PR Struggle: Internships and Diversity

According to a recent report, PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns. In our field, it is not uncommon for unpaid interns to perform job functions that could be performed by paid staff, meaning that they could be entitled to at least minimum wage.

Interns Wanted

For organizations offering unpaid internships, this functions as a double-edged sword: yes, short-term bottom lines benefit by the assistance that interns can provide for free, but the organizations could also be limiting the pool of talent to only include those able to work without financial compensation, potentially cutting out many qualified and talented individuals – after all, most students have college loans and monthly utility bills to worry about.

The catch-22 of the situation, of course, is that it’s hard to imagine a college graduate trying to break into the highly competitive field of Public Relations without completing a minimum of one or two internships. Soon to be enter the job market myself, I am all too familiar with the expectations and pressure that go along with being in this line of work. It isn’t uncommon to hear that a PR student’s GPA is not as significant as his or her experience, or that a decent portfolio is mandatory when walking into an interview.

The effects of this dynamic can be dangerous to the field as a whole. In fact, just this evening, a major question raised at the Rochester PRSA event was why the industry wasn’t becoming more diverse at a pace similar to that of society as a whole. According to David Grome, there were “several comments about the event’s location (Brooks Landing) being “difficult to find” or “near some sketchy areas,” which might be part of the challenge to unite people behind the issue of diversity. We tend not to go, literally and figuratively, where we’re not familiar.”

Is it too far a stretch to correlate the low amount of diversity in PR to the frequently unpaid internships that are all but a necessity to those trying to join the field?

Though I think there is definitely merit to that question and that it deserves to be discussed, I don’t necessarily think that all internships should be paid.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have completed five internships during my undergraduate career. Of them, two have been unpaid and three have been paid – giving me a unique perspective on this issue.

I learned an insane amount during one of my unpaid internships and built a relationship with one of the best PR professionals in the area – someone I am still lucky enough to consider a mentor today. Looking back, the experience proved to be worth every dollar of financial sacrifice that was associated with it. To those who would argue that they can’t afford to work for free despite the potential value in the experience, I would challenge them to reconsider.

The fact of the matter is that most unpaid internships are part-time (mine was only about 12 hours per week) and during normal business office hours, meaning that there is still plenty of time to have a part-time, paid job during nights and weekends. Not only that, but I also know that it is very possible to excel academically during a semester including both paid jobs and unpaid internships.

Unpaid internships are not limited to financially stable individuals. They are limited to individuals with professional priorities and excellent time-management skills.

I wonder what Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson would think.

The Internship

Student Engagement: Lessons From David Meerman Scott

Foreword: I’m a “Junior – and – a – half” (graduating in December) at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. I’m often discouraged and even amazed at the levels of student engagement and excitement among not only students at my school, but all colleges. I hope the following post does not offend anyone, as it is somewhat strongly worded. The topic is simply one that I am very passionate about.

As a college student, I recognized that myself and my classmates are a part of something bigger. We are not always going to be students and we will not always be entry-level professionals. Rather, we are the future. We are the next generation – one that will be responsible for continuing growth and development of our community, our country and our world.

That is a scary thought to me because I know what the typical college student looks like and what their abilities are.

I’m not talking about grades. College courses are difficult and it’s perfectly fine to not be a 4.0 student. What concerns me, though, is the level of student engagement that I see across college campuses.

Student Engagement

I love college because I literally view my campus as my playground. There are opportunities for me everywhere. Between the clubs (Brockport PR Club) and honor societies (Lambda Pi Eta) that I am a member of, room for independent studies, and the support from faculty and administration to find internships with organizations in the area I am able to design and craft my own undergraduate education specifically tailored to my interests and skill set. Nobody will ever go to school and have the same education as I have had – how cool is that?

College is my playground because I can join clubs and decide what I really want to do. Then, I can make it happen with my peers. Faculty doesn’t have the ideas, nor do professors guide me through the process. In short – I really can do anything I put my mind to.

But college isn’t a day-care program. Nobody has ever offered me the opportunities I have had. Instead, the responsibility to have an outstanding college experience is on each and every individual. And quite frankly, not enough people take that responsibility seriously enough.

If you’re a student, what do you say when someone asks you, “what are you doing at school this semester?” If your first instinct is to tell them what courses you are taking, you’re doing college wrong. No, really, trust me – you were mis-informed somewhere along the way. Classes are important, sure, but aren’t you bored? I’m willing to bet your grades aren’t spectacular, either… because you aren’t engaged.

