Any PR agencies found to be exploiting interns should be prosecuted.

I read an article in PR Week last week that made my blood boil, I would have written about it sooner but if I am honest we are flat out at the moment and I failed to get my thoughts onto the blog. The article stated the following:

PR professionals are among the worst offenders for exploiting interns, according to research by campaign group Intern Aware. Ten cent of the 100 firms reported to HM Revenue and Customs for investigation are either PR agencies or companies advertising PR roles.

For the last three months I have been lecturing at Leeds Metropolitan University on the PR Degree and I am going to be completely honest here and say I agreed to do it because I wanted to help out and offer up my experience.

At Prohibition we have an approved intern programme which I set up around 12-months ago. The programme includes a full induction into the company and then the individuals are given specific briefs about the tasks they have to do on that day. As I did the PR degree myself many years ago and I am a part-time lecturer I think I know what the students need to demonstrate their expertise in their portfolios. In fact, one of my classes is actually giving them advice on what they need to include in them. So what I am trying to say is I don’t bring interns in to do work experience, just to make the coffee, or to do the mundane jobs my team don”t wish to do. We try to give them tasks that help them learn – they end up doing things they have never done before and that’s what work experience or intern ships are about.

However, I think we have to discuss the ethics of work experience. In my opinion if you get a student to come in to work for five days a week for more than two months then that person should be paid for doing so. Any longer than two months full time is simply slave labour. I understand that students sometimes aren’t up to the job but that doesn’t mean that PR agencies or digital agencies should be exploiting these guys by not paying them and offering them unpaid placements for more than two months.

I think companies should be prosecuted, only this week I had one of my class telling me that they had been offered a twelve month unpaid placement and it made me rage. This is wrong – plain and simple.

What do you think of unpaid full-time work placements? I would like my students to comment here to to give us their thoughts.


Posted By Chris Norton

Chris is listed in the world's top 30 PR bloggers and a regular conference speaker on crisis management and social media marketing. He is also co-author of Share This Too and lectures on digital communications at Leeds Metropolitan University.


Tom Scott

Unpaid work placements should be a banned practice in all industries, for any length of time above 2 weeks.

Not only does it present the majority of willing applicants with a huge barrier to entry, it denies the industry and individual companies from accessing the complete talent pool. Only those with the financial capabilities (often through parents) can realistically afford to apply for these un-paid positions.

It is bad for the industry, grossly unfair and worst of all it is exploitation of young individuals in a situation which should given the proper attention be mutually beneficial.


Chris, I agree with your point. If your intern is working on anything else than Obama’s presidential campaign, he or she should be paid. And even then it’s fair to pay him or her. The question is how do you implement this philosophy? Will it be by regulation, gentlemen’s agreement or simply by making it best practice in time? Also, who enforces it?

I’ve had an internship with the Czech branch of Grayling (known as MMD back in the days) and the internship was fully and well paid. Regardless of how much experience the managers imprinted in me, they still felt it was a good idea to pay the intern for the work done. I consider it good and fair business practice. Coincidentally, the PR industry as a whole could use broad implementation of good business practices, as it would help to boost its image.

On a side note, you might want to check your Twitter feed in the right sidebar – it seems broken. 🙂


I wholeheartedly agree. To be asked to put your best work into a job you are unpaid for is not only unfair, but almost impossible. You can tell yourself that you’re the one whole will get the most out of it, it will look great on your CV or your University work will be better because of it, but at the end of the day it’s easy to become resentful.

I think if a student has to take time away from their part-time job, or time off University, then at the very least the company they are doing work experience at should offer to pay their expenses. Long term, full-time unpaid placements are just not viable for students.

Steven Murgatroyd

Completely agree with all your points, at the very least you should cover all travel costs etc and I always feel uncomfortable with just that.

As I work at an office in Otley it’s unfair to expect a work placement student to pay for petrol/travel here and back every day if they’re also not getting paid.

It’s not like you have to start paying obscene amounts but if you’re expecting them to add a benefit to your business then you should be willing to pay them for it.


I agree, ‘work experience’ implies short-term. In which case it is understandable that many organisations cannot afford to pay students as well as use resources such as staff time and desk space in order to help develop said students skills. However, the student who is volunteering their time should not be at a cost either, I believe that expenses such as travel costs should be offered.

Despite the perception that PR is a ‘white middle class’ industry, there are other players in the game, even if they are a minority. It’s a struggle for some students to juggle academic responsibilities, a part time job and work experience if they are not being paid, especially if it costs them to be there. Some students simply cannot afford to give their time for free, these students are missing out on essential work experience. Employers may also be missing out on talented students.

The other issue is the length of the ‘work experience’ – of course it varies from student to student but after a certain length of time the student becomes familiar with the job role and in most cases becomes a valuable member of the team. At this point, when they are adding value to the organisation, they ideally should be paid for their services as any other staff member would be.

Unfortunately, because experience is so fundamental in securing a job after graduation, students accept these situations and work for free quite frequently. We also need work experience every semester for our assessed portfolios – we are not in a position to give up an internship because they can’t or won’t pay.

Alex Singleton

I quite agree with you that unpaid internships with commercial companies are wrong. In London, I meet young people who’ve been doing 18 months of unpaid internships since graduation. They may hope that this looks good on their CV. I don’t think it does.

Chris Norton

Wow Alex that is criminal and terribly sad. 18 months – how can these companies live with themselves?

Leave a Reply to Chris Norton Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.