Unpaid interns issue rumbling the blue skies above PR

I have recently signed up to PRweek online (can’t pay for a subscription yet as a poor student) and I have seen some disturbing news on there. PR agencies hiring a bunch of interns and not paying them for their work.

This issue was raised after BBC 2 screened a documentary featuring a PR agency that had hired more than 20 unpaid interns. This is shocking, how can a PR agency be run by more than 20 unpaid students? This is not right at all.

The first time I had to deal with this issue was when I had to start looking for an internship here in the UK as part of my MA degree course. The work placement was only for 4 weeks and I thought this was really strange. I am only one of the two students on my course that have done a work placement(s) before, this shocked me. Why would students in the UK not have to do an internship? It is a good way of seeing and experiencing what working in the industry is like.

I also had an issue with the time frame of the work placement, 4 weeks. What can you really achieve in 4 weeks and what kind of scope of the industry does this really give you?

During my BA in The Netherlands I had to do 3 work placements, one of 10 weeks, 6 months and 8 months. Then you have enough time and opportunity to see different  fields of the industry you are interested in and get a good grip on the work that you would be expected to do later in life in your career.

This information is all relevant because a few students on my course were asked if they had any previous experience when going for interviews for work placement. They thought this was a really strange question to be asked because they are looking for experience. They didn’t get the placements where this question was raised because they don’t have previous experience.

Now I am wondering if this question was asked because if they did have experience it would be free work done by a student that knows what they are doing and that would hardly need any guidance. Free labour basically. When thinking about the free labour for 4 weeks then why was it still hard to find a placement?

I didn’t mind not being paid for 4/5 weeks but if I had to work for a longer period of time I would want to be paid. The funny thing is that whilst looking for a work placement and mentioning the 4 week time frame the topic of payment was never raised. Funny that companies would assume that they wouldn’t have to pay you just because you’re only going to be with them for 4 weeks.

Now, this issue of PR agencies hiring interns work long periods of time and not paying them is concerning, especially because the job market isn’t that good at the moment. It’s hard for graduates to find a job. Then it’s understandable that you would go for a job that offers you experience for a few months but doesn’t pay you.

As graduates we should be able to get a job at a PR agency and get paid for the work we do. It’s not as if the work we do is useless or irrelevant. We are very capable of producing up to standard work, we have imput that is new and fresh.

Shame on the companies that were hiring a bunch of interns and making them work for free but offering experience, that just sounds like exploitation to me. Funny that one of the companies mentioned in the BBC 2 documentary said that they weren’t the only ones doing this. Always try to shift the blame on others. It is wrong what you are doing so take responsibility and make it right. I don’t think they will be getting any interns for a while or new staff for that matter any time soon.

 The articles are all on PRweek this is the link to the ones I commented on:



 Let me know what you think about this issue surrounding the PR industry and especially if you’re a graduate let me know what you think!


3 Responses to “Unpaid interns issue rumbling the blue skies above PR”

  1. 1 Yulia
    February 12, 2011 at 23:24

    I believe in NL most of the internships are paid. Here the problem is more about the substance of the work the student do in the company. For instance, during the graduation internship at my university, a number of students were complaining not about the payment but about the fact that the work experience at the agency came down mostly to preparing coffee and being a personal assistants than actually carrying out PR related tasks.
    To my mind, nowadays when an interesting position in a good company is hard to get even for the experienced employees, for ambitious students the insight of the internship is of more value than its financial reimbursement.

  2. February 13, 2011 at 18:07

    Hi Yulia, Thank you for your comment. I have experience of interning in NL as you know 😉 and I think companies ‘have’ to pay interns. There is a standard fee of 250 euro’s I think. But the company can decide what they want to pay as long as it is from 250 on.

    I have never heard that students have a problem with the substance of the work their given. Seems there are more issues then we actually think then. It is very important to get a good experience from your internship.

    I agree 100% with you that the value of the internship is more important than the financial value you get for it!

  3. 3 Nikita Patel
    February 20, 2011 at 19:13

    Hi Sophie,

    During my four week work placement I was told that the placement was going to be unpaid but had still taken it as I was interested in the experience of working in a PR agency rather than the money.

    I’ll admit I did spend a fair amount on train tickets and food whilst on the placement but what I have gained from the placement is invaluable.

    I did, however, meet another Intern there and at first he started his three month Internship unpaid but negotiated and got paid for the rest but he was heavily involved with the clients at this point.

    There is also not much a work placement for a month can offer you apart from an insight and this is a privilege which students understand so I agree with you Sophie that the experience heavily out weighs the financial benefit of a placement.

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