We need more opps for interns

Once again, it's intern time. Currently a lot of ad students in placement programs are looking for a break, trying to scope out perches for their January internships.

Once again, it’s intern time. Currently a lot of ad students in placement programs are looking for a break, trying to scope out perches for their January internships.

I could use a troop of interns (several could be assigned to battling my e-mail), unfortunately there aren’t any looking for office-tidying, silent auction-organizing, going to meetings or policy-writing gigs.

However, we do bring in college-level journalism interns whenever space permits, and this year we’ll be welcoming another advertising student on their placement program.

Last year’s ad intern Katie Gilboy came up with and executed some campaigns for Strategy. We were delighted to have her, and apparently, due to the fact that she actually got to add some work to her portfolio, it was considered a successful placement.

This year’s advertising student will be joining us to work on a campaign for our international kids entertainment biz magazine, which will be a fun project, as I’ve seen some of the testimonial material she has to work with — the kids industry folks are passionate about KidScreen, and share some unusual anecdotes.

However, shouldn’t these students be interning at agencies, where they could learn from pros and receive valuable feedback? Somewhere they could elicit something a little more pertinent to their future than ‘I don’t like the stockings on that person’ as an ad critique.

Reports from the front indicate that media intern demand exceeds supply, they can also always place account management students, but for the creative students, it’s very, very tough to get placements. While some agencies are real sweethearts to the next gen of creative adfolk hopefuls, neutral to unfriendly is unfortunately not an atypical response. If someone’s book doesn’t set the world on fire, maybe it’s because they need help. Yes, it’s a big time commitment, and yes, they won’t be independently helming a national campaign for you, but there’s likely some contribution they can make.

The reasons most commonly cited by the creative directors for not taking students are, ‘too busy’ and ‘not set up for it.’ Yes, it’s likely easier to slot someone into a media dept. than squeeze them in to job shadow a creative team for four months, but one program director I spoke to felt at the core, the creative departments just don’t tend to nurture young talent as much, and that’s really quite peculiar for an industry that needs creative people. While eventually all the students from our intern’s program found placements last year, less than half of the creatives were in an agency environment, and of those, many were very small shops, or in Web design, promotions or production – and that was with a lot of teacher intervention (arm-twisting).

This week I had to regretfully pass on a Grade 11 student in a gifted program who wanted to write or research for us, because we felt that coming into a fast-paced business publication environment wouldn’t be a good fit – as learning the lingo (let alone the acronyms) would probably take up most of the placement time. So, I get that sometimes saying no is actually the kindest decision for the person. But when there’s a higher incidence of ‘no’ in a specific area, what does that say about the environment?

There’s a car show that has a maudlin signoff, the jist of which is ‘A little kindness makes driving more fun!’ As anyone knows who has experienced the rush hour bumper-to-bumper won’t-give-an-inch drill, with everyone driving like Nixon (who, as George Carlin once famously said ‘looked like he hadn’t taken a shit in a month’), the simple act of letting someone in front of you takes a lot of the stress out.

You see where this is going…give someone a break, and maybe you’ll be the one that benefits.

There are no expectations that you’ll put them on a mega account, but if you could find a corner to let them absorb a bit of the real world, grow their skills, experience and confidence, and then direct some feedback their way, that would be a good thing – and a decade or so from now when the former student is running POW (Publicis/Omnicom/WPP), maybe they’ll remember you.

Unlikely (?) scenario, however it is likely there will be payback for your investment of time. The student heads back to school bullish about the agency, and the agency possibly attracts better candidates as a result of the PR. At the very least, as Matt Litzinger’s letter advocates, you could observe youth culture first-hand, maybe ask the closer-than-you-are-to-the-target-demo interns for feedback on things like your latest gaming tie-in ideas. Maybe learn something from them, and their enthusiasm, and burn off a little stress in the process.

Actually, one intern ended up doing a beer commercial. The agency was having trouble coming up with TV creative the client liked, so, they gave the intern a shot at coming up with a script, which the client did like. Apparently lots of interns have produced work that actually ran.

Heck, The Wall Street Journal reports that second graders are using PowerPoint for class presentations now…maybe I should get that 11th grader in here. He might be able to whip up a strategic plan or two.


Mary Maddever, Strategy Editor

Note to colleges: Advice from one agency vet is ‘don’t go directly to the creatives.’ Approach the agency through its HR department. Another problem may be the cyclical nature of the programs, which results in inconsistent levels of placement requests, and a whump of calls coming in when creatives are rushing around on last-minute Christmas work. There are about a dozen colleges in Ontario, half of which unleash ad students looking for placements at the same time. If there were more intake dates and a more sustained level of placements, it would likely be easier for the agencies to set aside space and plan for interns.

Also, the ‘busy-ness’ issue can sometimes be one of ‘not busy enough’ to want people in, which staggered placements might get around.