September 29, 2020Published by: Hassan Raja

Lessons from a ‘virtual’ internship in social media

What a summer it has been. As my three-month Battenhall internship comes to an end, I wanted to reflect on my experiences at the agency, as well as my career journey so far.

It’s fair to say that taking part in ‘virtual’ interviews and starting a new position in an unfamiliar industry, all while working from my bedroom, was nerve-racking to begin with. In hindsight though, getting the opportunity to join a top communications firm during a global pandemic, and in the midst of worldwide protests against racial injustice, was a uniquely rewarding experience and taught me more than I could have imagined.

As a student from both a BAME and working class background, pursuing a career in the creative sector felt like venturing off the beaten track. When you have parents and grandparents who migrated to this country in search of better opportunities for their children, you feel a sense of duty to make good on their sacrifices, and to pursue a ‘solid’ career with a clear roadmap for entry and guaranteed returns. This presents challenges for students like myself, who face pressure to enter traditional careers such as law and medicine, but desperately want to explore options within creative fields. 

The lack of transparency around opportunities in the creative sector, plus a perceived lack of diversity, were the main barriers to entry for me. The fear of not fitting in, as well as not being able to find a secure job, made me nervous about the idea of specialising in a niche creative field.

Getting creative
Fortunately, I have come across opportunities aimed at addressing the lack of diversity in creative sectors, which has given me an insight into what a career could look like. One such initiative was the Creative Media Camp scheme, run by the Ideas Foundation, which enabled me to work with a team to produce an ad campaign that we presented to executives at Canon. This was my first real insight into what a career in a creative industry could look like and has gone a long way in shaping my ambitions for the future.

I feel even more grateful to have come across Battenhall a few months ago while being involved in one of their client campaigns, and to have landed a paid internship position during these uncertain times. 

Removing barriers
The lack of paid internships is something that plagues multiple industries and puts students like myself at a disadvantage. For many, dabbling in different forms of unpaid work as a means of figuring out what you want to do simply isn’t an option. So Battenhall’s policy of paying all of its interns is hugely important in terms of increasing the presence of people from disadvantaged backgrounds in the industry. 

Creative industries seem to lag behind other sectors when it comes to diversity and representation of BAME people, so it has been refreshing to see Battenhall take meaningful steps to address this, rather than make vague statements and superficial gestures. 

The team’s work with the Taylor Bennett Foundation, a charitable organisation that works to encourage BAME graduates to pursue careers in comms, is an example of this. Their introduction to comms workshops with young people is hugely beneficial, and it’s reassuring to know that the future of the industry is being shaped by such efforts on the ground.

Career development
I’ve really enjoyed the diversity in the nature of work I’ve carried out for Battenhall and its array of high-profile clients. From writing story pitches for media outlets, to social media content creation for world famous artists, I really was thrown in at the deep end. But this has given me the confidence to take on any challenge.

Another rewarding aspect of my time at Battenhall has been the ‘20% time’ allowance given to all employees, which enabled me to learn new skills and work on side projects and good causes I care about. It has allowed me to put my newfound knowledge into practice and help charitable organisations I am involved with.

It feels great to be going into my final year of university equipped with a host of new skills, and a clearer understanding of what a career in comms could look like. 

For anyone looking to secure an internship in the creative sector, here are my top three tips for taking those first steps...

1. Reach out
LinkedIn is a great tool for finding people in sectors you’re interested in and establishing relationships. It’s valuable to have a presence on the platform and being open to approaching people about opportunities.

For me, mentorship is just as important as practical experience. Even if a LinkedIn message doesn’t result in you landing a placement, getting guidance from industry professionals is invaluable, and I found lots of people are willing to help.

2. Upskill yourself
You don’t need to rely on work experience to learn new skills. You can develop skills through extracurricular activities and hobbies, which can make you a more attractive candidate for employers.

In my case this involved joining a non-profit organisation (@teamupside) and fashioning a role for myself that enabled me to try new things and develop my skills, while helping people in the process.

3. Keep your options open
You don’t have to know what you want to do right away, and it’s unlikely that your journey will be a straightforward one. I started off with a taster course in advertising, then dived into photography, before trying my hand at photojournalism, which led me to communications. Try as much as you can and figure out what you like and don’t like.

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