Unpaid Internships

So the big talk this past week has been the New York Timesarticle about unpaid internships, Growth of Unpaid Internships May Be Illegal, Officials Say.  It has been the focus on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets.  I have read about it multiple times on my Google Reader.  And the subject even came up in my Human Resources class.  The issue of unpaid internships has been a topic of debate for years, but leave it to the New York Times to create such pandemonium over the issue.

In November, I learned at the PRSSA National Conference in San Diego from Bey-Ling Sha, Ph.D., Associate Professor at San Diego State University that some unpaid internships are illegal.  She told us the criteria of legal unpaid internships: credit and non-profits.  However, I had interned at an agency and was unable to receive credit because I had only completed my freshman year, and it was a for-profit agency.

Do I regret interning for no money?  I was in New York City, which is not known for its affordable rent, food, or well, anything.  But I do not regret taking that internship.  I was able to immediately get my foot in the door with the industry.  On the first day they immediately had me pitching to the media.  I was treated like an assistant account executive.  One of the AAEs who started after me even asked me questions concerning some of the software and tools I was using.  Throughout the summer I pitched to the media (including some of the top newspapers and magazines in the country and bloggers), helped plan events, send out press kits, learned how to use software to make media lists, etc.  And I had only finished my freshman year.  I really could not have asked for a bigger opportunity.  Looking back, I do not regret this experience.

I do not think the government should be spending its time tracking down unpaid interns.  The students who choose to take unpaid internships are not forced to take the internship.  It is their choice.  The bigger agencies will not look twice at a freshman with little to no experience.  Students need to take these unpaid internships and get some experience under their belt before they can even consider applying for the larger places.  Internships, paid or unpaid, are already hard to get.  By not allowing unpaid internships at smaller companies who cannot afford to pay their interns, internships will be even scarcer.  The smaller companies and start-ups end up paying their interns through the time it takes to train them and grant them an experience they will not have elsewhere.  I understand that I was lucky enough to have an experience like I did and not all unpaid internships are like this.  However, every student needs to start somewhere.  The unpaid internships are simply an investment in the future for the employer and the student.


Law and PR

As I pursue my dual degree in Public Relations and Business Administration, I am required to take a business law class.  At first, I did not know what to expect.  I only knew 2 things about law: 1) My sister was in law school. 2) Public Relations and law have a close-knit relationship because often public relations professionals and lawyers cross paths.  However, I have been pleasantly surprised about how much I have enjoyed the class, and I feel that it will greatly enhance my future in public relations by being aware of legal issues.

PR professionals believe that they need to maintain good relations with lawyers in order to seek their professional help and advice.  Though some lawyers do not appreciate PR professionals? lack of knowledge about the law, they do respect their ability to act in a crisis.  However, when promoting a product or cause, employees in PR may be unaware of certain laws.  Additionally, ethics greatly comes into play when one is immersed in the field of Public Relations.  For example, if an employer tells you to write on a blog promoting the product or cause that you work for, do you do it?  If you report the wrong information and discover it later, do you change it, even if that means hurting a client?  The Public Relations Society of America has a Code of Ethics (http://www.prsa.org/aboutUs/ethics/preamble_en.html) to maintain their high ethical standards, but at times, professionals may ignore this document and run into trouble.  Additionally, many PR professionals do not know much about contracts, libel, slander, malpractice, or intellectual property.  That is where the relationship with lawyers may come in handy.

For example, a potential client approaches you and says he is starting a business to produce cookies and other baked goods.  He has a great recipe, but he needs the help of a professional to get his name out.  You agree to the terms and sign a contract.  However, a few weeks later you find out that he stole the recipe from Mrs. Fields and can no longer have his business.  In the meantime, you passed over another client to take him on.  Are you entitled to any damages?

In another case, you may find yourself ordering supplies to help your PR business.  You agree with a friend who sells office supplies that he will give you supplies on the 1st of every month.  You do not sign a contract ? after all, he is your friend!  You owe him $450 every month.  However, after three months of this business deal, he stops selling you the products, and you are now forced to pay $1000 for the same amount of supplies from another retailer.  Are you entitled to any damages?  (I actually just learned yesterday in my class that all contracts for the sale of goods that are over $500 must be in writing).

