Nicole Rodrigues

A PR Internship Should Prepare You for the Real World

By: Nicole Rodrigues | June 30, 2016 | 
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A PR Internship Should Prepare You for the Real World

So, you just graduated with a degree in finance or fashion, and you are ready to break ground and launch your own firm or clothing line.

Congratulations!

Great job!

The thousands of dollars you spent and hours you toiled away for that degree should have fully prepared you as a professional, right?

Wrong.

At least, not at as an expert or executive.

Not quite yet.

Many times in the modern education system, when you go to a university or specialized school to study a specific industry (such as public relations), you are taught the history and theory of that industry.

You learn about why it came to be and how it can be useful, but you don’t always get an opportunity to get the hands-on experience that is actually needed in order to be a true professional.

If there is one thing I have learned through my experiences of interviewing and employing millennials who went to college for public relations, marketing, communications or any other major that PR pros can come from, it’s this: It’s one thing to have earned a degree by learning about an industry; it’s another thing entirely to actually put those theories into practice.

It Starts With a PR Internship

This starts with a PR internship.

In the current corporate climate, many major firms and big corporations will invite college students to work as interns who fetch their coffee, walk their dog, or take out the trash.

That’s NOT what PR is.

That’s not how it works and definitely not what it’s all about.

If you are a business owner and want someone to do those tasks, hire a personal assistant.

But do not do the students who are interested in pursuing real careers in PR the disservice of having them run around doing personal errands.

It is our responsibility, as employers, to prime them to be great professionals.

It is irresponsible for agency owners to look at their staff as disposable in that way.

While the fault for an errand-running PR internship lies on the person who hired and managed the intern, not on the intern themselves, there are a few things the prospective intern can do beforehand to ensure their time and energy will be utilized in properly training them:

  • Research the company’s culture, stance on teaching, testimonials, and job descriptions
  • During the interview, ask, “What is going to be expected of me in this internship?”
  • If they say, “Run some errands, take out the mail, drop off product…” RUN. Do not work for that company. You learned how to take out the trash as a teenager. You don’t need extra experience in that.

They are setting you up for failure.

Those internships do not help anyone.

All they will have done, when you start applying for the entry-level PR position of account coordinator, is make you unqualified.

What You Should Know After Your PR Internship

When you finish your PR internship, you should already know how to create a valuable media list, how to properly research journalists and bloggers, how to compose a personalized pitch, and how to write a catchy news release.

As an intern, I was extremely fortunate in that I was given real work to do.

I was asked to create real lists, to call out real data, and to draft and edit real pitches and news releases.

By the time I graduated college, I rolled into an account coordinator position, ready to rock, and I was able to move up quickly because I had that prime foundation.

I spent 13 years earning my wings and working my way up to vice president level.

Only then was I able to open up an agency (and make it an award-winning agency in less than two years).

And while money is on everyone’s mind, the experience is more valuable than the first few paychecks in the long run.

Short-term Pain Becomes Long-term Gain

I left a salaried job as an account coordinator to go backwards again and intern for the Oakland Raiders for three months while I was a young mom with real bills. I didn’t come from money.

But I knew what it was going to take to pay it forward.

That short-term pain turned into LONG-TERM gain.

Two different, real internships and then real entry-level positions in technology (when I started) then into consumer/sports (with the Raiders) created the perfect blend of tech and consumer that laid the foundation for where my agency is today.

All other positions in my future had a blend of both and I tightened all those skills for years to come.

For college students, just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you should immediately begin earning top-dollar in PR, especially if your PR internship didn’t prime you for that position.

You really do need to take the opportunity to learn what it is really like to write a meaningful list of media, to have done your due diligence in researching those contacts and learning how to pitch those people.

It takes experience to know the smart questions to ask and the smart decisions to make on behalf of your clients.

If industry professionals roll their eyes when you tell them you plan on opening your own firm right out of college (often without first knowing what an account coordinator up to vice president is expected to do), they do not do so to dissuade your passion, but to emphasize the actual learning curve required to run a successful business capable of growth.

