Behind-the-scenes of a PR internship: how to search for one you want, secure it, and succeed at it

how to get a PR internship

Julie Hong has been an intern with FACTEUR PR since May 2017. She is beginning her fourth year at University of Georgia, where she studies Public Relations and New Media and has experience in community relations, media relations, social media, event planning, and more. During the school year, she is part of the Publicity Committee at her school’s PRSSA chapter and the occasional staff writer for seasonal publications. A California girl who moved to Atlanta at age 16, she loves to say ‘y’all’ but still gets confused when she hears ‘fixin ‘to’. She is personal, positive, and a people-person who feels strongest when she is a part of a team, and she has been a joy and privilege to have her on our team! (So much so, in fact, she is staying onboard through the fall!)

Now that it's back to school season (and a time where many high school and college students will begin their fall internships), Julie is sharing her experience and advice for searching for and securing a public relations internship, as well as what it takes to make the most of it and succeed.

julie hong

julie hong

On finding the right internship...

My internship search wasn’t very intensive, actually! Usually, I would get bored of whatever I was doing, and figure I might as well be productive instead. I’m very fortunate to attend a university that has a ton of resources to help with job/internship hunting!

I found out about FACTEUR’s internship almost by luck. In the beginning of the school year, I made a commitment to learn more about the PR world. This included following sites like PR Daily, PR Girl Manifesto, and PR Couture. It was through PR Couture’s “PR Girls We Love” series that I found out about FACTEUR PR. I loved FACTEUR’s overall aesthetic, and that was all it took for me to follow their Instagram. Not long after, they posted a call for digital interns!

In short, I made an effort to keep up with the PR news cycle. Getting “plugged in” to the PR world helped me get used to the culture and the conversations of the industry, and in this case, led me to an awesome internship!

On applying and preparing for the interview...

FACTEUR’s application was a lot different from the ones I was used to in a good way! Does anyone remember those fun surveys you would fill out and post on Myspace, or mass e-mail to your friends? It felt like that, and I had a lot of fun answering them. I didn’t prepare a ton for the application, if at all. I answered the questions as if I was talking to a friend, which was a risky move that I was willing to take. I wasn’t sure if it would work out well, but I’m so glad it did!

Of course, what really makes the difference is the interview. Getting your foot in the door is difficult, but the interview is what seals the deal. I prepared a lot for the interview. I researched maybe more than I even needed to. Here’s a short list of the things I researched:

  • Values. I wanted to intern for an agency I cared for. I wanted to be proud of not only my work, but my employer. I wanted to know what set FACTEUR apart from other agencies, and I also wanted to know what I liked specifically about FACTEUR. For example, I loved that FACTEUR had creative clients. It spoke to their values and complemented my own, and I made sure to mention it in the interview!
  • Branding. I familiarized myself with FACTEUR’s overall voice and message. Were they more casual, or formal? What aesthetic did they go for? How did they frame their posts and who were they reaching out for? What hashtags were they using? How could I contribute, and how can I improve their social media presence? Which leads me to...
  • Opportunities. At the time I interviewed, FACTEUR didn’t yet have an official list online of clients like some larger agencies do, so this took more time than I anticipated! Once I found a few clients that I could focus on, I researched hard. My goal was to prove throughout the interview that I knew about their previous work, could effectively find opportunities for their clients, and that I was already thinking like a FACTEUR intern. Plus, this kind of research showed I cared enough! For my interview with FACTEUR, I zeroed in on Chill Pop Shop and brainstormed potential PR opportunities in the future.

I also prepared a list of questions to ask, including:

  1. How and what feedback will be given?
  2. What is the main communication methods of the internship?
  3. Which clients/projects would I be assisting with
  4. How do you measure success for clients?

The most important part of the interview prep, personally, was the list I made of my own strengths. I listed every software I was familiar with that could benefit the agency, every personal quality that I could bring to the table, and short anecdotes of times I measured up to the challenges against me. I didn’t mention everything on this list during the interview, but writing it down boosted my confidence! It’s important to know your own worth to communicate it to someone else.

Julie's handwritten notes from her facetime interview.  (Photo: Julie hong)

Julie's handwritten notes from her facetime interview.  (Photo: Julie hong)

What were your biggest challenges of the internship?

The real challenge of this internship was learning to manage myself. Interning remotely is just another way of saying working from home, and it’s really easy to begin internship work on the couch and somehow end up on Netflix, binging the new season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. There were some days when all I did was look at the list of things I had to do. There were also some long workdays when I realized how much I had put off, and dedicated myself to finishing all of it in a single day.

I had to get in the habit of being my own manager. For example, I committed to leaving my apartment every morning to work. It’s all too easy to convince myself that I can do just as much work from my bedroom, but it’s never as easy as I want it to be. Now, I always get out of my pajamas and get out of my comfort zone if I want to be productive!

Also, coffee helps. So does a really good (and eclectic) playlist that includes Frank Sinatra, Sylvan Esso, and The Japanese House.

The most surprising thing about this internship...

I was most surprised by how long a single pitch could take me. It wasn’t just the writing itself; of course the actual writing took awhile, but that didn’t surprise me. I like to get things right when I write, and I expected to take my time.

But the research! That, I was not prepared for. Maybe this is just me being a newbie, or maybe this is me over-preparing, but gathering research for a single outlet took me hours. I wanted to be familiar with the outlet’s content, editor, voice, style, audience, growth, etc. I expected a lot from myself, and so I put in that much extra work.

