the press
As we wrapped up the interview, Emerson showed me a few of pieces she has written that gained significant media presence. A number of her releases have done extremely well, including pieces on the history and implications of the Paleo Diet, food additives and their correlation to intestinal inflammation, and a release from a study promoting a four-day school week. These three releases have warranted impressive media coverage, and Ms. Emerson was kind enough to provide me with a list of the agencies that picked up each story. Media coverage for the Paleo Diet, food additives, and the four-day school week can be accessed below.
Media Coverage – Paleo Diet.docx
Media Coverage – Food Additive Study.docx
Media Coverage – Four-Day School Week (Mary Beth Walker)-3.docx
My interview with Ms. Emerson was intriguing and informational, and she provided me with a wealth of information on how public relations professionals operate in today’s ever-changing digital world. Her insight demonstrated how many opportunities are available for English majors, specifically those concentrating in Rhetoric and Composition.