Leveraging interns in the new media space

intern1“Your tech savvy intern.” These were the words on the email subject line in response to a Craigslist ad we’d posted to fill an intern position. Needless to say, she got the job. As we come to the end of another semester, it seems fitting to reexamine the role of the intern in the new media marketing space. Because interns are not just a cheap way to fill labor needs.

Interns, who typically fall into the 18-30 range, are a key demographic for many of our agencies clients. Moreover, they are comfortable with new media and are exploiting it for their purposes—we’d all be crazy not to tap into this group given how quickly the space is changing and how the behaviors around the technology are being defined in large part by this age group. Having these talented young men and women contributing to the research, ideation, and content we are tapped to do brings us fresh ideas and new thinking. Not to mention a little hungry blood, for which I’m always grateful (as one of our interns is fond of saying, “I’m on it! I’m on it!” or “I would LOVE to do that research, I am REALLY interested in that topic!”

A Forbes article published this month describes the evolution of the internship as descending “from the professional apprenticeships that originated with the trade guilds of Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries. Master craftsmen and tradesmen took in young learners and gave them menial tasks that make filing and photocopying look plush. Apprentices served one master for most of their teen years. Then they could graduate to journeyman and start earning better wages. Often they chose to continue with the same masters.”

What a long way internships have come–from trade guilds of the 12th century to errand or copy boys of the early 20th century. Now, internships are practically required for any students entering the job market right out of school. However, what learnings exist for leveraging interns successfully, particularly in the new media space?

Michael Ouellette, Manager for the Boston University in Los Angeles Intern Program told me he calls interns “the secret weapon of the new media business.” And Karen North, Director of USC’s APOC program agrees that interns have an edge: “In today’s fast paced and high tech world, it is sometimes the interns who who know the newest trends and have embraced the leading edge technologies, applications, and digital trends. They may also be more up to date on theory and research that can directly help an agency or a client.”

Alex Cohen began as an intern on IPG sibling agency, Golin Harris’s digital team. He was later hired as a new media specialist. He told me interns are valauble resource particularly when the work involves managing social media because: “youth is naturally and inextricably associated with social media…Friendster, Myspace, Napster, and of course Facebook all occurred on our watch. The head honchos know that and respect it. Even if some concepts are not fully understood or taken seriously, I believe that for now that being young is practically a badge of authority in the field. That’s not going to last forever; it’s not even going to last another few years as the business world adapts and eventually requires this field in all respects. But for now it’s a strong case towards the hiring of interns en masse as these transitions are made.”

In addition to probing interns for the latest and greatest new media trends we may have missed, at the Lab we try and provide interns with work that suits their interests and strengths–so strong writers will often blog for us (check out Adam Kopec’s article on marketing to college students), and creatives will design collateral or build decks out, and research oriented students will pore over data to inform our new media category landscapes and presentations. We also like to have the students identify a project of their choosing that they’d like to manage by the end of their internship. Some of their final projects have included:

-Designing a digital concierge experience to greet Lab visitors and help them with their travel arrangements
-Publishing a comprehensive article in AdAge on sustainability practices in the marketing and new media spaces (Read Alicia’s article here)
-Creating a partner booklet that offers Lab visitors a peek into the technology and services behind the Lab

Yes, young, hungry interns can certainly keep us all plugged in as we make the transition into a fully immersed digital and social world. They are also great content creators for blogs, social media sites, and our creative collateral. We in turn can help them in their career paths.

Boston U’s Ouellette says that for students, “internships are all about building skills, confidence, and contacts. A successful intern walks away from their internship with a better understand of the industry they want to work in and a plan for how to make that next step.”

And if that doesn’t convince you, here’s what the Twitterverse had to say about the role of interns in new media businesses:

“OMMA Ed:Blog would really like an intern with a sense of humor, a savage pen, a deft hand with a cocktail shaker and some ability with Excel”

“@VSC I thought that the whole point of interns was to traumatize them.”

“patrickhouston: Heard of ‘twinterns?’ It’s when a company puts interns on its Twitter/social media strategy. Folly. Courtesy of FutureWorks Brian Solis.”