ANALYSIS <b>The Agency Business</b>: Firm challenges its interns to learn about PR from experience

By assigning its interns to set up their own PR/ad agency and think of a creative pitch for a prospective client, PRACO gave these future professionals a glimpse into the PR and ad worlds.

By assigning its interns to set up their own PR/ad agency and think of a creative pitch for a prospective client, PRACO gave these future professionals a glimpse into the PR and ad worlds.

Some agencies strive to have their interns do more than just sweat over a hot photocopier. Colorado Springs, CO-based PRACO (Public Relations and Advertising Company) took a creative approach this year. It decided its interns would set up their own PR/advertising agency and spend all summer putting together a mock client pitch. That's in addition to attending to other duties, such as, yes, the photocopier. "We want our interns to come out with something tangible they can show in the future, whether it's on a job interview or to a professor or whoever," says Sue Huss, PR account supervisor. "They're making decisions, they're thinking strategically, they're thinking creatively." PRACO, which says it is the oldest and one of the largest agencies in Colorado, has 14 people in PR, seven in advertising, and five in media. One reason the project showed promise is that this year it had interns in every department: four in PR, two in media, one in account planning, and one in creative. Huss says the agency created a binder outlining the program and what would be expected as far as deliverables. The interns would have to develop a timeline of tasks and assign people to them. The client chosen (which had no involvement) was Seven Falls, a waterfall in nearby South Cheyenne Ca?on. The goals presented were to increase awareness of and visitors to the attraction. The team had to decide exactly how they thought they could do that with plans for PR, media, advertising, and marketing (including internet and direct mail). Just like with any research, they would have to back up why they were suggesting the mix. Using the initials of their own monikers, the interns named their agency JT Mac. Molly Suggs, who this year will be a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was chosen to be president and led the effort (not necessarily because she was in PR but because she was "the most organized person," Huss says). Suggs admits that at first it all seemed overwhelming. But "once we started to get a hold of everything, it just worked together," she says. Huss and two other executives met with the team weekly to review its work. The interns visited Seven Falls under various weather conditions and did other research. They developed a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis, and came up with a goal of increasing visitorship by 15% based on their approach and the mock budget ($400,000). They decided on two target audiences: Hispanics (because they are a growing market, nearby, and family oriented) and women ages 24 to 60 (because they generally are the ones to research and plan for trips). The PR would focus mainly on media relations in Colorado Springs. JT Mac developed three fundraising events that would take place at Seven Falls, aimed at attracting both media coverage and visitors. JT Mac's plan calls for $300,000 worth of print, TV, radio, and outdoor ads (PRACO asked that the creative not be revealed because Seven Falls had not seen it yet). On July 28, JT Mac made its mock new-business presentation to PRACO executives, which appears to have gone swimmingly. The agency plans to present JT Mac's ideas to Seven Falls in the autumn, after the tourism season ends. Huss says the program benefits PRACO in that the interns learn through experience things it might otherwise have to explain to them. "When we have the interns working on client work side by side with this, it helps them understand the whole scope of what we do... It just gives them a full understanding of what it's like to work at an agency, what it's like to work with a team dynamic, what it's like to work with computers that break right before the presentation." For her part, Suggs, who is a communications major and intends to go into PR, says the project has been invaluable. "On top of the project, we're still doing work in our departments for Sue and everyone else," she says. "So besides just shadowing and helping them with their work, I have my own work, and so I have the stress of my own deadline."
  • PRWeek welcomes topic ideas for future Agency Business columns. Please send them to Internship programs The following are tips from PRACO on creating a hands-on internship program:
  • Determine a budget to cover any expenses related to the project (office supplies, costs associated with research, etc.)
  • Provide a balanced workload that allows enough time for your interns to work on the project, as well as manage other responsibilities
  • Identify a mentor from each department to get involved, answer questions, and help provide direction throughout the project
  • Design your project with enough detail that will help guide the creative and development processes without giving away all the answers
  • List in detail the deliverables you expect once the project is complete (presentation, proposal, etc.)

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