How interns should be treated in PR
Date: 27 September 2012 10:37
One of the main issues for interns is whether or not they should expect payment. Tom Hawkins, head of the PRCA Intern Campaign, is adamant that they should get at least the National Minimum Wage (NMW), he adds: “This is not just a moral, but a legal obligation under NMW legislation, which states that all ‘workers’ in the UK that are older than the compulsory school leaving age have an entitlement to be paid at least NMW“. Although many organisations avoid paying interns by claiming that they are not workers but volunteers, Hawkins believes interns are not volunteering, or performing work experience for two to three weeks, but working as part of a team, usually for a couple of months.
CIPR’s CEO Jane Wilson also says interns should receive at least NMW: “If there is no budget to pay a participant then the CIPR strongly recommends that applicants are sourced through universities or colleges where placements are a compulsory part of a course. This commitment to payment will help to open up the PR profession to the highest quality participants who otherwise may not have been able to access such valuable work opportunities.”
As well as payment, interns should get the chance to learn valuable skills. As PRCA’s Hawkins says: “As interns are members of the team, they should not be treated merely as the tea boy/girl. The best internships deliver real value to the employer and the intern. A clear structure should be in place for the intern to provide valuable support for campaigns and projects, and gain useful hands-on experience at the same time.”
Discussing in practice how companies should best treat interns, Maxine Ambrose, joint managing partner at PR agency Ambrose Communications, has found after having worked with various PR interns over the years, that you must strike a balance between showing them the “real world” – in other words, that PR involves a lot of boring hard graft including making the coffee and doing the sandwich run – while also providing a clear learning path. She explains: “We need to nurture bright young talent as much as possible and not deter them from joining the PR industry. A great way to do this is to create a few rewarding and challenging projects that they can fit around the working day and deadlines. Interns have the benefit of not being sucked into the daily treadmill yet, so they are ideally placed to apply some fresh thinking that look at processes, tools, training or techniques to help the whole team.“
For the last 18 months freelance communications consultant Samantha Howard has been working with US universities advising and helping their students find internships in London. In this time Howard has placed around 30 students in media and PR roles. She believes that a fair company invests and develops skills; provides a structured programme; and offers regular feedback and objectives. She admits, however, that in the more glamorous sectors, interns may have to be more flexible: “Some sectors, mainly the sexy ones like entertainment and fashion, have more low-end tasks than the drier end of the scale like healthcare and corporate – but it’s been my experience that the quality of the internship is more dependent on the quality of the intern, regardless of sector, or agency size. “
In other words, it is up to the intern to a large extent how successful a placement will be. Howard gives this advice for interns looking to gain the most from their experience: “For the first couple of weeks you have to knuckle down and show character and goodwill – no job is too small and all jobs need to be executed with competence some value add and a chirpy smile. Once those around you can see you have what it takes then the internship often becomes what you make of it. I’ve been really impressed with some of the opportunities that interns have been given, across the board. Securing a PR internship is just as competitive as finding a full-time role, if you manage to get one, then go in hungry and humble and use the opportunity to learn and shine.”