Unpaid Internships in PR: The Australian Perspective

This is a guest blog post by Annabelle Warren, National Chair PRIA Registered Consultancies Group and ICCO Board Member for Australia; Chairman of Primary Communication

Each year we host interns in our office, and they are truly inspirational. Beyond raw talent and enthusiasm, they are professional, punctual, incredibly curious, eager and earnest. Some need a little polishing, most need a lot of early guidance. But for over two decades I have loved hosting interns, and I am not alone.

A recent survey of Australian consultancies showed 80% hosted tertiary interns and 60% hosted multiple interns each year. These internships were often the start of ‘beautiful friendships’, with 72% of Australian consultancies offering long term employment to their interns.

Australia has a culture of academic internships. These are compulsory subjects for students completing accredited PR degrees through eighteen Australian universities.

I’ve also been an academic, and supervised student intern programs. So I get really confused by this talk of ‘interns working for free for six months to a year’. That is a total crock. I’ve never heard of an Australian PR intern subject that requires six or twelve months activity. Most are between 80 and 200 hours.

If students are retained as juniors working in a business, they should be paid.

If it is a formal internship the student will be enrolled in a subject that outlines specified time periods, compulsory reporting and academic supervision. Well that’s my experience, and it may be a very Australian PR/Comms experience.

After the Public Relations Institute of Australia (PRIA) launched new guidelines for managing internships last week, I was sent the UK Internship guidelines from the PRCA. There are several key differences, and a number of similarities, between the internship programs in Australia and the United Kingdom.

Legislation in Australia recognises that students can be enrolled in a subject which requires workplace learning. When this is the case, they are official ‘interns’ and they do not have to be paid for the time to complete that prescribed workplace activity. But once the formal internship period has been completed, the student may be considered an employee if they continue working in the consultancy. In this case there are clear minimum wage rates which apply – just less than $AUD 20 per hour if they are casuals.

The legislation also says a student is also allowed to observe in a workplace for a number of days without payment. If students are not enrolled in such a subject and the student does more than a few days of observation in the consultancy, then they should be paid for their efforts.

In Australia, we have a culture of shorter internships – over 60% of internships offered by Australian consultancies are from 2-4 weeks duration. This is unlike in the UK where over 75% of internships exceed one month and up to a year.

It is very clear in Australia that junior office work is not an internship. It is work, and it is common to find consultancy juniors who are enrolled at university and also working part-time and getting paid within consultancies.

The vibrant academic community in Australia has established close links with the PRIA and with individual consultancies. This relationship between a consultancy and academic supervisors can help identify the most suited interns and maximise the benefit to the student and the consultancy. It also provides a valuable two way feedback loop on skills needed, support programs and ideas to help each other grow and improve. For instance, most consultancies implore academics to beef up their teaching of writing skills.

The National Education Advisory Committee of the PRIA provided extensive information for the guidelines about the consistent requirements from academic institutions. For instance:

a. There should be an agreement between the student and the host consultancy about learning outcomes

b. The host organisation should appoint a supervisor and conduct formal induction and then ongoing review discussions

c. The consultancy should also be asked to fill in a report or evaluation

d. Each academic institution has an internship coordinator who should be available for questions from consultancies and to support the student

Consultancy on-boarding processes for interns should also cover insurance, confidentiality agreements, intellectual property, OH/&S requirements and codes of ethics.

All interns should be signed up to the same company policies and requirements as normal employees. This is probably the area which needs most attention. As interns tend to be short term, they may not be asked to sign all the contractual paperwork that is given to a full-time employee. However interns will have direct or consequential access to intellectual property, confidential information and be part of the daily life of the consultancy. So they must be covered by consistent company policies.

The choice for inexperienced students searching for an internship position must be clear. Sign up with a professional consultancy which is part of an ethical industry organisation. And stay clear of those terrible abusers out there on the sidelines of the marketing and communication industry.

My interns from the past twenty years are still wonderful friends – and they still inspire me by running major consultancies or in-house operations. There is no doubt in my mind that internships are a wonderful way to build the pipeline of talent and the future of our profession.


The New Look of Public Relations

This is a guest blog post by Roman Geiser, CEO and managing partner of Farner Consulting; President of BPRA Association of PR Agencies in Switzerland; and a board member of International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO).

Follow Roman on Twitter.

My interview last week on the persoenlich portal has generated some interesting reactions: it was an eye-opener for me that both my PR and advertising agency friends would feel moved to comment on the line separating their respective disciplines. Some insisted that PR will always remain PR, whilst others maintained that advertising is much more focused on ads and commercials than on integration. It seems that looking into the neighbor’s backyard from the comfort of one’s own continues to be the rule. Except that the hedge separating the two – to stay within the green terminology – tends to obscure reality.

It’s not about PR vs. advertising – success is determined by communications that bring tangible benefits

The main point I made was that communications’ playing field, and that of the agency market for both PR and advertising, is changing. The emerging business models of traditional media and the growing prominence of participation-based communications are pushing providers of a certain size towards convergence. By convergence I don’t mean PR mutating into advertising or advertising putting on a PR hat. For me convergence means an agreement to create trust based on strong, interesting content, which will lay the groundwork for successful dialogue, participation and collaboration.

