It’s ironic I’m writing about the life of an Ti (Temporary Intern) at my age; it’s serious because the future of the advertising business is in their hands. Trouble is no one is quite looking at it that way.
Let me define an ‘intern’. Interns are unpaid entry-level gophers. They are taken into organisations because they are supposed to want in – freely. As opposed to trainees who are paid to learn.
Now one of the first lessons we learn in marketing is that a ‘free’ offer is never free. It is either never taken seriously or there’s always a hidden hook. Why doesn’t that apply to interns? Anyone desperate enough to offer free services will almost always disrespect the organisation that avails of his or her services without payment. Overtly they may get their foot into the door in this manner; covertly they expect to be paid for doing something.
Interns always end up doing something. They take notes. They liaise and follow-up between departments. They write emails. Almost all of them are better off technologically than their superiors; they create presentations, tweak messages; they attend meetings carrying all the materials; they administer questionnaires for internal MR and so on. All under the larger umbrella of ‘learning’. True enough, but at the end of the day they are observing what goes on around them.
They see it through uncoloured glasses because they are young and impressionable. And what they see they don’t like. They see the constant fighting for delivery because someone ‘up there or out there’ screwed up. Someone did not write a brief; someone did not turn up for a critical meeting; someone did not plan for material availability. And it has to be someone up there since the intern is the lowest of the low. (And mind you none of the above applies to clients!)
We know “stuff happens”. This stuff can be seen as chaos from one end of the spectrum (especially when you’re free-wheeling); and from the other end as a learning maze from which you can emerge victorious (if you know you’re worth a pay-check at the end of the month). The latter is ‘learning’; the former is not!
Agencies, like any other organisation, are always under monetary pressure; so they are often unable to create a viable financial bridge to attract new young people into the system – so they do this Temporary Intern thing – on a wing and a prayer. Unfortunately the wing is operative and the majority of interns fly off at the first opportunity.
Unfortunate because they carry with them a very distorted view of the advertising agency business. Doubly unfortunate because most agency bosses don’t know (or care) about this phenomenon. This is a disservice to the profession because these very same young people are going into other professions and taking this experience as baggage; which will return to haunt the advertising business in the future!
One answer is for agency heads – who in any case take the most strategic decisions - to focus on the fourth most important item on their agenda - the first three being keeping existing business, finding new business and keeping the financial boat steady. This fourth item is renewing their people policy and especially at the lowest level – who will one day reach the highest level. There needs to be a quantum difference in the intake and treatment process.
Much like the municipality takes raw water, treats it, let it stand in tanks before making it available for public consumption. Most often they fail at this task which spreads illnesses. Nor can the municipality give us all bottled water to drink. Unimaginably expensive. Yet, this is precisely what happens repeatedly. To keep the system going – very little is grown from below; most hiring is lateral in key positions.
Ti travels in the company of hyenas, lions, orang-utans, and after a time jumps ship leaving the agency to manage its menagerie the way it can. With a ring master in charge.
Maybe it’s time to think feet first!