Category Archives: Mentoring

Ethical Use of Interns

Did you happen to see the piece from PRSAY on the “Ethical Use of Interns?” Since I am the chair of the University Relations Committee, I was asked to give my perspective, so here goes…

I really don’t want to rehash the conversation (instead, I’m here to start a whole new one). If you are interested in the specifics of the PRSA guidelines on this subject check out PSA-17. I also checked with the Texas State Attorney General and the Texas Workforce Commission and they said potential employers should familiarize themselves with the Pay Day Law. Specifically, I was advised that if any employee, including interns, do work for an organization they should get paid. “Sure, that makes sense,” I said. But, the Texas Workforce Commission took it a step further and said that if you don’t pay an intern or an employee, they can actually come back and file a claim against you provided they have documented the hours they worked and the work produced.

To me the bottom line is if the work produced by an intern has any value whatsoever to the employer—I’m talking to nonprofits too—the internship should be monetarily compensated. The benefit of the arrangement is that each party, employer and intern, has a vested interest and motivation to make the arrangement productive.

To me there’s actually a bigger issue here than whether or not to pay interns and that is the ethical treatment of interns. The worst is when I hear stories about students being relegated to filling drink and lunch orders or being subjected to cattiness in the work place.

Typically, I hear students or junior communicators tell me they wish the people they interned for had talked to them more, explained things or put them into context. Most times, their employers just dictate orders and the interns blindly follow them. As professionals, aren’t we better than that?

Here are few tips to make the internship productive for both your organization and the intern:

EXPECTATIONS: On Day 1 set expectations for what the intern should expect and what your organization expects of the interns.

VARIETY: Give the intern a variety of work to do for a variety of clients. Most interns still aren’t 100 percent sure what type of work they want to do or in what industries. Give them a chance to see a diversity of both.

MISTAKES: No one is perfect and often making mistakes are the best way to learn. Allow your interns to make mistakes, but coach them on how to learn and improve from those mistakes.

FACE TIME: Expose interns to new business pitches, let them participate in client meetings and, if you’re a large agency, facilitate a Q&A with the boss.

REVIEW: On a regular basis, sit with the interns and discuss how things are going. I recommend weekly meetings but bi-weekly would be effective as well depending upon the duration of the internship.

EXIT: At the end of the internship, have the intern sit down and do an exit interview or survey so you can learn what they most valued and how you might improve.

RECOMMENDATION: Not every intern is going to be able to move into a permanent position with an agency, but give them the next best thing, a glowing recommendation they can use in their search for a job.

So, I ask that each of you take a minute to remember how your internships were, what you would have liked to have changed and apply it to how you treat interns now. The students will get more out of it. Your organization will benefit from it. Our profession will be better for it.

Ed Davis, PRSA Houston president-elect, director of Media & Public Relations at the United Way of Greater Houston.

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Sage Advice

Did you miss PRSA Houston’s April luncheon? Don’t worry. With this video, we captured a few of the sages giving career advice. Thanks, Ed Davis (PRSA Houston board member and director of communications at the United Way of Greater Houston).

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Filed under Crisis Communications, Mentoring, Professional Development, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Finding Mr. Miyagi

Believe it or not, the movie The Karate Kid has influenced what most of us expect from mentoring relationships.

Mr. Miyagi takes young Daniel LaRusso, the underweight outsider bullied in his new school, under his wing. With patience and commitment, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel about succeeding in martial arts and life.

Wax on. Wax off.

By the end of the movie, Daniel’s life has been transformed.

In the real world, mentoring takes many forms and it doesn’t always conform to popular preconceptions. The current landscape of our profession requires us to stay on our toes. Knowledge sharing enriches us all. Developing mentoring relationships can be a rewarding experience for the protégé (I hate the word “mentee”) as well as the mentor.

Mentoring is simply when someone helps someone else learn something. The image many of us have of seasoned pros forming lifelong bonds with fresh-faced college graduates, helping them navigate the peaks and valleys of their careers is a limited view of what mentoring has to offer. A mentor is also not responsible for helping a protégé find a new job.

In the real world, mutually beneficial relationships can develop between peers, or around a specific topic or issue that one professional faces in his or her career. Throughout your career, expect your mentoring needs to change.

At the April luncheon, the PRSA Houston chapter will offer a different type of program and provide a venue for informal mentoring.

Rather than our typical speaker presentation, we will facilitate conversations at the luncheon tables with several of Houston’s PR sages. This format provides a unique opportunity for attendees to tap into the minds of some of Houston best-known PR professionals — leaders of their fields in a variety of industries.

Around the table, PRSA Houston members and guests will also have opportunities to exchange ideas and information around shared interests that will undoubtedly promote peer-to-peer mentoring and help expand professional networks like few other events could.

