Interns are expected to do many things for their organizations. They, in turn, expect an opportunity to learn.
The best internships have always helped individuals learn new skills and consider future career paths while providing businesses with inexpensive, useful labor. After all, most interns don't get more than a small stipend, and many receive only college credit. So the stereotype of interns fetching coffee just doesn't fit at most agencies; interns would otherwise be wasting their time.
Dan Baum, CEO of DBC PR, says one benefit that interns bring to the firms these days is that they arrive with social media and Internet skills surpassing many communications professionals decades older than them.
“This generation is certainly a lot different from previous [ones],” he adds. “One of our interns was working at the media lab at his college before he came to us, so we put him right to work with clients. Some interns are coming in with a skill set that some people applying for VP jobs don't, but I wish they did.”
However, RLF Communications' account supervisor Stephanie Skordas, who helps manage the interns, says the interns at her firm don't usually know more about new media than the permanent staffers. In fact, when an agency representative spoke to a communications class at a local college, just two of the approximately 50 students had heard of Twitter.
But certainly interns, if they don't know new media already, get to learn about it, as well as other aspects of communications, through “boot camps” that are a common feature of many agency internships.
At APCO Worldwide, interns work with regular clients, but also must participate in a mock client pitch competition, employment manager Jessica Lee says. Finding interns with knowledge of public affairs – APCO's prime focus – is a challenge, she explains, because many communications majors automatically assume consumer PR is more interesting.
Given the international and often political nature of APCO clients, that's simply not the case, Lee says, and interns often find that what they learn can lead to a promising career: Of the 15 to 20 interns APCO employs per semester, at least one is usually hired as a permanent staff member.
“Even though it's hard to find people with backgrounds in public affairs, the crop we do end up bringing on board is a great breeding pool to hire from,” Lee says.
Spectrum Science Communications' account manager Emily Butler is a former intern herself and now helps manage the program. She says interns must at least possess an interest in science to be considered, adding that her firm's internships also lead to full-time jobs.
Despite the economic downturn, agencies say they are not necessarily seeing as increased interest as a result of a tighter job market. That could change soon, though, DBC's Baum says.
The best PR agency intern programs have always provided substantive work to participants
Many firms run interns through “boot camps” and seminars that include mock client pitches judged by agency leaders
Interns often get hired permanently, and the tightening job market might prompt greater interest