What is it Like to Intern at a PR Agency Versus a Corporation?

If you’re a little unsure of what you want to do after you graduate, you can always consider working for a PR agency. Unlike working for a corporation, you’ll have the opportunity to work for several clients in a variety of industries. This is beneficial because you get tons of experience. If you decide to leave the agency, you’ll be very marketable because you’ve worked in several industries.

During this past summer, I was fortunate enough to intern for Cone Communications, a large PR agency with offices in Boston, New York and Seattle. I interned in the Boston office with 16 other interns for Cone’s crisis management department. I currently intern for the marketing department at Campus Enterprises here at N.C. State, which you can liken to corporate communications. Campus Enterprises is the only “client” I focus on in my internship now.

So what are the big differences?

An agency is bigger:

Cone employs more than 250 people. Campus Enterprises’ marketing department is only five full time staff. It makes sense: Cone has about 50 clients, many of which are Fortune 500 companies. These accounts each take about 5 of Cone’s employees to operate. You do the math.

The great thing about working in such a big environment is that I had the opportunity to network with literally hundreds of people, each with a different background. It can get overwhelming, though, if you let it. I was eight weeks into my internship and still meeting people in the break room that I’d never seen before. Be sure to try and make a name for yourself at a big agency so that your bosses remember you. Do the absolute best you can when you’re at work.

An agency requires multi-tasking:

Campus Enterprises has eight different entities, but I’m always working for the same people. At Cone, I had my immediate bosses, and then each account had a CMO or Corporate Communications executive at the other end, which meant even more bosses. Each boss wanted something slightly different. As I said earlier, I worked for the crisis management department. We had some clients that only wanted monitoring. We had others that wanted strategy suggestions. We had others that wanted both. It all depended.

This was awesome because I developed monitoring, reporting, data analytics and strategizing skills I wouldn’t have developed if I had worked on one account. However, there was very little downtime. When I was at work, I was working nonstop. If I finished with one client, I could always be doing something else for another client.

You have less say at an agency:

One thing I quickly noticed was different between Campus Enterprises and Cone was that the employees at Cone had very little sway on the outcome of events. We were strictly advisory, and sometimes we weren’t even that. We sort of did the “grunt” work. One client made all the strategy, and asked us to employ it and report back. Even during a crisis, the clients were the ones writing all the press releases and doing the media interviews. Our only job was to monitor social media for the effects of this work.

At an agency, you really get to see how the PR process is employed, and you get to learn about the hundreds of steps it takes to launch a campaign. But it can sometimes feel like you’re not really doing anything. If you like having total control of the communication strategy, you may be better off in a corporate setting.

In conclusion:

Of course, the best way to really see which type of environment you like better is to do what I did: try both. I’d also advise you to throw in a nonprofit for good measure; that’s an environment all to its own. As Lauren Berger, known as the Intern Queen, said in her recent visit here to N.C. State, “All of you can think about what you want to do and the ways you’re going to get there. I can promise more times than not that it’s all going to start with an internship.”

Start interning now and you’ll notice differences on your own. When you graduate, you’ll be both marketable and knowledgeable about what you want to do.

-Joseph Havey


2 thoughts on “What is it Like to Intern at a PR Agency Versus a Corporation?

  1. Hey Joseph, I really like your article posting and wanted to know how you handled the transition from University into the hectic agency environment? I’m currently finishing my University career in Communications PR and was wondering if you have any further advice for fresh graduates entering this dynamic industry?

    1. Hi Lianne, thanks for the comment! When I was in undergrad, I was part of several clubs, and I typically had two or three internships going on at one time. I remember going to bed one night thinking, “Well, I want to work in a PR agency … let me just view my commitments as ‘clients.'” That helped me stay organized in college, so I was already used to the idea of multi-tasking when I graduated. But some ideas I still use are:

      1. Write everything down — always keep a to do list and organized calendar.
      2. Communicate constantly — don’t be afraid to ask for help. Update your bosses on the statuses of your projects whenever something comes up or changes. Keep your team in the know, otherwise, they may assume the wrong thing.
      3. Take on the small tasks immediately — if it takes 5 minutes to do, do it immediately.

      Those have helped me stay sane; hope they help you as well!

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