Now that I’ve done it enough, I hope it won’t take me so long to familiarize myself with an outlet… but only time will tell!

How did this internship help you grow, and what will you take into the future?

This internship has given me so much that I don’t know where to begin. I learned so much! I came into this internship with very little PR experience. I’ve taken a bunch of PR classes, and I’ve done a little bit of media outreach here and there, but nothing as concrete as what I’ve done at FACTEUR.

FACTEUR gave me the chance to prove, mostly to myself, that I could practice what I had learned. As valuable as technical skills are, it’s the confidence I’ve gained that I’m most thankful for. It’s the knowledge I now have, of my strengths and weaknesses, my interests and disinterests. Internships guarantee at least some growth in skills and experience, but you don’t always get personal growth from an internship, too. I’m glad, and very lucky, that FACTEUR’s given me both.

when working remotely, julie says that dedicating time at a location other than home helped her focus on her assignments oh, and coffee!. (Photo: Julie hong)

when working remotely, julie says that dedicating time at a location other than home helped her focus on her assignments oh, and coffee!. (Photo: Julie hong)

Favorite part of interning at FACTEUR?

My favorite part… that’s really hard!

I love that every job feels like a new challenge. I love that there is so much more opportunity for me to get my feet wet and tackle as much as I can. I love the little tips that Reena gives me each week: the best days/times to pitch an editor, phrases to include in e-mails, even programs that made sending messages easier! I love feeling like an actual PR practitioner, with real experience under her belt. The things I learned in class aren’t just theories anymore; they’re skills, and I think that’s what the best internships do for students. They turn lessons into real practices, they bring life to concepts you only know in your head.

What were your "keys to success?"

I came into this internship with a few technical skills that may have helped me land the internship, but what helped me succeed at the internship were the “soft skills:” things that you don’t learn in class, the personal touch to everything you do. Anyone can complete a to-do list. Anyone can do what they’re told. What differentiates the good from the great is their attitude.

My keys to success, I think, were my positivity, enthusiasm, and drive. I came to the table with a smile on my face, eager to learn, and ready to go the extra mile. I wanted to do things well, so I did my best with everything I was given! You don’t learn that in class. You can’t take a Lynda course to teach yourself that kind of mindset. You have to work very hard in other ways (most often introspective and personal) to accomplish that. For me, what helped was meditation, long walks, and a lot of laughter!

Do you have any advice for someone interested in public relations? For students?

I have tons, but I tried to keep this short. (I failed.)

For those interested in public relations:

  • Get in the habit of thinking critically as you consume the media. Why do you think companies targeted specific influencers for sponsored content? What kind of message is the organization trying to send through their Tweets? How do they engage with their followers? Start thinking like a PR professional early, and it will get easier as you go along.

  • Whatever you’re interested in, pursue it. Keep up with the news in whatever fields you love, whether it be fashion, sports, or books. Find blogs and articles and even podcasts. Participate in the conversation whenever you can, but at least familiarize yourself with the vocabulary!

  • Start thinking about your network. Is there a PRSA/PRSSA in your area? Is there an agency around you that you can connect with? Do you know any PR professionals who might become mentors? Very few of the connections I’ve made are accidental; most of them, I actively sought out, because I knew I would learn so much from them!

For students in general:

  • Spend a lot of time learning yourself. What are you passionate about, and why? What kind of worker are you? What values do you have, in the workplace and in life? It’s a long, neverending process, but the more time you spend getting to know yourself, the easier it will get! A year ago, I had a feel for these things, but could never put it into words. Now, I can tell you specifically that I work best in collaborative environments and I cannot stand being micromanaged. It took me a handful of part-time jobs and two internships to understand that concretely!

  • Ask for more. Challenge yourself, push yourself. Bite off a little more than you can chew. Personally, I do my best to live up to people’s expectations, so it helps me to have those expectations high from the very beginning. Besides, there’s no way to grow if you remain stagnant! Remember that it’s not some innate, don’t-have-it-unless-you’re-born-with-it quality that makes you successful; it’s hard work and drive. Don’t back down from it! You are capable of accomplishing everything given to you. Own it.

  • Of course, know your limits and don’t stretch yourself so far that you snap. Learn to ask for help when you need it. It doesn’t make you a failure, and it doesn’t make you a wimp. It doesn’t mean your work ethic is lacking. It takes a great deal of bravery to admit when you need help, and the best kinds of people will understand.

  • Last but not least, I strongly advise against saving happiness for later. You won’t be happier when you’re out of school, or when you’re finally in classes you like, or when you have this job and that car. You will always be saving happiness for later, so break the habit and be happy now! Be satisfied with what you have, and be excited for what comes next.

how to get a PR internship

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Julie Hong

Contributing blogger
Julie is FACTEUR PR's Digital PR intern for Summer/Fall 2017.

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Julie Hong

Julie Hong is FACTEUR PR's Summer Digital PR Intern. She is currently finishing her third year at University of Georgia, where she studies Public Relations and New Media and has experience in community relations, media relations, social media, event planning, and more. During the school year, she is part of the Publicity Committee at her school’s PRSSA chapter and the occasional staff writer for seasonal publications. A California girl who moved to Atlanta at age 16, she loves to say ‘y’all’ but still gets confused when she hears ‘fixin ‘to’.