Home Blog Uncategorized Finally, the PR industry takes a stand on unpaid internships

Finally, the PR industry takes a stand on unpaid internships


Last week, the PR Council, an association representing 110 top U.S. public relations firms, announced a new policy for its member firms: Pay your interns!

My initial response? What took so damn long!

Full disclosure: I had two unpaid internships in 1995 and 1996. It was not pleasant.

This has been a lightning rod issue with college students and employers as far back as I can remember. And, for good reason. Not paying interns in 2019 is flat-out ridiculous.

In 1996, when I graduated, things were different. The labor market was not nearly as tight. Jobs were hard to come by. Employers were in charge. College students were desperate for internships.

Today is much different. Job seekers hold all the cards. To the point that many companies have “employer brands” they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote!

Not to mention, paying interns is simply the right thing to do. Let’s review the situation from a college student’s point-of-view:

  • College students typically need internships as part of their PR/comms programs. In most (if not all) cases, they end up PAYING to work for an employer!
  • Obviously, at this point in their lives, college students have next to zero money. A bi-weekly paycheck would make a substantial difference (especially while still in school).
  • Because they crave and need real-world experience, interns are frequently open to doing just about anything–unlike many Xers and Boomers who are long past the point where they will take on certain tasks.

I tried to think about this objectively from an employer’s point-of-view. I tried to find legit reasons for not paying interns. But, I kept coming back to these arguments:

  • Employers who claim they are providing free training and aren’t benefiting from interns work are flat-out lying. Today’s interns bring a fresh, young perspective many companies completely lack–especially when it comes to marketing and communicating with anyone under the age of 30!
  • The whole “we’re helping these kids out by giving them a glimpse at what life’s like in the real world” thing doesn’t hold water. Not anymore. It probably never did. Not if you want to stay competitive. In today’s market, word gets out if you don’t pay your interns–just take a peek at Glassdoor sometime. With the new era of transparency, paying interns is not only the right thing to do, it’s the right business thing to do, too.

So, I applaud The PR Council for making this decision–really, it took far too long. But, now that we’re here, I hope to see other organizations stand shoulder to shoulder with The PR Council and see if we can make paying interns the norm, not the exception, in the years ahead.





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