PR Wars Podcast: PR intern success

PR Wars Podcast: PR intern success

The life of an intern. It’s tough to get that spot in the agency. When you do, what does success look like for both you and the agency? On today’s PR Wars podcast, we talk with Kaci Pollack, Talent and Culture Manager for See.Spark.Go.

LISTEN TO THE PR WARS PODCAST ON:

A.I. generated show transcript: 

Show open: “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “We want the truth.” “I have news for everybody. Get over it.”

Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here is your host… Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hello, everyone, and welcome to PR wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Hey, the life of an intern. It’s tough to get that spot in the agency. And when you do you expect to learn. And it’s got to be more than getting someone coffee. And on the agency side, what should you expect intern to do for a client? Today on PR wars, fellow communications stalwart Brad Grantham and I talk with the talent and culture manager for See.Spark.Go. It’s a public relations agency with offices in Atlanta, Athens, Georgia and Nashville, Tennessee. Kaci Pollack, thank you so much for joining PR wars today.

Kaci Pollack
Yeah, so excited to be here. Thanks for having me.

Chris Shigas
internships, we’re talking about interns. And it is tough for someone to break into the public relations agency. So what are some of your few basic tips to help someone say, hey, you gotta get your start somewhere. This is how you do it.

Kaci Pollack
Oh, really? Well, I’m super excited to be talking about internships today. Because that’s sort of my bread and butter. It’s the thing I’m most passionate about. And I love helping students how they can find a great experience and an internship, I would say my biggest tip to any student or recent college graduate, that’s looking to kind of break in to the PR agency world with internships is to figure out what is unique about that agency, or that company, see where it aligns with your own passions and unique skills, and then merge them together. So an example I like to use is kind of, we have a student this semester, who she’s a recent college graduate, and she’s really passionate about the food industry, right? Well, we have food industry clients, and so she was able to in her interview, and in her application materials, show off her passion and her experience with the food industry. And that that for us was okay, that’s a need we have, and she’s able to fill it. So I like to tell students to find the need and fill it figure out how you can bring your passion, your skills, your unique experiences to the table and show those off and kind of do your own personal PR to tell that agency or company why they need to hire you,

Chris Shigas
right. So even if that person doesn’t have professional experience within that industry, they’re just perhaps a student, right, just for having that interest alone, that could help make them a good fit within the vertical industries of your clients.

Kaci Pollack
Totally. Absolutely. I totally agree. And I think that that’s actually really important because an internship, we’re looking for students who are super motivated to come to work and to show up and you know, they’re doing an atwill, right, this is not their full time employment job. So it’s gonna make it a lot easier for them to be excited and motivated if they’re actually interested in in what we’re talking about.

Brad Grantham
So you’re in an agency, you’re in management, an agency, you put out an ad for internships, open internships, please send your resumes here. I can imagine and Chris and I have both been in that space that you’re going to be overloaded with resumes from all over all different interests. So you’ve got this entire stack, can you walk us through? When you print out that stack? What happens next? A lot, sometimes these things just get lost in the ether, right? You never hear back? Or this, that and the other? What is your process and your agency’s process? And how do you whittle it down?

Kaci Pollack
Yeah, that’s a great question. And I actually love that question. Because we do, we’re really processed at See Spark Go. So basically, we have an automated process where you apply and we, we actually and this is a tip I would give to maybe an intern manager or someone who’s in this role at a different company that may be listening and looking to kind of, you know, revamp their intern program, we actually make our internship application sort of difficult. So they not only have to submit their resume, but they’re also submitting writing samples as well as a creative pitch. They have to pitch themselves to us in a creative way. We we don’t give a lot of boundaries, we want to see what they come up with. So students end up submitting videos or social media accounts or written essays, that kind of thing to kind of pitch themselves to us. So we want our application process to have multiple layers. So that Students who are applying are not just easily shooting over a resume, because it was one of 50 jobs they’re applying to, we want them to, you know, actually be really interested and excited about applying for our job. So once we get those resumes, and you’re right, we do get quite a number of them. Once we get those resumes, our first step is to, we have some initial criteria, right? So we have a, you know, some GPA parameters that we look for, we look for certain criteria around major, you know, you got to be in a major that’s related to PR that, that sort of thing. So we have some initial criteria that kind of skims off the top right? Well, then once we’re down to our core that we’re like, okay, they’ve got the GPA, they’ve got the major, they’ve got all the prerequisites that we have a list of like a rubric that we go through, then we say, Okay, what we’re looking for is a either prior experience, and it doesn’t have to be professional experience in necessarily PR, but are they outside of themselves at all? So are they doing things outside of things that only benefit them? Are they are they working in any way? So we look for, you know, the classic example is a chick fil a employee, right? We know that someone who’s worked at chick fil a is going to have a pretty strong work ethic and background, or student athletes, you know, we’re looking for what are some things that kind of signaled to us that they would make a really hard worker, dedicated, motivated? Yeah, exactly, that they’re engaged, that they’re looking to do things that you know, take some work and take some motivation that you have to show up to every day.

