From theory to practice – what it’s like to be a comms intern

Published on Monday, August 30th, 2021 by julian

Lighthouse Communications > News + Views > From theory to practice – what it’s like to be a comms intern

Like thousands of other students, I study Media and Communications, and am one of those people looking to get a job in journalism, PR, marketing, or something similar when I graduate from UNSW.

Studying this area is a careful balancing act, as you have longstanding academic theories on one side, and the practical application of them in our constantly evolving media environment on the other. So when I was given the option of undertaking a three-month internship as one of my units of study, I jumped at the opportunity.

I was lucky enough to be accepted as a PR intern by Lighthouse Communications, which I knew was going to be interesting and something that would broaden my skillset as I’m studying journalism, not PR. I used to assume that PR and journalism were distinct entities; the former being more superficial and focused purely on maintaining a brand’s image via fancy marketing and puff pieces, and the latter being more serious and hard-hitting.

It’s safe to say that I was quickly humbled, and glad to be so too.

While managing a brand’s image does involve tactics such as fancy marketing, I now know that’s actually just the end product of countless hours of brainstorming, in-depth market research, liaison with clients and consumers, and even petitioning government at times – just to name a few. Lighthouse takes a 360-degree approach to its work after all, and so, looking back, it was inevitable that at some point I’d actually need to utilise the knowledge I’d gained in the seemingly disparate area of journalism.

For example, as I’m studying journalism, writing is obviously a huge part of my coursework, but I had wrongly assumed that as an intern I’d be tasked with producing more general, generic copy. In fact, my experience writing things such as press releases, working to specific style guides, sourcing quotes and relevant experts for a piece and so on, throughout my studies, held me in good stead.

It hadn’t, however, prepared me for everything. I think it’s safe to say that only by being dropped in the deep end of the ‘real-world’ could I have learnt how to compose a letter to a Member of Parliament on behalf of a client – now that was a unique challenge.

But while I learnt about the inner workings of the PR industry, and came to appreciate the work that agencies such a Lighthouse do on a granular level, I also ended up with some much broader takeaways; skills and insights I hadn’t expected to find so relevant.

Transitioning into a corporate, client-facing workplace for the first time is daunting. What do B2B and B2C mean? How do I manage my time and expectations to work within client budgets? And how do I manage my clients’ own time and expectations? Expected or not, many questions and challenges have cropped up along the way, and I don’t doubt that I’ll always come across new opportunities to learn.

Take budgets and industry careers, for example. At university, while important, these are firmly within the theoretical realm. I needed to see them in action to fully contextualise their relevance, and apply the resultant understandings to my own professional development.

But perhaps the most interesting point of difference I’ve found between my university studies and working in the industry stem from my degree. In my journalism course, most of my focus is on collating news, conducting interviews and producing multimedia such as podcasts. And this is where I think my prescribed academic learnings could do with a ‘refresh’, you could say.

The field of media is vast and constantly evolving, and the journalism industry has shifted away from its traditional roots of not only print media, but also singular news outlets; it’s morphed into a hyper-individualised, largely deregulated and platform dependent – Instagram, Facebook etc – beast. As someone who hopes to work in this industry at some point, and as a burgeoning freelance writer, I’m now being thrust into a new world in which your personal brand or influencer status is often key to finding work.

As a result, I need to learn about marketing, branding and social media, which remain largely absent from my degree. I’m no longer just selling stories, I’m selling myself, and so the skills I gained throughout my internship, and continue to develop at Lighthouse, are essential. Developing an appreciation of business dynamics, understanding how to pitch my skills – not only my portfolio – and focusing on the connection between branding and consumer culture are now central to thriving in any media field.

In sum, since beginning my work with Lighthouse, I’ve come to truly appreciate the diversity of the media landscape, and can now see how each sub-industry within it overlaps, and how I need to diversify my own studies to account for them.

Overall though, my internship here was an experience that struck the balance between theory and practice, and I can confidently say that my initial gamble to pick a PR internship over journalism one paid off – especially since I’ve now transitioned to become an official part-time company employee.

This end to my internship was obviously a welcome surprise, and just shows that being willing to put yourself out there and try different things can be both educational and rewarding.



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