Sunday, December 7, 2008

How To Get The Most From Your PR Internship

I'm making my first 'how to' post all about how to get the most from your PR internship.  When I was in college, I was very fortunate to land multiple internships to help me broaden my professional experience and my skills. 

We've all heard why internships are important. Some firms have strong structured intern programs, while others have more loose informal programs. Regardless of how an agency's program is structured, it is important that interns make the most of their experience and leave their internship feeling enriched and enlightened.

After completing a successful internship at a small communications firm during my senior year in college, I was offered my first job that turned into a 3.5 year wonderful experience in PR, public affairs and media analysis.  

During this time, I got to serve as intern coordinator for the firm's internship program.  FWIW, here are my pointers for interns on how to get the most from your PR internship:

Be Ready:  Good internships are going to expose you to a range of opportunities.  Most internships should offer you a broad range of core PR and communication skills that you will need if you decide to pursue a public relations career.  This includes a heavy emphasis on research, media list creation and vetting, editorial calendar lists, clip capture, client competitive analysis and drafting all matters of client communication materials like press releases and press kit materials.  Basic media pitching and media relations techniques will probably be taught (I hope agencies have gotten better about this compared to my first internship). Be ready to work on multiple client accounts and support multiple client projects.  While a lot of the internship work may seem administrative and rote in nature, research, writing, pitching and basic client relations is what the most basic internships should provide.  I also encourage agencies to include interns in account status meetings, client planning and brainstorming sessions.  This way, interns also get exposure to strategic counsel and planning behind specific tactics.

Find A Mentor: Some internship programs assign mentors, some don't.  Regardless, find a seasoned professional you can talk to and exchange ideas.  I'm honored that three of the interns that I had the pleasure of working with when I was the intern coordinator still seek me out for counsel and advice. I'm also blessed that I have a strong network of three mentors that I keep in touch with regularly that I am able to bounce ideas off of and talk about the next big thing. I encourage those of you who are currently looking for a mentor to work with your alumni associations to identify alumni you can meet with to discuss and learn more about the PR industry. LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook also offer opportunities to discuss and follow industry influencers.  Finally, PRSA, IABC, BMA and other industry associations offer the opportunity for communication professionals to meet and exchange ideas.  These are all great venues and opportunities to find mentors.

Speak Up: You aren't "just an intern."  You are a member of the PR team and the agency.  A lot of firms rely on interns to provide them with the inside scoop on social media and other forms of communication.  Be willing to share what you know.  Your knowledge of new media; How you get your information; How you communicate with your friends, family, professors and others; How you interact with certain brands. You know more than you think and your agency and team will appreciate your insights and contributions.

Also, volunteer for assignments and ask what you can do to help. This will make you a valuable member of the team and not" just an intern." Ask questions and for clarification of assignments upfront. Don't be afraid to speak up and ask for help when you need it. 

Ask for Feedback: Most internships have a formal process where interns are evaluated at the beginning and end of their internship.  Ask your supervisor or internship coordinator to provide feedback on a regular basis. This could be an informal meeting over a cup of coffee or a standing weekly meeting to discuss your experiences so far.  Exchanging feedback over the course of your internship should enrich your experience and allow you to ask questions and raise issues as you encounter them.

Be Proactive: Volunteer for assignments. Ask what you can do to help out. Introduce yourself to as many people in as many departments as possible. Make yourself the liaison between departments if necessary.  This will not only broaden the activities you are exposed to, but it will make you a main point of contact and therefore essential to your team.  You will also increase your professional network and be exposed to other industries in communications such as advertising, creative, account management and digital strategy.

Professional Results: When your internship is over, talk to your supervisor about the types of experiences you have had and what you can put on your resume or use as samples of the type of work you have done.  If you helped write a press release or handled pitching activities that led to major media placements, make sure you have documentation of media clips.  If you earned any professional awards or recognition for a campaign you contributed to, make sure that is reflected on your resume. Finally, make sure that your resume not only highlights your capabilities (e.g. drafted press releases), but your results (e.g. client received coverage in major trade publication due to direct outreach efforts; coordinated the most successful Web seminar in client history leading to X business leads).  Once you update your resume ask a colleague to review what you have done to make sure it is clear and concise. Ask for a formal recommendation either in a letter or on your LinkedIn profile so your accomplishments and value are documented.

Remember, no matter how structured or loose an internship program is, interns have a great deal of control on how much they get from their experience.  Don't expect an internship  program to be perfect. Be willing to share with an agency what you enjoyed and what you feel can be improved upon in their program.  A good agency will listen to your feedback and take it into consideration.

I would love to hear from current and former PR interns about their best and worst internship experiences.  What do interns hope to get out of their PR internships?  Please post your comments/stories in the comments section.  I look forward to hearing from you!

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