Georgia on My Mind: Atlanta as a Vibrant Center for Public Relations

September 1, 2015

Rarely is a metropolitan city known for just one thing. It is typically the eclecticism and varied experiences that lie within that give a place depth and meaning.

You find that at the heart of Atlanta — character and charm built around dynamic work and energizing leisure time. There is opportunity here to make it what we want as both people and professionals.

As PR practitioners in the city and across the state, we are particularly fortunate. The active participation within PRSA Georgia as the second-largest Chapter in the United States is one indication. Our professional community’s true grit — did someone say grits? — representing each industry sector is another.

Talking public relations is a favorite pastime of mine, but someone else needed to help tell this story: Five professionals, who represent different specialty areas in Atlanta, site of this year’s PRSA International Conference, including: PR agencies, established corporations, entrepreneurial business, independent counselors and nonprofit/higher education. These PRSA Georgia members discuss the impact of public relations on this business center and what it’s like to live, work and play in Atlanta.

Kent Landers, APR, group director of corporate media relations, The Coca-Cola Company:

As a communications leader with Coca-Cola — and Delta Air Lines before that — what does it mean to work with such iconic brands that represent an entire city?

I grew up in the South, so Coca-Cola and Delta have always been part of my life. It’s been an honor to represent these two amazing companies that have long been the South’s leading global ambassadors. I don’t think it’s an understatement to say Atlanta would not be the city it is today had Coca-Cola and Delta not built organizations that contribute so much to the social fabric of this town.

Early in your career, you were the national PRSSA president. What would you share with young professionals today about the PR community in Atlanta?

I moved to Atlanta just after the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. At that time, the city was alive with the energy of young people seeking new careers and opportunities in a city that had just marketed itself as never before on a world stage. Today, I still see that same youthful energy as people come here to pursue their dreams. Quite simply, Atlanta is a great place to be young!

What is your favorite out-of-the-way Atlanta gem?

Decatur — just east of downtown. It’s my neighborhood, so I’m biased. But come enjoy a walk downtown and have a great meal at one of Atlanta’s best restaurants. The Iberian Pig is one of Decatur’s many great spots, especially for a craft cocktail at the bar.

Alicia Thompson, APR, general manager, Edelman Atlanta:

After serving as president of the Georgia Chapter and working at Edelman, what is your view of public relations in Atlanta?

The PR profession in Atlanta is in an evolutionary state. As the lines between marketing communications disciplines continue to blur, so do the expectations of agencies and in-house teams. All are being asked to do interdisciplinary work that can’t be cast in one category. From ideation to content creation to strategic counsel, we can no longer swim only in a PR lane. We must provide value across the marketing landscape.

Atlanta is an important business hub, housing many national and global headquarters. Does the PR profession here match that level of business and support the needs of those enterprises?

The PR profession here is bustling with talent. With international agencies, specialized boutiques and in-house PR counsel with global experience, Atlanta’s PR talent is definitely on par with the organizations headquartered in the city. Today, many of the multinationals headquartered here use agencies or agency offices located in other major cities, such as New York and Chicago, or recruit talent from outside Atlanta. The challenge and opportunity for us is to better market ourselves, and our capabilities, locally.

Our resonant multicultural history has helped build Atlanta’s character. How has that influenced our local PR profession?

Atlanta is a vibrantly diverse community. From a PR perspective, this diversity and our heritage have fostered the growth of many boutique agencies that specialize in engaging diverse communities. Additionally, many of the larger agencies have multicultural practices that bring a fully integrated approach to multicultural communications. Most exciting for me, though, is that our city’s heritage nurtures an entrepreneurial spirit among diverse PR practitioners that makes our PR community one of the most robust.

Justin Grimsley, head of public relations, AirWatch by VMware:

Alongside the iconic companies residing in Atlanta, the city is home to many exciting startups. What opportunities does this offer a PR professional?

The advantage of working for startups and entrepreneurial organizations is the ability to play a pivotal role in shaping the communication strategies for the company. In Atlanta, we are experiencing a rapid growth in these types of organizations, which offer pressure cookers of experience for young professionals to accelerate their career trajectories and enable veterans to operate in tightly integrated ecosystems, rather than in the silos often found in larger organizations.

As the PR profession evolves and organizations seek more connection with their publics through digital strategies and other means, how has the Atlanta PR community answered the call?

