Interns … The Present and the Future of Public Relations

A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA

Hazlett_KirkcA recent article in the Boston Globe Magazine caught my attention for a combination of right and wrong reasons. Sporting the title “The Revolt of the Unpaid Intern,” the piece struck me as a somewhat “breathless” condemnation of internship programs in general. The front-page photo of a hapless “intern” schlepping coffee and an armful of papers for filing didn’t help.

I was motivated to fire off a letter to the editor presenting my own opinion of (a) the article itself and (b) the internship concept from my perspective as faculty supervisor for a half-dozen or so Public Relations interns at Curry College each semester. Whether the Globe sees fit to publish my protestation remains to be seen.

All my snarking aside, this commentary did serve a purpose, I believe. It definitely reminded me and, hopefully others, of the potential that interns represent and of our responsibilities as their professional guides.

They are often a welcome addition to a busy office. They are willing and eager to take on the seemingly mundane but oh-so-important-to-our-efforts tasks of curating news clips and updating media lists among other chores. And, as they demonstrate their budding abilities as writers and editors, they pound out first drafts of releases and other materials that can then be fine-tuned by other, more experienced, staffers.

Not every experience with an intern works as planned…I’ve had a couple derail over the years. But that’s life … not every permanent hire works out as planned either.

However…and this, to me, is the important part…when things do work out and the intern shows his or her potential to become a contributing member of a team, it’s a “win-win” for all. The intern gets that valued extra step up in the job search rat race; the employer gets a new professional primed and ready to dive productively into the pool.

The article did raise one significant and perceptually negative issue…that of interns working for “free” and doing jobs that other…permanent…employees would be paid to do.

There are arguments on both sides of this matter…some say that interns should receive at least minimum wage for the work they are doing; others contend that academic credit and “free” job training are payment enough. The Public Relations Society of America has issued its own guidance to help clear the air.

I fall into a third camp…I support and encourage the concept of payment for services rendered (my own internship back in the Dark Ages with the US Army was paid), but I will not discourage one of my students from applying for an unpaid internship if the skills and knowledge that he or she would be gaining mean a better chance of securing full-time employment after graduation based on those skills and that knowledge.

The bottom line for me is just this … our colleges are doing a decent job of teaching future PR practitioners the basics of the profession … the history, the theory, the rudimentary tactics and techniques.

But real-time, real-life experience in the workplace is vital. “The book says…” doesn’t cut it.

So the present when it comes to interns is that today they are dipping their toes tentatively into the churning waters of our profession and deserve our wholehearted support. What are you doing to ensure that the future will pass into well-trained, capable hands?

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a Member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.