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How to Have A Great PR Intern Program

A wave of mild panic is sweeping over public relations agencies all over the land this week as this year’s crop of summer interns prepares to go back to school. These student employees add value and voice to all PR teams, and we hope they reap as many benefits as we do. We always want to improve the intern experience, so we interviewed some of our best and brightest and we’re already using the following takeaways to enhance next summer’s program.

Don’t fence me in. If you already have a rigid gameplan for a student intern, be prepared to trash it. The first few days spent getting to know each other can unearth interests and skills that, when allowed to blossom, enrich the experience for everyone. We’ve had interns with a wide range of passions, from politics to art, which proved very useful to some of their work — and, no, it’s not just about Snapchat. Your intern may be a beer geek, an art maven, or a whiz at editing smartphone videos. Be prepared to be flexible, and be amazed.

Come from a place of yes. When one summer’s team of interns banded together and came to ask if they could write a new business plan for a potential account, we didn’t hesitate. The experience gained by collaborating and exercising creative and strategic muscles was important for the interns and the work product was useful. The best part? The group didn’t miss a beat on any of their existing assignments.

No need to coddle. Despite what you may have heard about Gen Y, our experience shows the cohort to be a hearty bunch, eager to take on challenges. If you’ve done a good job vetting candidates and setting expectations, your student interns are more than ready to thrive under pressure. Pile on varied work assignments and see “what sticks.” Test those waters again and again and watch the work and work ethic improve.

Treat their recommendations seriously. With the millennial generation on target to best the Baby Boomers, that’s a force to be reckoned with.  Translated into the workaday world, this means the PR student intern can be a font of fresh information for press releases, pitches, media outlets and more. Take advantage of this youthful bunch to make your pitches more relevant.

Always add stretch goals. Our goal with most interns is to help them learn the basics of work-life in a PR environment. The tasks usually include research, media monitoring and list building with some “shadowing” of client and media meetings. But we also try to figure out an intern’s particular strength and set a goal for something more to master by the time the summer’s gone. For one of this year’s interns, it was to be part planning and executing a special event. For another, it was to develop a media strategy for a partnership announcement.  The most satisfying outcome of his experience? As this intern was packing up to leave today, he said his “career path was clear” and PR was it!

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