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Teaching new dogs old tricks: my year as an intern

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This blog first appeared on adaywithoutoj.com, and was written as part of a collection of works looking into the benefits of internships in PR. As I am approaching my the one year anniversary since starting at the council, at the end of this month, I thought I would share.

After finishing my Master’s degree in June, the opportunity to do an internship at Northumberland County Council was presented to me by an attentive lecturer. He told me, based on my interest and enthusiasm for democratic PR and my desire to move into Government communications, it was just the thing for me.

The idea of embarking a new job, in the midst of writing my dissertation, needed some careful consideration. I’d worked part-time as an English teacher during the taught part of my degree, and was fully aware of the pressures of time management, but he was right – this was an offer I couldn’t refuse.

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I’d heard a lot about the communications work at the council, and had studied the Northumberland Alerts Twitter feed during a social media assignment. So I started in June with about seven weeks to dissertation hand in.

It turned out to be a masterstroke (even if I do say so myself). While my classmates were amassing hours of time researching, interviewing and collating data, I had it all at my fingertips! As I stated earlier, my passions and interests centre on government communications and the relationship between democracy and social media. Being at the council gave me access to case studies and all the information I could ever want from the website team, who are way ahead of the game when it comes to analytics.

With the help of  the web manager and the rest of the team, my dissertation became a willing bed fellow to my practice. They complimented each other and generally just flirted outrageously.

So, I bid farewell to my dissertation at the end of the summer, by which time I felt settled and at home in the communications office. This was no accident either. The team made sure that I could be myself from day one, and the bespoke nature of the internship ensured that I understood exactly what was expected from me, and what I could get from the experience.

I didn’t really know what to expect, having never been an intern before, but the amount of responsibility and workload depends completely on the individual. In my case, and to my surprise, I found myself loving the press side of things – I’d always fancied myself more on the web and social media side of things.
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I got to lead on a few campaigns, including the successful ‘Don’t Stand for It’ campaign, where we created a genuine dialogue with residents, and got them on our side to tackle a community problem that blights the county. The key aims of the campaign was to change residents’ perceptions of the authority, and get people to use our online reporting system, rather than phone the council, or indeed, simply complain to their friends, or even worse, on our social media channels. The campaign increased online reporting by over 200% putting it in the top five things people do on the website, and a survey showed a change in opinion towards the way the authority dealt with the problem.

The experience overall has been invaluable. Friedrich Nietzsche, a really clever German man, once wrote: the doer alone learneth; and my internship has put that theory to the test. As much as I picked up from my time in academia, being in a supportive, friendly, hard-working (and let’s not forget; award-winning) press office has been worth so much more, and I would encourage any organisation, great or small, to seriously consider it. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship and both parties can really learn a lot from one another.

It’s certainly helped me as I take the next step in my career. Onwards.

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