There are certain expectations of people in the PR industry, and if you don’t know what they are, you then become the irresponsible business owner.

My Best Advice to College Graduates

  • Don’t open up your own PR firm right away. Go learn. It’s not going to hurt you.
  • Choose a PR internship that will teach you how to do the real work of an account coordinator. You need to learn how to pitch from the very beginning of your career. That is the bread and butter of what we do. If you have a solid foundation of learning that from your very first entry point into PR, you will continue to grow and tighten that muscle.
  • Don’t be too proud or entitled. Understanding PR requires full-time attention to detail. If you can’t take a non-paid PR internship, take whatever paycheck they can give you. If they are only offering minimum wage, suck it up and make it work. Michael Jordan always said, “If I cared about the money, I would’ve complained about being underpaid a long time ago.”
  • Work so hard at your PR internship that you leave them no choice but to hire you.

Sometimes you just need to put in the time to earn the real experience that will pay off in the long run.

If you make sacrifices early in your career, what you will gain is the knowledge, portfolio and work ethic that will make you indispensable.

Trust me, when an intern or employee goes above and beyond to turn around work that is invaluable, employers will find money to give to that person.

image credit: shutterstock

About Nicole Rodrigues


Nicole is the CEO and founder of NRPR Group. She’s a seasoned publicist and social media marketing pro who loves helping individuals and businesses define their brands, and effectively network themselves both on and offline. When she’s not working, networking or spending time on social media channels, she golfs, watches sports, movies, and as much TV/Hulu/Netflix/YouTube as possible.

  • Corina Manea

    Sound advice for anyone looking to start a career in PR.

    Focusing on doing the best work you can, instead of a paycheck is something I did my entire career.

    I am not saying you shouldn’t be paid for the work you do, but you should focus on learning as much as possible. Keep in mind you are building a career.

  • Great advice! I coordinated the internship program at Fordham University 89-92, and had a failed internship myself prior to that when I was getting my graduate degree. There are so many things I would do differently in the Fordham situation, knowing what I know now. Great piece!

  • Gini Dietrich

    Hello my gorgeous friend! You would be very proud of my team. We have an intern starting on Wednesday and they have a welcome letter for her. It has two sections: What she can expect to learn and what we expect from her. In the latter section, it’s things such as ask questions and don’t be afraid to offer your opinion.

    I do, however, think they should add in, “Get Gini a skinny latte every day.”

  • I think internships are wonderful opportunities for young people to get a leg up in their chosen industry, see text book principals in action, and learn, learn, learn. Having said that, I have trouble with agencies (not just PR, but marketing, advertising etc.) asking people to work for free.

    If the internship is part of a school program where the work is part of the curriculum (nurses, for example, are required to do rotations and pass evaluations in several facilities before graduating), that’s one thing. But if the internship is post-graduation and the agency is simply test-driving a potential employee for “free”, I feel that’s unethical. It may be common practice, but I don’t think it’s right.

    Many kids coming out of school are facing a mountain of debt that they have to start paying upon graduation. Asking grads to work for free in a demanding job that prohibits them from earning anything elsewhere does two things: (1) puts them deeper in debt (or unable to make rent); or (2) prohibits them from accepting the opportunity, hence, making internships only available to those with alternative means of financial support.

    Hiring is expensive and risky, I know. But not paying for someone’s time and effort is just wrong – it shifts the burden to the graduate. You’re asking them to pay for their own training with no recourse should that training/experience come up short.

    Your advice to young people choosing internships, is spot on. Do not choose a bad working environment if you can possibly avoid it – do the homework to check out all the things listed in this post. Any employment situation is a two-way street. Make sure you are sharing the road with people willing to obey the rules so you don’t get run over.

  • Nicole Rodrigues

    For sure! Hard work always pays off, whether you’re paid in money or you get the experience that will prep you for future ops. Glad you liked the advice.

  • Nicole Rodrigues

    THANK YOU! Glad you liked it.

  • Nicole Rodrigues

    HAHAHAH! Gini, you are amazing!! I’d get you a latte every day if I was your intern, just to make you happy. YOU ROCK!

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