For most of your summer interns, this internship is our first real foray into the world of advertising that we have previously only admired from afar. Despite watching seasons of Mad Men and taking communications classes, we come to your agencies highly unprepared, yet bright-eyed. We’re pretty different from our veteran mentors. We don’t know how to read clients’ minds. Or how to write 20 scripts in half an hour. The one thing we do know is how to think like an intern. You should try it sometime; it might be more rewarding than you think.
When Alyssa Fishman, Nico Bovat, Katie Shikowski and I came to Hill Holliday as the firm’s first interns for Program 35, we weren’t sure how welcome we would be. Thankfully, our mentors didn’t just wine and dine us (thanks, by the way); they acted legitimately happy we were here. And not like we were fresh meat, but more like we were fresh air.
In an industry full of hardened professionals who have seen it all, interns don’t have to be burdensome; we can bring new life. We’re coming from a simpler world of building our books to your harsher reality of working for clients. As interns, we still believe idea is king and wonder why you don’t always fight tooth and nail for the winning ones. When our ideas are good, we want you to fight for them – and we think you owe your own brilliant work the same courtesy. A mentor who stands up for my script that is about to be cut does far more good than a mentor who gives me a pat on the back and hands me a cat picture. Granted my mentor has done both, and the cat picture was pretty cute.
We don’t have the experience that you do, but when it comes to ideals, interns are the purists of the industry. We don’t think about corner offices and promotions. Occasionally we fantasize about life as non-interns, but mostly we think about doing work of which we can be proud. Though agency long-timers have those same goals, they can get lost amidst politics and promises. It can make you lose touch of why you even started in this business in the first place. If this sounds familiar, you’re not a lost cause just yet. You’ve just been in the business a long time.
Your intern didn’t start in advertising for the money (we don’t even get paid enough to make rent and we shamelessly stalk client meetings for leftover bagels). We started because we believe in the art and craft of this industry. We kill ourselves to build our reputation by making something worth claiming. We work for you and we work for a client, but first and foremost we work for ourselves. It’s a liberating ideology that’s definitely worth reclaiming. With the next brief you get, channel your inner intern and let the very first thought – before clients, budgets, and precedents – be to make something amazing. It might just take 10 industry years off your cynicism – I mean veteran P.O.V.
If that brilliant idea turns out to be a miserable failure, we’ve been there. We were probably there ten minutes ago. We fail all the time – our professors, bosses, clients -- even we may end up hating our own idea. But when we fail, we can’t afford to think less of ourselves because we’re already at the bottom of the totem pole. Just realize that if you take a risk and it fail, we won’t think less of you either. Rather, we’ll admire you more.
We want to learn from you and, truth be told, most of us want to become like you. You’re the experts and we look to you to help us grow and improve every day. Unfortunately, it seems like humility, hunger for knowledge, and childlike curiosity tend to fade away the longer people stay in the industry. However, we know the moment we stop learning, we stop improving, and that goes for old-timers, too. So let your intern ask questions, and try asking us a few back. We’re eager to learn from anyone, and can only hope that you aren’t too proud to do the same.
So teach us everything you can, but don’t be surprised if your interns teach you something (and I mean more than just how to be funny on Twitter). If everyone in an agency coupled their experience with the idealism of an intern, the ideas could be bigger, the motives purer, more risks would be taken, and I believe, the work would improve.
Mentor your intern daily. Expect us to succeed. Celebrate with us when we do. Allow us to fail and refuse to let us give up. Don’t only teach us your way of thinking; let us re-introduce you to ours. Keep us dreaming. And learn to dream again yourself. Reclaim your own bright eyes and bushy tail, even if just for a summer.