Agencies prize diversity in competitive race for interns

With summer fast approaching, agencies, such as Edelman [pictured], and brands are ironing out the last details of their PR internship programs for this year.

With summer fast approaching, agencies and brands are ironing out the last details of their PR internship programs for this year. While the competition for interns – and prospective future employees – is as intense as ever, brands and agencies say they are also working to include an ethnically diverse range of students and recent graduates.
 
Ogilvy Public Relations selected 10 students for a 10-week, full-time program in New York that pays $12 per hour. The agency makes sure it has a diverse staff of interns, in terms of both gender and ethnic background, by working with its in-house diversity team, said Megha Pandit, HR manager at Ogilvy.
 
“We work directly with our diversity and inclusion group in our recruitment of our interns,” she explained. “There are a few targeted schools, and we also open it up to the entire country and even the world when possible.”
 
Pandit added that Ogilvy views its interns as prospective future employees, so it gives them “a good look at agency life” by putting them on various projects, having them meet employees, and teaching them to multitask. The firm's HR department also stays in touch with former interns once they return to school.
 
Edelman, which received nearly 1,000 applications for its New York internship program for this summer, generally accepts 25 to 35 recent graduates or college seniors, said HR coordinator Cheryl Silverbrand.
 
It allows its interns to choose between a $10-an-hour salary and earning college credit. Nearly 90% of candidates select the paid option.
 
Diversity is also key for Edelman, which usually hires 75% to 85% of its interns, said HR manager Lisa Sahliyeh. The agency has close relationships with a few historically black colleges such as Howard University, and it also works with veteran groups and ethnic minority organizations, she added.
 
“We look at diversity in terms of experiences and also in racial and ethnic diversity, which has been something that advertising and PR has historically struggled with,” said Sahliyeh. “We've definitely had increases in those numbers. We're really looking at how to change the way the industry is looked at.”

A study conducted earlier this year by Wanted Analytics, a staffing business-intelligence provider for companies, found that the number of job ads for PR specialist interns was up 174.3% compared with 2011. It ranked the demand for PR professionals ahead of Web developers, computer system engineers, market research analysts, and computer programmers.
 
PepsiCo selects 14 college juniors for paid PR and marketing internships in Dallas, Chicago, and New York, said Lisa Ashworth, the company's campus recruiting director. The food and beverage giant also gives students a signing bonus to help with relocation costs.
 
Ashworth said the company views interns as a “source of talent for full-time employees,” rather than “summer help.” PepsiCo offers successful interns jobs by Labor Day at the beginning of their senior year because of fierce competition between companies for young talent.
 
“More companies are going on campus for the best talent,” she said. “So to be competitive, we have to get that talent early and we need to be able to give offers early.”
 
The Purchase, NY-based company also partners with organizations such as Management Leadership for Tomorrow, a career-development group for minorities, to ensure it has a diverse group of interns.
 
While Major League Baseball's communications department only has up to three paid interns in the non-summer months and as many as five in the summer, VP of business PR Matt Bourne works to ensure it has a mix of male and female students on staff from across the country.
 
“We like to have a team that complements one another across the board,” he explained. “That means having people from different parts of the country, both male and female, different ethnicities, and people with varying backgrounds in terms of what their experience is and what their interests are.”  The program also helps the league learn from young individuals, who “tend to be more on the cutting edge” of digital and social trends, noted Bourne.
 
Carmichael Lynch Spong only brings on two paid interns in the summer, fall, and spring in its New York and Minneapolis offices, but it hires the vast majority of its interns full-time, said Julie Batliner, MD of the agency. The firm looks for interns who have already graduated from college, she adds.
 
“We try to get interns who have already had some sort of internship experience,” she explained. “The reason for that is we hire the majority of our interns and really view them as people who are getting to know us as we're getting to know them.”
 
Similarly, CPG giant Procter & Gamble uses its PR and marketing internship programs to find top talent that will become full-time staff.
 
“The interns we are bringing in, we look at them as a pipeline to full time,” said Scott Isenhart, senior HR manager at P&G, who added that about 60% of its interns become full-time employees. Like PepsiCo, it also offers many job opportunities before they begin their senior year in college and it visits a wide range of campuses and diversity conferences to shore up its intern team.
 
However, companies also have to be careful to ensure they stay on the right side of state laws when hiring interns. Paying them helps to do so, noted Nicole Blake, talent and training manager at Carmichael.
 
“When an intern is unpaid, there are a lot of risks involved, so when you do pay an intern, it's a lot easier,” she said. “When [an intern] is unpaid, you have to make sure he or she is not coming in and taking the spot of someone who would be paid normally, and there are a lot of other things you have to be cautious of. All of the internships I've heard about on the PR side are paid, so that is shifting.”

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