Confessions of agency interns: ‘It’s just banner ads and tweets’

It’s summertime. At agencies, that means lots of empty desks and eager, young faces with a new crop of interns, trying to pick up the nuts and bolts of strategy, creative, account and design and make a mark.

Many agency internship programs are fiercely competitive, and if you’re lucky enough to get one, you don’t want it to go to waste — and ideally it will be parlayed into a full-time job down the road.

We spoke to several agency summer interns to find out how they’re faring and what hasn’t been what they expected. Later on, we’ll check back in to find out their favorite parts of the experience. (Yes, we started with the bad stuff.)

Excerpts have been lightly edited for clarity.

Male, copywriting intern, New York
In some ways, I find it hard to get through to my bosses. It’s hard for me to be sure if it’s a generational thing or me being green. It’s probably a bit of both. The divide in generations often times means that veterans in the industry are aiming for something a little bit more expected. Everything to them needs to be a little less provocative and a little more flat. My generation is the generation of shiny things. We like fun content and things that grab attention quickly. That’s what we’re used to. We like cool stuff. Also, there isn’t enough work. You can only hang around and ask for more assignments so many times. Intern projects are silly; just give us more real work.

Female, art direction intern, Boston
It’s a bit underwhelming. In school, I make full campaigns in three weeks, and I have more ownership of the work. But in reality, it takes much longer to get work produced. It’s also frustrating hearing about a portfolio-worthy assignment coming my way, and then finding out it’s a tweet. I know the work won’t always be glamorous, so you can be real about it.

Male, copywriting intern, New York
I came into it thinking we’d be thrown into big-time stuff, but it was just banner ads and tweets. It was a reality check to be thrown at the bottom of the creative floor. When you get into an agency, you’re filling in the holes of other existing campaigns. My first internship did a really good job of making us feel like we were interns. Also, sometimes you don’t know if you’re bugging someone or just being proactive. You have to find the balance between staying out the way but letting them know that you’re available at the same time. I also don’t know how to communicate with them about middle-age stuff like marriage and kids and mortgages and stuff like that. One of our creatives just had his first kid and I’ve never experienced that, so there’s also a divide with that kind of stuff.

Female, brand intern, Los Angeles
My frustration stems from one thing in particular: time. Never did I imagine saying that I wish I had more time to spend at work, learning, growing and experiencing all that my job has to offer. Transparency is key in relationships that span through generations, as well as a policy of no cynics, no egos and no politics.

Male, copywriting intern, Chicago
There will always be people of every generation that are lazy or don’t feel like they have to work as hard to get something. That’s not just a millennial thing, that’s a people thing. There is always conflict in most workplaces; here is no different. I don’t think it’s a generational thing. It’s usually a creative thing. Different ideas are passionately fought for and killed daily. That creates tension. That tension can be used to push for better work, or it can drive a wedge between people. When it is used for the former, that’s where the best work comes from.

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