Internship Prepares This Duckling for a PR Career

Kelli’s Note: This is a guest post from SOJC alumna, Kelly Brokaw.  

What a crazy summer it has been! Since July 8th I have been an intern on the consumer tech team at the award-winning firm, SHIFT Communications!

When I was an undergrad at UO, I never thought I would start my professional career as an intern. I had always hoped to skip that step and go straight into an account coordinator position. Thank goodness I did not choose that path!

The knowledge and experience I have gained through  such a short period of time has been overwhelming, but so exciting. Here are a few tips I’ve learned that can help you with your current/future internship:

Be proactive – when you’re not building media lists or performing other timely projects, make sure to do reactive research that can potentially help your clients. You can look at their competitors, search for relevant articles, get updated on the news related to their fields, and so many more tasks that can help your team out.

Communication is key – no matter if your team has 2 or 10 members, make sure to always have instant communication with them. When a team member gives you a project, let him/her know your progress throughout the day. This not only will help eliminate distractions, but it also reassures your teammate that you haven’t forgotten about the project that was assigned to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you’re an intern, therefore people are not expecting you to be perfect. If you are unsure about a project or have general questions, speak up! Your team would rather have you ask a million questions rather than you complete a project incorrectly or inefficiently. Plus, it also shows them you want to do great work.

These are my three biggest tips! If you are a little nervous about jumping straight into an account coordinator position or can’t find one, definitely consider doing an internship.

About Kelly: I am a recent graduate of the University of Oregon. During my time at UO, I was a member of Kappa Delta Sorority, UORotaract and an account supervisor for Allen Hall Public Relations. Go Ducks!

When Work Gets in the Way

I have so much empathy for students who have to work to make ends meet and pay for school.

During my first year at the University of Oregon as an undergrad, I worked full time. I had worked full-time for about four years between high school and college. I sold cell phones and managed a retail store. It was hard. I didn’t want to work full-time, but I was paying my own way through school and had plenty of expenses, so there was no way around it.

After the first year, I realized this situation wasn’t feasible if I wanted to get internships, be involved with PRSSA and succeed in my classes. Something had to give. I chose to move home with my parents, work part-time and seek public relations opportunities. But I know that’s a tough choice and not one that some students have.

What if you have to work 25, 35 or 40 hours a week, go to school and you still want to get some hands-on experience before you graduate? Well, we already know you’re industrious, now you just need to be extra creative about beefing up your resume. Some tips:

  • Determine how many hours a week you have to invest in gaining some experience. Likely you’ll be volunteering (at least at first), so figure out where you can carve out three to five hours.
  • Ask around or find a nonprofit organization that has a mission that you believe in or a cause that you support. Connect with the executive director via a phone call or an email to ask if they need any public relations help – maybe write newsletter articles or send out press releases.
  • If the executive director thinks you’d be a good fit, find a time to meet and create a plan for what you will do, who you’ll report to, and realistic expectations about your time and abilities. Be proactive. Come in with ideas and focus on projects that will help you gain portfolio samples and build your skills. If you can take on a project from start to finish and be involved along the way, that’s golden!
  • You can also find “virtual opportunities” via Volunteer Match. On the home page, click “search for virtual opportunities” and then enter public relations as the keywords. If you try this option, I’d recommend either finding a local organization or a national one. I don’t think it would make sense, for example, to volunteer for an animal rescue in Okalahoma if you’re in Oregon and local animal rescues need your help.
  • Look for freelance writing and part-time paid internship positions. If you could make $10 or $12 an hour doing PR, maybe you could supplement or replace your retail or barista job. For those able to secure these types of positions, it was a matter of listening, networking and letting people know what their interests are. You never know what will come your way if you’re diligent.

If you’ve had a creative volunteer or internship experience or you have other pieces of advice, leave them here! I’d love to hear your ideas.

How to Stand Out in a Sea of Interns

As you might’ve picked up on if you follow me on Twitter, I’m working with a herd of interns to monitor media coverage for Eugene 08 (the Olympic Track and Field Team Trials). Most of the work is being done remotely with everything being exchanged via email and reports are uploaded to the Socialtext wiki (right now it’s private, but when the trials are over, I’ll clean up the confidential stuff and let you see how it worked for us).

As such, I would be hard pressed to pick out most of the interns in a line up. But a few are taking this opportunity to stand out and make a good impression. Here’s how they are doing it.

  • Do good work. One intern in particular has wowed me with her thoroughness and diligence. Her reports don’t have to be edited and I’ve sent them to the others as an example to follow.
  • Go with the flow. We’ve had to change direction a couple of times because none of us have ever done this before. Typically in an agency there aren’t 10 folks working on a single client’s coverage report and that’s presented a unique challenge. Those interns who have paid attention, read all the directions and been able to adapt are excelling.
  • Be self-motivated. I often run into this challenge with interns who work with my firm. Because I work from home, I don’t have “an office” where interns can come work several hours a day or week. This can be really tough (trust me! I know!). A self-motivated student will do a good job of checking email and communicating via the online tools available.

We’re just three days into the Olympic Trials and I love working with these students. I think they’ll take these skills into future internships and continue to wow those they work with.

(P.S. I know this post will show up in the interns media coverage search – no need to include this in your report!) 🙂

How to get a job in PR

I was updating my blogroll and cruising around some new PR-related blogs this evening and came across this post. It’s an “oldie,” but a goodie – and worth bookmarking.

From Morgan McClintic at LEWIS (current employer of Sharon Howell, UO ’06) talks about what he looks for in a new hire. He has some great tips.

A highlight is his description of the type and number of internships you should have. When students ask, I’m always reluctant to be specific, so I will let Morgan do it for me:

Internships – the definition of internship varies by country – in some it’s just a few weeks, in others months. Regardless of the length, get at least two different internships before applying for your final role. This will help you decide if PR is really for you – it’s not all champagne and parties. It’ll also give you a feel for the tasks you’ll be charged with, whether you like agency or in-house, and which industry you like. You’ll also learn more about which firms are the good ones to work with when it comes to applying for positions.

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