Getting the most out of your internship

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If you’ve wangled an internship at an agency, make sure you give them a reason to keep you on, or invite you back after uni. It’s all about making yourself invaluable.

I was on the IPA Ad School in 2011 in Client Services/Planning, and subsequently stayed on as a copywriter intern – this trial period was worth doing as I’m not quite cut out for Creative! So to distil some things that I learned the hard way…

Know what questions to ask and when to ask them: being curious is a positive trait in adland but don’t be a nuisance. Anything you could find out online – find it out online. Learn as much as you can about what a planner does, what an account handler does, and so on, and get to know your agency’s campaigns in detail. This is still important even though you’ve got the internship now. Many agencies subscribe to Campaign mag as well as other titles, so borrow these during your lunch breaks to stay up to date.

Ask more about the projects your colleagues are working on. You get a better idea of what they actually do all day (and it’s not reorganising the stationery cupboard) and you can offer more relevant help this way. I often found myself asking “is there anything else I can do to help?” and this is fine, but what would be more useful for them is offering help on a specific task. For example, your agency is positioning a brand’s loyalty card, offer to do research into what other brands are doing in this area. Of course, your colleagues might have already done it, but it makes your mentor’s life easier if they don’t have to ‘invent’ tasks for you.

Make good use of empty time: As an intern you probably have more time on your hands than others in the business. Make use of it. Offering everyone tea won’t build your skills but it does give you a chance to speak to more people. Also, read your company’s blog and decide whether you could write something decent for it. There may be longer thoughtpieces by senior members of staff, but there may also be shorter pieces by other staff members on relevant news in adland. For example, at certain times of year (Christmas, Valentine’s Day, around the Olympics, etc) there will be a flurry of advertising activity and you could do a round-up of some of the best ads during that period, or an emerging theme you have noticed within them. Ask who looks after the company blog, then ask them if your submission sounds suitable – they’re usually always looking for more content to show how switched on the agency and its employees are. 

Also look at their Twitter feed, find some interesting links that you think would be suited to their style, then find out who manages it (more networking!) and pass on the links with a very short blurb for each. You could offer to manage the Twitter feed – the New Business/Marketing department probably looks after it – but they might say no as many a Twitter disaster is caused by a rogue intern. 

A last suggestion would be to ask to attend as many meetings as possible. Sometimes they will only want to have those who absolutely need to be there, so don’t be offended if they say no, but for the most part it will give a good impression that you want to get stuck in.

All in all, it’s a bit of a balancing act, making yourself memorable without getting in people’s way (and I still haven’t perfected it) but it might be the thing that gets you a Real Job.

Good luck!

This post was featured on the Ad Grads blog (10th Feb), helping students and graduates break into the world of advertising: http://adgrads.blogspot.com/2013/02/getting-most-out-of-your-internship.html

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A cracking cover letter

Writing an interesting and unique cover letter is not easy, and as a graduate the temptation is to just tweak a generic letter you have gradually developed. When applying for so many jobs this can feel like the only option, but simply changing the company name on each letter will lead nowhere. Unlike a CV which will usually need less tailoring, with a cover letter you should start from scratch. The blinking cursor and the blank Word document can often be intimidating, but once you ask yourself some questions, it should come more naturally.

Below are some starting points to get you thinking, which should produce quite different results according to the company or role you are applying for:

What sort of people are they looking for?

Don’t be afraid to copy and paste the keywords from the advert or the company website for your own reference – you are looking for attitudinal traits (e.g. highly motivated) rather than skills (e.g. aptitude for data analysis). Use this to decide which of your own characteristics will appeal to them, but don’t risk parroting the advert back to them.

What skills can I offer them?

First write down your top strengths. Then rule out those that are least relevant to the role and to the company. What does the company stand for? What does it strive to achieve? Describe what interests you about their business aims, and how you think you can assist in achieving them. For example, many start-ups are trying to shake up the industries they are entering and take on the big boys (such as Airbnb in the hotels industry, and SoundCloud in the music industry). Could you show you are ready to join a challenge like this?

