Bravery and eyeballing the intern issue

Bravery and eyeballing the intern issue

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From writing your ads to keeping your twitter feed on track, how much unpaid work is contributing to your business?

There are a lot of things that we need to be brave about these days.

What we do with customer data through the regulators seem to have taken that over. Differences in gender pay. Diversity in the workplace.

Perhaps if you’ve managed to balance all those balls in the air it’s time to talk about interns and how much unpaid work is contributing to your business. 

I’m not talking about kids in Pakistan stitching footballs. I am talking about who is writing your ads. Who is posting your blogs. Who is keeping your twitter feed on track 24/7.

I did an internship to get into advertising. 

It was at TBWA it lasted 3 months over a summer. Then I got offered my first job in advertising in another agency. I never looked back. I had no tuition fees to pay either.

It’s not like that now. HR managers like to employ graduates.

That means that those who head for a career in marketing and advertising are carrying a debt of up to £50K. But apparently, the benefits of a graduate training don’t extend to actually paying them for doing a graduate job.

Not until they have learned the ropes. But the interns I am meeting. Have done internship after internship. With company after company. 

For periods up to 3 years.

Giving someone an internship doesn’t mean the company feels any obligation to give them a job. If learning a trade is so important then why not take interns at 18? Employers might be able to get an apprenticeship funding. But not once they have had a further 3 years plus a masters before they emerge unemployable from the education system. 

So I am talking to you because you are a budget holder for marketing spend. You know that the youngsters working in communication agencies are working up to 3 years unpaid. What do you think they are doing? Well they’re not just making the tea if they’re interning for that long. They’re working for you. Unpaid. 

How do you feel about that? There’s a couple of options here. Are you paying top dollar for your advertising? Then who’s pocketing the difference? Are you overpaying for beginners who don’t know what they’re doing? Or are you short-changing your suppliers so one way of squaring the circle is for them to ensure that they don’t have to pay their staff for the first three years?

That’s 10-20% of a career in advertising which prefers to hire young people anyway. 

I am tired of the agonising about the lack of diversity in advertising agencies.

I’ll tell you why there’s no diversity.

Because an intern needs a family that can support her for 3 years after a full-time education to get a job.

Only middle class mostly white kids need apply.

Then you wonder why diversity of staff and let’s be blunt the advertising itself is so limited.

So here’s what you can do about it.

Call your agency and ask who the interns are who are working on your business.

Get their names. Track them on Llinkedin. See how long it takes for them to get a proper job.

You will make your agencies very nervous. Because once it’s out in the open that they are using unpaid work, the issue of fees and costs is right alongside. But I suspect they can’t afford to service your business without using interns. So let’s get that conversation into the open. 

The other would be to set up a hashtag tracking system. Those ads which are known to have been worked on by interns can be tweeted anonymously if necessary. With #madebyinterns on them.

And we can start to track it as an industry. 

Ignore the bullies who shout that ad agencies will stop hiring people. Or will make interns sign non-disclosure clauses on what they worked on.

That too will come out and the shitstorm will just get bigger.

Advertising and marketing need young people. They feed off them. They aim a disproportionate chunk of budgets at them. It’s high time you started paying them too.


By John Griffiths, the barefoot insighter! He runs his research and planning consultancy Planning Above and Beyond. He is a published author whose next book Waggledancers is about how to move ideas through your organisation to make the most of them. 

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Author: The Marketing Society
Posted: 16 May 2018
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