Pay Your Interns
By Alixandra Rutnik on Apr 14, 2022
"Your Intern has the drive. They just don't have the gas money."
During my three college summers I accepted one paid internship, one unpaid internship, and one internship that I took for college credit (unpaid and I had to pay F&M like it was a course). The internship process can be stressful because everyone needs the experience– it’s hilarious when you are looking for entry level positions after graduation and every entry level job description requires 1-3 years of experience. So not only are your internship experiences unpaid, but also they seem not to mean much to anyone in the real world.
And with that said, college internship season is about a month away so please, Pay Your Interns. You can even sign our Paid Internship Pledge, if you feel so inclined.
We talked to two advertising students at SMU who created a series of videos for a campaign titled “Pay Your Interns.” Palmer Beldy is graduating this year with a concentration in Copywriting and Grace Peek is in her junior year studying Graphic Design. They worked together on this project and they have both taken unpaid internships too. We caught up with Palmer and Grace to learn more about “Pay Your Interns,” and why it is so important to do exactly that.
Palmer, how did you end up on the advertising path?
Palmer: I found my way to copywriting during my time at SMU – I took my first advertising class and I was sold. It was definitely a big, defining moment in my college career where everything just clicked. It is exactly what I had been looking for– all the silly comments I made, doodles I drew in class, and crazy thoughts to help brands and organizations come to life now had a meaningful and productive purpose. I am so happy I discovered copywriting because I would not be the same had I not been part of the Temerlin Advertising Institute at SMU.
I have loved getting to step into brand voices, and through the program, I found a passion for helping brands and organizations find their voices. It would be a dream to help nonprofits and similar organizations with their branding and strategy, either through an agency or in-house as a creative director or writer, so that these organizations can have the best possible impact. For now, I would love to gain experience as a writer and work with cool brands and even cooler people, so I can then apply my knowledge to nonprofits down the road.
I currently work at Slingshot, a Dallas-based agency, as a Copywriting Intern, as well as a campus ambassador for Teach For America. So, I have definitely learned how to find the bridge between copywriting and writing for causes and nonprofits.
I am solidifying post-graduation plans now, so stay tuned! Over the past semester, I have connected with amazing agencies and companies that have outstanding teams of individuals who are doing fun work, so I am excited to get started very soon (woah, crazy). A dream of mine would be to write for a show like Saturday Night Live or for artists and musicians– a little bit different from the main goal, but still a really fun style of writing. Maybe I can fit it in there at some point - fingers crossed!
Grace, how did you end up taking advertising courses at SMU?
Grace: While I took on the Art Direction for this project, I consider myself a hybrid creative with skills in both writing and design. I hope to become a multidimensional creator with a lot in my toolbox as I continue my career. Whether writing short stories or executing illustration and animation, I hope to get to a point where I can do it all.
I want to spend time as a creative at a large-scale agency that allows me to use all of my capabilities. I suspect I'll find an area to focus on, whether climbing the ranks at said agency or working freelance– that's a decision I hope to make once I have a few years of experience under my belt. Regardless of where I end up, it is important to me to develop my skills in advertising and as an artist.
This summer, I have taken a paid position as an Art Direction Intern for TRG (formerly known as The Richards Group), and I could not be more excited. I can't wait to be in an office surrounded by creative powerhouses, and I am eager to soak up all the knowledge they will share.
I originally came to Southern Methodist University as an Environmental Science major but quickly realized my creative tendencies were being neglected. Luckily SMU has a fantastic creative ad program, and I became so set on getting in that I decided I would transfer if I didn't (phew).
Unpaid internships are no joke, which further exacerbates the problem between those who can afford to be unpaid and those who can’t. What has been your experience with internships during college?
Grace: I took an unpaid internship during my first year of college. I was looking for a bit of experience in advertising before I committed to the field, and the opportunity presented itself. My boss from that internship reached out to me after seeing the awards this campaign won. I like to think he paid me with free meals and experience (a privilege I was lucky to be able to accept).
Internships are great for gaining experience and making connections. It's been a way for me to apply my skills outside a classroom setting. College is a bubble despite our teachers trying their best to instill real-world deadlines and pressures. I have found internships to be an inspiring way to picture myself outside of these four years of school.
Palmer: I took an unpaid internship at an urban farm in South Dallas during my time at SMU, which was super rewarding. I had other paid jobs on campus that allowed me to make that internship a reality. The experience of connecting with the Dallas community and working toward widespread system and culture change in the area was priceless.
The best internship experiences I have had always stem from the people and the work - when you have a fun and innovative team to work with, learn from, and build cool ideas and projects together, that is an irreplaceable experience. However, getting paid is a necessity– I was lucky I had other jobs that helped support me.
Grace and Palmer: We both had great experiences working unpaid internships, and in those instances, it made sense that there was an exception to the rule of payment. We were gaining invaluable experience so we could learn how to best contribute to teams and work for nonprofits. However, when a qualified, talented intern is working for an agency and contributing to their work, the norm should be that they get paid.
"We are a generation that has grown up saturated by ads. We understand the current social climate better than anyone, and we know how advertising both reflects and creates culture."
Grace: Our industry takes pride in being inclusive and forward-thinking. Some ideas are received with gratitude and others are met with backlash, which is why it is essential to pay your interns now more than ever. We are a generation that has grown up saturated by ads. We understand the current social climate better than anyone, and we know how advertising both reflects and creates culture. If you want your ad to read as inclusive, simply include more people in the decision-making process. In an industry that values ideas, it's crucial to understand that a good idea can come from anyone– interns deserve to be compensated too.
