Tag Archives: interns

What makes a good PR internship?

INTERNS (1)Not all PR internships are created equal.  Some PR firms, and in-house comms teams, offer really fabulous internship experiences for students and graduates but there are others that are really below par and a disappointing experience for the intern.  I imagine they don’t add much value to the company either.  So here’s my quick and easy guide to offering a really solid PR internship for PR employers.

Why are you doing it?
What are you hoping to get out of offering interns experience?  Some firms like to use it as a tester before they hire junior staff, some feel that it’s their responsibility to help grow good talent for the industry so do it because they think they should, and some are really busy and need extra pairs of hands to help and interns are a good short-term gap fill for that.  All of those reasons are really valid, but you need to make it clear when hiring interns what your reasons are and whether there is any real prospect of a permanent role (or the opportunity to apply for one) at the end of the placement.

Should you pay interns?
The short answer is, yes.  Interns should be paid at least minimum wage by law* although it seems some companies haven’t quite grasped that idea.  Be aware that HMRC are clamping down on employers who don’t pay interns and there can be a hefty fine involved if your company is found to be employing them for less than they are legally entitled to.  Travel and expenses is not enough I’m afraid – they need to be paid properly. Both the CIPR and PRCA have campaigned for properly paid PR interns and it can affect your membership of both organisations if it’s found you are taking on unpaid workers.

*The exceptions to this is if they are volunteering to work for a charity with no benefits in kind (so no promise of a job at the end of it, for example), if they are undertaking a student placement for less than a year or if they are purely shadowing an employee – that means not working for the company at all and only observing.

How long should internships be?
This is pretty much up to you but I would suggest that anything less than a month is a bit of a waste of time for both parties.  It takes that long to really get used to doing a job and so for them to be useful to you, and for them to actually learn anything, three to six months is probably a better length of service.

How do you find the best interns?
Social media is your friend here.  There are lots of students and graduates constantly looking for PR experience so using your Facebook and Twitter accounts is a good first step.  The hashtag #PRjobs is also a useful tool on that front, you can advertise your internship on PR Job Watch – my PR recruitment Facebook page with 7,000 members for FREE and Future Rising is also currently free to use.

You should also consider using the university job boards as many of them are free to use as long as you are paying at least minimum wage.  Creative Opportunities from the University of the Arts London is a particularly good one.  There are also a couple of paid job boards worth considering; Media Argh charge only £30 so that’s definitely worth a punt.  The Guardian online can get some good results but at £480 for a week is a bit ouchie on the price side and PR Week is similarly expensive unless you already advertise loads with them in which case I suspect you’d be able to negotiate a deal.

If you’re looking to improve your company’s ethnic diversity you can also send your internships and entry-level job role details to me and I’ll pass them on to the alumni network of the Taylor Bennett Foundation and encourage them to apply.  We don’t charge a fee to hire one of our alumni, but we do ask that you make an appropriate donation to the charity should you take one on.

Ask for something specific during the recruitment process – 400 words on why they want to work there, a one minute video selling themselves, a campaign idea for a particular brand, proof of their social media prowess etc – it’ll weed out the applicants who just apply for everything and will make it easier to identify those candidates who really are committed to the industry.

What do you expect?
It’s important that you set expectations with your interns from day one and that includes very basic instructions like the hours they should work (and is it actually okay for them to walk out the door at 5.30 or is there an unwritten rule that everyone stays until the manager says to go… make it clear), what to do if they’re ill, what they should do if they’re going to miss a deadline, what they should wear (this sounds obvious but it worries many interns), when they should take a lunch break, are there confidentiality issues and non disclosure agreements in place, if they have a late meeting out of the office which finishes at 4pm are they expected to come back to work afterwards, should they contribute during brainstorming meetings or just be there to observe, if they speak to a client how should they introduce themselves and so on.

Making these things clear from the outset means that both of you are aware where you stand.  You should also keep in mind that for many interns this may be their first and only experience of working in a professional environment and so they will inevitably make mistakes.  This is the whole point of interning – better to make mistakes then than when they go into their first permanent role.  Be prepared to make allowances and let them learn from those errors – although making them more than once means they don’t listen very well.

