PR Interns or Assistants – Which is Right for You?

Mary Deming BarberThis is a guest post from Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, president of The Barber Group. A continually important topic, it has been updated from the original version, which ran on this blog in 2010.

Solo practitioners regularly seem to chat about the best way to scale up their businesses. The topic of interns versus assistants is the topic of discussion. As public relations professionals, I believe we have a responsibility to help others learn and grow so they can be responsible professionals as well. At the same time, as small business owners, we know the amount of time we have to devote to helping those less experienced get their on the job training. So, how do you decide? What do you need to look at? Here are some thoughts, and I hope you’ll add your own in the comments section.

Dictionary.com defines an intern as: “A person who works as an apprentice or trainee in an occupation or profession to gain practical experience, and sometimes also to satisfy legal or other requirements for being licensed or accepted professionally.”

If I look at my workload from that perspective and can parse out some things where an individual will gain practical experience, I’m on the road toward securing an intern. If I look at my workload and the needs are more administrative, I should probably look for an assistant. Don’t get me wrong – interns can definitely do SOME administrative work. We need to make sure they get a taste of the real world, but the emphasis needs to be on practical experience…something to put in their portfolio.

However, it’s important to look beyond the work I need done and look at what an intern needs. That’s where, as small business people, we need to take an honest look at the time we’re willing to invest. Do I have the time to help someone learn more about public relations or would I rather pay someone to go away and get the job done? Am I interested in building a long-term relationship with a student whom I can watch grow and help succeed or do I just need to get the project done? Neither answer makes you a good/bad person, but your honesty will help everyone succeed in the end.

My most successful intern experience was when I was able to give a very capable public relations student a project, meet with her regularly to determine benchmarks and next steps and then watch the final product come off the production line. In the end, we were all happy and the client got a project completed they would never have been able to pay the agency’s AE rates to complete. More than 30 years later, we’re still mentoring each other.

If you want to dedicate time and energy to an intern, which I highly recommend, take a look at PRSA’s Internship Guide. This extremely comprehensive guide was put together to help everyone get the most from the experience.

What do you think? Is having interns worth the investment for you? Was being an intern critical to your career growth? What should professionals look for in successful interns? Interns in professional internships?

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, is president of The Barber Group, a communications consultancy created in 2000. She has counseled companies in the West and internationally for more than 37 years. Mary’s clients range from Alaska Native corporations, tourism and telecommunications to a variety of food organizations and two successful US Senate campaigns.

She serves on the Whitman College Alumni Board and has been active in PRSA nationally and at the chapter level. She is a past president of the Ad2 Division of the American Advertising Federation and the International Foodservice Editorial Council.