The use of unpaid 'interns' threatens to become a major, long-term problem for the PR industry.
Since the recession began, and PR firms sought to control costs and headcount, it has been increasingly tempting for them to employ 'work experience' staff for longer – and in frontline jobs.
This is topical during London Fashion Week, when fashion PR firms require a sudden increase in staff. And there is no shortage of young, unemployed graduates willing to do almost anything to break into the world of haute couture.
A couple of weeks ago a BBC2 documentary fingered leading fashion PR agency Modus Publicity for employing up to 20 unpaid interns during Fashion Week. In the face of industry outrage, Modus has since reviewed this policy. But many in PR believe the practice of employing "interns" in key roles is more widespread than fashion.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) have been quick to draw up new codes of practice.
Until recently, PR had got better at attracting top graduates because firms could offer decent pay and prospects. But work experience, which tends to replace genuine graduate training programmes, is deterring such talent.
Employing unpaid interns mitigates against valuable industry diversity. It is likely that the only youngsters able to put up with such conditions are those with wealthy parents. This only reinforces the damaging stereotype of PR as a pastime of fluffy, sloaney types.
The PR industry has actually come a long way since the Absolutely Fabulous days of the early 1990s. But it is only as good as the talent it attracts.
Danny Rogers is editor of PR WeekReuse content