Let’s face it. We all love a bit of controversy here and there. It often gives life a little excitement, stirs good thinking and presents opportunities for reflection once the so-called dust has settled.
So it wasn’t surprising that when an intern resigned her position from local Phoenix ad agency, Moses Anshell, wrote an open letter about her experience and posted it on the Phoenix Ad Blog, that it stirred quite the reaction. The post spread like wildfire through the local ad community via Twitter and conversations among colleagues. It also (by my count) garnered the most comments on a single post the blog had ever received. No matter what your opinion of whether or not the intern should have publicized her feelings, it does give everyone who has ever employed interns, managed them or had the opportunity to be one time to reflect on how s/he could have could have improved their experience.
Here are 6 tips from a former ad agency intern for agencies (or any other employer for that matter) and interns for getting the most out of the internship experience.
1. Educate your interns. If your agency has interns and zero formal training program, you shouldn’t have interns. Agencies need to build robust education programs to provide on-the-job training or risk doing yourself and your interns a disservice. Training programs provide agency staff with great teaching experience (and potentially a little refresher in the basics) and provide interns with the fundamentals. Yes, yes…I know some of you naysayers will say we don’t have the time to educate, but it is vital to any successful intern program. Sitewire created their own media school for new hires with no experience and interns that provides once-a-week training sessions on different core components of the agency and then asks participants to deliver a full marketing plan utilizing what they learned for a current or potential client. In my case, I came straight out of college and interned at Off Madison Ave. While at Off Madison, I spent hours training with media buyers, planners and account managers before getting the chance to work on “real” work (Thanks Pam, Megan, Chris & Jenna). That brings me to my next tip.
2. Give interns “real” work. Yes, I know “real” work is for our “real” employees, but give me a break. Chances are your real employees are über busy and could use a little assistant. Enter you intern. If you have spent the time to educate your interns, you should put them to good use. Give them a small PPC campaign to manage or the opportunity to put together a couple sections of a creative brief or marketing plan. If they are somewhat intelligent and you have educated them, you will be surprised by the result. And PLEASE don’t get scared or jealous if they end up providing some strategic insight that you didn’t think of. If anything, good thinking by an intern means you probably trained them well and it never hurts to be kept on your toes.
3. Don’t make promises. Whether it be the promise of a job at the end of an internship or opportunity to play a significant role in a pitch or client presentation, don’t make promises of any kind unless you 100% intend on keeping them. Why? If promises aren’t kept, it gives interns a bad taste about your organization, the larger ad industry and will likely be discussed at the intern’s future employer.
Next, the interns…
4. Expect grunt work. Yes, you will have to do grunt work. Staple papers, collate and bind presentations, run food or coffee orders. At some point, interns should expect being asked to complete menial tasks. Get over it, get it done and put a bow on top. Once you are done, tell your manager that it’s done, if you managed to improve any inefficiencies and ask them for more work. If they don’t have any, go find someone who needs helps. The more you ask, the more people will see that you are eager and will start giving you “real” work. If you find yourself being asked to do these types of things all the time, ask your manager how you can contribute to client-work. If the menial work continues after you have asked 1000 times (yes, I said 1000x), kindly resign and go find your next adventure.
5. Ask a boat-load of questions. Here’s one of the few opportunities in your career when you can ask a boat-load of potentially stupid questions and not have people think you don’t know what you are doing. Utilize the vast amount of talent sitting around you and ask every question that comes to mind, write down the answers and apply them to your work. The most successful and talented people I’ve worked with love answering and asking questions. Be a constant learner. Trust me, it won’t go unnoticed.
6. Build relationships. If there is one thing that has served my career well in this industry, it would be building relationships with people that I worked with during my internship and early professional career. Many of the colleagues I met during my early years I count as friends. They have helped me build my career by providing recommendations, client referrals and the occasional “get over yourself Michael”-type of conversation.
Let me know what you think of the tips. What are some others you would give to interns and agencies?
(photo by pfaff)