The thought of an internship conjures up an unfortunate stereotype – long hours, little to no pay, menial work and a general disregard for the intern’s talents.  But it’s important to note the image presented is, in fact, a stereotype. And like all stereotypes, this image is greatly exaggerated – at least when you compare it to the intern role at our shop.

So why do aspiring advertising and marketing professionals seek out internships and why do these positions matter?

1. Advertising Academics Only Tell Half the Story

This isn’t the fault of faculty. It’s a matter of industry. While that coupon you might receive in the mail seems pretty straightforward, the process of developing and implementing that offer is meticulously calculated by several individuals. In short, the real world of advertising is incredibly complex compared to the end product. You could argue that advertising is too complex and too specialized to put into a four-year, comprehensive university program. Think about the diversity and specialization of the day-to-day jobs, even at a small agency – media buying, market research, market strategy, social media, Web design, graphic design, copywriting, public relations, Web programming, project management – and then consider the diversity of clients. Even the best four-year programs in our region simply cannot provide more than an introduction.

I in no way want to discredit or devalue higher education. The foundation these professors provide give students a fighting chance to break into this highly competitive field. An internship supplements the classroom theory with real world exposure.

2. Internships Give a Glimpse of the Industry

While many see advertising creative as an art form, it’s easy to argue that marketing strategy and client interaction is equally as artistic. Client relations and marketing strategy is about uncovering truths about a company and communicating those truths to a very dynamic audience. To find that organizational core takes instinct and almost a clairvoyant understanding of the target’s motivations. Pitching those ideas can be equally delicate. In the academic world, the clients studied are generally controlled to only have a few variables and human subjectivity generally isn’t one of them. In the real world, the human condition and personal bias play a large part in the client-agency experience. Interning lets you see this interconnectivity and human dynamic in action.  An intern can learn a lot by simply observing the interaction of agency and client as well as the internal communication of suits and creatives.

Internships also see aspects of the industry that often go overlooked at the university level. I can think of only one local university that offers a course specifically dedicated to media buying. Think of all the places that you see ads. One semester can’t possibly do more than give a basic understanding of how media buying works. The same can be said about account management. You can teach communication and sales theory, but without field experience, you’ll be overshadowed by someone who’s been battle-tested.

3.  Internships Put You In the Network

Cruel as it may be, the old adage “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” has some truth in it. A strong intern gets plugged into the industry network. Referrals hold merit. Over one-third of all interns that have graduated from our program have used a recommendation from our company to land a job in the industry. We can’t take all the credit for the success of our interns, nor would we, but for many of those individuals, they were exposed to new opportunities by participating in our program. On the flip side, poor performance in an internship can send along warnings through the same network.

Even for those who may not land a gig right away, participation in the industry is two-fold. First, it shows the passion and patience to enter the biz. Second, it keeps someone engaged in a highly dynamic industry. I’ve seen portfolio work that’s collected a few years of dust and it shows. By staying connected, you stay relevant and marketable.

So why do internships matter? They build a bridge between the blackboard and the business. They extend the educational process and provide invaluable experience. They offer new observations and open new opportunities. They separate the casual collegiate from passionate professional.