What experience do I have?

Write down your work experience in short descriptive sentences rather than the format on your CV, then only highlight what might intrigue them. Your stint at a call centre as a penniless graduate probably won’t cut it, unless the vacancy or the business has customer service right at the heart of it.

Why would I like to work for this company?

If you have not already made it clear to them why you appreciate their work, you need to first make it clear in your own head. If you are only applying because you need the money, find another reason fast, otherwise no passion will come across. Dig around to find out what makes them different in a way that you admire (i.e. not simply winning awards) and draw attention to this.

Do I have a critical viewpoint of this company and the industry it sits in?

Don’t be afraid to have an opinion. Can you make any suggestions for their business? For their marketing, for the way their website works, for the way they handle customer enquiries? Show them you have engaged with their product and brand; that you admire it and can think of it from a critical viewpoint too. After all, every business can always improve.

Why should they hire me?

Do this last: try writing out why they should hire you in 20 words or less. It will be tricky but it should define the tone and content of the whole letter, and will probably make you feel more confident.

By now you should have about twice as many words as you need; a much better position to be in compared to “I’m writing to apply for…” at the top of a blank page. Now all you need to do is trim it down to make it punchy. Once that’s done, ask someone else to proofread it and cut it further. If this all goes to plan, your application should be given the attention it deserves, and who knows, it might just lead to that all-important interview.

Lauren Ingram graduated from Sussex University in 2011. She studied linguistics and is now pursuing a marketing career in Berlin.

Cutting through the noise: attracting investors to your startup

On Wednesday, Lauren went to her first talk at Google Campus in London’s Silicon Roundabout to learn how startups should attract investors, and of course to network.

With several hundred startups in London, and many of them clustered around the Old Street roundabout, it can be hard to get your startup noticed by investors and by potential users of your product. The aim of the evening, hosted by the award-winning financial and corporate PR agency Citigate Dewe Rogerson, was to share knowledge on making yourself heard and getting your investment pitch right.

The first panellist was Oscar Jazdowski of Silicon Valley Bank UK, whose top tip for the evening was when meeting with investors, you are not looking for money. You are looking for your next meeting with them. Unlike Dragon’s Den, they won’t be parting with wads of cash straightaway; they want to hear your progress (particularly true of institutional investors), so keep them up to date and keep your promise of meeting them a few months later. For now, engage them with your story, tell them what makes your idea unique and exciting, and get them enthused about it. Angel investors are more interested in this core idea and the team behind it, and you should therefore approach them in early rounds of funding.

Keep it snappy

You need to be able to explain your whole idea in less than 60 seconds. Investors often find themselves five minutes into a pitch wondering what the product is – it’s easy to accidentally omit details because you know your own brand so well. City Meets Tech, an initiative to link up the financial district in London with Silicon Roundabout, runs events where startups only have three minutes to pitch to angel investors. CMT co-founder Steve Karmeinsky told us that most startups make the mistake of preparing 10 text-filled slides (10 is the maximum allowed), which is a slide every 18 seconds!

You also absolutely need to know how you will monetise your product, as investors aim to make 5-10 times their money back in 3-5 years. However, bringing in sums early on won’t be necessary – they’ll know you’re just making it up. Just be prepared to explain how you will generate shareholder value, and how costly your customer acquisition is likely to be.

Fail small, fail fast

It’s something you will have heard many times already, but this is only because it’s true. Oscar Jazdowski believes that California is better at killing companies early on, which he sees as immensely beneficial. Many investors in the UK can see the eventual failure a mile off, but choose to keep a company alive with more money – in these cases, it would be better to kill it early so the team behind it can create something new instead.

