9 Unconventional Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Marketing Internship

January 10, 2020

Marketing Internship

Editor's Note: This guest post was contributed by Mara McLean, who is no longer an intern — she's now a Marketing Specialist at Engagio. 

“Giovanni la Balena was never like the other whales in the sea. As a young calf off the coast of Naples, while the other whales were swimming and singing, Gio was developing advanced algorithms to map the krill supplies in the sea…”

It was those words that convinced me I would love working at Engagio. You can find it if you go to Engagio’s Employees page and click on the picture of Gio, the cartoon whale that serves as the company’s mascot — it’s the beginning of a very long and dramatic bio that tells Gio’s origin story. I found it one day while doing research on the company, and it remains one of my favorite pieces of writing on the website.

I was excited to see what sort of company was behind that bio, and I wasn’t disappointed. I found people who are passionate about their jobs, but don’t take themselves too seriously. I found a workplace that takes the happiness of its employees seriously, and that values work-life balance. And I found a team who were behind me 100% of the time, encouraging me to grow and learn and chase what I love about marketing (these people even supported me when I announced that I wanted to make a marketing quiz about sea creatures in outer space. That’s commitment).

But most importantly, I found out that I’d been doing internships all wrong.

I’ve had a handful of internships, and my time at Engagio was by far the best of the bunch. This is mostly due to the fact that the marketing team at Engagio is a wonderful group of people to work for. But it’s also because, every step of the way, I was challenged to redefine what I thought of as a “good internship” and what being a “good intern” meant.

I’ve written down the lessons I learned at Engagio, in the hopes that it will help some other marketing interns out there. Especially if your first internship is coming up — don’t wait to learn these things until you’re a few internships in, like I did! I want to help you hit the ground running. 

Also, I’d like to add a word of caution. Some of these pieces of advice will only work if you’re in a good workplace, with a good boss. And, frankly, you shouldn’t settle for less than that. If you read these and think, “But I could never do that!” then take a moment to look at your work environment. If your internship isn’t helping you to grow, then it may be time to start looking for better opportunities. There are great companies out there, and they want to hire great interns. You can be one of them.

1. Be selfish

In my first week at Engagio, my boss (Hi, Brandon!) sat me down and told me to be selfish with my time. I just stared at him. Was he crazy? What sort of advice was that? But he went on to explain that if there was a particular type of marketing that I wanted to learn, or a project I wanted to do, then I was supposed to prioritize that thing. I was encouraged to put time on people’s calendars if I wanted to learn something from them, and ask for resources if I needed them. When I was reluctant to do this, he set me a challenge: each week, I had to tell him one selfish thing I’d done.

Next week, I gleefully reported that I’d taken up an hour of a coworker’s time to start learning about marketing software. The next week, I had Brandon himself teach me Sketch. The week after, I asked for meetings with a few different people to gather information for a blog post. And to my surprise, everyone was happy to help me. Slowly but surely, I became more useful to the whole team as my skill set grew. It was a win-win for everyone... which is why Brandon told me to be selfish in the first place. 

There’s another reason why being selfish is a good idea, too. If I’m being honest, most internships either don’t pay, or they don’t pay well. Your main compensation is in the skills and information that you’ll gain. So put time on calendars, look over shoulders, or get the resources you need to do things on your own. Ask to be put on projects or shadow people that you’re interested in learning from. Remember: the more you can do, the more valuable you are to your team, and the more valuable the internship becomes to you.

2. Eavesdrop like there’s no tomorrow

If you’re in an open plan office, then I encourage you to eavesdrop as much as possible. (But, like, don’t be creepy about it.) Listen to the conversations that your team members have with each other, because they can give you valuable context around campaigns you’re working on, the challenges and successes that your team is experiencing, important events within the company, marketing trends within your industry, etc. It’ll also show you how your coworkers think about marketing, and where they draw inspiration from. How do they approach coming up with a theme for a tradeshow, or decide whether to do a video series vs. a podcast, or manage the budget for different marketing initiatives? There’s a lot to be gained from taking off your headphones sometimes.

3. Be a magical office elf

All together now: “Always be yourself. Unless you can be an office elf. Then, be an office elf.” You’re not just a coffee-fetching intern, you’re a magical creature who delivers caffeine to make people smile! I know that getting coffee can be a drag... but only if you think of it as a drag. Instead, frame these little tasks as a way to serve your team. Think about what you can do for people to brighten their day, or to make things a little bit easier for them. 

Too cheesy for you? Don’t like elves? Then focus on the positive aspects of these tasks: packing boxes for direct mail campaigns is a great time to catch up on podcasts, scraping event attendance lists is a good way to familiarize yourself with the vendors and customers in your company’s sector, etc. There’s always an upside, if you look for it.

4. Know what you want

Is there a particular type of marketing that you’d like to learn to do? Are you building your portfolio for content marketing, or learning different systems so that you can go into marketing operations, or figuring out how to run trade shows and dinners for field marketing? If you already know, then that’s great! Ask for projects that relate to your goals, sit in on meetings that may be useful to you, and chase what you want.

