PepperPrep:  Where you pay to not get paid

March 2 Guest Post by Trish Taylor, Peppercom

At a time when most PR firms are scouring the landscape for new revenue streams and defending its turf, we just came across the perfect windfall  – pay-for-play internships. There are tons of parents out there willing to shell out whatever it takes to keep little Johnny from whining and looking good to the Joneses, so why not pay for your children to work? Hey, whatever it takes to get them out of the house, right?

Parents with heavy pockets are now paying $8K to PR firms, law firms, etc. to hire their lazy, underachieving kids for summer internships. I mean, why bother looking for an internship to get a career when you have that keg tapped in the closet and dad’s nickname is Moneybags? If you’re a parent with money to burn and a kid who soon will have a BS degree, we have a created PepperPrep. Our team is already busy cold calling multimillionaire parents with deadbeat kids as we speak.

The Chicago Tribune article quotes an intern whose dad paid $7K for an internship at a Chicago PR firm I’ve never heard of: "I guess I put off thinking about the summer until March. It was probably me trying to deny that I was going to have to get an internship that summer."

Must be nice. I hate to admit this, but I had nine internships. I didn’t have to pay for one of them though. Although, I did commute into Chicago for a couple that didn’t pay while I bartended and worked at a local grocery store at night. I had five in undergrad between my sophomore and senior years, one during graduate school and then three between grad school and finally landing a full time gig at the ripe old age of 26.

I was the product of being in grad school during Sept 11 so when I came out, no one was hiring. I would get an internship only to watch the company’s first layoffs. But my persistence paid off and it was my dad who I have to thank for that. He was a maintenance guy at many places that closed and moved operations to Mexico before he landed at a bread factory. As soon as he heard the shop was closing up, he made sure to have another job.

He’s never so much as $7K in the bank and I don’t think he’s even bought a vehicle for that. He gave me $20 a week in college to help with groceries if he had it. But I’m sure glad my parents taught me to work.

My advice to students out there now…nothing beats getting your hands dirty and you’ll earn a whole lot more respect over the whispers of, “Did you hear what her daddy bought her? Her job.”

22 thoughts on “PepperPrep:  Where you pay to not get paid

  1. As a recruiter, over the past year I’ve gotten at least 15 phone calls from parents asking questions about job prospects for junior, a graduating PR major.
    After a few of these calls, I’d ask these well-meaning folks “can you have him/her contact me?” To date, not one has.
    Obviously that’s not true of everyone. But maybe it ties into an article I wrote this week on why some kinds of agency talent — like financial services — is hard to find at the 3-6 year level:

  2. Excellent points, Bubbles. I still wonder what Michael D was thinking of? Maybe his parents paid for his internship at a licensing company way back when?

  3. So the next logical step (in this totally wacko scenario) is for parents to subsidize their kids “salary” so they can be hired as a full-time employee. Parents will figure that if their kids aren’t working, then it will cost them money, so why not take some of that money, give it to a company to hire little Johnny no-talent. Course could get a little sticky when Johnny screws up. (But then any parent who would participate in this situation would be there, as always to “rescue” Johnny, who would just continue to learn that there are no consequences to his actions. What a charming thought. He’ll be a lot of fun when he’s 40.

  4. Well, they say that “charity” begins at home, but if these parents don’t know what to do with their money, maybe they should support some charities. There’s a time, and you as a parent probably realize it better than me, that your kids need to start to make decisions. It’s part of the maturation process, whether right or wrong. And they need to discover the realities of life. Sure, you want to provide your kids with the best opportunities they can have in life, but they have to be able to overcome adversity, too. Even the great champions such as Muhammad Ali was knocked to the canvas a few times. But more often than not, he was able to get back on his feet. And kids need to experience rejection whether it’s through sales or a job interview.

  5. Thanks for the additional insight, Michael. I’d like to think that we’d never be so desperate as to accept payment from parents who’d like us to employ their kids. That violates some sort of ethical barrier in my mind.

  6. Summer camp isn’t a bad idea – a place to learn life skills and network. You never know what Fortune 500 where your bunkmate may end up.

  7. NYT covered this in August 2009 (, and WSJ has talked about it as well (
    Some programs ARE like camps, Greg (see the WSJ piece)!
    In general, it seems the company line from those involved is that it actually is NOT for the rich kids but rather offers opportunites for those who may not have ritzy connections. I’m not sure that is 100% the case, but it sure sounds good.

  8. Heck, why not just send the kids off to summer camp. It would probably $ave a few bucks in the end. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to camp we go.

  9. My point is that there is a broader context here about which we are jumping to inflammatory conclusions. I don’t believe in Helicopter parenting or trophy childhoods. But we have no evidence to prove that a) the kids won’t learn real responsibility, b) parents of more modest incomes didn’t take the risk and invest in a job for their kid, and c) this is a Hampton’s crowd. I’m not convinced that this is a trend of spoiled parents taking advantage of a system to further spoil their kids. However, we do have evidence that firms are using internships as cost reduction or worse revenue generators. And that practice I consider morally questionable at the very least.

