Monthly Archives: May 2020

Why you should say “Hell No!” to a PR internship that pays nothing

I said “Hell no!” and that was 1985 and 1986. I still did two internships, one with the American Paint Horse Association and another with Texas Power & Light.

If I can do it prehistorically, you can too. If you’re on the hiring side of finding internships to sweat their butts off for your organization – and to do it for no pay – I say “no way” and shame on YOU.

Two of my favorite mottos:

  • “But that’s unfair…” Get over it. Nothing’s fair. Ever.
  • “Hey, look, it’s FREE.” Wrong. There is nothing FREE in this world. Nothing. Get over it.

Yeah, my kids really love me for these.

So why has the practice of hiring and NOT paying  interns for their work so prevalent in the PR, advertising and marketing agencies, from big agency to solo shops? I don’t understand the rationale from either side of the fence.

Rather than pontificate, let’s go to the folks who really know. Employers and interns.

The Best Internship (Corporate) I’ve EVER heard about: Accor North America
“We DO employ interns, and we DO pay them. Because we are a French company, most of our interns come from France – where 6-month internships are required in order to earn a university degree. We employ both Bachelor and Master degree candidates in a variety of fields … our interns enjoy a free room at Motel 6, access to a car, and are eligible for free nights at Motel 6 for every vacation day they earn. We work with our HR partners in France to select and hire interns year-round. Source: Suzanne Keen, senior director of communications, change and diversity.” Hmmm, wonder if they’d consider me an intern! Wow.

The only downside? If you don’t know French, you may be in trouble. Not so much. Keen says that Accor North America also hires American interns, but opportunities and employment parameters differ.

But what about those in the PR/Advertising/marketing Agency world?

I went straight to the colleagues I know. Blake Lewis, APR, principal and senior consultant at Lewis Public Relations in Dallas, says the firm does hire interns, and pays them approximately $10 per hour. Interns can be college freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. He says he makes hiring decisions based on a student’s previous experience, demonstrated skill sets/abilities, attitude and appropriate activities anticipated to be in the agency at the time of the internship.” Ultimately, it’s about talent and experience, not how many years of college.

Then he stated something that jarred my thinking.

If clients are billed for their work, it’s a professional gig.

That means the law requires payment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Holy Bigshaft Batman! Duh, of course! So, now, it’s not only Total Idiocy for a college student to accept a free internship and may even be illegal for employers to even offer them.

According to a 2009 article on the MSNBC Website:

Owners who take on unpaid interns should be familiar with the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which details the criteria that an internship must meet in order for the intern to not be paid. The law regards an internship as a training program.
Under the FLSA, an intern must receive training similar to that offered in a vocational school. The training must be for the benefit of the intern. The intern must not displace, or do the work of, a regular employee. The law also states that an employer must receive no immediate advantage from what an intern does. That might jeopardize the unpaid status of many internships — if an intern, say, stuffs envelopes for mailing, helps to manufacture products or performs other services that benefit an employer.

On, an article about this issue states that:

“… the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division created a test to determine whether a “trainee” or intern is considered an “employee” based on a 1947 Supreme Court decision that evaluated whether “prospective train yard brakemen were ‘employees’ within the meaning of the Fair Labor Standards Act.” The test requires that all 6 of the following statements are true about the intern’s time with the company.

1. If the training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in a vocational school;

2. If the training is for the benefit of the trainee;

3. If the trainees do not displace regular employees, but work under close observation;

4. If the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees and, on occasion, the employer’s operations are actually impeded;

5. If the trainees are not necessarily entitled to employment at the completion of the training period;

6. If the employer and the trainees understand that the trainees are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

This is the law. If any one of these six statements is not true about a given internship, then the interns are considered “employees” and are subject to the monetary provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means that the interns are entitled to minimum wage and overtime compensation. The situation gets a bit more confusing when you start interpreting what each of the six “tests” means. This page from the Texas State government sheds some light on some of the exceptions based on interpretations of the law, but it still doesn’t answer our question.”

Clear as mud, I’d say.

Regardless, I say to students, “Hell No,” to free.

To employers and agencies, “Stop it.” Respect that every student has bills and costs, and a motivation to show up every morning and do a good job. Not just any job. YOUR clients deserve it too.

What do YOU think?

The PRactical PR Guy


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