A person cannot enter the world of public relations without an internship (or two or three) under their belt. It’s that simple these days.
Every intern should walk away with at least
two relevant, quantifiable accomplishment stories to add to their resume. They also should receive one-on-one mentoring throughout the internship. Interns should have hands-on projects and real responsibilities.
A good internship offers opportunities to build skills and character. It allows you to experience a professional environment, which can affect your future career decisions. If an internship does not offer these things, it’s not worth it.
There is zero value in public relations internships consisting only of filing, answering phones, and doing coffee runs. Where’s the value in that? Even if interns are building media list after media list, they’re still learning something by completing that task. (Heck, I run my own firm now and still build media lists.)
Hopefully your public relations internship program is already offering the elements I just described. If not, get on that immediately. Something else you must be incorporating that’s a quick change: pay. Public relations internships should never
be unpaid. The work these interns do offers significant value to the company and deserves compensation.
Public relations interns are responsible for so many important things:
One of the primary responsibilities for a public relations intern is research. Interns should research media contacts, facts and stats for stories, industry trends, new tools and tactics, and more.
Though most of these findings are for internal use, all this research is essential to the rest of the work done by the PR team. If not for the initial research, nothing else would be possible. Interns who conduct such research should be paid for their work.
Another huge part of PR is media relations. Interns should learn the ins and outs of talking to media, writing compelling pitches, actually pitching stories, and monitoring mentions.
Though interns probably won’t handle all these responsibilities on their own (they need training and mentoring first), they can work their way up to it. The more comfortable they become with media relations, the more they can handle and, therefore, the more value they add to the company. An intern who adds value should get paid.
A lot of public relations has to do with building relationships (it’s in the name). This does not just mean relationships with media (as discussed in the previous point). PR interns have to form relationships with all stakeholders: clients and customers, competitors, employees, investors, the community, etc.
With guidance, an intern can be really effective in cultivating some of these relationships. All of these publics are important to the company, so building relationships with them should be a paid activity. (Noticing a pattern here?)
Media pitches, press releases, feature stories, blog posts, newsletters, brochures, infographics, videos, and social media updates. The list of possibilities for content creation is seemingly endless. PR interns can definitely have a role in creating this content.
No matter how your team uses it, content is one of the most valuable contributions an intern can make. It can be used to inform and promote the company. There is no way interns who create these types of content should be unpaid.
An entirely different branch of the PR tree is event planning. Though interns probably aren’t going to plan a whole event by themselves, those involved in event planning put in a lot of work.
They need to work with vendors, handle prep work, design promotions, and help with execution. Someone who is putting this much effort into the success of an event should be paid for the stress alone.
Finally, public relations is all about representing the brand. PR puts out the right message to the right audience. It shapes the reputation of a company. A company’s brand defines how well it does financially. With the company’s reputation at stake, anyone involved should be paid, including interns.
These are just a few of the main responsibilities of a PR intern. There are many, many more, and each adds value to the company. When your interns have this much going on, letting them go unpaid is just wrong.
Aside from the importance of their actual responsibilities, if your company is an agency and clients are paying you for work completed by your interns, again, this warrants payment. That doesn’t mean if your organization isn’t being paid for the work your interns are completing—at a nonprofit or government agency, for example—that you in turn shouldn’t pay them.
It’s time to make a change. We should institute a bill of rights for interns. The idea is to make interns’ work official through fair compensation and respect. InternMatch has already drafted a bill of rights
, and more than 40 companies have signed on. We need a common standard to improve internships for interns, employers, and society as a whole.
Taking on interns is a huge undertaking both in resources and financially, for sure, but that’s part of what you signed up for when you advertised your internship program. If you’re in it for the wrong reasons—cheap labor—stop now before word gets out.
Do you pay your public relations interns? Why or why not?
[RELATED: Discover what the best workplaces do to maintain incredible employee engagement and retention statistics.]
Heather R. Huhman is the founder and president of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and human resources technologies. You can connect with Heather and Come Recommended on Twitter and Facebook.