How many students are studying the same thing as you at your school? Or even in this country? What makes you any better than the rest of them? It certainly is not the .1 difference in GPA that you boast on your resume that will get you hired after graduation. Instead of looking at your campus like a classroom, look at it like a playground. What are you doing that sets you apart? What are you doing that you truly enjoy that will be the difference between you and everyone else? Ask yourself each and every day, “why would someone hire me?”

Until yesterday, I was afraid to graduate from college because I thought I would miss having the ability to look at my life like a playground and having the ability to really experience and do all of the things that I wanted.

David Meerman Scott, Author of The New Rules of Marketing & PR

Then, I met David Meerman Scott.

If I look at my college campus as my playground, this guy looks at the globe as his. Just like calling me a student doesn’t capture everything that I do at school, calling Scott an author doesn’t capture everything that he does in his career. He’s an author, sure. But he is also an internationally recognized speaker (soon to have spoken on all 7 continents), a blogger, a marketing strategist, and even an actor among other things.

David Meerman Scott is in the position to pick and choose the experiences that he has and the people that he works with each and every day, just like I can. The difference is that he does it on a world-wide scale.

Everyone needs to ask themselves where they want to go in their lives. If you think about your destination in this world as a cubicle on the third floor of an office down the street, working for a company you don’t love, performing a task that essentially anyone could do – please continue skipping half of your classes, getting mediocre grades, and not doing anything that sets you apart from anyone else.

But – if you have ambition and aspiration, if you want to look at the country or the world as your personal playground – the time to start that journey is right now. Join clubs, plan events, meet professionals, learn new things, start a blog, read books, teach others, and never stop.


If it sounds like more fun than work to you, then you have found your playground.




Creating Viral Campaigns With Twibbon



On behalf of the American Red Cross, I’ve been using Twibbon for the first time to rally support for a series of blood drives that will (hopefully) set new records and cumulatively collect over 1003 units of blood – one more than Theo, from Buffalo, NY, needed to save his life in March of 2011.

If you haven’t used (or heard of) Twibbon before, it’s a social platform that allows individuals to show their support for specific organizations, causes and points of view.


For example, check out this Twibbon for Special Needs, or this one for the Boston Red Sox.

There are a number of features that Twibbon offers that we in the world of digital marketing need to know about:

  • The actual “Twibbon” is a mark that is laid on top of supporter’s profile pictures on Facebook and/or Twitter.
  • Give users multiple Facebook Cover Photos to choose from for their own profiles.
  • Direct visitors to your campaign page to any website you want – use this link space to boost attendance, donations or sales.
  • Create copy for Tweets and Facebook posts for individuals to publish on their profiles when they support your campaign.

I think my favorite part of using Twibbon was the design support we received by upgrading to a Pro account. For a one-time fee of $99, the Twibbon team provided our Campaign Header, Twibbon image, and Facebook Cover Photos – and they did so surprisingly quickly.

This tool is under-utilized and there’s a lot of room for organizations to leverage it to create viral campaigns that result in brand visibility and consumer action. Think about some of these possible uses of Twibbon:

  • Colleges could invite incoming freshman to use Twibbon during orientation to be able to quickly recognize each other as part of the same class.
  • Professional organizations, like the PRSA or AMA could invite members to use their Twibbon to display their loyalty to the group and encourage others to join.
  • An organization with a strong brand, like Starbucks, could use Twibbon to let their brand ambassadors show off their love for Starbucks coffee!

How do you think Twibbon could help your organization?

Learning 2.0 – Digital Tools for the Student

As the end of September draws near, the first semester of my Junior year of college is well underway. Group projects, essays, and tests are an almost-everyday occurrence, and sometimes I wonder how receiving the grades that I want to receive is ever going to be possible.

But then, I remember all of the tools and advantages that I have simply  because it’s the year 2012, and I start wondering how anyone could have done this 50 years ago. The following is a short list of the digital tools that I use almost daily in my schoolwork.

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College organizations compete for sidewalk real estate

Chalk isn't only a children's toy.

As a college student, I’ve been exposed to an interesting communication tactic while at Brockport. Many clubs and on-campus organizations use sidewalk chalk to get the word out about their events and causes. But is the tactic effective?

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