Communications’ success is determined by the extent that it reaches the given target groups. Its success depends on context and target group proximity. Or, expressed in the language of today’s business models, from merely transmitting content to dialogue, from stakeholder management to meaningful commitment, from sender-oriented messages to benefit-focused content, from copy to visuals and to video.

Media convergence: an opportunity for every communications agency

This sums up a huge opportunity that awaits agencies, regardless of their core discipline. My company Farner is, first and foremost, a PR agency. But at the same time we are becoming a more integrated agency in line with the aforementioned trends. Within the framework of paid-for, earned, shared and owned content we find ourselves moving towards a 360-degree model. In the past, integration meant combing advertising, PR, event-based communications and below-the-line measures. Today, we engage with any available communications channel, entering into a dialogue with anyone, at any time – and always in appropriate tonality. The basis for this is a sustainable central idea.

Convergence preoccupies the world’s communications industry

At this point a quick glance at the PR giants’ battle for concept leadership would not go amiss. A couple of weeks ago one of the world’s biggest PR agencies, Fleishman-Hillard, announced its new strategy and positioning. The New York Times headlined it“The new look of Public Relations”. The article’s defining sentence read ‘The firm will be the most complete communications company in the world”. Fleishman-Hillard CEO Dave Senay contributed sound-bites ranging from “serve consumers with content worthy of sharing”, to “recruitment of non-traditional talent”, “channel agnostic” and “work across paid, owned, earned and shared media”.

A reaction from Richard Edelman, global CEO of the eponymous agency, had followed shortly. In his blog he claimed that strategies aimed at turning PR agencies into one-stop shops as devoted to advertising as to their public relations legacy, are misplaced. He went on to say that the market is shifting towards PR anyway because it draws on more than a set of tools or tactics – it is a mindset, a way of thinking.

Agile agencies are the winners

I don’t consider myself to be in a position to proclaim any winners in this battle of opinions raging among global PR agencies. But it does seem to me that, in fact, Edelman and Fleishman-Hillard think alike – although they express themselves differently.

Myself, I firmly believe that the key to success lies in establishing trust, making interaction and participation part of the message, that we have to create content relevant and useful to the recipient, whether consumer, activist, voter, investor or employee, and that an agency’s services must conform to global trends as well as hyper-local market conditions and existing brand positioning.

No one today has the ultimate answer. I do believe, however, that communications agencies that learn from and absorb today’s rapidly changing conditions most quickly, that are able to reorganize their in-house thinking, models, processes and procedures, talents and teams accordingly, and that generate communications solutions appropriate for the new reality, will gain the lion’s share of the market.

We’re working on it. And so are certain advertising, web and marketing agencies.

This blog post initially appeared on Farner blog

The rise of Ethno-PR in Europe

This is a blog post by Juergen H. Gangoly, Managing Partner of the Vienna based PR-Agency The Skills Group, and ICCO Board Member for Austria (PR Quality Austria & PRVA)

Businesses and public institutions across the European continent are becoming increasingly aware of the economic potential of immigrant communities.

Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon world where, for historic reasons, “ethno-marketing” has had a long tradition, the business community and the public sector in most European countries long ignored the specific interests and needs of ethnic minorities. Marketing and sales strategists considered the economic potential of groups outside the majority population too small for profitable development, and focused on the high-income population segments instead.

Similarly the media, as well as advertising and PR agencies, for many years overlooked the growing immigrant communities in Europe. Opinion surveys, too, were often conducted only among the majority population. Most market researchers did not seek access to ethnic minorities, despite the fact that, in many European cities, these groups make up 20 percent or more of the total population.

At last some business sectors now seem to have woken up to the opportunities presented by minority groups. For many companies, the economic crisis causes “negative growth” in their regular markets. The struggle for market share draws the attention of marketers to ever smaller market segments, and managers long spoiled by success now rejoice over single-digit growth rates driven by small segments of the population.

In the spotlight

This puts the spotlight on the economic potential of immigrant communities.

In order to survive in the current business environment, industries such as telecom, insurance or consumer electronics need to address minority groups.

Nobody can afford to turn their back on large parts of the population anymore and not develop products or services which appeal to these groups.

The economic crisis has thus achieved what human rights organisations and other NGOs have sought to accomplish for several decades: change the public perception of immigrants from economic burden for their host countries to valued contributor to the economy and to society.

Thus interest in immigrants is on the rise in many places all over Europe: large corporations, banks, insurance companies, retailers, car manufacturers and many others have realised that further growth can be more easily achieved within the hitherto overlooked immigrant communities than in the largely (over-)saturated majority population.

What a miracle: immigrants also have an income, they are also consumers, and often even successful businesspeople. Immigrants buy cars and houses, and they go on vacation. And, sooner or later, immigrants also become voters, members of associations and pressure groups, and participate in the political decision process. All this has already happened, and now even tabloids which have never shown much sympathy for a multi-cultural society, have begun to report on immigrant communities.