Don’t underestimate the power of PR

Georgia Hanias from the Technology Team at Citigate Dewe Rogerson explained how to generate buzz around your brand when you can’t afford to use an agency, so that you appeal to investors and potential customers. Her number one tip was to observe your competitors and who is following them: build up a picture of which publications and journalists would be interested in your own product. Make a habit of ‘issue hijacking’: comment on news stories; blog about news in your industry; build up a following with the aim of becoming a spokesperson for your industry. You should also attend networking events, and any angel investors that you do meet, get them to introduce you to other angels.

Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh, founder and CEO of Sugru the self-setting rubber, found that once her product started gaining press coverage, investors began to approach her directly. The company had been sending out Sugru samples to bloggers and tech geeks who got very excited about it and started making noise online. Indeed, a lot of the website’s content is still community-generated, which then also serves to sell the brand to Sugru virgins. How will you get people talking about your product?

Competition is stiff, but there are many investors out there. The evening’s advice in short: fail fast, develop your brand story, and never be afraid to network.

The Future Needs Hacking

3D printing
 

On Friday, Lauren Ingram attended the In Progress creativity and innovation conference, curated by It’s Nice That

As coordinator of our innovation programme Engine Garage, I was a little overexcited about In Progress 2012 as it featured over a dozen speakers including creative trend forecasters, entrepreneurs, and The Guardian. Writing about all the talks would be overambitious, so I’ve distilled some themes that cropped up into basic suggestions for driving innovation:

1. Generate ideas

Disrupt your environment to get the juices flowing. We heard from Artangel, who created A Room For London, a space to inspire artists and humble citizens alike. But you don’t need to be in a boat atop the Southbank Centre to get out of your comfort zone, even a coffee shop will do – you never know what insight might crystallise from a little eavesdropping.

Be open to any idea to begin with – no idea is a bad idea. The Olympic torch designers, BarberOsgerby, informed us that they had an 80 page document of constraints (including not using the Olympic rings logo). Imagine how this restricts creativity! Fostering a culture of freedom to fail allows brains to run wild; reeling in the wackiness can come later on.

2. Realise your ideas

‘Fail small, fail fast’: 3D printing (above) was a hot topic at In Progress (indeed, Adrian Mars’ talk was called Why I’m So Unbelievably Excited About 3D Printing) as you can manufacture designs quickly, with fewer constraints on your ideas. Mars told us that American troops have been given 3D printers, and they have not just replicated their tools and spare parts but also invented new ones.

3. Share your creations

And for free! Allow others to benefit. Ruth MacKenzie, the Cultural Olympiad Director, told us it was quite a battle to make the 100,000 Hackney Weekend tickets free, just as it was to make the London museums free over a decade ago. But now our free culture (and also our free healthcare) is world-reknowned. One of the Engine Garage teams came up with ‘free insurance’ but we’re still not sure how that might work – answers on a postcard.

Pete Hellicar and Joel Lewis (of Hellicar & Lewis) showed us their interactive software called Somantics for children on the autistic spectrum – like all their software, it’s opensource. Sharing is great because you can…

4. Get feedback

Your idea is useless without a user. Let other people collaborate and build on your idea – what do they like about it? Do they use it for a different purpose than it was designed for? For Hellicar & Lewis, watching children use Somantics taught them a huge amount, as they hadn’t predicted the way that kids would use it to express emotions.

5. Rinse. Repeat.

Once you’re an innovation ninja, don’t stop there. At Engine, we have a set of ‘innovation labs’ on the ground floor, and our Engine Garage workshops had plenty of positive results and feedback, but one-offs are not enough. This is just the beginning of an ongoing culture shift.

So manipulate the world around you: adapt your camera so you can grip it better, ‘hack’ your burritolearn keyboard shortcuts to save yourself time and feel really clever – innovation is about not accepting the status quo. So go ahead and challenge it!

This post originally appeared on the Engine Group’s website: http://www.theenginegroup.com/opinions/advertising-brand-content-data-digital-social-media-social-networking/future-needs-hacking