How to Build an Agency Intern Program

By | January 21, 2014
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Ohio UniversityYou’ve decided that agency interns are indeed the answer to your staffing needs. You have the resources to properly train and support them, and are committed to making it a mutually valuable relationship. But, what next?

Last August, I had the pleasure of sitting in on a session at Inbound 13 on this very topic. Presenter Erin Wasson (@ewasson), VP of marketing at UrbanBound, successfully used interns to scale her inbound marketing strategies, and attract quality talent. In fact, she has a 100% employment rate for interns coming out of her training.

Below are key takeaways and lessons learned from her session on how to effectively hire and manage a team of digital marketing interns.

Recruit and Interview

A successful internship program starts with the job description. It’s your chance to sell the opportunity. To attract top-notch candidates, present your agency as a place to learn, cultivate and grow.

In the write-up, emphasize that the position is hands-on, and thoroughly explain responsibilities. Be specific so that potential candidates know exactly what to expect and what they will learn. Remember that interns want to contribute, have their voices heard and grow as professionals.

This is also the place to indicate whether the internship is paid or unpaid. Check with the laws in your city and state first, as it’s illegal to have unpaid interns in some areas.

With your job description in hand, take to the streets to recruit. Tips include:

  • Post on your website and job sites—e.g. Indeed.com and Inbound.org.
  • Promote at neighboring colleges and universities.
  • Share on social networks. Use hashtags like #internship for expanded reach to core audiences.
  • Tap into your team. Have employees share with their networks.

Create Persona-Specific Programs

Wasson likes to focus her programs on specific personas. This helps guide her in the interview and selection process, and ensures interns leave with a nicely packaged set of complementary skills at the conclusion of the position. Her standard intern personas include:

Copywriter Cara

  • Background: Creative writing, journalism, PR
  • Responsibilities: Blogging, social media, marketing offers, lead nurturing

Designer Dan

  • Background: Visual communications, graphic design
  • Responsibilities: Content design, marketing offers, landing pages

Marketing Mike

  • Background: Marketing, entrepreneurship
  • Responsibilities: Website optimization, lead nurturing, email marketing, landing pages and analytics

Regardless of whether you decide to create personas, the key is to have a structured plan in place prior to the intern’s arrival. Identify where help is needed, and plot out a program so interns leave with tangible skills. They should not just be working on a random assortment of tasks without any consideration for how they fit together. 

Train and Onboard

As part of the training process, explain big picture goals. Interns should always know:

  • What they are accountable for.
  • How it all fits together.
  • How they are being evaluated.

Online and third party resources, like HubSpot’s Academy, are also great tools for getting interns up to speed on methodology and strategy.

Wasson recommends transparency so that interns feel like an extension of your existing team. She even shares revenue numbers with them.

Master Management

After initial training, Wasson lets interns take off and run with their assigned projects, providing oversight as needed. Each is given ownership over specific campaign elements. Some basic management tips:

  • Get the whole team on deadlines from the beginning.
  • Use a project management tool to organize to-do lists, progress, etc.
  • Assign KPIs and goals to each intern.

Perform an Exit Interview

At the end of the internship, stop and assess the intern’s performance. Are you satisfied with their work? What could they have done/do better? Discuss these items with them. Other key questions to consider include:

  • What were your favorite or least favorite parts of the internship?
  • What projects do you wish you had worked on?
  • On a scale from 1-10, how likely is it that you would recommend this internship to a friend?

Evolve and perfect your internship program based on feedback received. At the same time, complete the following:

  • Collect all files from the intern, especially original art files from graphic designers.
  • Write a recommendation letter, or recommend the intern on LinkedIn.
  • Offer to review resumes or portfolios.
  • Approve which company materials the intern can include in his or her portfolio.
  • If candidates were a good fit, ask for referrals of friends, or past teachers who may help promote your openings, as a means to grow your intern program.

How Do You Manage Interns?

Do you have an internship program? If so, what have you found to work well, and what lessons have you learned?

Share your experiences below.