Friday, May 17, 2013

PR agencies under scrutiny for unpaid internships

For a Marist Communications student, unpaid internships are the norm. We have come to expect it and don't really question the fact that we work long hours with little to no pay. Personally, I am extremely thankful for the experience and although it would be nice to be receiving money, I understand that these are my dues that need to be paid. 

I was under the impression that many felt the same way until I came across a PR Week article discussing an investigation being done by the HMRC regarding unpaid internships. According to Intern Aware, "PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns". A number of firms are currently under investigation and ten percent of them are either PR agencies or advertise PR roles. The issue under investigation is whether or not the employment law has been broken due to the fact that interns do not receive compensation for their work.

Intern Aware is an organization that advocates for paid internships and they have passed on the investigation to the HMRC, or HM Management and Customs. A spokesperson for Intern Aware said that the list contains various sized firms and that there are many agencies which specialize in food or fashion PR. 

This is not the first time that unpaid internships have garnered negative attention. In the past, they have been said to discriminate against those who cannot afford to work for free or relocate for the summer or semester. The PRWeek/PRCA campaign to end unpaid internships began in October of 2011 when a list of agencies that agreed to pay their interns minimum wage was created.  Here is the full timeline of events:

  • October 2011: PRWeek and PRCA launch campaign to end unpaid internships
  • March 2012: The CIPR concocts an "Internship and Work Placement" tool kit
  • June 2012: PRCA and Intern Aware discover that out of 150 PR interns, 23 percent are paid
  • April 2013: 85 agencies are now listed by the PRCA as providing minimum wage to their interns
Ultimately, it will be interesting to see where this investigation goes. Like I stated earlier, I am willing to work without pay because I know that the experience I am receiving offers great value. However, it is true that I am blessed to be able to afford not being paid and commuting to my internship. For many people, this is not an option. Does that mean that they should not get to experience internships and be a step behind upon graduation? I don't think so and that is why I feel that Intern Aware and PRCA may see some success in their fight to end unpaid internships.

I also found a cool infographic depicting internship trends for 2013. Interestingly enough, compensation was listed as the least important consideration when looking for an internship!

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