Run a dynamic internship – without the resources of a FTSE 100 corporate

20 July 2010 By Northern Lights

Run a dynamic internship – without the resources of a FTSE 100 corporate image

InternsIt is Northern Lights PR’s 20th anniversary this year. To celebrate we wanted to do something new and different that reflected our values – had heart, made a difference and shared our PR skills.

When Heather McGregor of Taylor Bennett told me about their Brunswick Internship we knew this was it.  We wanted to run the northern version to encourage graduates from BAME communities to go into communications as a career – they are under-represented in this industry as the PR Week debate has highlighted.

It’s just finished and we are bowled over with the results – we also have four, maybe five, maybe even six graduates who want to go into our industry and have pledged to encourage others.

Here’s what we did, with tips if you want to do something similar.  We are a small business – anyone could do a version of this.  We paid our interns but in the current economy you could do this without.

1. Find an internship partner

Brunswick work with University of East London; we worked with Bradford University School of Management – a top ten UK business school.   Because the aim is to increase the number of people working in the UK communications industry, we specified UK residents.

The universities help to promote the internship – we were quite late starting this, but it’s best to start from September and interview around April.

2. How many interns and for how long?

We originally planned to copy the Brunswick programme – six interns for 10 weeks.  Because we were late, we only had six graduate applications and one second year under-grad.  We decided to cut out the one-day selection process and offer all the graduates a place (they all impressed us) – but only for three weeks.

With hindsight, ten weeks would have been extremely hard to manage.  Three weeks stretched us to our limit and in fact was enough to enthuse them and give them excellent communications skills – see their blogs written just after a week.

3. Ask for help from employers and CIPR members

We asked a number of employers if they would support us.  Northern Rail, Hallmark and the university gave us real life challenges

–        Northern Rail has just employed four community ambassadors to encourage more people to use the trains in areas where traditionally they don’t.  They asked for a toolkit and PR launch

–        Hallmark asked for ideas for new card ranges and PR launches

–        The university wanted a PR campaign to increase the number of applications for Masters degrees

Each of them gave a half day workshop – mix of masterclass and presentation on their challenge.

We then asked the regional CIPR committee if they would help – and Andy Green, Justin McKeown, Nigel Keenlyside, Prof Ann Gregory, Gary Taylor and Northern Lights colleagues all did masterclasses on aspects of PR.

A number of our partners stepped in to do sessions on careers advice – Jane Hustwit and Saeeda Ahmed – and specialist areas such as Tinderbox Media on social media.

Andrew Palmer, regional director of the CBI, joined us for a social BBQ one evening so the interns could practise their networking skills!

4. Working at Northern Lights

Our office has no spare desks.  So Bradford School of Management offered a room with computers and log-in details for the interns as a base.  And they came to our offices twice a week – and worked in the dining room of the house next to our office.  They all had laptops and accessed our wireless network to do research for their campaign planning.




5. Inspiring the interns

At the interviews, we spelt out to the interns that if they joined us they would have to ‘hit the ground running’.  When they saw the schedule just before they joined, it was a reality shock.

We were paying the interns, they were employees and we made it quite clear we expected a lot.

There were tensions in the group – they are all ambitious and this is to be expected.  This was the toughest part from our side.  We had to spend a lot of time listening, coaching and guiding the individuals and the team.  But this reaped the most rewards – though we did lose one intern at the end of the first week.

We did do an ‘ice-breaker’ team event on the first morning – and cooked a supper one evening to spend relaxed time with them.  With hindsight we probably need to allow for more team building.

We set the bar high and our interns responded.  They carried out research in the evenings and weekends and worked late on their presentations.

6. What our interns achieved

On their final afternoon, our interns did four presentations of half an hour each, back to back.  It would kill a lot of PR professionals – but the interns were not fazed and delivered superbly.

Northern Rail, Hallmark and the university all joined us to hear their presentations.  Alex Glen of Hallmark said they had given him ‘900 campaigns’!  Richard Allen of Northern Rail was delighted and expects to implement their campaign and the same with the university.

Their final presentation was to the Northern Lights team – what did they get out of the internship and should we do it again?

The resounding answer was yes, we should repeat it.  And all of our interns have personally committed to spread the word about communications as a career – in schools, at the university, with family and friends.

Already our interns have been offered jobs and further work and workshadowing.  They were given chances to die for – and have absolutely picked them up.  They have been a credit to our business.

Thanks to everyone who helped us – particularly to Taylor Bennett for generously giving endless advice, practical support and the structure of a programme that worked.


See what Sally Sykes, CIPR presidential candidate, said about the internship being best practice for the UK (go to 11. 43 and 12.43 minutes)

Author Image

Written by Northern Lights


  • Hi Victoria,

    Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to meet your interns, but I am impressed by all that Karyn has told me about them.

    I think Northern Lights has to be commended for the amount of effort you have put into these internships and the achievements of the participants speak volumes.

    I think you’re setting a real example for others in the PR industry – well done!

  • A really commendable initiative, delivered with drive and energy. Well done Northern Lights.

    It was great to meet the interns too. They have so much potential to fill the gaps that appear around PR boardrooms in years to come.

  • I think the Northern Lights team, as well as the interns, are a credit to the business. This adventure was challenging for all of you, with tricky issues of group dynamics, cultures and behaviours. Given that you were doing the day job alongside the delivery of a sophisticated education programme, the results are remarkable – but then I would expect nothing less from Victoria and such a fine team. Looking forward to the next one already!

  • Northern Lights deserve a lot of credit for taking the initiative.

    I have long been concerned when I have been at conferences and seen the lack of diversity in the PR profession.

    Hopefully this will be the start of more effort and also like minded people within the industry doing something together.

    Could the CIPR promote this project for wider adoption?

  • Love the idea of cooking a supper with / for them in the evening to spend relaxed time and to really get to know the young people. Kind of Insight 1 on steriods!

    Work Inspiration – Programme Manager.

  • What a fantastic set of experiences for our students! Well done in creating and devising such an excellent programme of development.

  • […] the Northern Lights internship help me? Was it worth the time and career […]

Leave a Reply

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