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How to Intern—and Ultimately Work—in an Agency

Posted At: August 24, 2009 11:19 AM
by Nick Lucido, Contributing Writer

Strategic counselors. Creative thinkers. Corporate partners.

Today, public relations agencies brand themselves in different ways to demonstrate their diversity of services and expertise in practices. Even so, they all have one thing in common: they are looking for fresh, talented and driven young professionals.

Securing an internship at an agency—whether it is a boutique shop or a global firm—is one challenge, but the hardest part is being able to contribute to the company once you have been hired. As an intern with a small, mid-size and currently global firm, I have made mistakes and learned along the way. I have especially learned a couple things interns often overlook.

I made a list of the top things I wish I had known before getting started at my agency internships. Before you start working at an agency, make sure you are proficient in the following:

  • Asking questions. From day one, you should be asking questions about everything. When you are assigned a new project, you should have a clear understanding of how this piece fits in the puzzle of your client’s strategy, when the deadline is and what the priority is compared to other assignments. Even though you might think you are pestering your supervisor, they will appreciate it when you turn in quality work that meets their expectations. Also, don’t be afraid to ask what the next step is and offer your help.
  • Be able to effectively research. As an intern, you will likely end up doing a lot of research. That means you will be collecting and analyzing data, looking for trends in media clips, providing insights into the data, and becoming an expert for your client. It’s best to be able to know and understand tools that will make your job easier. First, know Google like the palm of your hand. Check out this cheat sheet to see the full list of Google’s search capabilities. If you can, also try out online tools such as LexisNexis, Cision and Radian6. In addition, make sure you know how to use social search tools such as Google Blogsearch, Technorati, Twitter Search, Convotrack and Facebook Lexicon.
  • Clear your mind of perceptions. If you haven’t worked for an agency, I encourage you to clear your mind of things you have heard and what you have seen on TV. Every agency is different and internship programs will also be different. It’s up to you to make the most of your internship and learn from your projects.
  • Attitude is everything. It should go without saying that having a positive attitude makes a world of a difference in how your colleagues view you. Even when you have had a long day at the office and your to-do list never seems to shrink, having a smile on your face and an eagerness to help makes you a better teammate. Also, try to predict what your team might need help with next and offer your help.
  • Understand billing. Most agencies will require you to fill out time reports documenting how much time you have spent on specific projects. This is how agencies bill clients for your work. When you are working on these projects, make sure to give that client your undivided attention and dedication for each time period you bill them for. One of the most challenging parts of working for an agency is being able to consistently offer high-quality service, and it takes time to develop this skill. Learn how to be productive at work and make the most for your clients.
  • Know how to balance your time. As an intern, you should learn when to say “yes” and “no” to new projects. Your first instinct will probably be to say ‘yes’ to everything and offer to help everyone out, but if you get overwhelmed and are unable to finish everything, you will let your team down. Work with your supervisor to plan out your day and be sure to plan time for new projects you may encounter.

Agency life isn’t right for everyone. It is fast-paced, the workload is always changing and the day is never what you expect it to be. However, if you work hard and have the right attitude, you will find your work is highly rewarding and you will achieve success with your company.

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