Boss, can you spare a dime?

I've never met Marc Hausman, president and CEO of Silver Spring, Md., based Strategic Communications Group, but I disagree with his POV on paid internships.

April 27 Hausman doesn't pay his interns a dime, citing 'the economics of hiring and our ability to deliver value to a client.' He goes on to say, 'When we make an offer of employment, we are projecting future results based on a track record of performance.' So, I guess he figures all interns will perform poorly.

Hausman also believes trust must first be built between an employer and an intern '…who, in many instances, has little (if any) relevant industry experience.' Only after the experience has been gained will Hausman shell out some dough.

That's just plain wrong. First, it presents students with a classic Catch-22. They can't get paid until they've gained experience, but Hausman won't pay them to gain experience. So, rent, food, clothes and other basic staples will just have to wait. Second, I've met countless interns from schools as diverse as Northeastern and The College of Charleston to Fordham and the University of Vermont who've made an immediate, short-term impact on our business. And, we're happy to compensate them for their hard work.

We pay our interns $300 a week, which is hardly enough to help make ends meet. But, it is something. More importantly, it sends a message to our interns that we value their contributions.

I've always been of the opinion that you get what you pay for. If you want the best interns, dig into your pockets and find $300 a week to help them with room and board. If you want a student who's at her wit's end and willing to take anything, then stick with the pro bono strategy.

Hausman ends his article by referencing one erstwhile, unpaid intern who's risen through the ranks at Strategic Communications. That's great. I'm glad she was able to find the financial means to pay the rent while her employer decided if she was worthy of being paid. As for us, we've had scores of paid interns join us full-time and make their way right to our management committee. I'd like to think our willingness to provide a weekly paycheck from day one was the first step in that process.

22 thoughts on “Boss, can you spare a dime?

  1. Thanks so much for the note, Marc. Your story is definitely inspirational. And, what works for one PR firm doesn’t always have to work for another one. I respect your POV, but we’ll continue to pay our interns for their hard work and commitment.

  2. Thanks for your post (and to your readers) for weighing in on this topic.
    I certainly respect your opinion and am glad that a paid internship position works for your firm.
    I stand by my position 100 percent that it’s important for an intern to demonstrate their ability to deliver value prior to receiving financial compensation. Of course, much of the value of an internship is the experience and building a portfolio of credible work.
    And regarding one of your reader’s comments about me working for free. Yes…I held three unpaid internships while in college prior to gaining employment upon my graduation.
    Plus, when I started Strategic Communications Group (Strategic) 15 years ago our first three clients were taken on pro-bono to build a portfolio for the agency.
    In both cases, I worked in the evenings and on the weekends as a waiter to pay the bills.
    It was a challenge, yet I believe the initial sacrifice I made has helped me build a successful career in PR and social media marketing.

  3. I think things changed during the dotcom era, Julie. First, PR was absolutely exploding with new business, needed warm bodies and saw paid internships as a critical way to attract talent. Second, the Millenial generation, raised with a sense of entitlement (read: ‘The trophy kids grow up’), entered the work force expecting everything, including a paycheck. The ‘Great Recession’ provided many firms with an excuse to cut paid internships. With the uptick, though, many have reinstated paid internships (we never stopped, btw). Sadly, others, like the gentleman cited in the original blog, refuse to pay, believing interns must first ‘prove’ their value. I think that’s bogus. Interns work hard and deserve to be paid.

  4. Many, many years ago I did two college internships at two different women’s magazines and didn’t get paid. Instead, I received college credits for my work (in lieu of taking a class). That was the standard back then; no one expected to get paid. Am I missing something here or have times just changed?

  5. Ignoring the argument from morality, paid internships, even when the pay is very modest, will attract more applications from the very best undergraduate and graduate students. I suppose that isn’t much of a concern for organizations already attracting hundreds of applicants for each internship, but there’s always an argument for seeking out the best available talent.
    David, it’s good to see one of our outstanding College of Charleston alumni reading the RepMan blog.

  6. Hey, thanks, Milin. That’s sound advice. For the record, you remain the ONLY excellent intern we’ve ever had from Drew.

  7. Great post. I know some institutions, for example Drew University(> Northeastern), will compensate students who take part in and fulfill an unpaid internship.
    If a student has a choice between an unpaid internship in the industry he/she wants experience in vs a paid internship in an industry with little to no interest, I tend to advise going with the unpaid opportunity with the higher interest level and to seek out these types of stipends from a college/university.

  8. Thanks Abbie. Not paying interns for an honest day’s work is yet another black eye our industry can ill afford at the moment. Let’s open up the coffers and do what’s right. I’d like to know what Kathy, Matt and the fine folks at the Council of PR Firms have to say about the issue.

