Industry Taking Advantage of PR Interns?

Recently, The Public Relations Society of America Board of Ethics and Professional Standards released updated guidelines on the ethical use of PR and communications interns.

Many students, specifically those at ASU’s Cronkite School, are required to participate in an internship as a part of their degree while other students simply choose to participate in internship opportunities to build there skills as PR practitioners.

The new guidelines advise agencies to be cautious with the use of unpaid internships and to use formal payment for interns or “develop creative means for compensation and reciprocation.”

It could be argued that the skills, experience, and knowledge acquired through a successful internship holds value itself.  However, the PRSA believes it to be ethically wrong to employ anyone who adds real value to an agency or employer without compensating them for their work — whether that compensation is monetary or in the form of educational credits. If an intern is performing billable work, he or she deserves some form of legal compensation.

With the economy on the decline, it seems that the industry would benefit substantially from utilizing unpaid interns. Nearly 30 percent of recent college graduates who are unemployed said they are willing do whatever it takes to secure a job in the industry, even if that means working long hours for no pay.

As a result of this debate, PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) developed a set of guidelines, recommendations and best practices.  These guidelines outline what the PRSA feels is ethical when it comes to the use of paid and unpaid interns by public relations firms, businesses, government agencies and other organizations. It’s all part of Professional Standards Advisory PS-17: Ethical Use of Interns.

So will the industry as a whole change their use of unpaid interns as a result of the newest guidelines?

Read what others have said on this issue.

PRWeek- PRSA updates guidelines on ethical use of interns

PRSAY- Paid Or Unpaid, Time To Evaluate PR’s Use Of Interns

PRWeek- Danny Rogers: Unpaid Interns Do Industry A Disservice

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4 Responses to Industry Taking Advantage of PR Interns?

  1. mgingeri says:

    I personally don’t think that the industry is going change their use of unpaid interns because of these new guidelines. I think that most industry professionals already know and understand these guidelines and just refuse to acknowledge them. Free labor is free labor and with this economy, PR is definitely not the only industry taking advantage of it. In today’s market, companies are doing what they can to get by. If that means they can get 15 hours a week of free labor, they will take it. I don’t necessarily think it is all that bad to work for free, by no means was it a walk in the park. But hey, I did my time and now I am getting paid for it.

  2. cfetter1 says:

    Unpaid interns are vital to many PR firms today. With tighter budgets and higher demands, interns are becoming more and more critical for agencies to simply get by. I was once an unpaid intern and the experience was wonderful, however, I do think they deserve some form of payment. I do appreciate PRSA’s new guidelines and recommendations.

  3. afilbert says:

    As an ASU student, I can say that I’ve never worked a PR internship that was paid, nor have I ever even applied for a PR internship that was paid. I don’t think that it is a bad thing that PR firms employ free labor. It is really more of a working relationship, because both the employer and student benefit. Even though we just receive three college credits for 15+ hours per week at an unpaid internship, the real value lies in the experience and connections made through those internships. That said, I do think some firms take it a little too far. I know that there are agencies in Phoenix that have maybe one or two full-time employees and 10x that in unpaid interns. As long as interns are treated fairly for the amount of effort that they are giving, then all is well. Unpaid internships are essential to the industry and to the student, and shouldn’t be viewed as a bad thing.

  4. hewhite says:

    Plain and simple: relevant and applicable experience should always be more important than any potential money an intern could earn.

    This does not excuse, however, the mistreatment of an intern on a company’s part. Instances that should be few and far between are unfortunately becoming mainstream practice–so I definitely support the increase of the intern rights debate.

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