Interview: Enhancing your #PR Internship Program

I recently met Ruth Bazinet, director of media relations and social media in the Office of Public Affairs at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. When we were on Twitter discussing a #PRStudChat mentoring project, Ruth sent over information on her PR internship program that really caught my eye.  The program was full of wonderful in office and remote opportunities for their interns, with incredible guidance and mentoring along the way.

I asked Ruth to answer a few questions for me. I thought the interview would provide professionals with ideas on how they can enhance their internship programs, and also show students what to look for when reviewing internship opportunities.

Here’s my Q&A with Ruth:

Q. You mentioned to me that one of the first things you say to students when they begin their internships is that you want them to “completely fail while working with you.” How do you help them to move beyond “failure” to success.

A. Students coming into our program understand that they will be doing real work and will be held accountable for meeting deadlines and completing projects. They realize this is their chance to make mistakes now “when the stakes aren’t so high.” When a mistake is made, the student is immediately alerted and we discuss what should have been done differently to avoid it in the future. We sometimes walk through alternate scenarios to see the issue at all angles. Since we carefully select our interns, most of the time they are very quick learners and develop at a steady pace. Those that are not able to do that are given more manageable tasks. Offering challenges suitable to the intern’s ability at that time will give them a rich experience from which everyone benefits.

Q. In your opinion, what makes your internship program different than other program for students?

A. Our PR intern program is not only intended to help provide students with a growth opportunity during the semester but also after they leave the program. They are also given opportunities to work directly with the media.

Q. Are there any requirements for students who want to participate in your program?

A.  Interns must be full-time undergraduate students. A prior internship is not necessary but we do prefer communications students who are interested in pursuing a career in public relations. Students who are motivated and articulate stand out fast.

Q. What do you think are the most valuable learning experiences for students when they participate in an internship program?

A. I speak individually with interns before entering our program to see what they wish to gain from the experience. There may be a particular industry they are looking to enter – like sports or technology – and we try to present opportunities for them to get that direct experience. However, there are also overarching learning lessons we want each intern to gain while in our office. Understanding basic business etiquette, media pitching, solid research skills (including building media lists and story background checks) and using social media for business are some of the most practical skills they can acquire.

The two most valuable experiences we want them to gain during the internship is to understand whether public relations is the right career for them and how to land their next job/internship should they choose to proceed. Taking the next step and helping the intern move ahead (rather than the what-can-you-do-for-me attitude) will not only strengthen the reputation of the intern program but will also build a strong professional network that benefits both the intern and the organization.

Q. What advice would you give to other professionals and organizations looking to set up an internship program for students?

A. Any organization interested in establishing an internship program needs to understand that there must be a sufficient commitment of resources and time in order to succeed. We update our reference documents each semester, hold training sessions throughout the year and meet with our interns regularly to discuss their progress. An office should definitely consider whether they have time to consistently invest in their intern program before initiating a program.

Additionally, be sure to list your program with the career offices of local colleges. Getting to know the career center director and communications professors helps secure strong candidates. I have found some really great interns using Twitter as well. The intelligent use of social media is a nice indicator of how they may interact with reporters and staff, and reveals their level of professionalism and motivation.

A little more about Ruth Bazinet:

As the Director of Media Relations and Social Media at Roger Williams University (RWU), Ruth Bazinet brings nearly a decade of experience in public relations and marketing to help share the university’s story with the world.

Prior to joining RWU in 2010, Ruth was a public relations consultant with a high-tech and higher education focus. While in this role, she successfully pitched product launches, corporate news and trend stories on behalf of her clients. In 2009 she was part of the small team that helped a fresh startup become Silicon Alley Insider’s Startup of the Year. In addition to her high-tech and higher education client base, Ruth also represented one of the largest vacuum metallizers in the world.