The agency internship. Or, how to spend your summer working your ass off for no pay, benefits, or appreciation.

I’m going to Bruce Lee Kick the next agency boss that I hear complaining about not being able to find competent, talented entry-level staff. Is anyone really surprised that the kids at the top of their classes don’t have any interest in working for companies that barely pay above minimum wage, don’t invest in furthering their employees’ education, and don’t think twice about canning the small fish when upper management loses an account?
It’s no wonder that many regard agency staffers as second-rate compared to the client-side folks who enjoy larger salaries, better benefits, and frequently earn graduate credit and/or degrees on their employer’s dime.
This disparity extends all the way down to the lowest of the low: the summer intern. Not only do students have to pay for internship credit hours at the university, if they intern at an ad agency, they most likely do so for no pay. Some agencies are actually nice enough to validate interns’ parking, but even that seems discretionary for some places.
Would it really be so difficult for agencies to come up with a little cash to attract brighter interns who might someday become valuable employees? I’m willing to bet that places like P&G, Google, and Johnson & Johnson (all of which pay their interns and have sophisticated programs in place) have very few problems identifying and hiring the best minds that are capable of improving their business. A list of top companies to intern for can be found here, complete with average hourly intern wages.
David Ogilvy was fond of telling the story of giving his directors a set of nesting dolls, the last of which was replaced with a note that read “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants.” I think that’s still pretty sound advice that could benefit many of the agencies who find themselves suffering brain drain today.

A loyal agency intern works at his second job to raise grocery money.