It can be difficult to get your foot in the door when starting out in a field, and even more so amidst a global pandemic. Back in January when I was interviewing for internships, it never would have occurred to me it would all be done virtually.
In mid-August, I landed a public relations internship at GCI Canada, a PR agency specializing in consumer brands. Their clients include LG, Egg Farmers of Canada and Medicago, just to name a few. It was a paid internship done completely virtual due to the pandemic.
My internship lasted two and a half months, which was a little shorter than I would have liked, in order to master my role in the agency. Nevertheless, the team at GCI was amazing and I did learn a lot.
The interview process
The interview process was quite simple. I submitted my resume and cover letter the day after the intern position was posted to the agency’s LinkedIn page. A couple of days later I was asked to attend a virtual interview on Microsoft Teams where two interviewers, a director and an account director, asked me about my experiences and what I would be able to bring to the role.
It was my first virtual interview in this new normal so it felt a little strange – there were no hand shakes and the interviewers were not dressed as formally as I would have expected pre-pandemic. I still made sure to prepare the same way I would have if interviews were being conducted in person. I dressed formally head to toe and did my research on the company. I also proactively offered to send writing samples to the interviewers after the meeting. It only took about two weeks to complete the entire process.
My internship was completed from the comfort of my home. In fact, GCI ensured I was equipped with the necessary tools by sending me a laptop and materials to help me get set up. I found it difficult to work off a laptop screen and when I mentioned it to my manager, she arranged to have a monitor sent to my home which made life way easier when navigating multiple tabs and large excel sheets.
The first few weeks were spent on training, working with account coordinators on putting together media lists, media monitoring, note-taking, and creating influencer decks. It does take a bit longer to learn when you feel isolated at home, since asking the person at the desk next to you is not an option.
Despite the circumstances, my training experience was incredibly positive as the GCI team was very responsive. I got my questions easily answered via Team Chat and co-workers were always willing to give me a call and share their screen to talk me through difficult tasks. Everyone was welcoming and did their best to help me adjust to my role.
I learned to use tools like CreatorIQ to research influencers for PR campaigns and create visually appealing powerpoint decks to be shared with clients.
I also put together short research reports for my supervisors based on new social media platform features and policies or potential topics of inspiration for PR campaigns. It ranged from Instagram shopping to regulations around child influencers, and popular topics being discussed online by the business community.
I gained exposure to Meltwater, Cision and MRP to monitor and create reports for clients. This is a key daily task for interns at PR agencies. I enjoyed media monitoring because it’s a great way to get familiar with news around your client and their competitors, while learning to create clear and concise reports to keep your team and clients up-to-date, in just a quick glance.
I was tasked with updating old media lists and verifying reporters’ information, using tools such as Cision, Google and Twitter. I also drafted email pitches, which, once approved by my supervisors, were sent out to reporters; and I learned how to post news releases to Cision.
In the communications field, especially when working in PR agencies, you have to balance conflicting deadlines. One of the skills I honed during my internship was understanding and organizing my priorities. I found writing a to-do list every single morning and checking my pending tasks tab in my email throughout the day was helpful in helping me keep track of changing priorities.
Advice for future interns
We often think about developing additional skills like graphic designing or video editing in order to stand out among the competition, but it’s actually more useful for interns or entry level practitioners to take time to become experts in Microsoft Excel, Word and Powerpoint. Knowing the shortcuts and formatting tricks is helpful in maximizing your efficiency and ensuring your work is client ready from the get go.
When you are starting out in a PR agency, there’s a lot of information to absorb and you’ll soon be expected to start owning your tasks and deadlines. It is therefore critical to ask as many questions as possible. I found keeping a notebook helped and so did having separate email folders to keep track of important information for different clients.
Interning at GCI provided great insights into agency life and I learned many valuable skills – both technical and soft. The team is incredibly hard working and does an amazing job pivoting to help their clients thrive, especially with the new challenges thrown our way this year. I could not be more happy to have had the opportunity to learn from them.