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With 56 years under our belt, we’ve hosted hundreds of student interns over the years. We’re very proud of the program we’ve built, and when the pandemic hit we knew we still wanted to provide this mentoring to as many students as possible. Why? Because up and coming communicators/marketers are our future, and we want to be part of their journey. Truly, they teach us as much as we teach them. Not to mention….

Student benefits:

  • Develop soft skills in the workplace that allow them to be adaptable in any setting
  • Home in on their writing skills and conquer multiple styles: blog posts and website copy, news releases, social media copy, etc.
  • Real-world experience such as forging relationships with media
  • Mentorship from someone outside of their collegiate and familial circles

 Organizational benefits:

  • Tap into the latest and greatest trends that students are learning
  • Fresh perspective on the field and various industries you serve
  • A new voice to add to your culture and perspective
  • The ability to add different skillsets to your team

So, how did we pivot our program to stay safe but provide a strong internship program? The short answer is we were flexible, the long answer is the following. We hope you can take what we learned through the process to build your own virtual internship program.

Virtual Interns

Inaugural Virtual intern

We had to shift our 2020 summer intern to a virtual role. Nicole, from Michigan State University, never got to step foot into our office. Here’s how we made it work virtually:

  • Met with her one to two times per week in addition to brief morning check-ins to provide consistent feedback, the way we would have in an office environment.
  • Set clear expectations of responsibilities and created a status doc to manage tasks so she could prioritize and coordinate deadlines with oversight.
  • Created opportunities and trainings with nearly all staff members so she could virtually learn from everyone either one-on-one or in group environments.

Finding New Ways to Connect With Students

In the fall of 2020, we reached out to our university networks to see if there was an interest and need in a part-time internship. We were paired with Amanda from Central Michigan University for a two-week internship to give her insight into agency life. Here’s the process we took:

  • First, we reached out to a handful of key universities that we partner with to ask if we could connect with their PRSSA chapter and share some of our insights amid COVID-19. (We spoke with four chapters total!)
  • Next, we reached out to university contacts to see if there were any students looking for more experience…
  • Once paired with Amanda, we configured a condensed internship program where we had 10 specific assignments for her to give her a range of experience.
  • We also had her conduct a writing test to give her concrete feedback on where she could improve.
  • We rounded out our experience with her by reviewing her portfolio and resume and providing feedback that she can take with her to her next job(s).

Modifying Program to Work with Seniors

With 2020 behind us we wanted to continue our work with students so we hired Alex, a part-time intern for the winter to support us in the new year. This model was designed give our assistant account executives (AAEs) and account executives (AEs) the opportunity to mentor. Here’s the structure:

  • Every two weeks Alex works with a different AE/AAE to assist them with their workload and get the opportunity to work with someone new.
  • She works in the mornings (remotely) so she can focus on her classes in the afternoon.
  • We’re working with her to prepare for post-graduation life and her job hunt ahead.

BONUS: How to Pivot an Intern’s Career Growth Remotely

While Franco has transitioned many interns to full-time Franco employees after their internship, Emily Hebert (now executive assistant) was the first to make the shift virtually. Here’s how our team smoothly pulled off the transition:

  • Dedicated time to review and reflect. There are many benefits to having an internship program, but don’t forget the number one reason is for the intern to learn and evolve so they can become successful professionals. With help from supervisors Emily reflected on all the things she learned during her internship and discussed how these skills could be applied to her new role.
  • Expectations for the transition were expressed clearly to both Emily and the team. Meaning – our team was reminded when Emily transitioned to her new role and was instructed to no longer assign her all the same work she was receiving as an intern. This allowed Emily to focus on becoming fully immersed in her new role and ensured a clean transition from intern to full-time employee.
  • Communicated constantly. Even if a person isn’t new to your organization, coming into a new and unfamiliar role can still be intimidating. Having clear and frequent communication with the transitioning employee will help set expectations and make the change more comfortable.

Phew, that was a lot to cover! But when it comes down to it, to have a truly stellar virtual PR internship program we recommend:

  • Meet frequently with interns (virtually) to provide consistent feedback.
  • Set clear expectations of responsibilities and consider creating a status doc to manage all assignments and deadlines.
  • Ensure they’re networking with full staff via a variety of projects or social gatherings.
  • Give concrete feedback on their resume and portfolio so they’re prepared for their next gig.
  • Don’t be afraid to think outside the box about who manages the intern and how your “traditional” structure was – it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day!
  • Bonus: be transparent about potential career opportunities at your organization and be a resource in their job hunt (if possible!).

We hope you can create, build and/or improve your virtual PR internship program with our insights. And if you’re interested in Franco’s program, learn more about our team here!

 Both account supervisor Megan Bonelli and executive assistant Emily Hebert contributed to this post.