  10. I have friends who didn’t have to pay for their education. Either their mom and dad paid for it all or they received grants because their parents were divorced and they claimed just the parent who made less income. Most of these friends, in their 30s, have done nothing with their degrees. Some are restaurant workers, admins or well, just don’t work. On the flipside I do have friends who didn’t have to pay for their education and they’ve done well, so Michael, you’re right, some of these paid-for interns may turn out alright. Maybe I’m envious, but at the end of the day I have no one to blame but myself if I end up back in the double wide and that’s not going to happen.

  11. Spoken like a true helicopter parent, Michael (not that you are). How will these pay-for-play interns learn real responsibility if mom and dad are paying the full load for their summer internship? Yes, our interns are responsible for their own room and board, but we pay them an hourly rate (unlike many unpaid internships). I couldn’t disagree more strongly with your POV. Read Ron Alsop’s book, ‘The trophy kids grow up.’ Mom and dad paying $8k per month to a PR or law firm to employ their kids is criminal. And, I’m sorry, I doubt that lower or middle-income parents would take out sizable loans to pay for a child’s summer internship when they need to put food on the table. This has the Hamptons crowd’s signature written all over it.”

  12. This is a good post, but I must dissent on a few points. Paying to get an internship is chutzpah to be sure. But, how can we conclude that the parents have heavy pockets? How do we know their parents can be legitimately nicknamed Moneybags? Maybe the parents borrowed. Maybe they looked at is as an educational investment. And, maybe their child needs an extra boost for whatever reason (motivation, a spotty academic record affecting previous interviews, etc.) On that same note we have no evidence this is a pool of students that are lazy and undereducated. At our agency we have interns that are paying to be here. Subtracting living/commuting expenses from their current salary, that’s what is happening. And in many cases I’m sure their parents are helping out. So – I agree that the model of charging interns to work for you is subject to debate and says a lot about the employer’s moral compass. But, jumping to conclusions about the intern’s parents’ wealth or the candidates’ otherwise non-qualifications is premature, and comments with which I disagree. So there.

  13. That makes me happy to hear, Brian. If internship opportunities lack, students can be creative by going to an organization and volunteering to do PR work and potentially create their own internship. I would imagine many non-profits would welcome the initiative.

  14. At the College of Charleston, we have a very large communication internship program, with students completing over 180 for-credit internships a year. Before today, I’d never heard of paying for an internship. We certainly wouldn’t allow anyone to earn college credits who had paid for an internship placement.

  15. Linda, your comment made me think about what this generation (who has been given everything) will do with their own children. Maybe the children of those who are entitled will have to fend for themselves because mom and dad won’t know how to do it for themselves!

  16. Just when I thought I couldn’t be surprised anymore by what parents are doing for their kids, I see this. I’m stunned, completely stunned. It must start with the parents who sell Girl Scout cookies for their kids, and then it just evolves to buying an internship for them.

  17. You make a great point, Johanna. Do these paid interns have anything to prove? Now they get to walk away with a relevant company on their resume but didn’t necessarily have to work for that three- or six-month stint. The next real employer may get a lemon just based on what the resume stated. These interns/job candidates should come with disclaimers.

  18. Remarkable. I’ve had unpaid interns plenty of times, but never one who actually PAID the company to be there. It’s just a nightmare waiting to happen, ’cause let’s face it, an unmotivated intern is worse than just doing it yourself.

  19. I am sending this to my dad right now! I truly cannot even fathom him every doing this! What kid will every learn to work for something if their parents do everything for them! Some lifestyles I just do not understand! And, any PR firm that accepts that money for an unqualified candidate to work for them, really clearly isn’t too ethical.

  20. Understood Trish. I meant to send kudos to your parents with my first note, too.
    Rep, you seem to have found a good one here.
    Hopefully this is where “trophy kids” (and their parents) jump the shark and grow up some.

  21. Thanks, Lunchboy.
    I agree with you and really do not reco grad school. I was actually an engineering major turned English Ed major who hated literature… turned PR major my senior year. Because I crammed so many PR classes into my senior year with a goal of graduating in four years I wasn’t sure I was ready. I had a friend go to a local state university where I could complete a program in a year and have a place to stay.
    But I tell you what – having nine internships has resulted in many networks. If I ever want to move across country or into another sector, I likely know someone. I really don’t regret any of it.

  22. Awesome post, Trish and it is good to see some people with drive. Kudos to you.
    Moneybags and his son can come work for me for the deal of 10K per semester. We’ll eat plenty of sammiches and wax poetic about each one.
    Question: why so many internships and so much schooling? I would have held off on grad school until I knew it would help me advance, but that is just me.