While the idea of finding your Mr. Miyagi may seem as unrealistic as mastering the “crane kick,” open your mind to the many possibilities mentoring has to offer and you’re sure to reap the benefits.

Stephanie Dedeaux, APR is an independent public relations consultant and 2010 PRSA Houston chapter president.

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Filed under Gen X, Gen Y, Mentoring, Professional Development, Public Relations, Uncategorized

Essay Question: Option 1

Remember completing the dreaded essay question?  If it’s written well it could mean getting a good (or at least reasonable) grade on an exam, being promoted to a better job, or– as in this case–being selected as a finalist for the Public Relations Foundation of Houston’s  (PRFH) $3,000 scholarship. 

This past spring, applicants for the 2009/2010 PRFH scholarship had four topics from which to choose and one single-spaced typed page in which to share their thoughts. The following essay is by finalist Jennifer Miller, currently a junior at the University of Texas majoring in advertising. It provided much food for thought as she explained how her experiences as a sometimes awkward but always polite restaurant server have prepared her for a career in the always changing and not always polite world of communications.  I think you’ll enjoy reading it as much as the scholarship committee did.

           Spilling queso, precisely chile con queso, down your shirt teaches you many things. First, and most obvious, only professional jugglers can balance skillet queso, salsa, chips, and a tray full of drinks. Second, since everyone else is laughing at you, you might as well laugh with them. And third, the unexpected makes everything either interesting or frustrating, and the difference is how you choose to react. 

            Working in a restaurant taught me, first and foremost, balance, how to be polite to impolite strangers, responsibility, and flexibility. On any given night, anything, actually everything, would go wrong. We were out of fries, the broccoli was cooked wrong, the fork had a spot on it, the drink isn’t strong enough, or “I ordered chicken, not steak!” Although telling the red-faced woman that I specifically told the chef not to put tomatoes in the pasta, redirecting the blame did not help the situation. One of the most important, and pride-swallowing, lessons I learned was to take responsibility for the problem; even if the fault is not mine, it is my responsibility to find the solution. The customer’s pasta does not become magically tomato-free by blaming the chef, but apologizing, taking the responsibility, and fixing the problem will hopefully put a smile back on her face.

            This quality transferred directly into my next job: the account executive position at the Daily Texan. This time, clients are paying hundreds for their ad space, not $12.95 for Cajun Chicken pasta. The Daily Texan works as a team, but once again, I am the only liaison between the team and the client. When one member makes a mistake, the responsibility falls to me, and now I easily accept it. A new challenge that I faced at the Daily Texan, one the restaurant didn’t prepare me for, was overcoming rejection. I’ve always considered myself a positive person, but my first month confronted my positivity. I had never taken a sales position before and I was not prepared for the amount of rejection that came with it. Through self-encouragement, encouragement from my co-workers, and getting rejected 100+ times, I found the ability to move past it. Receiving “no’s” is by no means my favorite pass-time, but I am now strong enough to handle them and proceed on with full confidence.

            Although I feel both jobs have taught me valuable lessons for the future, the most important lesson was one that I experienced, rather than learned. After a little searching, I found my home-away-from-home at a school with 55,000 undergraduates in Texas Spirits. I’ve always known this about myself, but its been particularly exemplified through my membership and leadership in this organization: In life, whatever you do, you will receive as much as you put in. I dedicate a large amount of myself to Texas Spirits, and through friendships, work, and life experiences I receive it back tenfold. Whatever it is I’m passionate about, I put my entire self into it, because that is the only way to truly achieve my goals.

I view every experience I have as a learning experience—I’m always looking to see what I can take from the situation. Whether it’s finally learning to balance a tray or realizing how to react in a situation, I don’t let lessons pass me by. These lessons I’ve learned in past will help me in the future, especially in a Public Relations job. It’s important to be confident with clients, even if the previous one tore you down; it’s important to be flexible and repair a problem, instead of assigning blame; and it’s important to not only be passionate, but to use that passion as motivation. All experiences relate to each other, and all provide something you can take from it. I used to barely be able to hold a tray with two hands, but after dedication, and 3 months in a restaurant, I can proudly say that I can hold a tray with 5 plates above my head, with a single hand.

Jen Miller would love to hear from you, especially if you’re offering encouragement and/or a paying job that’s not restaurant related.  She can be reached at jenmiller@mail.utexas.edu.

Contributed by Eydie Pengelly, APR, principal of Marcomm.biz and president of the Public Relations Foundation of Houston (http://www.prsahouston.org/foundation)

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Filed under Creativity, Mentoring, Professional Development, Public Relations