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February 10, 2011

PRSA Advises on Ethical Business Practices for Employment of Public Relations Interns

NEW YORK (Feb. 10, 2011) — The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) today issued a Professional Standards Advisory (PSA) that offers legal, ethical and practical guidance on the use of public relations and communications interns.
To keep its Code of Ethics current, PRSA periodically issues PSAs as updates to the Code; the revisions are based on evolving technology and changing social and professional norms. Recent PSAs have dealt with everything from deceptive online practices to “greenwashing” to “pay for play.”

“Internships can be a valuable learning opportunity and a significant advantage for students in landing that first job in public relations,” said Thomas Eppes, APR, Fellow PRSA, chair of BEPS.  “The guidance provided in this PSA is intended to help employers comply with state and federal requirements, but just as importantly, to help them conduct their internship programs in ways that are ethical and that will provide meaningful career development opportunities for their interns.
In “Professional Standards Advisory-17: Ethical Use of Interns,” PRSA advises those who hire and manage interns, whether in an agency or corporate setting, to be cautious of utilizing unpaid internships. Due to a variety of state and federal employment laws, PRSA advises public relations practitioners to seek formal payment of interns, or develop creative means for compensation and reciprocation.
To sustain ethical and legal practices when employing interns, the PSA presents a series of suggested best practices, which include:
  • Ensuring the internship complies with state and federal requirements.
  • All internships are paid if “real” billable work is accomplished by the intern.
  • If an internship is unpaid, it should meet all U.S. Department of Labor guidelines.
  • The ingredients of a successful intern experience are built into the process from the start, including:
    • The work is an integral part of the intern’s academic course of study.
    • The intern receives experience relevant to a career in public relations.
    • The intern prepares a report on his or her experiences and submits it to an academic faculty advisor.
    • The intern is supervised by a knowledgeable staff member who takes seriously the responsibility to provide a productive learning experience.
    • Written documentation from the intern’s college or university should state that the internship experience is educationally relevant to or fulfills a student’s course of study.          
The current PSA is the 17th update to PRSA’s Code of Ethics that BEPS has issued since the Code, originally drafted in 1950, was updated in 2000. While the Code applies solely to PRSA members, it has come to be widely regarded as the public relations industry’s de facto guide to ethical conduct.
About the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
With more than 31,000 members, PRSA is the largest organization of public relations professionals and students. PRSA is comprised of 112 local Chapters organized into 10 geographic Districts; 12 Professional Interest Sections that focus on issues, trends and research relevant to specialized practice areas, such as technology, health care, financial communications, entertainment and sports, and travel tourism; and the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), which has more than 300 Chapters at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. PRSA is headquartered in New York.

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