There are no courses in college that can teach what it really means to work in public relations; it’s a mystery until you get out there and experience it on your own. I knew that landing an internship would be the best way to get a taste of what the professional PR world was like outside of the classroom walls.
Two summers ago, I held an intern position at a boutique beauty and fashion PR firm and, frankly, I did not learn a whole lot about the business. I spent my summer shoved in the beauty closet organizing lipsticks, running down the hot sidewalks of New York City to fetch magazines, and wrapping gift boxes. While it was an exciting experience in the big city, I did not walk away with an understanding of how a PR firm operated on a day-to-day basis.
This summer, I was pleased to accept an internship position at Stanton Communications. I walked in the door with some preconceived notions about what I would experience at a more serious communications firm. Here are four assumptions that I’m happy to report were far off the mark:
1) Public relations professionals are aggressive, intimidating and cut-throat. This business is demanding and often extremely fast-paced. I originally thought that higher-level colleagues would not have time to deal with a new face who was unaware of how their company operated. I was terrified to make a mistake but afraid to ask questions. Much to my surprise, when I began to ask, everyone was willing to help and provide an answer. Those I have had the chance to work with are patient, likely because they remember being in my shoes once. They know what it’s like. I learned it is better to ask questions and not feel intimidated by your team members. They are here to help and will appreciate you wanting to get the job done right the first time around.
2) Interns are only around to get coffee and stuff envelopes. We have all seen the television shows and movies where interns run errands and doing other seemingly meaningless tasks. I can vouch for that—my previous internship involved doing the chores no one else wanted to do. However, I found that at Stanton Communications, interns are a valuable part of the team. Even the smallest task helps out in a big way. Whether you are making phone calls, creating media lists, doing research or just making copies, each task fuels a bigger project and helps your colleagues do their jobs better. It feels good knowing that a reporter is interested in a story I pitched or that the information I found through research was useful to the team.
3) Public relations is the same job day in and day out. Not true. Every day in a public relations firm is different. There is extensive planning and hard work leading up to events and big campaigns. And it’s not always pretty. You just have to roll up your sleeves and get to it. Of course, there will be opportunities to work with big-name clients, attend glamorous events, and meet incredible—sometimes famous—people, but there is a lot of research, writing and pitching that have to be done as well. The hard work pays off once the final product, campaign or event is over and the client is happy.
4) Writing does not matter outside of school. In school, you are graded on your writing ability. In the professional world, you are judged for it. Your writing makes an immediate impression on others. All of those late nights spent churning out research papers seemed annoying at the time, but now I am very thankful for them. A job in public relations requires you to read and re-read your writing and edit it to perfection. School essays and grammar lessons help you master the basics, which are important in all communication, whether within the company internally or when communicating with clients. It is noticeable when someone does not write or speak well, so learning how to communicate and use grammar correctly is essential.
Every firm and company is different, but I can say the lessons I learned at Stanton Communications are often true across the board regardless of the setting. I am so glad I had the experience of serving as part of a team doing professional work rather than acting as just another intern standing by to bubble-wrap makeup. Interns have the opportunity to contribute to and make an impression on the people they intern for. As I embark on my senior year of college I will take what I have learned at Stanton Communications and apply it to my course work and classroom discussions, encouraging any of my peers to apply for internships like this and take learning to a new level.