When I started at Engagio, my first goal was simply to figure out if I liked marketing or not. Once I realized that the answer was yes, and that I liked content marketing in particular, I asked for different projects that would help me learn more about content. Now, at the end of my internship, I’ve created a resource site with interviews from marketing experts and run the campaign to promote it, learned how to run our social media and made dozens of posts, ghost-written two blog posts for Engagio’s CEO, written two bylined blog posts for the company’s website, written a guest post for another company, written a handful of emails and webinar abstracts, and copyedited almost every piece of content that Engagio’s produced in the last three months. That’s a lot of content marketing.

But maybe you don’t know exactly what you want when you start — and that’s totally fine! In that case, spend the first few weeks paying close attention to the jobs around you, and imagine yourself in each role. Try content, events, corporate, social, ops… there are a lot of different kinds of marketing out there, and it’s likely that one of them will be your jam. Ask to be given a variety of different tasks, so that you can figure out what you enjoy. If you find a particular role that appeals to you, start diving into it. Try and adapt your internship to orient towards the type of marketing that you could imagine yourself doing in the future.

5. Be your team’s missing puzzle piece

Figure out what strengths each of your team members bring to the table, then consider what strengths YOU have that aren’t represented on that team. The most valuable skill set you have to offer is the one that no one else has. (Mine is my ability to copyedit! I copyedit ALL! THE! THINGS!) (Do you need a copyeditor? I’m available). 

Or maybe all your skills overlap with someone else’s, but you’ve noticed a particular pain point for your team. Maybe your company’s Instagram hasn’t been posted on in months, or no one’s talking to Customer Success to find out what they need. Big or small, jump in and do what you can. Become your company’s photographer and bring that Instagram back to life! Start sitting in on CX meetings and let them know that Marketing cares! In a workplace setting, your greatest value lies within the context of the team dynamic, so figure out what your team needs and then step up to the plate.

6. Be a detective

Every question you have, find an answer for it. Sometimes, such as in the first few weeks of your internship, you’ll be expected to learn a lot of things very quickly. Write down your questions if can’t ask them on the spot, and find an answer for every single one.

Honestly, the first couple of weeks at Engagio were like drinking out of a fire hose, because I’d never done B2B marketing before. There was so much to learn! I felt like I needed subtitles because of the number of acronyms that people used, and there were tons of things that I simply didn’t understand. (It turns out that SDR, ADR, and BDR all mean the same thing, and I’m still disappointed that CASL has nothing to do with castles.) 

I realized pretty quickly that I needed a system to manage the huge volume of questions I had. I started putting questions in two groups: the questions I could Google, and the questions I couldn’t Google. Also, a quick word of advice: always add “marketing” to your search terms, or you may get results that are completely unrelated to your questions. A ton of the acronyms used in marketing are also used in other fields, and they mean completely different things in those industries.

People’s time is valuable, so if you can figure out something quickly on your own, then it’s best to be self-reliant. But there will be plenty of questions that Google can’t answer, and it’s worth taking people’s time for those. Hunt down each answer as if you were a detective.

7. “No” isn’t a bad thing

Don’t be afraid to bring your ideas to the table — after all, the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be told no. Sometimes interns feel like they don’t have anything to offer because they lack expertise, but don’t be afraid to connect the dots in the workplace and use what you’ve learned in other environments. Your little league baseball team, your theatre classes in college, your knowledge of obscure holidays — there’s ways it can all be helpful! You’d be surprised!

But you’re there to learn, so if someone shoots down your idea for a campaign or an event, don’t take it personally. Instead, figure out why. Your boss doesn’t hate you (probably), they just know things that you don’t. Take no for an answer, but make sure that you get the reason behind the “no” so that you can benefit from the experience. Basically, be a sponge: pretty much everything is a learning opportunity as long as you’re humble enough to pay attention to it.

8. Take advantage of the perks

It depends on the industry you’re in, but some companies offer their employees perks in addition to their salary. Engagio is definitely among them, with free gym memberships, free Philz coffee, and free lunches as long as you’re with someone from a different department. Cue the weekly ramen lunch with the Sales team, please! 

...Literally. There’s a group of sales and marketing people who are friends mainly through their shared love of ramen. Specifically, their love of ramen that Engagio pays for.

Take advantage of perks like these, if your company offers them. Why? First: A lot of perks translate into free food, and free food is the best food. And second: it’ll bring you closer to other people at your company. Take an exercise class with coworkers, or go to the company-sponsored happy hour, or join the cross-departmental ramen lunch. You’ll find friends and mentors that you wouldn’t have met otherwise, and internships are simply more fun when you have people that you look forward to seeing. And hey, free stuff!!!

Also, your marketing will be stronger if you understand multiple different viewpoints. Developers are great to talk to about what’s coming next for your product, customer success and sales are awesome for campaign ideas, and product people are amazing for gaining a deeper-level understanding of the stuff that you’re marketing. Everyone brings something to the table.

A quick side note: the main reason why companies offer these perks is to encourage happy employees and a sense of community. This leads to a more productive company, so seriously, don’t feel bad about “taking advantage.” It’s literally what they want you to do.

9. Do good work

I hesitated to include this last one, because it seems obvious. But seriously, do work that you’re proud of. Put in the effort, put in the time, and ask for the resources you need. Internships are more fun and rewarding if you show up with your best every day. If you don’t want to do a good job, then you may be in the wrong industry. If you’re not allowed to do a good job, then you’re definitely at the wrong company. Because if you have a good manager, then they’ll set you up to succeed.

But if you’re being set up to fail… well, then it’s time to find a new internship. Might I suggest applying for one at Engagio?

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