Top 3 lessons I learned while interning at an agency

By Alexis Canty

We’ve heard it time and time again, agency life is a lot. Any time you ask someone who’s interned at an agency over the summer, you generally get the same answer: they loved it, learned a lot but are now in desperate need of a nap. Although you get tons of experience with different clients, industries and projects at an agency, there’s more to staying on top of your work load than color-coding your calendar and taking notes during meetings.
This past summer, I decided to join the masses to intern at an integrated marketing agency headquartered here in Columbus, Ohio. In many ways, it was the single most valuable professional experience I’ve ever had. While I learned more than I’ll ever need to know about influencer research and media lists, being a PR intern pushed my boundaries to be a more confident employee, too. Here are the top three lessons I learned:

  1. You think you already have a solid work ethic? Think again.

    When I started my position, I had a fair amount of background experience from an internship I held the year before. A lot of it had to do more with business-to-consumer marketing and less with PR, but I thought many of the tactical skills I picked up through that position were transferable to working at an agency. I was wrong.

    My first day on the job consisted of a schedule full of account ramp-ups and assignments. I think I legitimately wore out an entire pen that day from all the notes I took as I ran from one meeting to the next. Don’t get me wrong, it was thrilling, in a way. However, I did expect a slower first day to get acquainted with the office as opposed to the Black Friday Sale-like introduction I received.

    It turned out that this is the everyday vibe for every single associate in the office. Agencies have to comply with the ever-changing demands of their clients at the drop of a hat, sometimes changing an entire game plan from one day to the next. While there are certainly long-term assignments that may take weeks to complete, many tasks are assigned and completed within the same day – or even the same hour. And, as an intern, it’s your job to pick up the slack and fill in any gaps that may be missing.
  2. It’s okay to say no.

    My very first day in the office, I was overwhelmed. But, while that feeling dissipated over time, my work load did not.

    Perhaps the single most significant lesson I learned throughout my agency experience is that you’re allowed to say no. We’re raised to think that, in order to stand out and get ahead, we have to accept whatever work is thrown our way without contest. However, in the real world it’s important to look beyond your to do list and recognize not whether you can only complete an assignment on time, but, rather, whether you can complete an assignment on time and correctly.

    If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, it’s important to recognize when it’s time to take a step back from the “Yes Man” mentality in order to produce the highest quality deliverables you can. If anything, an agency is a team. When one person doesn’t get the job done well, the entire team suffers. Being able to kindly say “I don’t have space to get that done today, but can I reevaluate tomorrow morning?” will put you in a much more successful position to help yourself and your fellow associates. 
  3. Yes, you do need to take notes, on everything.

    Lastly, you have to write everything down. On more days than not, I’d find myself with a page-long to-do list of assignments that all seemed a little too similar for comfort. But, when in doubt, I always had my notes from internal meetings, client meetings and ramp-ups to stay on track.

    Working with many different clients means working toward vastly different goals for each brand, with distinct ways to achieve them. If you have two media lists to create for two different clients, how are you going to remember which topics to research for which client if you don’t have it written down? Always keep a pen and pad of paper on you, just in case.

Overall, I loved my time working at an agency. I believe agency life offers a certain level of flexibility in career growth that you can only find in certain professional settings like these and I’m incredibly grateful for it.

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