You’ve landed a Public Relations (PR) internship with a great company. Congratulations, it’s the start of your career.
After your internship year, you’ll be able to take on a role as a Public Relations Assistant or Public Relations Coordinator.
You’re going in there bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, you feel excited and nervous at the same time. You feel accomplished because you have a qualification and you think you know what you’re doing, but it’s also your first job with real clients and you don’t want to get it wrong.
Here’s a little preview of what you can and should expect as a PR intern:
1. You don’t know anything
You finished amongst the top of your class, you received top scores for practical assignments and you always took on leadership roles on group projects. That’s a great place to start, and it certainly gives you a competitive advantage to be successful in your PR internship. However, it does not guarantee success. I’ve seen many people at the top of their class and unable to succeed in the working world. That’s because the university and the working world are vastly different, and each requires a different set of skills. Where IQ was imperative in University, EQ is the main requirement in the working world. In University you get to choose who you work with, and often you choose your friends. In the working world, you must make it work with whomever is employed at that company, that’s why a high level of emotional intelligence is imperative for success. Completing projects at the university level doesn’t usually entail actual clients who depend on your work for their public perception and there is hardly any money involved. In the working world, people will be tough on you, because there are clients involved, companies who have built a reputation over the decades, and there it usually involves large sums of money. Now you’re not only reporting to your employer, but you’re also reporting to your client and other relevant stakeholders. At university, you were told that there’s a set process to follow to complete a task, at work those processes are thrown out of the window. The bar is suddenly set much higher. University gave you the foundation, an understanding of your industry, but it’s your internship that prepares you for employment.
2. You do everything
You may have a job description to guide you, but ultimately you’re there to learn. Something as simple as filling the printer with paper, getting quotes and invoices signed-off, making coffee (yes it’s not a sitcom cliché, you actually make coffee and lots of it), and you do the hard work of setting up branding. However, don’t ever underestimate the great learning opportunities those seemingly minuscule tasks provide. Be humble. When you set-up branding, you learn how to make a brand visible at an event, how to make a brand stand out. Where marketing and PR often overlap, I’ve been able to take on marketing roles, because I understood the value of brand positioning. Never turn your nose up at any task. Always look for the lesson in that task, and do it with a positive attitude. You are there to learn as much as you can, and it’s always good to learn a little bit about everything. It’s the knowledge of those general duties that sets you up for a management role in the future. Managers must know a little bit about everything besides their area of specialisation.
3. You will make mistakes, many of them
You will make many mistakes while an intern and everyone is expecting you to. This is your opportunity to explore, try new things, test as many new ideas and fail and no one will judge you. You are there to learn and no one expects you to have all the answers. Take risks. It is the only way you will learn. You want to make the best use of this opportunity to explore and learn. Once you have about three years’ experience in PR, your superiors will be less forgiving.
4. You must report to a PR leader
This follows on point two. Yes, you will do a bit of everything, and some duties you’ll be given won’t always directly relate to PR. You’ll be asked to support where necessary. However, you should expect to report to a more senior PR representative, a Public Relations Officer or Manager. Unfortunately, there are many companies that view internships as a cheap source of labour. This should not be the case, it should be a mutually beneficial arrangement. The company acquires additional support from you while placing you under the leadership of someone who has the necessary experience and training to mentor and develop you into a Public Relations Practitioner. Therefore, it is important to ask who you will be reporting to during the interview. Run from any company that will let you report to a manager whose function is completely unrelated to PR. The purpose of an internship is to gain experience in PR that will set you up for a more meaningful PR role.
5. You must support, but also be supported
Yes, you fill a support function, but you also need to be supported. It is the responsibility of the company to train you, be patient, answer your questions, give you valuable feedback. Support must also come in the form of giving you meaningful projects to work on, projects that will allow you to create a substantial portfolio after your internship that you can present to other companies, or prove to the existing company that you have the skills to be provided with a permanent position.
6. You create your role
An internship is an opportunity for you to create your role. Find out what you enjoy, your passion, do as much as possible in this field and find out what you’re good at. You have the power of the organisation behind you. Use that to open doors to opportunities to find out what you are good at and to create duties for yourself in the organisation where your unique talents can benefit the organisation. By doing this you will prove your value and hopefully, secure a permanent position for yourself at the existing company or have a solid set of references and a portfolio to help you find the PR coordinator role you desire.
An internship is the start of your career. It’s an important part of your journey. How much you learn will be entirely up to you. It’s a great opportunity that can set you up for your future in public relations. Start your PR internship with the mindset to learn as much as possible from everyone you meet. Turn your mistakes into important lessons that will help you become one of the best PR Practitioners.