With the academic summer break approaching, many students and recent graduates are currently looking to secure internships within marketing, advertising and digital agencies worldwide.
While the cynical among you may be tempted to regard interns as simply ‘cheap labor’, enlightened agencies are quickly coming to realise that making themselves attractive to interns is an effective way to ensure that the agency’s culture, outlook and strategy are fit for the future.
Think about it – interns are the future! They are the next generation and often the exact target age group that many agencies and their clients are looking to connect with.
Interns bring an entirely new, fresh perspective to the agency. At my own agency, StrawberryFrog, we genuinely try to learn as much from our interns as they learn from us. We value youth and a new way of seeing the world and thinking just as much as we value experience. All of our interns have brought something new to our agency and to each of us and we're not only grateful for that, but better because of it.
What interns want
So, having established that you want to attract interns, you need to be honest with yourself - is your agency the sort of environment that interns want to join?
Contemporary interns are demanding and highly selective in who they target for employment. They have a checklist of attributes that any prospective employer should meet. They demand that an employer offers them real experience, opportunity and perspective on the wider industry. They have high standards, for sure, but why shouldn’t they? It's no secret that today's student and intern pool are more qualified than previous generations.
When I was an intern back in 2000, I didn't have access to the world of information and opportunity the kids today do. Social media and digital landscape has exploded and created so much opportunity and space to create. I'm always amazed at the experience, both in terms of life experience and work experience, that a 20 and 21-year-old intern comes to us with today.
Does that, in turn, mean that it’s essential to pay your interns? Not always, but, if you're in a position to, I believe you should. You’re trying to attract these people, remember? Let's face it, life gets expensive. We try to take as much of the burden off the interns’ shoulders by paying them a decent rate so they can stress less about life's expenses and instead focus on learning and experiencing all that NYC and the internship have to offer.
Keeping it real
Based on our own experience, the key for agencies is to make the internship experience as ‘real’ as possible. Give interns responsibility, trust and access to what the job is really like. Let them participate in meetings, hold them accountable for real work and ideation, believe in them and their skills!
At StrawberryFrog, for example, we have a strong internship program called ‘TadPoles’. It's run and operated like a department at the agency, and we make sure that our interns work in real life collaborative situations, just like they would in a full-time position. An internship is all about giving interns a real taste of what that career path would look like, so we try to replicate and show the full monty as much as possible.
Based on the feedback we’ve received from our interns, the approach seems to be a winner.
Sara Björkegren, for example, who interned in our strategy group, told us: “While the work was challenging, I had to develop strategic ideas and present them to real clients myself in a board room- imagine that! What I loved the most was being trusted by the management to do this. It was amazing, actually, and genuinely satisfying to know that your work matters than doing some irrelevant work that’s boring and insignificant.”
Likewise, our newest TadPole, Seona Kim, said: “I was given real work in the design group from my first day - really interesting and challenging work. I was recognized for my contribution by the entire firm and called out in public, which made me feel incredibly happy and a genuine contributor to the firm. Most importantly, my input was listened to, and it had actual impact on the look and feel of the communications and content."
The message is clear: take your internship program seriously and create the best experience you can for the young people who join your team. Your agency’s future depends on it.
Ashley Connors is senior group planning director at StrawberryFrog