Jo Swinson MP has written a short article in PR Week, promising to end the exploitation of interns in public relations. But the problem with interns in the PR industry is less the exploitation of interns than the exploitation of the PR industry.
Most PR interns come from wealthy families and are privately educated. Their parents subsidise them by providing housing and income. Anyone without that sort of support would find it difficult to survive unpaid anywhere, let alone in central London where the PR industry is concentrated.
This is the main reason why the PR industry (especially the big agencies) is dominated by the products of public schools, and young people from more modest backgrounds find it so difficult to break in. (Interestingly, the people from more modest backgrounds who do break into PR tend to do so later in life at a more senior level, having first done a proper job).
The main benefit of tackling the problem of interns will therefore not be to end ‘exploitation’. It will be to force the PR industry to conduct entry-level recruitment more on the basis of merit than privilege.
Postscript: I should apologise for using the rather ridiculous term ‘PR industry’. It conjures up improbable images of manual labourers slaving away in the press release foundry or working long shifts underground in the spin mines.