Chris Shigas
So I guess the fortnight leaderboard that doesn’t, doesn’t do it for you.

Kaci Pollack
And not quite, not quite,

Brad Grantham
when I was growing up, when you were trying to get that internship, you will literally would do whatever it took to get that internship, you didn’t care about the hours, you wanted that experience to move your career forward. And, you know, oh, as the years have progressed, you know, would you say those students are still just as hungry? As you know, we were 20 years ago, or do you think that’s tapered off? What is the current crop of interns? What are they like attitude wise?

Kaci Pollack
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ve had the privilege of working with several intern classes at this point. And I would say that they’re just getting hungrier. What we’ve seen is that students realize, especially given the COVID pandemic, the students realize that getting experience in finding a company that’s going to actually like, give you really beneficial, actual real life experience in this industry is hard to come by, especially during COVID. Because they, you know, company shut down, they stopped having interns, you know, interns can’t come into the office. So I find that the ones who are wanting to do them now are super hungry. And that’s also a quality we look for, right? We’re looking for my boss, Andy. He’s the CEO and co founder of our company, he’s really invested in our intern program, too. And so he and I will sit down and we’re looking at candidates, we want to see who’s the horse ready to run right? When you open the gate, which are the which are the horses that are going to blast out of their running and which are the ones that are going to, you know, get a slow start.

Brad Grantham
So you’ve hired me, Casey, I’m here. I’m your intern, I’m ready to go ready, get out the barn and get to it. If you were to give me three tips that I need to remember, during my internship with your agency or anywhere else, what are those three things and why I

Kaci Pollack
love it, I would say my three tips are lead up, be enthusiastic. And remember that enthusiasm wins. And remember excellence over perfection. So I’ll explain the first one lead up, we really truly believe and I truly just as a person personally believe that people can leave from whatever seat they’re in, whether they’re an intern, or the president of the company. So I’m looking for the students who want to come in and I really encourage our interns to come in and say what can I do that’s going to make the person above me that’s going to make their life a little bit easier. And that’s what it means to lead up it means to think okay, my account leads or my supervisors, what can I do from my seat that’s going to make their life a little easier, and make their work easier. And that shows that I’m having forethought for the clients and the work that I’m doing so just show us that you’re you’re able to lead up in that way. Because you really can lead from from any seat. I would say my next one which is to remember that enthusiasm always wins and to show up enthusiastic is to remember to be excited about the work you’re doing and remember that this is a get to not have to situation. You know you signed up for this internship you want to be here show us that you want to be here show up every day ready to work, excited to dig in with an enthusiastic attitude and enthusiasm doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you’re loud and crazy. It just means that you have that posture of I get to do this today. Not that I have To where this is another thing I’m checking off my long list. And then third excellence over perfection. So we know students don’t have experience, we know that they don’t always know what they’re doing, we hire ones that we think can learn quickly and are who are going to catch on quickly. And that you can go through our training process, which is extensive, but we’re not looking for perfection, we’re looking for a level of excellence in the work that you do, which communicates care, which communicates that you, you know, are going the extra mile to do the work to do your work well, but we’re not looking for perfection. So I would tell students to get over the perfectionism stumbling block, and to just try to make their work really excellent.

Chris Shigas
Okay, Casey, I, for one, I’m a big believer in mentorship. I really do I take that part of my job very seriously. I also believe in sending the elevator down to lift other people up. But But I’m going to take a little bit of a gruff opinion here about my experience with interns, and I know some people love to work with interns, sometimes, personally, I can get perhaps maybe a little frustrated on the intern side, I choose not to use interns. While some of my employees really value that experience, to be brutally honest. And here’s some of the reasons why I had my opinion, one, I don’t think the people coming out of college today can write. My experience is they’re very poor writers, and the ones who are good writers, right? Like it’s a scholarly paper for a scientific journal, to a professor to, I don’t think any of their work is client ready. And, and to that point, that means time to then go through their work and get it client ready. And then three, being able to do spend the time with an intern that makes it valuable for them, right. So they should end their internship with a good skill set that prepares them to have that entry level job in the profession. If you’re taking on an intern, and you’re not, you don’t have the time to teach them, show them, get them prepared to work with them as a teacher, then I think it devalues the relationship both on the intern side and on your side. So now I know your agency has a really successful intern program. So So what would you say to a guy like me a grumpy, older veteran PR pro of Hey, look, this is how you really need to work your intern program.

