In last week’s PRWeek, I was intrigued by Matt Cartmell’s piece ‘Most PR agencies have no cash for work experience staff’.
In it, Matt reveals how many PR agencies are failing to pay their work experience staff, and that the average is just £53 a day for those who do. Just 17% of small to medium sized agencies pay their interns.
Daljit Bhurji, MD, Diffusion, is right on the money when he says:
The practice of young people being forced to work for free, for months on end, with a promise of a real job that never materialises, must stop. Agencies need to stop using terms such as ‘work experience’ and ‘internships’ as an excuse for exploiting young people desperate to enter the PR industry.
However, I was slightly alarmed by Chris Wood, the MD of Cake who said:
We get hundreds of requests every year for work experience placements. They’re encouraged to do so by their colleges. Why don’t we pay them? Because there’s no direct commercial benefit in having people on work experience. The benefits are largely with the work experience people.
I spent three months as an intern at Zest PR (now A Star PR), unpaid. The experience was however brilliant and convinced me that PR was where I wanted to head. I was happy to work for free at the time as I already had a part time job selling guitars (and many other things, but that’s an entirely different post) in a music shop, and could therefore afford to use the time learning about the industry.
So, what are the benefits of going on work experience, and why should workies get paid?
Benefits to the company
A spare pair of hands – whenever I’ve worked with an intern, their presence lightens the workload for everyone, presenting them with an opportunity to get to grips with the day-to-day basics of being a PR, and presenting us with time to crack on with the to do list
A fresh point of view – There’s nothing better than getting a fresh perspective on an idea, or a piece of work, from someone who’s head isn’t buried underneath a few years of being in PR. An intern’s point of view can be just as, if not more important, than that from a senior pro who’s set in their ways
Career development – yes that intern may just be a gold nugget waiting to shine, if polished the right way. Every company must have their future development in mind, and with that comes a responsibility to make sure you’ve got great people on the floor ready to make the next step up.
Benefits to the intern
Practical experience – Your boring little task might be an exciting new challenge for an intern – the only way people learn is by doing, so getting them involved straight away is key to helping them develop and perhaps become a PR pro.
Contacts – You can never know enough people, and this month’s intern may become next month’s rising star. Giving an intern the opportunity to meet people in the industry is a vital part of a fledgling PR career.
Confidence – Confidence to decide if PR is really what they want to do with their career is a massive benefit for an intern. It helps them narrow down what they want to do to be a productive member of society (how Marxist) and after the three months they will have gained an insight in to what it takes to get by in the workplace