The Principals’ Office: Paid vs Unpaid Internships


Rick Teitloff, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors

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Like much of my youth, when I needed to be taught a lesson (which was more often than I cared for) I got sent to the principal’s office. I guess a whole lot hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. In this series I sit down with David and Marilyn Shank – the principals of Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc. – and ask them questions about public relations.

In this edition we discuss paid vs unpaid internships. With our internship application deadline coming up (it’s Monday!) it only seems fitting that we let you know where we stand on the issue.

Rick (R): Do you think unpaid internships are acceptable or ethical?

David (D): “This is a complicated issue. The terms paid and unpaid can mean different things. Some internships pay students through experience and genuine learning as opposed to monetary compensation. If an intern is unpaid, the internship must still be beneficial to the intern. For some not-for-profit companies it is a completely different story. But unpaid internships just aren’t for our company.”

R: Do you think this issue should be addressed by the PRSA or the U.S. Government?

D: “Both the PRSA and the Department of Labor have addressed this issue and have stipulations that must be met by the employer’s internship program to have unpaid interns. So I think that we currently have a fair system as long as the rules are being followed.” – Check it out here!

M: “Beyond the duration of the internship, some laws should be looked at. One that affects small businesses is state unemployment laws. Indiana should take a look at that one. But as far as the internship itself, I think the current rules are enough.”

R: Do you foresee a change in legal policy?

D: “It’s supply and demand. With the current system there are plenty of unpaid interns. As long as companies can do it, they will. And as long as students accept unpaid internships they will continue. I don’t see any changes in the near future.”

M: “I agree with David. I think it will be market driven. We won’t have any changes until we are forced to.”

R: Why do you pay your interns when you don’t have to?

M: “It’s the ethical thing to do. It also allows us to keep everyone in the race. The most talented intern candidates are most likely going to want a paid internship. There are also students who are putting themselves through college and can’t afford to take an unpaid internship. So it really opens up the door for the talent.”

D: “We have a responsibility to help students. We don’t want working here to be a hardship for our interns. Interns walk away from Shank Public Relations Counselors with professional experience and some money in their pockets. Studies also show that paid interns go on to have more job offers and higher starting salaries. An internship is not a one way street. We learn from our interns just as they learn from us. So getting those top candidates is truly important to us.”

R: Do you think paying interns affects their quality of work?

M: “Not really. It may keep interns a little more motivated, and if nothing else it encourages them to submit their time sheets on time!”

D: “I don’t think so. And it absolutely shouldn’t. The quality of work starts in the interview process. We carefully select who we put through that process and only choose quality candidates. So paid or unpaid, we would get quality interns.”

That does it for this week’s installment. What are your thoughts on paid vs unpaid internships? What are your personal experiences? Let us know what you think!

The topic for our next installment will be non-writing skills that are essential for public relations! If you have any questions for David and Marilyn you can leave them in the comments below, tweet at us (@shank_pr) or stop by our Facebook page. If you found this helpful, make sure to share it with your friends and spread the knowledge!

Rick Teitloff is our summer 2013 intern. Rick is a senior at Ball State University and will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations in December.

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The Principals’ Office: Crisis Communications and Management


Rick Teitloff, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors

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Welcome to the inaugural post of our new, regular blog series, The Principals’ Office! Like much of my youth, when I needed to be taught a lesson (which was more often than I cared for) I got sent to the principal’s office. I guess a whole lot hasn’t changed in the past 20 years. In this series I sit down with David and Marilyn Shank – the principals of Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc. – and ask them questions about public relations.

For our first edition we decided to discuss crisis communications! This is an area where public relations professionals can prove to be invaluable to a company. It is also an area that Shank Public Relations Counselors has extensive experience and knowledge.

Rick (R): How important is crisis communications and management and why?

David (D): “Crisis communication and management is critical. A crisis happening is not a matter of if, but when! And when that crisis comes, you better be prepared. I can’t emphasize enough how important crisis management and communication is.”

Marilyn (M): “I agree completely. The way a company manages or mismanages a crisis can end up costing millions of dollars or the entire company itself!”

R: Should all companies have a crisis plan template?

D: “Each company should have a crisis plan, but not a template. Each crisis is different and there is no cookie-cutter template that is a fix-all.”

M: “Companies shouldn’t have a template, but a plan to help guide them through the process. Companies should also always have a back up; a plan a, b and c.”

R: Should companies try to go it alone or bring in professionals?

M: “If a company has a capable staff of their own and a plan, then they could possibly handle it on their own. But if they don’t have staff with experience in crisis management then they certainly need to bring in professional help.”

D: “And even if a company does have internal staff, bringing in a consultant will bring a different, sometimes more objective, perspective. This can be especially helpful in emotionally charged crises, such as incidents involving human casualties or injuries.”

R: What’s the most important thing to do in crisis communications?

D: “Get the facts right as you have them while being immediate as possible. Don’t speculate, don’t BS, stick to the facts.”

M: “You have to be available and you have to state the facts.”

R: What’s the most important thing to avoid?

