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A Tale of Two Internships
There were two internship experiences that influenced my learning and professional development. The summer before my senior year at Otterbein University, I was a marketing and communications intern at the Ohio State Fair. The fair internship was an incredible experience. At the fair, I ascertained how to incorporate public relations tactics with what I had learned in my college courses. The internship that followed—at a small public relations agency in Washington, DC—taught me very different lessons.
In the beginning of the first internship, I wrote press releases about the fair’s discount admission days, and highlighted activities in the fair’s air-conditioned buildings. Using the written and oral communication skills that I had learned in my public relations and journalism courses, I also wrote articles for the staff newsletter. During this time, I built relationships with broadcast reporters in Columbus.
The fair began in August, and I worked twelve-hour days, but everything ran smoothly. I escorted reporters to various events, including the rib cook-off, livestock competitions, and concerts. Unfortunately, a week into the fair, while one of the spinning rides was in motion, one of the cars flew off the ride’s arm. The car’s two riders landed face-down on the ride platform. At that moment, my colleagues and I became crisis communicators. The critical thinking skills that I learned as a result of my liberal education at Otterbein became essential.
The next day, all three broadcast affiliates arrived at 4 a.m. to set up for the early morning live shots. I was alone on the fairgrounds at the ride accident scene with the news crews. Suddenly, one of the cameramen and his reporter demanded to enter the accident scene. “If you don’t let us in, we’ll sue the fair!” they said. I took five seconds to reflect on what I had learned about crisis communications in my public relations courses at Otterbein. Then, I calmly told him not to cross the police tape. The other reporters present tried to calm the angry cameraman. After the incident, the cameraman and the reporter apologized to me. This incident reinforced to me that although journalists and marketing professionals work together closely, it can be a tense relationship.
Once the fair ended, I traveled to Washington, DC, for a semester-long program that incorporated my journalism courses with an internship at a small public relations agency. At the beginning of the internship, the agency hosted a large meeting for international business leaders. I was responsible for the meeting registration for business leaders and the media. After the meeting, I was asked to compile the media clips about the event into a report, noting key article mentions and including the estimated circulation for all news stories. The time came to turn in my report, and my supervisor said, “I think you’re missing some media coverage—you need to add in some stories, and increase the circulation total.” I was being asked to inflate the media circulation numbers and add in media mentions that did not exist. I had learned from discussions in my marketing and journalism ethics courses that unethical behavior exists in business, but I never thought I would experience it firsthand. While I wanted to please my supervisor, her request challenged my strong sense of values. My final decision was to refuse to inflate the media coverage in the report. My angry supervisor assigned the media report to another intern, who completed the report with the information, as assigned. And consequentially, my supervisor was rather brusque to me during the final months of the internship.
Both the fair internship and the agency internship taught me things that I now apply to my personal and professional life. From the fair, I learned that an optimistic and calm demeanor leads to a better work-day. My agency internship experience taught me to take responsibility for the integrity of my work—and to stay focused on this as I encounter challenges each day.
Carrie Johnson is the assistant director of marketing and media relations at the Association of American Colleges and Universities