For many companies, hiring an intern to put marketing on the right course is a common last-ditch effort before biting the bullet and working with an agency.
Whenever I hear this, I think, “Congratulations, you’ve just hired a very cheap resource to drive your business in the wrong direction.”
It’s not the intern’s fault. While plenty of interns achieve modest to wonderful levels of success, all too often we see the “we’ll have an intern do it” approach fall short, and for a couple of reasons: unclear expectations, lack of clear goals and a lack of oversight on the intern’s work and development.
By all means, hire a marketing intern. Just don’t let that person be the entire marketing department. Here’s why that doesn’t work.
Who is really, I mean really, going to manage this person?
Back in my Girl Scout-ing days, there was a rule about leaving the campsite in better condition than you found it. That meant if there was litter, you picked it up, you cleaned up after yourself, and you didn’t disturb your natural surroundings.
As business leaders and managers, a similar rule applies: it’s our job to elevate our colleagues and employees and continue to put them in better positions to succeed. That means having meaningful interactions and sharing advice when you can. Just because the person you hire has “Intern” in their title doesn’t mean the stakes for their development should be any lower. Assuming you’d each like to make the experience meaningful, the intern will still need resources and materials to do their job, along with training and coaching – which takes time.
Also, how do you plan to manage, and expect that person to succeed if you haven’t given clear thought or direction to what that person is going to be doing on a daily basis? Many of the clients we work with come from an operations or technical background. They’ve grown through referrals driven by excellent service delivery. They know zilch about marketing. If you don’t know anything about marketing, you won’t know what good marketing makes, and you’ll run the risk of offering input and advice based on ego, personal feelings, or “what sounds good” – which doesn’t lead to smart marketing decisions.
An intern’s 40 hours isn’t my 40 hours
I hear this objection during the budget conversation sometimes: “For that price, I could hire an intern full time.” And you could.
But let’s be honest, a college intern’s time and productivity isn’t as efficient as a senior level director’s. And that’s true for any profession – consider a recruiter’s expertise versus that of a seasoned HR generalist, or even the difference between the caliber of talent in AAA baseball compared to the major league. With mid to senior level experience, you’ll see less time spent making revisions, deliverables that mirror finished product and heck, someone who might even challenge you.
There’s a chance you could strike it rich and end up taking on an intern that’s a rising star in the marketing world, but that naturally leads into our next point:
If an intern is so amazing, why are they still an intern?
When you think of a quintessential intern, you might picture a college student spending the summer between her junior and senior year at her dad’s firm, or an entry-level newbie looking for his first practical application of the theories he’s learned. While these types can certainly have a lot to offer by way of energy, social savvy and fresh ideas, these folks are still learning what it means to be a professional in addition to honing skills they’ve learned.
A lot of the key nuggets I gained in my first job didn’t have much to do with the work I was doing – it was things like expectation setting, how to be gutsy and ask a tough question, how to sniff out potential problems – good concepts to understand no matter what type of work you’re doing.
So, if you do hire an intern, here are a couple scenarios to ensure growth, development and a mutually beneficial relationship among everyone involved.
Have the intern work under a Director of Marketing
Hiring an intern is a great way to beef up the capacity of your marketing operation without adding too much extra expense. While the director likely oversees strategic decision-making and big picture planning, the intern can act as a hired gun to ensure all the director’s marketing initiatives are getting done. That way, the intern will have an industry expert as their manager, and they’ll be able to get experience at the ground level, helping out with most of the channel execution, something the director has likely been removed from for awhile.
Have the intern act as internal coordinator and work as an extension of your marketing agency
It’s doubtful the intern will be the jack-of-all-trades marketer you’re looking for, with the ability to balance strategic vision, formulate creative ideas, be a jimdandy copyeditor, a design wiz and have the chops to execute and implement the entire plan to a T.
But, there is a chance, if paired with a marketing agency, that the intern can act as a liaison and coordinator to getting work pushed along and approved from company stakeholders, and ultimately act as the agency’s point of contact for the work.
We’ve worked in a few scenarios where Simple Machines is the outsourced marketing arm of the business, and we have leveraged an intern/coordinator type in house to move work along, provide coaching, direction and management to, and use as extra hands for big projects on tight deadlines. Plus, if you have a multi-channel marketing plan, there’s a chance the intern can handle a specific channel and gain a lot of expertise in one discipline, such as copywriting, social media or data analysis.
What’s been your experience with hiring interns to handle marketing? Does it sound like the outcomes above, or something different?