PR TECHNIQUE: WORKING WITH INTERNS - Jump-starting the juniors

The days are gone when interns were kept from the phones and given

piles of photocopying. Sara Calabro discovers how extra responsibilities

can prove invaluable to both employer and intern.



In an economy where all businesses are looking to get the most out of

their staff, PR people are finding their interns to be invaluable. It is

no longer a case of agencies and corporate communications departments

giving college grads the chance to bolster their resumes in return for

their fetch-and-carry-the-coffee services. Instead they are developing

internship programs that have massive benefits for the companies

involved, and give students a real taste of working life in the PR

industry.



"It's nice to come into work and feel like you are needed, as opposed to

just waiting around for someone to give you work," says Karen Boyce, a

corporate communications major at Drexel University, who is currently

interning 20 hours a week at Dorland Sweeney & Jones. This near

70-person agency in Philadelphia is just one of many that is treating

its interns as though they are truly part of the team.



Agencies and corporate communications departments are beginning to see

interns as the future of their companies, not merely gophers that they

can pass the grunt labor off to. While a few years ago it was typical

for an intern to work for nothing, it is almost unheard of for an

internship to be unpaid these days. Examples of the essential work now

entrusted to interns include tasks such as media monitoring, writing

press releases, financial estimating, and compiling status reports. In

many cases, interns are being included in all team and client meetings,

as well as brainstorming sessions. "I feel more like a part-time

employee than an intern," says Boyce.



Along with encouraging interns to participate on account teams, many of

the major agencies offer regular classroom training to educate these

valuable helpers on the industry. At Edelman, they have instituted

"Edel-U," which is an internal training tool that the newly formalized

internship program revolves around. Interns take part in classes taught

by Edelman's full-time staff, such as "Introduction to Public

Relations," "Writing, Presentation Training," and "Building and

Maintaining Relationships." At the end of the three-month program,

interns are required to put together a mock PR campaign and present it

to senior staff.



Similarly, the summer internship program at Weber Shandwick in Boston is

called "Weber University." Jane Dolan, senior account executive, says

that upper management is always incredibly impressed with the work the

interns do for their final projects. "It is amazing to see them go from

zero to 100 in a matter of months."



Although they may not offer the same fully formalized training programs

as their larger counterparts, small PR firms and departments are also

reaping the benefits of using interns effectively. Rob Veksler is the PR

manager of Frogdesign, a global design company with five PR employees

worldwide. He feels that the work of an intern is essential. At a

smaller organization, it is necessary that interns take on much of the

administrative work, but in this type of environment, the tasks are

crucial. "There are so many things that go into running a small PR

department that an intern, if used properly, can make you and your

department look like roses." Veksler's intern is currently collecting

content for the company's online press page. He also plans to have her

contact former clients, designers within the company, and project

managers to gather testimonials on working with Frogdesign.



Competent interns are also lightening the load for HR departments and

others in charge of hiring new employees. Sharon James, director of HR

at Hill & Knowlton, encourages managers to choose qualified interns. She

believes that when the right people are brought in, internship programs

are "the cheapest and most effective recruiting tool available."



Approximately 40 interns are accepted into Hill & Knowlton's New York

program every summer, but the agency receives 600-700 applications per

year. The selection process begins in January. James believes that an

internship is a chance for employees to see if they have found a match

for a potential full-time employee. She says that an intern has a good

chance of being hired "when the chemistry works and they are already

clicking with the clients and staff." Using an internship as an

essential long-term interview is one of the most effective ways to judge

a candidate's qualifications.



Taking the best of the best and treating interns well ultimately comes

full-circle for the agencies. At Ketchum, staff members are continually

briefed on the agency's policy that interns should not be given loads of

tedious administrative work, because their time should be spent

functioning as actual account team members. This philosophy has

attracted many of the most qualified PR-bound students to Ketchum's

internship program, which made a name for itself when it produced

PRWeek's Student of the Year in 2000, Elizabeth Lundeen. Because they

were selective to begin with, the agency ended up with a stellar

performer during her internship, as well as a future account associate,

which is the role Lundeen took on at Ketchum following her

graduation.



TECHNIQUE TIPS



Dos

1 Do take your time reviewing possible intern's qualifications. Use this

great recruiting tool by screening candidates thoroughly



2 Do offer regular training workshops or classroom seminars to

continually update and educate interns about the industry



3 Do sit down with interns on a regular basis to discuss why the work

they are doing is important, and how it fits into the larger picture



Donts

1 Don't overestimate your intern's capabilities. Remember they are not

full-time workers. Their experience is limited



2 Don't feel bad giving interns some administrative work. Such tasks are

necessary for all employees to do their jobs efficiently. It's par for

the course



3 Don't ignore questions from interns because you are too busy. The more

informed and content interns are, the more valuable they will become.



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