I read an article in PR Week last week that made my blood boil, I would have written about it sooner but if I am honest we are flat out at the moment and I failed to get my thoughts onto the blog. The article stated the following:

PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns, according to research by campaign group Intern Aware. Ten cent of the 100 firms reported to HM Revenue and Customs for investigation are either PR agencies or companies advertising PR roles.

For the last three months I have been lecturing at Leeds Metropolitan University on the PR Degree and I am going to be completely honest here and say I agreed to do it because I wanted to help out and offer up my experience.

At Prohibition we have an approved intern programme which I set up around 12-months ago. The programme includes a full induction into the company and then the individuals are given specific briefs about the tasks they have to do on that day. As I did the PR degree myself many years ago and I am a part-time lecturer I think I know what the students need to demonstrate their expertise in their portfolios. In fact, one of my classes is actually giving them advice on what they need to include in them. So what I am trying to say is I don’t bring interns in to do work experience, just to make the coffee, or to do the mundane jobs my team don”t wish to do. We try to give them tasks that help them learn – they end up doing things they have never done before and that’s what work experience or intern ships are about.

However, I think we have to discuss the ethics of work experience. In my opinion if you get a student to come in to work for five days a week for more than two months then that person should be paid for doing so. Any longer than two months full time is simply slave labour. I understand that students sometimes aren’t up to the job but that doesn’t mean that PR agencies or digital agencies should be exploiting these guys by not paying them and offering them unpaid placements for more than two months.

I think companies should be prosecuted, only this week I had one of my class telling me that they had been offered a twelve month unpaid placement and it made me rage. This is wrong – plain and simple.

What do you think of unpaid full-time work placements? I would like my students to comment here to to give us their thoughts.


About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.