Why The Garden launched an internship program during the pandemic

The Toronto agency saw a chance to help students and tap an overflowing talent pool.
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Summer internship, practicum and co-op placements have been easy candidates for the chopping block in a year when many companies are looking to cut back on costs. But Toronto-based agency The Garden decided now was the perfect time to establish its first ever internship program.

What initially started out as social media outreach in late spring to help young creatives by reviewing their portfolios led to the agency deciding one student would be a good candidate for an internship. And during the one-on-one review process with this would-be intern, the agency realized there was an even bigger talent pool it could draw from.

“We were so blown away by a few of them that we decided, ‘Well, instead of just one internship, what would it look like if we brought in four?’” says Shane Ogilvie, chief creative officer and co-founder of The Garden.

The agency brought on its four interns to work in its creative, design and strategy departments – the last of which worked remotely from Utah.

“We were all looking for ways to help. I think there was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of fear within our industry – not just in terms of students, but with everybody,” Ogilvie says. Sources at Canadian agencies have told strategy that they are expecting anywhere from a 10% to 30% decline in revenue this year due to the pandemic. “Agencies were stepping up and putting forward ideas on how to do things like support our production companies. As a company, we were just looking for other ways to participate in that in a relevant way.”

While many agencies have had to cancel or postpone internship programs due to budget constraints or because they had full-time staff on furlough, some have come up with alternatives – WPP’s VMLY&R hosted a ten-week virtual series of classes, while others increased support of the 4A’s Multicultural Advertising Intern Program. In Canada, the ICA created an online “summer camp” that gave participants access to sessions with agency leaders about their experiences in the industry.

But Ogilvie says having a group of young interns come in that could not just learn about the industry, but go hands on with the work, ensured the agency could still get the same benefits as if it had launched its program any other year: the young interns that were coming out of school provided a “fresh perspective” on subjects such as social media and consumer behaviour.

“What they brought creatively was a passion, a tremendous amount of useful insights into Gen Z – versus the research we’re able to pull,” he says. “The work was fresh, and it was forward thinking, and it broke down some of the conventions that we often go to.”

One of the differences between the upcoming generation of creatives versus ones of the past, Ogilvie notes, is the fluidity in which everything moves across platforms.

“We’re so quick to isolate, ‘We need some video content,’ or ‘We need a very specific type of peak creative output in order to communicate something,” he says. “What they’ve got is their own user experience. And because it’s so fluid, and it jumps so seamlessly from platform to platform, their ideas are inherently broader in their ability to transcend those mediums and connect with people. They’re not single-minded in the way they work.”

Ogilvie says the interns also worked on some self promotional work for The Garden that will be launching in the coming weeks.