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How to Help Your PR Intern Make the Transition from Student to Employee

March 5, 2013

Today’s post is courtesy of Julia Hamilton, an intern at Rhino Public Relations. Julia is currently in her senior year at Suffolk University, where she is studying communications with a concentration in public relations. Julia can be reached at Julia@rhinopr.com.

internBeing a student and working in a successful PR firm at the same time has been an important learning experience for me. It has taught me a lot about the industry that is not necessarily taught in a classroom, things that professors don’t exactly spell out. I can safely say that if I were to graduate without any work experience in PR I would have no idea what to expect because there is only so much I learned during a lecture. Making the so called “transition” from a student studying public relations to a full time PR employee is tough because you are thrown into unfamiliar territory that can be even more difficult if you don’t have someone cluing you in to the vast differences between school and work. This presents an opportunity for employers to help their interns make the transition smooth, and teach them the things they are not learning at school.

It’s not so glamorous

Luckily, I had a professor who was one of those “tell it like it is” people — nothing sugar-coated. He gave students some ideas of what the real PR world would be like, and told us from the beginning that, “it’s not as glamorous as MTV likes to make it seem: 99% of you will never work with a celebrity.” For the most part he is right, working in the public relations industry is hard work and I have only come to realize this through my internship experience. In school we learn about the big-name companies and popular stories like risk management situations for Tylenol. In the media we see people working in Los Angeles doing PR for celebrities and getting their clients in glossy tabloids. This is not the typical experience for a PR professional.

You can help prepare your intern by showing them the basic building blocks of a PR program. Doing research and updating media lists will teach them the real skills needed to become successful in a PR career. A few examples of the kinds of tasks an intern can do and learn from include:

  • Media Lists
  • Press Release Distribution
  • Creating Clips of Coverage
  • Briefing Sheets
  • Status Reports

This hard work pays off. The first time I distributed a press release and later saw the coverage in a publication, it was completely gratifying.

Have them write anything and everything

Writing a press release is not like writing an essay for English class. It has a specific structure and style, which is not entirely taught to students throughout their education. Now in my senior year, I spend a lot of time working on extremely long research papers for a required class about communication theories. To prepare for my career after graduation, time may be better spent writing numerous press releases or learning how to submit for an award. These are the things I wish my professors spent more time teaching me.

To help your intern with their writing transition, give them a lot of opportunities to write, such as:

  • Press Releases
  • Pitches
  • Blog Posts
  • Byline Articles
  • Award Submissions

As a supervisor you can help your intern by brainstorming ideas with them, and editing their work throughout the writing process.

After graduation

What do I want to do when I graduate? There are many options when it comes to public relations and your intern may have many questions:

  • Work for an agency with multiple clients or directly for a company?
  • Work for a small boutique firm or a large corporation?
  • What industry to work for, and how does PR function differently within those different industries?

I ended up in the AEC industry through a family connection without knowing it was even an option. I suppose I never actually realized that architects and engineers needed PR too, so you may want to help your intern understand their options. I have learned more about the public relations industry in an office, from my colleagues, rather than sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture. I have been extremely lucky to work for a full service public relations and marketing agency, where I have learned more about the public relations world in six months because of the work and guidance I have been given.

Making the transition from student to employee can be difficult, but as an employer or co-worker, you can play an important and meaningful role during this significant time. You can help your intern prepare for their future career and show them that there is more to the story than what they hear in class.

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