What should interns do?
This is an interesting question and of course the answer will vary from company to company.  As a rule of thumb you should treat them as a trainee account exec/press officer.  The whole point of the internship from their point of view is to find out what it’s like to work in the industry and so that means doing an entry-level role as much as possible.  You might want to task them with a particular project that they can concentrate on for the entire length of the placement, which they can work on in between the daily tasks they’ll be given.  This will also mean there’s less chance of them sitting around bored when there’s not much for them to do.

It’s also a good idea to give them some training or induction of some sort.  The graduates I speak to about their internships mostly complained that they didn’t mind doing the junior work, but it would have been useful to know why they were doing it.  If you can spare someone to give an overview of the company, the clients and campaigns and why junior work is vital to the running of the team that would be helpful.  It also might be a good idea for them to fill in daily timesheets or write a daily blog so that at the end of the internship, you can use those to help them write about the experience on their CV.

It’s also okay to ask them to make tea and coffee – just as long as you’re prepared to make them one too.

Who should manage interns?

You might use taking on interns as an opportunity for your most junior staff to manage someone and that’s absolutely fine, there’s nothing wrong with that otherwise how will they learn?  But it’s a good idea to have some back up management plan in place to help guide your AEs when managing interns and to make them aware of what is expected both of them, and of the intern.

What happens after the internship?
Some firms use internships as a kind of ‘try before you buy’ scheme to see if any of the interns really shine and stand out as solid performers.  It’s not a good idea to promise a job at the start of an internship but the opportunity to apply for one, if available, will be a good incentive to get committed people on board.  Increasingly though, companies might offer internships with no intention of hiring one and that’s fine too.  In that case, it’s still a good idea to find a way to keep in touch with your intern alumni regularly – even if they go off to work for a competing firm you may decide once they have a couple of years of experience that you’d like to try and hire them so it’s best to remain on good terms with them and touch base regularly.  If they had a brilliant internship experience with you there’s every chance that they’ll want to work for you in the future and that opportunity might be many years down the line.

 

 

 

 

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Video CVs – are they the future?

In an era of high-levels of youth unemployment, sensible graduates are trying to find ways to stand out from the crowd. Are video CVs the way forward?It may be much easier to be persuasive if you can talk to an employer rather than just send a cover letter, so it might be a great way to get noticed. A couple of years ago I featured this CVIV from Graeme Anthony (he then went on to secure himself a job at a PR agency so it did the trick)

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What skills do you need to run a PR internship?

2012 is turning out to be quite a year.  Not only will the Taylor Bennett Foundation be running four PR internships, and increasing the intake from six graduates on each programme to eight but also, rather inconveniently, I am having a baby.

It was a planned pregnancy.  Well, planned in that we have been trying to conceive for nearly five years with no luck, but I never really had expected it to happen and so in terms of when the baby is due to make an appearance, it was not diarised.

For anyone who knows me well, you will realise that this has caused me endless sleepless nights.  My role at the Foundation is completely unique.  I have never met anyone who does my job elsewhere and so I take great pains to make sure I am not away on holiday when the internships are running so that someone else doesn’t have to take on tasks they never imagined they’d have to.  I never imagined, therefore, that I would be taking four months maternity leave in the middle of the year and leaving my precious interns in the hands of someone new.

The baby has been warned that it must appear on its due date of May 5th as to be early would be disastrous and to be late will mean mummy will be cross.  My friends have scoffed at the idea of a child who follows my spreadsheet but it will have to learn pretty quickly I tell you.

The question of who will manage the internship programmes while I am away is still up in the air.  We’ve had a few ideas but the decision of who takes over is down to the Foundation’s trustees so I have my fingers crossed they will go with my first choice.

Whoever it is will have to take on a bewildering array of tasks.  I have been running these programmes for two years now and I had never quite grasped the variety of things I do on a day to day basis.  To ease the cover person into the role, I have started compiling a “Guide to Running the Taylor Bennett Foundation Internships”.  It is twenty pages so far and I’m only up to what to do to recruit the interns and how to settle them in on their first week.