"In an industry that values ideas, it's crucial to understand that a good idea can come from anyone– interns deserve to be compensated too."
Why do you think some agencies are cool with unpaid internships?
Grace and Palmer: We are the first to admit that hard work is essential to honing your craft in this field, but there is a fundamental disconnect between unpaid internships and merit. We think many agencies, especially ones that have been around for a while, have a mentality of earning your stripes. Sadly these agencies are missing out on diversity of talent and ideas when they refuse to pay their interns. A lot of people have exceptional skills and revolutionary ideas but simply cannot afford to work unpaid. These two concepts don’t have to be mutually exclusive - hard work and hard-earned money can exist together, and they should, which we aimed to address in this project.
When you were at the drawing board trying to come up with campaign ideas, how did you land on these five situations?
Grace and Palmer: We went through dozens of concepts, storyboards, copy editing, and design decisions until we landed on our final few spots. We produced a few more commercials but decided to just use these five. The tone was extremely important to us with this campaign. We wanted to create something that grabbed the attention of decision-makers at big agencies without offending them. Ultimately we found that the five spots we landed on addressed the serious issue at hand while maintaining the lighthearted play on typical intern lingo. We also wanted to illustrate those intimate moments where you simply don’t have enough to get by - they are often experienced privately, and joked about publicly. We wanted to remind everyone that in those little moments, it’s typically not a laughing matter.
"We wanted to create something that grabbed the attention of decision-makers at big agencies without offending them."
This project was executed for our advanced portfolio class taught by the wonderful Mark Allen, one of our Creative Advertising Professors and one of our favorite mentors and people at SMU. This is a semester-long class broken into three major group projects, where we get to pick mock clients and execute campaigns to the best of our ability. The course is filled with peer and professional feedback and is intended to help us build our portfolio.
"We also wanted to illustrate those intimate moments where you simply don’t have enough to get by - they are often experienced privately, and joked about publicly."
Tell us a bit about the SMU awards that these videos won.
Every year SMU hosts a big exhibition of creative work where they invite industry creatives to judge and review our portfolios. It's an exceptional opportunity to show the culmination of our work and make connections. Our campaign won Judges Choice for Best Social Campaign, which meant a lot to us considering the cultivated talent in this program. We also received a Gold award from the Dallas and District American Advertising Federation for Consumer Campaigns!
"Our campaign won Judges Choice for Best Social Campaign, which meant a lot to us considering the cultivated talent in this program."
Knowing that you produced the videos together, what was the level of collaboration between you two?
Grace: We helped each other pretty much every step of the way, from brainstorming concepts to actual filming, we were very hands-on. Once we solidified our concept, we did our own thing a little – Palmer brought in renditions of lines while I wrote out storyboards and planned the aesthetic of how we wanted each spot to look. But we continued to check in with each other multiple times a week, offering insights and suggestions.
We are most definitely friends as well as partners. Palmer certainly made this project enjoyable and is a ray of sunshine to be around. While we are classmates and everyone has to work with a partner, we chose each other for a reason. We are both driven and hard workers who like to have a little fun along the way.
Additionally, I have a lot of respect for Palmer's talent, and we knew from previous projects we were a compatible duo. With any project, it's fun to see your idea come to life. This one was fascinating because it's a client that meant a lot to us. It's also been pretty special to see the reactions from industry professionals. The fact they think our campaign is clever and well-executed means a lot, but it means even more that they resonate with the cause.
Our biggest frustrations came from production– we ended up having to reshoot the videos because we weren't happy with the first execution, but I think that comes along with student work. We are trying to execute every aspect while still learning how things work on a technical level.
Palmer: Grace is one of the coolest, most down-to-earth people I know. And I know how insightful all of her previous projects are and how much work she puts into what she does, so I was excited to see what we could come up with for this. It resulted in a lot of long nights listening to the same song 100 times while editing our videos– our laptops working up a sweat, but it ended up being worth it and also helped us develop an appreciation for the production side of bringing a concept to life. We definitely became closer partners and friends through the process, which I am grateful for.
Aside from advertising, what are both of you really passionate about?
Grace: As cliché as it may sound, what I'm really passionate about is my work and personal growth. I disliked high school, not because I wasn't driven, but because nothing really resonated with me. I grew up a competitive equestrian which instilled in me perseverance, calculated risk-taking, and accountability — all qualities I feel you need to be successful in this field.
When I found an opportunity to systematically grow my creative capabilities and mindset through SMU's creative program, I felt that passion again. I joined this program early, so I've had time to discover my creative process. Now I hope to continue to push my capabilities forward and work on developing my signature style. I feel lucky for all the opportunities I've been given, and my goal is to make the most of them and learn about myself along the way.
Palmer: I really love making good work with great people for causes and organizations that need to be heard. So as long as I am spreading messages and helping create a platform to amplify voices for those organizations and causes, I will be set for life.
Specifically, I would love to focus on environmental protection and safety and work with organizations that focus on that mission - like the US National Parks, or Lonely Whale would be super impactful and meaningful.
And, of course, I will always spend time with those I love and have fun dance parties along the way. There is much to do post-graduation and even more to learn, so who knows what is next. I am excited to see what happens and want to continue to find my voice as a writer and person. I know my time at SMU has prepared me for life to do the work that needs to be done. So, thank you to Temerlin and my lovely SMU family!
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