Opinion

The PR industry’s unpaid internship problem must stop

Red Agency's Jackie Crossman looks at an increasing problem rife within Australia's PR industry: agencies using unpaid interns to make a tidy profit.

Unpaid internships, outside of official university programs, are rife in the PR industry in Australia. It’s illegal and just plain wrong.

New entrants to the industry should be paid the minimum wage at the very least, just like an apprentice, to motivate them, show we value their work and are committed to their ongoing development.

As a result of my work at Red Agency, I’ve been hot on the recruitment trail for the past two years.

What I’ve discovered perusing a multitude of CVs and interviewing a swarm of candidates is that agencies – and I won’t name names – are regularly and repetitively using the services of undergraduates and youngsters fresh out of uni as a ‘free’ resource to deliver against important client commitments like media monitoring and reporting, and to ultimately bolster their profits.

They give young people ‘internships’ with either no payment whatsoever, or a tiny amount to cover transport costs and expect them to be grateful for the opportunity to start populating their CV with a role aligned to their chosen career as opposed to retail, hospo and/or admin work.

A straw-poll of juniors at Red tells me this is perceived as the norm in the communications industry, and that they see it as the only way to get your foot in the door. For the most part, these unpaid interns are still living courtesy of the Bank of Mum and Dad, who are thus helping fund the profits of offending agencies.

This is NOT a practice we follow at Red Agency. Instead, we invest our time and energy in training our interns so they are more than job-ready upon graduation, and we compensate those who aren’t part of a university-sponsored internship by paying them a pro-rated salary.

And if we’re looking for an entry-level candidate straight from uni, we employ them as an account coordinator.

It’s a two-way street.

We believe that regardless of kilometres on the clock, everyone has something valuable to bring to the table and that should be recognised, not used and abused under the guise of a false internship.

We find paid interns take more ownership of their work, are more passionate and diligent in completing their assignments, wrap their arms and minds around the training we provide and are much happier day-to-day.

Today we have around a dozen consultants who started in the business whilst still studying. As a result, they’re further ahead skills and career-wise than their peers, and are loyal to the agency for genuinely giving them their first break.

I challenge every other PR agency in Australia to stop unpaid internships. Not only could you get pinged by Fair Work if you continue this practice, but you really are missing out on the wonderful benefits that come from a proactive and respectful approach.

And you’ll be fuelling the development of the industry’s future leaders in today’s candidate-scarce recruitment market to boot.

Jackie Crossman is executive director at Red Agency. 

Jackie Crossman will be speaking at this year’s CommsCon with Red Agency CEO, James Wright, on the PR predictions for 2018 and what to look out for in the next year.

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