How PR Pros Can Create Successful Internship Programs

With your new PR interns getting settled into their roles, it's inevitable that staff compares the summer cadre with the current crop. A more useful exercise might be to reflect on whether your internship program is valuable for the company and the interns.

Below are tips and tactics for establishing an internship program that benefits all. As  you'll see, treating interns pretty much as you would staff is the most direct route to success.

Get the intern off to a great start

During an internship’s first week, it’s important to invest time in familiarizing the intern with the company. Include ground rules and key information in on-boarding from day one. This includes preferred means of communication, background and roles of team members, and overviews of key alliances and projects.

Give the intern an opportunity to join staff meetings. This provides a big-picture look at projects and allows the intern to feel included. We know PR can be stressful, around-the-clock work, so prepare the intern for the intensity of the job. Do this carefully, though. Some interns who have not been in a work setting might have trouble getting used to the pace.

The team should be cohesive     

Related to the above, think about adopting an all-inclusive style of leadership. This requires avoiding separating interns from the team.

Early in my career I was called on during an all-company meeting to introduce myself. While I felt and appeared nervous, I realized later the experience was invaluable. It made me feel like an important part of the team and helped shake off some of the nerves.

Give interns advance notice if you plan to do this so they can feel more comfortable than I did.

Don’t hire too many interns 

The number of interns you hire should be based more on the workload you can offer rather than the size of your company. It’s also important to base the number of interns hired on the organization’s ability to provide direction and a meaningful experience. This can be accomplished by estimating the hours each client or project requires and dividing up the tasks based on availability and skills. Hiring too many interns is unhelpful to all, so is overloading too few interns.

Avoid seeing a PR internship program as tempting cheap labor. Interns can be an asset for researching and writing press releases, monitoring media for interview opportunities, providing on-site support, taking social media photos and videos at events, and conducting research to update and improve media lists. When you give an intern meaty tasks like these, they’re doing a real job that can have an important impact on the company.

Get to know them as a person, not just as an intern

Include interns at company outings, events, media opportunities, lunches and happy hours when possible. These are not only fun events but are valuable experiences that can influence a young person’s career significantly.

Make sure to have an open line of communication with interns. Have an open-door policy, schedule regular update meetings, go out for an occasional coffee to check in. And remember that sometimes interns can really blow you away with their talent, so give them the chance to shine and show what they can do. (Just make sure a trusted staff member is monitoring their work and guiding as necessary.)

Knowledge and skills can be different from generation to generation. You might find that you can gain as much from your interns as they learn from you.

Demonstrate appreciation and praise when it is deserved

Show interns that you’re proud of them. Announce them on social media, call out their good work during meetings and include them in group photos. This is a great way to indirectly improve your branding and convey that the company is in demand and a place of opportunity and fresh ideas. Remember, word spreads fast. When you give interns work experience and recognition, you’ll find many quality candidates knocking on your door.

Michelle Mekky is founder and president of Mekky Media Relations