Nurturing Interns Can Create Future PR Pros

In the public relations agency business it is pretty easy to take advantage of the free help provided by college interns.  Creating and updating media lists, filing clips, preparing reports and stuffing media kits are just some of the myriad of tasks thrown at interns.  I know, because I’ve lived it as an intern in 1983 with the New York Yankees and delegated such tasks to students myself.  Interns know going in they will have to do a lot of the grunt work at an agency.  However, those that excel and show that they are capable of doing more can be thrust into bigger roles.  How they are nurtured along the way ultimately can dictate whether the public relations field is truly something they will succeed in.

I have a neighbor, Christina who is entering her sophomore year at the University of South Carolina.  She is going to major in public relations. So far, all she’s taken is an introductory course.  Last Thursday, I had set up a live remote segment for Good Day New York at the Meadowlands Racetrack to preview Saturday’s $1.5 million Hambletonian.  I invited Christina to come with me, prefacing the invitation by saying I would leave my driveway by 4:15 a.m.  Christina agreed to come and I was pleased to see her wide awake that morning ready to head up to the track. To me, Christina already was showing the determination to make public relations her profession.

When we arrived at 5 a.m., we met up with the Fox crew and weatherman Mike Woods who was already filing reports by the paddock.  I walked Christina through all the segments that I had worked out with Mike’s segment producer.   They were to include an interview with Greg Peck, trainer of Muscle Hill, the favorite in the Hambletonian; a learning to drive segment with Mike Woods and Peck; an interview with the director of the Harness Racing Youth League and demonstration by her youth racers and a cooking segment with Woods and Meadowlands chef Frank Travisano, cooking linguini and clam sauce, a dish that would be served in the dining room on Hambletonian day.

All of these segments had been mapped out and with the assistance of Meadowlands publicity director Amy Silver, marketing assistant Rachel Ryan and Moira Fanning of the Hambletonian Society. The first feature piece was set at 7:45 a.m.  

As we approached the first segment, I walked Christina through what the piece would be about, and told her to listen as I discussed it with Woods.  I did so because it is important for interns to know just what goes into making a segment work for live television and how to make the piece as easy as possible for the host.  Christina then got to experience how things can go wrong.   Peck showed up on time but thought his entire segment was happening right at 7:45 a.m.  He couldn’t stay to teach Woods how to drive a harness horse because he had to warm up his horses that were competing that morning in qualifying races.  Luckily Moira Fanning reached out to another trainer Frank Antonacci, who agreed to do the segment later in the 8 o’clock hour.  While this was happening I was working with Woods to reschedule the segments on the fly.

Everything wound up working out fine that morning and Christina received her first “real” experience in public relations.  As I drove her home we discussed the morning shoot and I stressed to her the importance of being prepared to be a field producer when you are publicizing an event.  It’s great to secure a television crew, but more importantly, you must to ensure that they are treated well and are provided the resources to make their segments work.

Christina came away a little tired but felt rewarded.  She told me she learned a lot that day, and for me, that made the trip worthwhile.  As Christina headed back to school on Saturday, the day of the Hambletonian, she could return to class with a heads up on the rest of the public relations students.  She now had first-hand experience and knew what behind-the-scenes is really all about.

For those that have a student interning with them for more than one morning, make sure to walk them through each element of the task assigned and educate them on all of the nuances you are applying to the pitch, strategy or event.  They will learn more than you expect. Not only will it aid them in becoming solid professionals, but they also may become future employees of your firm as well.  A little nurturing at the beginning may be all they need.

Tom Cosentino


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