Kaci Pollack
Yeah, no, okay, I kind of love that you are not fully sold yet. Because I’m on the complete opposite end. I’m like, the internships number one fan. I think that it’s all about perspective, right? So for me, it’s I’m thinking about the fact that running an internship program really is about grooming and, and developing the next the next generation of leaders of our industry. And that’s really important to me, because, you know, this industry changes so quickly, every single day, there’s new new trends and new things that we can be doing in our space. And I think that our our intern level students, and employees are the ones who are going to be the leaders of that. And so I really like to think about the fact that like, what you doing an internship is going to have impact on the full industry for years and years to come if you set it up well. So I think it’s about that, I think I would tell you that there needs to be every company should have a person who’s the dedicated intern person, right, um, which makes what those things that you were describing that can be kind of difficult, that makes those that makes it easier when you have a person who’s there to train them to make sure that they know how to do the things that fall under their responsibilities, who’s there to answer all their questions, as we know, interns tend to have a lot of questions, have that person in place to kind of feel that? And then I think it’s all in your training, right? So, um, and in your in your recruitment, so you don’t

Chris Shigas
just want them to be stapling papers, right? Like you want them to do real work that they can they can use, right. So as an employer as as a corporation, or as an agency, what is it that you can expect an intern to be able to do to really help?

Kaci Pollack
Yeah, well, even to your point a few minutes ago about, you know, students being able to write which is the number one skill you need to have in our industry, right? In our internship application process. Why we do make it so extensive, and we do have them send writing samples and we do have certain criteria that we’re falling into, but then it all really comes in The training of the intern so when they come in their first week, is spent doing a super deep dive into all of the assignment types that they’re going to be working on the things that they’re going to be researching. So the core of our internship is writing, researching and reporting. So we want to make sure we’re training them the way that the SSG way. So whatever way that your company does it, you need to be training them from day one, how to write how to research, how to report how to do those things at your company, so that they can be successful. And I think it’s all in the training. Because you can, you can groom people into doing the work the way that you want them to do it. But you can’t teach things like attitude and motivation and enthusiasm. And so those are the things we’re really looking for. And then the rest of it, we really feel like we can teach in that first week. And I think it also, you know, comes from sharing the importance of, you know, development and mentorship with the rest of your team so that they understand the importance of taking the extra five minutes to walk through a pitch that an intern wrote with them, to help them learn and just kind of casting that vision for your company of, like I said, before, you know, we’re getting a really unique opportunity to help develop and grow the next generation of leaders at our company, right. And we’re also thinking through the internship as a pipeline builder for our own company, right? So we kind of think about it as in like, the farm system in baseball, where you have the minor league teams that then they feed into the major league teams, right. So think of it as you know, you’re building your minor team right now. And the really strong ones are really strong interns are going to end up being the next generation of leaders, not only in PR, but at your company as well. So it makes sense to invest the time in it, because even if out of your 10 interns, you get three really solid, new employees out of it, who are going to come in, they already love your company, they already believe in the mission, they’re already trained in the way to do the see spark go, are in how to do things to see spark go away. That’s a huge win in terms of just culture and employee recruitment and engagement. So I would say just casting that vision is super important. important

Chris Shigas
right now, most PR programs at universities require internships of their students. And we’ve seen, you know, I don’t know the latest data, but we’ve seen in a lot of states now they’re starting to require the paid internships that that there are no unpaid internships, in some states, there may be still be unpaid internships, not that big of an issue in a corporation, but for a small agency. Right. But that that is an issue of, you know, are we going to have the if we’re going to have these paid internships, then we’re going to have to have much fewer interns than we used to, which means fewer people are actually getting the opportunity to learn their profession. So So what what’s your take on the the paid internships versus the unpaid internships,

Kaci Pollack
so as you start go, we actually have a large internship program. So every semester we have anywhere from nine to 12, we call them support staff. So it’s either interns or apprentices and our apprentices are just an elevated internship, a little bit more responsibility, it’s someone who’s already served as an intern for a semester and then gets tapped on the shoulder for that sort of promotion. Um, so that being said, you know, we actually really believe in the internship being beneficial and making sure that we, we actually don’t offer a paid internship. And so what we do instead is we say, okay, we know that these students are coming to us. And they’re giving their time to us in exchange for experience, and they’re being compensated in the experience, they’re gaining, because at our, at our agency, they’re not stapling copies, and they’re not getting coffee, they’re writing press releases, and sometimes even listening, in some cases, or they’re, you know, they’re drafting the social media posts for the brands we work with. But obviously, there’s editing and all of that, that goes into it, but they’re getting real life experience. And so to do that, to kind of make that exchange, you know, they’re compensated in an experience. Obviously, we offer class credit, we really encourage them to get class credit for it as compensation as well. But then what I would say to you is that we have gone out of our way to make sure that they leave our company, as, you know, developing professionals and so that they get a lot in exchange for giving their time not just the experience. So built in a mentorship program. So every student is paired with a mentor that they work with all semester long, and who ends up you know, being a really great resource for them even far past the internship. We also offer professional development courses throughout the semester. So we you know, host seminars in the mornings on topics that they’re not teaching you in school, things like finances and health and wellness and stress management. So we’re doing a lot above and beyond to really Pour into our interns because we know that they’re here to get something from us in the same way that they’re here to support our business.

