By David Landis
It’s pretty much a given in the public relations industry these days. If you’re just starting out in your career, there’s a bit of a Catch-22. You need experience to get a PR job, but how do you get that experience without a job?
The answer? The PR internship.
I’m the HAPPO (“Help A PR Pro Out”) champ for my region, the San Francisco Bay Area. We’ll be discussing this topic in an upcoming TwitChat on August 1 at 10:30 a.m. (PST). Please follow me @david_landis and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #happo.
As the HAPPO champ, I try to do what I can to help young PR candidates prepare for a career in public relations. Because of this role, I’m a big advocate of internships.
I remember my own internship experiences way back in the 1970’s while studying at Northwestern University. A major recession was happening: the only true path to landing a job after graduating was by making sure one had a valuable and relevant internship before graduation. So, I worked at Chicago’s Ravinia Festival in the PR department during the summers; I interned at Chicago’s Opera Theatre; and I worked as a PR intern at the Goodman Theatre as well. These were invaluable career experiences. After graduation, these internships led to my being hired at a Chicago-based PR agency (Zonka & Zonka) and then landing a job as Assistant PR Director with the St. Louis Symphony.
I think the operative word here was “valuable”: how does one make sure those internships bring value to the intern and the company – and also pave the way to getting that first job?
Where to begin? Here are 5 important tips to a successful internship:
1. Be open to learning. Don’t close yourself off to new areas of learning. Your internship will never be what you thought. Embrace those new experiences – and learn from them. At the Chicago Opera Theatre, that meant that in addition to writing program copy, I had to sell ads in the program book – a valuable experience all the way around.
2. Work harder than everyone else. If you want to be first in line when that job opens up, don’t leave at 5 p.m. Get to work before the boss and stay at work until after the boss leaves. Don’t just wait to be assigned duties – offer to do more, so you’re seen as truly valuable. I remember at the Goodman Theatre, I finished all my work and went to my boss and said, “Please give me more to do.” That gave me a leg up on my competition.
3. Use technology – before and during your internship. If you want to make yourself more attractive for potential internships, use technology. Be sure to check out your targeted company’s website/blog and become informed; then, LinkIn with key executives at those companies; follow the company and key employees on Twitter; and check out other online profiles (Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, Yelp etc.). Use InterMatch.com, an online service that helps match intern candidates with internships. Finally, keep abreast of current events and news, as well as PR industry trade trends, via the Internet. When you’re employed as an intern, jump in and embrace technology, especially digital and social media. In this day and age, that will set you apart.
4. Blog about your experience. Especially in PR, getting writing experience is critical. Offer to write a blog for the company about your internship, along with your learnings – and publish it on your own blog as well. Our Italian intern, Valeria Prencipe, did just that, and here are her observations.
5. Paid or unpaid? There is a lot of debate about this in the PR industry. From where I sit, employers should pay interns who work for the company. But if you’re an intern, an unpaid internship may give you the needed experience to land your first job (my internships were in fact unpaid). It’s up to you to decide.
Ultimately, like anything else in life, your internship is what you make of it. Saying “yes” to assignments, working hard and always offering to do more will insure that you are first in line to be hired when quality jobs open up.
What are your secrets to a successful internship? I’ll be hosting a TwitChat at 10:30 a.m. PST to discuss ideas. Follow me @david_landis and join the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #HAPPO.
Landis Communications Inc. is always looking for qualified PR intern candidates. If you’re interested, please send an email and your resume to Tarah Beaven, who oversees our paid internship program. She can be reached at: [email protected].
Please also leave a comment below with your own thoughts about how to make an internship successful – and/or send me an email at: [email protected].