In another situation, your client is a restaurant and is quoted in a newspaper saying that its competitor not only does not clean the facility before cooking but uses various chemicals that are unhealthy without telling its customers.  However, your client knows this information is not true and says it anyway.  You think it is a crisis communication situation but really the competitor is planning its lawsuit against the restaurant, YOUR client!

These issues are three of many that PR professionals may not have much prior knowledge or experience with.    Many law issues may seem like situations that can just be handled by contacting the press and using crisis communications strategies, but in fact, they have the potential to turn into lawsuits if not handled properly.  The importance of communication and networking opportunities between lawyers and public relations professionals is just as important, if not more, than communication and networking between the media and public relations professionals.  A PR professional could easily lose his or her good reputation due to the unfortunate case of a law-breaking client.  Thank goodness for this law class!


To Blog or Not to Blog

How did blogging become so popular?  Who created the first blog?  How did he/she get everyone else’s attention?  Did this person know how huge the creation would turn out to be?  Did he/she get all of his/her friends to start blogging to turn it into this gigantic empire?

Even though I am currently a sophomore in college, I was not exposed to blogs for many years of my life.  Even though I had heard of this mysterious thing called a “blog,” I did not really know how to use or even create one (until now, of course).  Every time I access my blog or other people’s blogs, it interests me.  How do people come up with all of the ideas for all the different types of blogs.  Yes, there are the standard entertainment, job-related, political, and news blogs, but there are also more creative ones like those about art or a hobby.  Blogs are more just pieces of journalism in my mind.  Journalism is censored and the true story cannot always be published.  But blogs are the complete truth.

Many journalists are now turning to blogs to get their messages out.  Instead of writing for their papers where they cannot fully express themselves, they write on their blogs.  Even if they choose to write anonymously so as to not get into trouble with their company, they are still able to speak their minds.

On the other hand, some blogs are not exactly ethical.  How do we know that the shopping blogs or the blogs that give information on different appliances and products are not staged PR campaigns by the companies themselves?  Is this new media innovation going to ruin our access to truth?  Will there ever be a way to censor on the Internet?  We’ll find out…


Global Warming

So I have taken a brief hiatus from writting here because I have been writing a 16 page paper for my public relations class.  The purpose of this paper was to develop a PR Plan for promoting awareness in college students about global warming.  Unlike my past experience of promoting products, global warming took on a different angles.  The plan starts by explaining the four-step model of a campaign: research, planning, implementation, and evaluation.  It continues to compare the campaigns for global warming with similar campaigns that have been conducted to promote awareness: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the American Petroleum Institute.  Next, it explains the role that research plays in promoting awareness and the effects it will have on this segment of the population.  The next part is the publicity part, where 6 traditional media outlets are targeted, and specific journalists with specific beats are mentioned.  Finally, a new media perspective is used to show how the college students will be reached (blogs, RSS feeds, podcasts, etc.).  The last component is a pitch letter to one the journalists in the fourth part.  To complete the paper is my four page bibliography highlighting my research.

I found this paper extremely interesting to write, not just because of its relevancy to my future career, but because of the different angles that are necessary to be taken to reach an audience.  Instead of convincing a journalist to write a feature article about a product, you have to convince a journalist about the importance of a cause.  Whereas certain publications would not be interested in a cause but only in products or accessories, other publications thrive off of promoting awareness on important issues.  Additionally, instead of presenting journalists with a sample of a product, you have to think of something more creative to encourage journalists to write about this issue.  Though my experience has always centered around media kits with samples, this different perspective proved to be extremely interesting as well.

A sample from the paper (showing my interest of this different aspect of PR): Even though many people believe that public relations campaigns are only used to promote a product, they are also used to raise awareness for causes.  From global warming to oil drilling to animal testing, there are many concerns that do not need to be sold to the public, but that need greater attentiveness.  Public relations campaigns may not always be credited for these efforts because many times they are more subtle than product placements or promotions.  However, at the heart of the campaign lies a public relations professional.