  9. Opened myself up for that one. Um, thanks, but I guess I can’t fault you for not missing a lay-up.

  10. Have to agree with you. Interns deserved to be compensated. Interns that have worked for HMA Public Relations get, what I hope, is real-life experience. Experience that they will take with them into their professional career. Many of our interns have stayed with us and become part of the fulltime account service team. Others have moved on to other opportunities more suited to their talents.
    There is never a guarantee when you bring someone on the team that they will be a perfect fit. But all members of the team deserve to be compensated.

  11. I didn’t realize you were intern number two, Lunch. I’ve always associated you with interns, but in a different context. It is surprising that a PR firm owner would broadcast his parsimonious ways to the world. It’s not something I’d be particularly proud of.

  12. Intern number #2 (I believe I followed Fran?) chiming in. This guy is a loser. Why even waste the time to paint yourself as a greedy SOB? On top of that, he’s saying that only he can bring value to clients? A good intern not only handles the grunt work but also, when asked, offers a fresh perspective on countless items that we often fail to see due to being focused on the task at hand.

  13. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and Rob Culp’s blog as well. I’m with you. I can’t believe an agency can’t scrape together the small amount of money needed to fund a paid internship. Hopefully, if more of us speak up, unpaid internships, like child labor, will one day disappear.

  14. Thanks for posting this, Steve.
    I thankfully was in strong enough financial position to be able to accept two unpaid agency internships during my undergraduate career (not for credit), but I unquestionably did work that would otherwise have needed to be done by paid staff. Of course, if you’re hoping to stay on at the agency after you graduate or get a decent recommendation, there’s no chance that you’d ever report that.
    Beyond the fact that paying your interns is morally the right thing to do, it’s very difficult for me to imagine that these businesses can’t afford to pay their interns at least minimum wage, especially since most of college students are only working 15 to 20 hours/week during the year.
    The socioeconomic implications of this are also definitely valid. If I hadn’t been able to afford going two semesters without any income, there’s no chance I would have had the experience necessary to land my major agency internship in Chicago, which subsequently positioned me for my first full-time job.
    The good news is that seems like more and more big names in the PR world are voicing their support for paid internships. Ketchum’s Ron Culp recently wrote a nice post about this same topic on his blog (

  15. Thanks for the clarification, Alicia. I agree that work-for-credit makes sense in some instances and, like you, am unsure what Mr. Hausman’s policy is.

  16. The other point to make is that in many states, it’s illegal to not provide any form of compensation- they have to at least be earning college credit if they’re not getting paid monetarily. Not sure what the laws are in MD or if Marc Hausman does in fact give college credit and just doesn’t mention it. I actually think that it’s totally fine to do an internship for college credit only- I did a couple of them in my day. It all depends on the experience that you get out of it, and of course how many hours you work (i.e. two days per week vs. full time).

  17. Another great point. Thanks Art. No one enjoys being used, either by prospective clients on fishing expeditions or PR firms justifying unpaid internships as win-win partnerships. Speaking of which, a prospect just took my business partner to lunch to thank him for submitting countless proposals, but letting him know her boss wants to retain the incumbent. Does a free lunch make up for all the free ideas he just gave away? I think not. I think we were used.

  18. That’s a great point, Greg. Too few executives remember what it was like when we were starting out. I know I couldn’t have afforded to commute to and from Manhattan when I first graduated from Northeastern University. Happily, Hill & Knowlton didn’t subscribe to the unpaid intern strategy and offered me a full-time gig as a junior AE pulling down the princely sum of $11k per annum.

  19. I liken this situation to being asked to do spec work, the difference being we often do have a track record. But companies are so skittish about taking risk that they want to hedge their bets. This applies to not paying interns as well as requesting work be done on spec. In either case they don’t want to take on any risk, and business is inherently risky.

  20. Interesting to say the least. What was the situation like when he first looked for a job. Did HE get paid? Would he have worked for nothing?
    Let’s fast forward to today’s economy. Would he intern for nothing now?

  21. Thanks Carl. Your point about unpaid internships favoring well-heeled students is a good one. I’d also file paid internships under the heading, ‘doing good by doing right.’ It’s just not right to not pay interns.

  22. Unpaid internships are a social mobility issue.
    Financial aid and scholarships (in theory) level the college playing field for students from poor families, but in an increasingly competitive job market the key differentiator can be the internships an applicant has completed. If internships are unpaid only those from better off backgrounds can afford to do them, and therefore get a leg up over the students who have to work to pay the rent/bills/food.
    According to a PR Week survey in the UK 71% of respondents say they rarely or never pay interns and 40% say they use these ’employees’ to phone journalists. I wonder how many of those 40% tell the client that is happening? If they do not then surely they know it is not right. Here is the article: