Advocacy Thought Leadership

The Internship Experience: Learning ROI & Value of Failing

As part of PRSA’s unveiling of industry guidelines for the ethical use of interns, we asked five recent public relations interns to blog about their experiences — good or bad — and offer ideas on how the profession can better prepare interns for the rigors of full-time employment. This is the first post of a planned four-part series. Today’s posts come from PRSA members Kion Sanders and Joshua Romero.

Kion Sanders:

If I weren’t able to work under amazing PR professionals as an intern, I’m not sure I would be as knowledgeable as I am now. Learning something new in class is great, but nothing replaces on-the-job training. As a student, I completed three internships. Immediately following graduation, I started my career as a post-graduate intern with a well-respected agency. I found this experience to be valuable because I wanted experience in various areas of public relations. Towards my senior year, I knew I would pursue an agency but wasn’t too sure which practice group would be best.

Interning with the mayor’s office of Charlotte quickly taught me the importance of ROI (return-on-investment). PR programs touch on this topic, but it’s much harder to fully understand ROI and its metrics when you’re in a classroom. Rebuttals from legal and objections from the finance team were common hiccups the mayor’s communications team faced. To get a program approved, the communications team had to present measurable goals, and this simple (yet extremely important) method made an everlasting impression on my internship experience.

I took everything I learned from the mayor’s communications team with me to all my other internships. This experience was the most valuable when I started my post-graduation internship with Weber Shandwick’s consumer team. As an intern, I was involved in various brainstorming sessions, and before I would suggest any program ideas, I already had ROI in the back of my head. This helped me adjust to the big-agency world.

While ROI was a huge part of my internship experience with Charlotte Mayor’s Office, it wasn’t as involved in my day-to-day agency responsibilities. Why? … It’s a mid-to-senior level responsibility in the agency world. If I could encourage agency professionals to do one thing to help the next generation of professionals, it would be to allow interns to gain more experience with ROI. It may not be a huge junior staffer responsibility but the earlier an employee becomes familiar with measurement, the better.

Kion Sanders is an account associate at Fahlgren Mortine Public Relations in New York City. He is the former national vice president of chapter development at the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

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Joshua Romero:

One of my first internships was in the Public Relations Department of the Ohio State Bar Association. I joined director Ken Brown and public information manager Debby Cooper as support staff. The best thing they did for me was give me opportunities — opportunities to succeed and to fail.

I had never written a news release I my life. I remember Debby giving me a previous year’s news release for an event and asking me to craft one for the current year, using updated information. I took a stab at it. After she looked at it, she came to my desk and went over all of the things I did well and, more importantly, the things that needed work. This process continued news release after news release until I was able to write releases with few or no fixes.

When it came time to for editorial assignments for the association’s bimonthly magazine, Ken asked me to write about a late judge who was being honored with a courthouse dedication. With a handful of contacts, I was turned loose to capture this man’s legacy. It was overwhelming to me, but Ken and Debby guided me along the way. To my amazement, my story made the cover of the magazine!

Because Ken and Debby took chances on letting me learn by doing, they helped me develop real-world skills. Interns need supervisors like Ken and Debby; people willing to put in the extra time and energy to educate. Interns need the chance to try, fail, learn and then try again.

I know that my portfolio with news releases and magazine clippings from the Ohio State Bar Association made me the top candidate for my position at California Western School of Law — all because two people gave me opportunities to try and took time to teach.

Joshua P. Romero is the marketing and communications coordinator at California Western School of Law in San Diego. Romero is co-chair of the member committee for PRSA’s New Professionals Section.

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6 Comments

  • Thanks for your thoughts, Kion– ROI has been on my mind as of late too.

    No longer can PR pros organize huge special events with no direct connection to a business strategy, and I do think that’s a good thing. It’s important for c-suite management or clients to see a good ROI, but perhaps that doesn’t mean statistics or charts. Perhaps it can also mean a valuable relationship.

    Much of what PR does on a bigger picture– not just tactics like news releases, positive media mentions, etc.– cannot be measured. PR pros can be counselors, decision-makers and creative thinkers. This doesn’t discount ROI, but at the same time we must be careful not to become too caught up in measurement.

    Building relationships with community and media members, businesses and other publics take dedication, authenticity, trust and respect. It’s great to measure impressions and such, and we can continue to do that, but big-picture counseling can’t be so easily measured. For example, in a PR agency, much of the value in their business relationships lies in how much trust a client has in them, and whether or not they will return to them in times of crisis. Being a good PR professional means building good relationships, and that doesn’t fit neatly into a bar graph.

    Elizabeth Holtan
    PR MS Candidate
    S.I. Newhouse School
    Syracuse University

  • These blog entries about internships have been really helpful as I am a junior this year and pursuing my first internship opportunities this summer and next year.
    I am looking forward to the challenge of putting classroom experience into action as well as building the relationships for optimum networking.
    It’s good to know that all the timed writing test my professor has us do are very practical part of the “real-world skills” I will need later.
    I also appreciate the reality of trail and error learning in the perfecting of our PR skills. Thanks Joshua!

  • I agree with Sam. These blogs have been wonderful to read. Being a senior with still another year to go, it scares me to think I don’t have that much time left. Joshua, your blog reassured me. I have been anxious about what is going to happen after graduation. I’m worried I will not be as successful as I would like to be. Now knowing what you said about trying, failing, and then trying again, reassures me that with failures, I will grow.

    I’m anxious (in an exciting way), what my internship will be like. I know that it will teach me what being in the “real world” looks like. I can only learn so much in the classroom. It’s not until I apply what I am learning that I will be truly successful.

    Kion, could you explain a little bit more on the ROI. It sounds interesting.

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