Each time we have a new position to fill at our PR firm, I find myself scrolling through résumé after résumé from eager recent graduates listing ambitious internships to demonstrate their experience and initiative—almost all of them wholly dedicated to social media roles. I need a young pro who can pitch the media!
“Kids these days,” we mutter to ourselves. “They’re only interested in Instagram.”
Except, this is far from my actual experience. The young professionals I come across are, in fact, hungry for a chance to pitch reporters and earn traditional placements, even if for them “traditional media” include blogs and podcasts.
The real problem is that many PR firms aren’t giving interns the opportunity to hone their pitching skills. Are we stereotyping Gen Z and assuming they prefer TikTok influencers to beat reporters? Are we assuming they’re not capable of an effective media pitch? It’s probably a little of both. But, reflecting on how to activate our internship program after the long pandemic pause, there is a realization that such generalizations are an astonishing disservice to the intern, our firm and clients, as well as our industry at large—both in our approach to media outreach and social media engagement.
What a modern PR firm needs
Public relations is increasingly combined with other communications and marketing functions, making the word “integration” a top buzzword of the industry.
While it’s true that social media increasingly falls within the purview of a public relations firm’s responsibilities, firms do well to not overlook the importance of earned media, especially when giving aspiring professionals new opportunities to learn. Media outreach remains a cornerstone of our business, and earned media can still gain an audience’s trust and build credibility for our client’s stories like nothing else.
We can’t have a generation of professionals who can’t pitch. Giving students the foundational skills for a strong PR career starts with us, in the assignments they are given during internships.
Developing media outreach skills
It’s a challenge to involve an intern with limited to no experience in meaningful media outreach. The learning curve is steep, and the stakes are high.
But including an intern in media outreach doesn’t necessarily mean setting them loose all at once. It can be as simple as starting with inclusion.
At my firm, every person on our team brings brilliance and perspective—there’s no room for anything less—and when it comes to identifying creative opportunities and planning strategy, everyone has a seat at the table—including interns. Even if they don’t feel equipped to contribute yet (though they often do!), the exercise of observing a team of seasoned professionals sharing ideas and crafting something that will earn media attention is itself an education.
One place interns have proven to add value is in building targeted media lists. Just learning the breadth and scope of the media landscape is a valuable experience. But so is delivering those pre-crafted pitches in a tailored fashion to individual journalists on those lists. While it may feel like grunt work, going through these paces exposes an intern to critical aspects of media outreach, dynamics and critical thinking. There’s no education like picking up the phone to perform follow-up calls.
Talk to your interns about the value of this “grunt work.” Explain to them how their efforts contribute to the overall strategy, and credit them when celebrating victories along the way.
Social media demands strategy and experience
Just as one cannot read newspapers and then intuit how to develop a media strategy, one also cannot grow up in a social media age and then inherently drive digital strategy. Knowing what TikTok is does not equate to knowing what to do with it for a brand—or how to assess whether it’s an appropriate forum for a given strategy.
There is great nuance in understanding what makes an engaging and strategic social media post. Are you better off posting more or less? How many tags are appropriate? Should the tone be conversational or professional? Such minute distinctions made at the nitty gritty levels of social media execution can have significant consequences for a campaign’s results.
While an intern may have perspective to lend to these choices, the success or failure of campaigns should never be solely on their shoulders.
As with media outreach, the onus is on seasoned professionals to give interns a seat at the table, showing them our work and our reasoning as we go, so interns can learn the critical thinking behind our choices, not just how to use Hootsuite’s scheduling tool. An experienced social media manager will be able to articulate the rationale for these choices and why each is important.
Foster the future pros you want to hire
At my firm, amid some hiring for new positions, we’re having conversations about what we need from the future professionals we bring in—as well as our role in fostering those young people through our internship program. What do we need for today’s clients and for tomorrow’s industry shifts? One thing we know we can never have too much of are professionals with pitching chops.
Amid the ongoing shuffle of the Great Resignation, even if you’re not hiring now, you could be soon, and these questions are more relevant than ever. Taking the time to build these skills in our interns is not only an investment in their future, but also in our own firms.
Emily Wenstrom is a vice president with Stanton Communications, Inc.