Over the past several years, Atlanta has been a pioneer city for organizations harnessing digital channels to drive new engagement models with influencers and other publics. From startups tackling the toughest technical challenges, to leading agencies redesigning their clients’ strategies for the modern era, to global brands channeling digital to interact with new audiences, Atlanta is at the heart of driving the digital movement.

Lisa Tilt, president, Full Tilt Consulting:

Atlanta is filled with thriving enterprises of all sizes. Do the many independent PR practitioners and small agency owners in Atlanta find success as the big firms do?

Absolutely, and there are endless examples of that within the Atlanta PR community. Many of us have built a career that fits our professional and lifestyle preferences while allowing us to do interesting and creative work. Atlanta houses companies in all industries and sizes and because of that, public relations is healthy here and nurtures the diverse professional aspirations of independent counselors (IC) and small agencies alike. As the city continues to innovate and attract new business, our opportunities only get better.

The value that comes from differentiating yourself as a PR professional is much more important when working as an independent. Does PRSA support those efforts, and do you have an equal voice within the organization?

The value that PRSA offers professionals is profound, and I truly understood that when I became an independent consultant. Not only does PRSA Georgia support us with programming and leadership positions, but the collective membership also supports one another, regardless of title or company size. As an IC community within PRSA, we partner on clients, share ideas and pass along new business leads because we recognize that none of us can be all things. By understanding each other’s professional expertise, we work synergistically.

As an Atlanta native, why do you think someone in public relations might want to live, work and play in this city?

There is something for everyone in all of those categories. Someone can be as active and innovative as they want to be, and feed their varied personal and professional interests in the arts and film, athletics, science and technology, the outdoors and more. The needs and desires of each age and life stage can be filled here, and many opportunities for PR professionals to work in an industry that excites them come with that.

Jasmine Hoffman, APR, assistant dean for communications and public relations, Emory University’s School of Nursing:

What unique opportunities and challenges do you find when working in nonprofit public relations? Is there support and collaboration among your PRSA colleagues?

Limited staffing and resources in nonprofit organizations give you an extraordinary amount of latitude in both leadership development and creativity. At 23, I helped a major university announce a $2 billion fundraising campaign, and I don’t believe there are many other industries allowing young professionals to take a leadership role on mission-critical communications activities. The greatest challenge in nonprofit communications is differentiating your organization within a crowded field. There are more than a million registered nonprofits in the United States, and we’re all competing for top employees, donations, volunteers, grants and clients to serve. Public relations is essential to ensuring that nonprofits are sustainable for years to come.

As someone working in higher education public relations over the last decade, how has the perception of our profession changed, and what assumptions do today’s students have about working in public relations?

Public relations has gone through a renaissance over the last decade, which can be partially attributed to the proliferation of digital technologies. It’s the driving force behind reputation management and building brands in an increasingly digital world. Students assume that public relations is only about developing creative campaigns and projects to engage consumers, but there is often a disconnect in showing how creative PR strategies have a measurable impact on an organization. Every student and new PR pro needs to be able to show how their work adds value to their organization’s bottom line. You will become an invaluable asset when you can articulate how public relations is advancing your organization’s goals.

You received your APR designation, which is a wonderful accomplishment. Do you recommend taking that journey, and how does PRSA help along the way?

Accreditation has been an invaluable asset to my career, and I truly believe that attaching [APR] to your name can improve your chances of getting hired or promoted. PRSA provides many resources to help prepare for this rigorous process, including workshops, webinars and boot camp programs. It also provides mentorship from Accredited members — many continue to play a key role in your career far into the future.

Thanks to all who shared their stories and perspectives. While this is only a snapshot of our community of PR professionals, we all enjoy working collaboratively in the name of PRSA, with Atlanta as a vibrant business backdrop.
We hope that you will come see for yourself and visit Atlanta soon, whether it’s during PRSA’s International Conference on Nov. 8-10, or even if you are looking to plant new roots. You are welcome here anytime.

Stephen Michael Brown, APR
Stephen Michael Brown, APR, is managing director of Cohn & Wolfe Atlanta, where he manages communications and marketing initiatives for consumer, corporate and technology clients. He is president of PRSA Georgia. This November, Atlanta will host the PRSA International Conference.


Charles says:

Alicia Thompson is definitely right when she said that there's blurring of lines between marketing communications disciplines. Thus, a holistic approach to marketing is needed. Charles Bautista Seed Factory Marketing Atlanta, GA

Oct. 1, 2017

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