Rethinking internships: Part II: How to do it – Incubation at the Ground Floor

My last blog post discussed the need to look at interns as potential full-time hires, and integrating them more in the daily operations to get them the experience they need while providing employers a true opportunity to evaluate their capabilities and potential. While some organizations my respond with an "easier said than done" attitude, I submit that it’s not only necessary, but very much doable.

At my company, Red Door Interactive, an Internet Presence Management agency based in San Diego, we have partnered in the past with area university students to create an "incubated," pro-bono project team made up entirely of marketing and business interns. 

The "Ground Floor at Red Door" group consisted of seven student team members, each with their own agency counterpart, who acted as a mentor through their process.  These individuals were assigned creative, graphic designer, advertising/promotion, technical programming and account management roles. The program was divided into four phases: Discovery, Strategic Planning, Creative and Development. The objective was to provide the students with a unique, structured learning experience that gets them through an interactive project from start to finish.  The interns were given Red Door Interactive’s entire set of resources from which to draw upon, including tools and staff members, in order to better understand how a real-world project would play out within an active agency. Additionally, the project also provided the students something a practical example for use in their resume portfolio once they begin looking for a job after college.

We then selected a non-profit organization to service in order to remove any perceived conflict of interest that we were using these unpaid resources for profit. This initiative fell in line with Red Door Interactive’s corporate culture, as we have regularly provided pro bono services to worthy causes in the past.  In this instance, the Ground Floor team spent the summer developing a Web site and media marketing plan for a local non-profit, Bionic Golf that teaches golf to handicapped youngsters.
The expectations at the outset were that the interns will get a chance to work on this project in addition to day-to-day tasks and duties within their various agency departments that may include typical intern-type work.  We believed that doing so would give them exposure to various staff and agency lifestyle – including both work and after hour social events. We also believed that this experience would help the students build their own professional network while, at the same time, allow us to get a feel for the next generation of talent.

As is the case when an organization empowers others to achieve a stated objective, the Ground Floor team exceeded our own expectations. In about 10 weeks, the interns created a Web site for Bionic Golf that, without question, provided a more interactive and valuable marketing tool to attract volunteers, sponsors and participants. The associated media plan was also a comprehensive – yet usable – roadmap that the non-profit’s management team can implement to increase their awareness and business goals even further.

The feedback we received from students was powerful, as many expressed gratitude and pride for being able to obtain the hands-on experience they lacked from other projects. Equally and rewarding was the response we received from our full-time staff, who were able to exchange ideas and suggestions, often times coming away with new strategies and tactics to use for our existing client bases.

For Red Door Interactive, Ground Floor was one of the most worthwhile ventures we’ve undertaken, will most definitely continue. For other organizations, I challenge them to come up with similar ways to integrate interns into their day-to-day sales and marketing activities.  Rethinking their role in the workplace will enhance their experience and your return of investment.

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