I am very lucky in that I love my role.  It is challenging, interesting and can be very rewarding, but it demands of me some unusual skills.

So, for those of you who fancy running such a scheme here are just some of the more random things you’ll be tasked with:

–          Make sure the interns understand how to change a toilet roll (no one likes going into the loo to find that the last roll has been used and not replaced)

–          Ensure you’re up to date with popular culture so as not to seem a million years old (I am 37 so to the average 22 year old I am ancient) and, if running an internship focussed on fashion PR, be clear in your understanding that Paul’s Boutique bags are chavvy and Mulberry are not

–          Be clear when giving instructions.  Graduates are used to pages of academic instructions with little room for interpretation.  If your directions aren’t clear, they’ll go off piste

–          When giving them career advice think about it from their mum’s point of view.  If it’s not advice you’d give your own child, it’s bad advice

–          Bring them cake.  Homemade is best, but if you’re six month’s pregnant and can’t be arsed to bake then Krispy Kremes also go down well

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Why be a PR mentor?

Mentor

Since 2008, Taylor Bennett has set out to address the lack of ethnic diversity in the PR industry with an innovative PR training and internship programme.  For ten weeks, six black and minority ethnic graduates are given intensive PR training, work-based experience  and career guidance.  They also get to meet industry professionals from a range of in-house, agency and media organisations.  It is a fabulous scheme and in 2010 it won the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award for Social Inclusion , which we are very proud of.   Previous participants have already started successful careers in communications in firms which include Edelman, Brunswick, Cantos, Racepoint Group, MS&L, Freud, Talk PR, London Thames Gateway, Macbeth Media Relations and the Olympic Legacy Company.  The success of the scheme means that by the end of 2011, nearly 50 graduates will have passed through the programme and that leaves us with a dilemma.

Until now, we have offered each of the interns personal career guidance, not only while they’re on the programme, but as they enter their careers and beyond.  However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this.  We are a small organisation and while I adore all our interns, there are not enough hours in the day for me to run the programme, and to continue to support them regularly once they leave us.   So, we are appealing to the PR community to step forward and act as mentors to these graduates – not only as they embark on their first PR roles, but throughout the lifetime of their careers.

Several PR practitioners have already put their hands up for this opportunity.  We try to partner the mentors with grads we think will get the most out of their advice, and then ask that they try to meet up once a month for coffee to discuss their career aspirations.  The rest of the time they are available by phone and email to answer questions and offer advice.  We hope therefore that it is not too time-intensive, but that it gives the grads someone to turn to when they have a career question or issue.

Mentoring can be very rewarding.  It gives you the opportunity to see a mentee progress and grow as a person.  It also allows you to develop your management and training skills.  Which gives you the chance to self-reflect – making sure that you regularly audit your own skills and professional development. It should also enrich your working experience.  By keeping tabs on what junior people in the industry are up to, it enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s new and should enhance your professional image.

For the mentees, it helps them to develop those all important networking skills and to gain a different perspective on how the profession works.  It should give them confidence to speak to people more senior than them, teach them how to work towards goals, and give them experience of handling constructive criticism.  In turn we hope that this will fire up their enthusiasm for the industry and inspire them to apply for jobs, and then develop their communications careers.

Our current mentors are:

Lisa Quinn, Taylor Bennett
Lily Lazarevski, Cut Communications
Nicky Rudd, Padua Communications
Nina Arnott, McDonalds
Sharon Chan, Consolidated PR
Magda Bulska, CHA
Howard Jones, CC Group
Chris McCafferty, Kaper PR

 

We are currently on the hunt for seven more mentors.  Ideally you will have experience in the following sectors, but we are very open to anyone who has an interest in volunteering. 

Fashion/beauty
Financial PR
Consumer
Digital
Charity
Professional services (particularly law)

You don’t need to be particularly senior, although you’re very welcome if you are, but ideally should have some experience of managing junior members of staff.

If you would like to volunteer as a mentor, please email sarah@taylorbennettfoundation.org

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