Chris Shigas
Well, here’s my advice to a media relations intern. And I say, look, if you can get into an agency, and write a press release, and distribute that press release, pitch that press release, and then get media coverage. And if you can leave that agency with a little binder, that shows the press release you wrote, it shows the media that you pitched, and it shows the results that you’ve got, then you’re going to be a huge leg up on those entry level positions that you’re applying for, versus your competitors. Is that in target with what you thinking?

Kaci Pollack
Absolutely. I think it’s 100% in target. And I think that’s one of the things we like to help our interns do is say, hey, you’ve done this internship for a semester to semester, I mean, we have interns who turn into apprentices. And then like, right now I’ve got two apprentices, which are that elevated intern role which that position is paid. But those two apprentices have been with us for six semesters of their college journey. So we’ve got these students who have spent a bulk of time with us at sea sparco. And so we really want to help them actually turn that into language to market themselves when they’re applying for full time jobs after college. And so yeah, I think you’re completely right, being able to take the hardcopy evidence and like, here’s what I’ve done, here’s what I’ve accomplished, here are the results of that and show an employer that is huge. On the flip side, if it’s okay, I’ll tell you too. I love seeing intern applications where a student goes out of their way to find a way to get experience, even if they’ve never had a real internship. So I always tell potential students if they’re like, how do I gain in experience? If I have never had an internship before I say you go and you make your own opportunities, right? So I love to tell students like if there’s a nonprofit that you’re passionate about, if there’s a your mom’s company, if it’s you know, your uncle’s business, whatever it is, go to them and say, Hey, can I try drafting a press release for you, and can I catch it and see if I can get you any coverage. And then there you go, you’ve got your binder, and now you’ve got experience on your resume to then even get your initial internship.

Chris Shigas
I love the nonprofit ankles a great thing you volunteer, you do some good work in your community. And at the same time, you help build your own resume I one cause dear to me is the Make A Wish Foundation. And boy that there’s a nonprofit with these amazing stories to tell, it’s a way that you can really do some good in your community. And at the same time, you gain that experience that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

Kaci Pollack
Absolutely. And I would also tell students to in the vein of organizations and nonprofits, figure out what you can get involved in on your campus too. So get involved in the public relations, student society, the prssa, get involved in a nonprofit organization on campus and join the PR committee for that, you know, there are other ways to get experience on your resume than just a traditional internship.

Chris Shigas
I would say also, one last kind of parting thought on my side, when you have that opportunity, and you’re around these professionals. Look for a mentor, look, look for someone that you can check in with and I’m very, I take a serious devotion to making sure that I’m helping younger people on on a on a personal level that they can help them through their careers, they can have honest talks with me about their career path and problems or challenges. And it’s important for an intern to know that there are a lot of executives out there who take that role seriously. And it’s not an inconvenience, it’s not a hammer on your time, it’s actually something that that’s important for people in the industry to do

Kaci Pollack
100,000% cannot agree more. And I think that’s something we also encourage our students all the time, like, like I mentioned, they get paired with a mentor of a formal mentor during through our mentorship program, but we always tell them, we say, go out on a limb and ask any member of our team to grab coffee with you. In fact, make it a little competition with yourself and see how many of our team members you can meet with before the end of the semester, and build those relationships because those relationships will then serve you far past the internship. And that’s something our team is really good about too. And again, I think that comes from casting vision and helping our team understand the importance of pouring into our college students and it becomes something that’s really fun for me and my team members, my fellow full time team members to do is to see our students you know, come in as as one type of professional and leave, you know, much more ready for the career world than they were when they got to us and that’s really fun and it’s always great to stay in touch. with them, I have several students who, who have left our program but who have done a great job at keeping in touch with me. And, you know, calling me and asking me for advice still. In fact, just a week ago, I talked to one of my previous interns who was debating whether or not to take a new job, and she called me and we talked about it. And that’s so honoring to me and see spark go to know that we were able to build that sort of foundation with students like that, and I love it. It’s so fun.

Chris Shigas
Great. Kaci, thank you so much for joining us on PR wars today.

Kaci Pollack
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.

Chris Shigas
You can reach out to Brad and me on PR wars, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn channels. I promise you, we will answer everyone. And on behalf of Brad Grantham and the entire PR wars network. I want to thank Kaci Pollack, talent and culture manager for See.Spark.Go. And do me a favor. If you’re a PR executive. Don’t forget the people who helped you get there. Now it’s your turn to make an impact for the next generation. Now go get ’em.

Leave a Reply