Are You Smarter Than an Intern?

Carolyn White Bartoo

I hit the jackpot this summer.  As a public relations  professor, I’ve been given the rare chance to “get back in the trenches” for two weeks and I luckily landed in Ron Culp’s Ketchum Chicago office. 

This once-in-a-lifetime magic carpet ride comes to me through a fellowship I received from the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations.

I ramble around Ketchum picking uber-talented PR folks’ brains  to bring a fresh perspective back into my classrooms at the University of Delaware. I’m blogging about it, and here’s a few high notes from the first week:

HIGH NOTE #1:   Are You Smarter than an Intern?

I’ve met with loads of folks here, but I gained killer insights from five impressive interns.  I and the other fellow, Robin Orvino from Murray State University,  grilled them on what they wished they had learned more about in school before diving into the deep end.

10 delectable intern insights on skills to get before the cap and gown:

1.     Media pitching

2.     Media monitoring tool usage (i.e. Cision, PRtrak)

3.     Data management (Excel fluency) for reports and tracking

4.     Agency structure knowledge, hierarchy of job responsibility (account coordinator vs. account manager)

5.     Specific tactics (A&R, SAT media tours, blogger relations)

6.     Office etiquette do’s and don’ts- emails, phone persuasion

7.     When to ACT – find a way to hold an internship even if you have to work three other jobs. Don’t let fear hold you back.

8.     Know your “me” brand: define it so you know your key skills and can explain them in an interview – concisely

9.     Methods to find mentors!

10.     Ways to start with YES: do whatever your supervisor tells you to do, just get it done.

High Note #2:  MONEY TALKS

No one studies PR  because they want to work in finance.  No one.

But I saw the light while talking with two folks who work in administration and finance at Ketchum Chicago:  Janet Jose and Joanna Takla, both from the mysterious land of accounting that is harder for we PR folks to enter than it is for Frodo to journey through Middle Earth.

Tip:  Neglecting to understand budgeting and finances equals a GUARANTEED career stall!  Everyone I spoke with agreed with this, supervisors always know who does and who does not “get” financials. Even if she is the team’s Wonder Woman of pitching, no one moves significantly up the food chain without at least moderate money skills. If your boss doesn’t trust your judgement on financial reports, then she can’t promote you because higher level positions ALWAYS come with more financial/budgeting responsibilities. It all adds up.

What can you do to fix this in the next month?  Here’s the tips Janet and Joanna gave me:

1.     Understand the importance of financial literacy in public relations. Most early-career folks don’t “get” this and then “stall” out — even if they work harder, have bigger ideas and write better than everyone else combined. That’s not enough.

2.     Avoid the impulse to delay acquiring better financial skills because you hate it, don’t understand it, or tend to put it off until everything else is done. (Looking the other way doesn’t make it disappear.)

3.     MS Excel is your best friend. It makes tracking expenses, monitoring accounts receivable, completing budgets, etc. a breeze.  There’s a TON of easy functions in there that most folks don’t know about or use. Ask someone in your administrative offices or just go to Microsoft’s help area – they’ve got great tutorials.

4.     Focus on budgeting.  Again, if this is a weak spot for you (as it is for me!) then ask someone (i.e the guy in charge of the budgeting process or your manager) to walk you through the top three most common mistakes made in budgets and the best ways to avoid them. Presto! You’ve just increased your personal “brand equity” with your firm.

5.     Once you’re stronger at finance, PITCH this in your next performance review or job interview. Make sure folks know you can do “numbers stuff”. It’s a killer value proposition for you.

Carolyn White Bartoo, APR, directs the PR Sequence and Communication Internship Program for the University of Delaware’s Communication Department, where she also advises their PRSSA-UD chapter. She holds a BA in Communication from UD, and a M.S. in Environmental Management from Antioch University New England. Her consulting practice focuses on environmental communication, branding, IMC, social marketing and CSR.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *