First off, I’m not writing this to start a debate on whether an intern should be paid for their internship or not. That is up to the individual and the company to discuss because all internships are different.
What I found interesting about this article is the increased responsibility companies are putting on interns. I’m by no means stating that they are not capable of ideation and executing the task at hand (trust me, I’ve met some interns that put seasoned individuals to shame); however, the role of an intern is to job train and learn the trade from a hands on mentored approach as they deal with real life situations, multi-tasking and the ever hard fast deadlines.
When I started in the industry almost 13 years ago, unpaid internships were the norm in the advertising world. It was seen as a “privilege” for you to work at an agency so getting paid…yah right! And that was fine and dandy when you had interns assisting with all the behind the scenes work, learning the ropes and getting hands on experience which they could take back to school with them in the fall and apply it to their theory. Never, did we have an intern front and center as the face of our business or clients business making critical decisions (or the only decision maker) on a marketing plan, branding, media buy or executing social media plans, no matter how amazing he or she was. Developing any of these marketing communications tools comes with experience and is a collaborative effort. Absolutely, we would have interns sit in on internal meetings so they could listen, provide thoughts and insight and understand how all the “magic” happens, no different than a fulltime employee. This would be no different than an agency asking their most junior person to brainstorm an entire marketing plan, and execute those ideas (by themselves) without running it up the chain of command for insight and approval first before going live. It would never happen no matter how small the account was as there is a responsibility to clients and clients customers that the communication on target and on brand. No matter how amazing the idea is (and it doesn’t matter at what “level” the idea comes from) there are collaborative efforts in planning and ideation. It would not be fair to the individual being left in a silo to take on all this responsibility nor does it provide them with any type of mentorship to assist with their future career growth.
I can understand where it might be hard for small/medium businesses who have limited resources and operating costs to take on hiring a fulltime communications or social media manager so why not utilize people who can come in for a few months and execute a quazi social media campaign? Unfortunately, you are putting them in positions as the “face” of your brand in “real time” with no real understanding of your business and customers as this all takes time. Especially if a company is utilizing interns who only have contracts, therefore, there is never a dedicated person ensuring brand standards are met…it’s a continuous revolving door. It may be cool for an intern to have this on their resume; however, in my opinion, you are setting them up for failure.
At the end of the day our clients or customers are paying us to be experts in the industry, their business (their competitors) and provide them with ROI. Therefore, if we don’t put the time in to nurture and grow the next up and comers on the industry, our clients and their brands and just put them in front of a computer and expect them to execute. So, when that doesn’t work out for you, don’t worry, there is always another competitive brand your customer can move on over too!