This interest of businesses in immigrant groups and the ensuing demand for consulting services also affects the communication industry, which was quite unprepared for this development. Actually, in continental Europe, immigrants are still significantly underrepresented in most consultancies, and in most media, too.

Perceptions of incompatibility

This is not only caused by language barriers, but also by the image of immigrant communities, which is widely regarded as incompatible with the agency world. As a result, advertising executives, marketing experts and PR professionals lack in inter-cultural communication know-how. Many of them are not even aware of the numerous immigrant media which are published in both print and online forms.

Thus the “clash of cultures” not only happens between continents. In Europe it also takes place in the communication industry: whenever an agency, for the first time, is commissioned by a client to reach out to all the different segments of the population.

Given the economic situation, more and more clients want to improve their standing with immigrant communities. Even mass market players are increasingly ready to adapt their products and services to the needs of minorities, and they also understand that these offers have to be communicated in a different way. Among the pioneers in this area have been the telcos with special rate offers for calls to immigrants¹ countries of origin, or banks and insurance companies which purposefully recruited salespeople from minority groups.

Solid data

Besides relevant content, strategic communications also require solid empirical data. This creates problems for communication consultancies in many European countries, where so far little relevant data is available for the immigrant communities. The established market research companies only marginally reach these communities with their current survey tools.

Most available statistics provide (at best) a comparison between the majority population and “the immigrants”. That there are actually big differences between the first and second immigrant generations, and all the more between immigrant communities from different countries, is often ignored.

However, a change in thinking is already taking place. In Austria, the author¹s PR consultancy The Skills Group, the Austrian Affiliate of FleishmanHillard) has taken a first step to overcome this data shortage. Together with the Vienna immigrant lifestyle magazine biber, and the market research firm meinungsraum.at, Skills founded EthOpinion.at: the first opinion research firm in the German-language area which specialises in surveys of immigrant groups.

Together EthnOpinion.at’s three founding companies offer their clients not only (multi-language) surveys in practically all ethnic minority groups, but also in-depth interviews in focus groups. Results are then used for customised advertising, marketing and PR programmes and for developing new products and services.

New Austrians

Since its creation at the end of 2010 EthnOpinion.at has managed to acquire prestigious clients from different industries and political institutions.

More than 5,000 new Austrians (which is what EthnOpinion calls immigrants) regularly take part in online surveys. EthnOpinion.at also publishes a quarterly EthnoMix report, which is put at the disposal of the media and public institutions, at no cost.

Beside the economic success (which came quickly due to strong demand for the company¹s services), EthnOpinion also managed to positively influence the public debate on the subject of immigration.

Conclusion: if the communication industry lives up to its responsibilities, ethno-PR will not only pay its own way, but it can also help to lower social and cultural barriers.

What In The World Are Agencies Doing This Week?

One of the great things about involvement in the ICCO community is the opportunity to indulge in curiosity about what’s going on in the wacky world of PR agencies and communications consultancies./  With any luck and just a sliver of interest from you, this may become a semi-weekly feature on the ICCO blog, featuring news and trends that strike me as interesting and potentially relevant for the member associations of ICCO and their respective agency members around the world.

So what in the world are agencies doing this week?

1. They’re collaborating. Canadian-based smartphone manufacturer BlackBerry announced that they’ve handed their global PR brand brief to a combined team of APCO and Text 100. While it’s not unprecedented for agencies to combine forces to better serve clients, it’s not often that two from separate groups can set aside differences to match expertise with opportunity.

For what it’s worth, I think that the agencies and networks that can make themselves agile and versatile enough to morph into new shapes to match client needs are going to be a step ahead of those who cannot or will not.


2. They’re reinventing themselves. FleishmanHillard announced a rebrand and expansion of its offer to become a fully-integrated communications offer. The new branding features the tagline “The Power of True” and will incorporate a suite of earned, shared and paid media services.

It’s early days for the FleishmanHillard reinvention, but I think we’ll see more agencies – event giant networks like FH – recast themselves to be more competitive in a world where traditional boundaries between disciplines are quickly fading.


3. They’re focusing on ‘makeable ideas’.  Ok, the article below is in reference to ad agencies, but that doesn’t make the concept of makeable ideas off-limits to us in the PR world – especially those who’ve already re-invented themselves (see above)!

What’s a makeable idea? According to the author, “[Account planners] should guide the creative towards ideas that can be downloaded, worn, played, customized, broken into constituent parts, crowdfunded, gamified, or otherwise hacked. When you start thinking that way you are starting to create a “makeable idea.”

I particularly like one part of the process he suggests – focusing on platforms, rather than campaigns. The more we look at our work as an ongoing opportunity to interact with audiences rather than a set-piece of broadcasting with a beginning, middle and end, the more effective our work is like to believe.


4. They’re daring to look for bold ways to be good – including being bad.  I was with Ketchum colleagues from the around the world at a planning retreat in Geneva where Harvard Business School guru Frances Frei entreated us to find a few a few things to be bad at./  Not for the sake of disappointment, but to free resources and focus to be truly good at the things our clients care about most. I’m not saying whether we agreed, but it’s an interesting exercise to test assumptions about client service and an agency’s strategy to deliver.


What else are agencies doing? We’d love to share …