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Internships are wonderful things.

For the intern, exposure to professionals and learning on the job are the main upsides. For the organization, internship programs, if done right, are a great HR tool.

Two former interns in my department are now full-time Communications Coordinators. It has been incredibly easy for them to make the transition because they knew about the culture of the firm and the department before being hired full-time. Moreover, we’ve allowed Coordinator-level staff to manage the interns (i.e. – the interns report directly to them) which has been a wonderful exercise in developing new skills.

Whatever your business, if you do not have a program in place you should seriously consider starting one.

If you run a Communications shop, below are some thoughts that may be of use:

  • Photocopy and gopher style internships are of limited value to either party. In a communications context this means that you should allow your interns to do real tasks. Ours actually write initial drafts of copy for the web and pitch stories to small outlets. “Good God!” you say, “That sounds like a lot to give an intern.” Maybe, but we screen/prep/practice and edit them so that they are: a) learning about the key skills of PR, namely writing and what constitutes news b) adding bandwidth to the team and c) helping us achieve organizational and departmental goals.┬áThe key thing is finding the right balance. Don’t have interns running the company Twitter account or pitching big outlets that matter, but make sure they’re more than a human coffee service.
  • Because the interns get to do “real PR” tasks they are more productive at carrying out the more mundane tasks they’re assigned. When we tell a kid who’s been on the phone talking with a reporter or writing an interesting piece for the web, to compile some sort of boring but necessary report – say a quantitative analysis of media coverage – they tend to do a better job of the “boring” task. Why? Because we mix up the fun and the mundane tasks. This makes work more bearable for the interns.
  • PR schools, certificate programs, etc. are very focused on placing students in internships so reach out to them early – ideally before the semester begins.

Start a internship program if you haven’t got one. Go slow. Maintain tight control at the start. But do it, because you’ll be better off.

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