Thought Leadership

Agency Leaders on What Makes Successful Internship Programs

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With the internship season on the horizon, PRsay asked agency leaders from PRSA’s Counselors Academy for their thoughts on what makes a strong program. For more on creating successful internships, please visit the May issue of Strategies & Tactics.

Hinda Mitchell“Interns represent the future of our profession. It’s not only the right thing to do; it makes good business sense to have a strong internship program. That starts with giving them meaningful, portfolio-building work and committing to teaching and mentoring during their time at your agency. It also means they should be compensated fairly and well for the work they do. Recognizing the value of their contributions as well as the impact of a robust internship on their future employability is our responsibility to them and to our industry.”

—Hinda Mitchell
Inspire PR Group

John Walker“At Chirp, we help our interns understand what it takes to excel when working virtually (and independently) and how to embrace the importance of team structures to ensure that we deliver results that matter for our clients while staying true to our values.

The internship has never been more important as we prepare the future generation of PR professionals. We take pride in finding interns who align with our values and strive to learn from a team of senior professionals. We consider our interns an integral part of our team(s) and enable them to succeed with challenging work and a compelling ‘work wherever, whenever’ culture.”

—John Walker
Managing Partner

Filomena Fanelli“Interns have always been valuable contributors at our agency, providing much-needed support to our team and clients. Paying them a fair wage should not be an option, but an imperative — yes, even when they are receiving college credits. If we are getting paid for the work, then so should they.

Treating tomorrow’s communications professionals with respect today ensures they take the commitment seriously and know their worth as they head out into the workforce. In addition to compensation, agencies should provide interns with ample development opportunities and respect, and let them in on team and client meetings and events, as appropriate. It may seem small, but even spotlighting interns on social media, adding them to a website and getting long-term interns a professional headshot shows that what they do matters and that they are part of the big picture.

Doing the right thing by interns often comes full circle, too. At our agency, and in the midst of one of the most competitive job markets in recent memory, one of our star new hires is a former intern who appreciated the values of our firm and left a big-name employer to head back to our boutique shop. How we treated her when she was getting started in her career mattered — and in a world where great talent is hard to come by, why wouldn’t a savvy agency owner take the opportunity to build a relationship and get it right out of the gate?”

—Filomena Fanelli
Impact PR & Communications

Kate Finley“Some of the Belles we’ve had with us the longest started as interns. Our internships have been paid from the beginning. Our hourly rate is competitive and varies based on where the intern is located, as we have a completely virtual model.

We have a robust internship program that even identifies professional development opportunities. Interns participate in team meetings and are privy to what Belle life really looks like. I strongly encourage agencies to disclose how much they pay their interns. Applying for an internship isn’t really about the money — that should be a given. It’s about the culture, career opportunities and meaningful work.”

—Kate Finley
Belle Communication

[Photo credit: bull run]

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1 Comment

  • We applaud the PR execs for valuing their interns. Collectively, the authors of our book have placed well over a thousand interns, both agency and client-side. Happily, many got job offers shortly after or even during their intern experience. Here are some of our observations.

    1. Students should take two internships…one in their junior year, another during their senior year. We recommend that graduating seniors leave credits hours to be completed for a spring or summer internship. This puts them in a professional setting that can help launch their formal job search.

    2. Hinda Mitchell importantly underscores the role of the on-site supervisor in teaching/mentoring future professionals and assisting in the development of a professional portfolio. The experiences they gain, or fail to gain, can make or break a student’s career arc.

    3. Agency and client-side sponsors will hopefully train interns on relevant industry software. Developing students’ hard skills makes for a better-trained future PR employee. Our research indicates preparing students for the data-driven, digital workforce is a must.

    4. Given the importance of a successful internship, a well-structured internship course should prepare students to optimize the experience. University departments should provide orientation, ensure communication between the student, faculty member and on-site supervisor throughout the internship, and provide students the ability to reflect on their experience through reading/response assignments.

    5.Be honest in your evaluations of interns. Too many times the agency supervisor writes glowing comments, avoiding discussion of student weaknesses. While informal feedback should be provided on a regular basis, a midterm evaluation serves as a performance review, allowing the student to realize strengths, address shortcomings, and finish strong.

    6. Recognize that the norms of your workplace may be one of the most important ethical influences in your interns’ careers. Great organizations are shaped by ethical leadership. Demonstrate your commitment to personal and professional ethics, such as those of PRSA, in shaping these emerging professionals.

    Find Flynn, Smith and Walsh book info at:

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