M: “You can’t hide. You have to make yourself available and manage the crisis. Also, never, under any circumstances, put things ahead of people. If there are casualties in the crisis, the people don’t want to know that you will be back to work tomorrow. Empathize with those who have lost loved ones and leave it at that.”

D: “Never speculate! If you have an explosion in your factory and you know people are injured, don’t say ‘we have around 45 injured workers.’ Stick to what you know, ‘we have workers who were injured in the explosion. We’re not certain how many, but we will let you know when we have that information.’”

R: Is “no comment” ever acceptable?

D&M (simultaneously): “No!”

D: “Absolutely not. Not only is it bad practice, but studies have shown that saying ‘no comment’ causes people to assume guilt. You can use different terminology to get your point across and be credible.”

R: How important is internal communication in a crisis plan?

D: “Internal communication is extremely important in a crisis. Unfortunately, it is often left out of crisis plans by companies. Good plans include how information will be disseminated from the top down or the bottom to the top. Everyone from the CEO to the stockholders, investors and employees.”

M: “Having internal communications in the crisis plan ensures that everybody knows what the protocol is as far as the lines of communication are concerned.”

R: What is the timeline for responding to a crisis now?

D: “The timeline has drastically changed. It used to be the 24 hour ‘golden window’ to respond to a crisis. Now it’s more like 24 seconds! As the crisis is happening witnesses are taking pictures and video, uploading them to social media and sending them to media outlets. How crises are handled in today’s digital world is a topic all of its own (hint).”

That wraps up our first edition of The Principals’ Office. What do you think of the new concept? Did we pull it off? What do you want to see on this blog? Let us know!

The topic for our next installment will be the hot topic of paid vs. unpaid internships! If you have any questions for David and Marilyn you can leave them in the comments below, tweet at us (@shank_pr) or stop by our Facebook page. If you found this helpful, make sure to share it with your friends and spread the knowledge!

Rick Teitloff is our summer 2013 intern. Rick is a senior at Ball State University and will be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in public relations in December.

The NBA Classroom for Public Relations


Rick Teitloff, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors

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Last night I felt the air being sucked out of Indianapolis as the Miami Heat put a beat down on the Indianapolis Pacers to the tune of 99-76 in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals. The city was noticeably quieter. My Twitter and Facebook feeds were filled with optimistic messages like, “until next season Pacers. Proud of you!”

 Even in losing, the rebuilt Pacers provided some great lessons for public relations.

1. Even the best of us can make big mistakes – own up to them and move on    

Roy Hibbert is a young up-and-comer in the NBA. He also made the biggest headlines after game six by using a gay slur and profanity at the post-game press conference. He even taunted the League with an, “I don’t care if I get fined.” And fine him they did. This mistake cost him $75,000. That’s a decent chunk of change even for someone who made $13.67 million this year.

To his credit, Hibbert owned up to his mistake. The following day he issued a statement apologizing for his inflammatory remarks and reached out to former NBA center Jason Collins via Twitter. Collins is the first male to come out as gay in a major US sport.

Lesson to take away: Chances are that at some point in your career you’re going to make a mistake. In public relations our mistakes are often seen by many people – one bad comment can go a long way. The important thing is how you respond to those mistakes. The best way to handle them is, like Hibbert, to admit your fault, sincerely apologize and put that sincerity into action.

2. You can put together a great campaign and not get the desired results – learn from it!

The Pacers exceeded expectations this season. If you asked people at the beginning of the season if the Pacers would be in the Eastern Conference Finals, most people would have laughed.

But the Pacers found their stride and played well. Better than expected. They knew they were good and their goal was an NBA championship. They put together a beautiful campaign, but they didn’t attain that ultimate goal.

There are positive takeaways. They and the coach had a plan. The Pacers took huge steps in the right direction. After the game, analysts weren’t talking about how bad they got beat, they were talking about how bright the future is for the young team.

Lesson to take away: There will be times when you do some seriously great work that will not immediately get the desired end result. In public relations you can put together a marvelous community relations program and still lose the vote or have a great pitch to an important potential client and not get the account. The key to these situations is to learn from them. Look at what you did right. Examine where you can improve. Then look forward and apply these lessons to your future work.

3. Leadership and development is key

The Pacers entered this season as a young and inexperienced team. Enter Coach Frank Vogel. In only his third year as head coach, Vogel had these Pacers playing sound, fundamental basketball. He took the team back to the basics: defense and rebounding.

After mastering the fundamentals, Vogel allowed his more talented players to shine. He let Paul George loose in the NBA Playoffs, which took the play of the Pacers to another level and allowed them to make it to game seven of the conference finals.

Lesson to take away: I compare this Pacers team to the vast number of young public relations professionals and interns. We are a talented pool of people. We no doubt have the jobs we do because we have talent. But without leadership and development, those talents can go to waste. Here’s my gameplan:

  • Be curious, pick the brains of the people at your workplace and ask questions.
  • If you finish a project ask for more work – there’s always more work!
  • Ask to sit in on meetings.
  • Seek out knowledge, do research about the profession and learn even when you’re not at work or in class.

In my high school weight room we had a great motivational phrase written on the wall; “hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard.” Plain and simple: listen, learn, work hard, succeed!