A new semester will soon be underway for college students across the country. As a matter of course requirements and the elective efforts of eager students, that means new internships. Many companies regularly employ interns. Too often, however, to the detriment of the company and intern, many of these endeavors are not optimized.

By setting clear goals and mutual expectations as part of a mapped-out internship program, you will maximize the value of the experience for your organization and the interns themselves.

If you were to visit the offices of SFW, you’d find a number of young men and women poring over the newest qualitative and quantitative research to flood our offices, sitting in on strategy briefings with our CEO and senior management or perhaps huddled in a conference room, joining a client meeting.

Just as a teaching hospital is responsible for training new generations of doctors, nurses and technicians, SFW takes seriously our responsibility to train the next generation of marketers. Companies that use interns to fetch coffee and run errands are missing the boat. Instead of treating interns as free labor, every employee challenges our interns to immerse themselves in the work of our agency.

We come by this inclusion naturally. Everything we do is founded in 360-degree fact-based immersion. As a research-based marketing firm, we bypass instinct or guesswork. Instead, we build and transform brands by working against a background of complete knowledge. Proven multifaceted research that allows us to understand our clients from the ground floor to the point-of-purchase is how we’ve made our mark.

We extend that philosophy into our culture and how we structure internships. From their first day in our office, SFW interns are asked to not just sit in on meetings but to lend their voice and participate. Just as we shop the category for our clients to gain firsthand experience of their brand and how it operates in the marketplace, we seek to understand our interns’ strengths and use them. We then round out their knowledge and areas of weakness by instructing them not just how our agency operates, but how our work and the work of others plays out in the larger marketing arena.

With guidance and oversight from an intern manager or mentor, our interns are allowed to participate in many of the daily services we provide clients, including:

• Qualitative interviews with senior management of client brands
• Shop-alongs
• Comparative studies of in-store layout and flow, product visibility, signage and competitive packaging
• Interviews with pros in the field
• Omni-channel content creation and evaluation
• Synthesizing of research
• Strategy outline and pitching

How effective are our teaching methods? We’ve had more than one client ask to place their son/daughter in our agency for internships. We’ve had employees of clients come to us (with their company’s blessing) for internships. And the final proof, if you look around the desks at SFW, is that you’ll find a number of former interns now working as full-time employees.

Our interns have also gone on to highly successful careers in competitive agencies. Contrary to what you may think, this makes us happy. We know we’re sending them off with a depth of knowledge that can’t be taught in a classroom. Sending fresh new minds into the world of marketing with an understanding of why research matters and how it can truly make a difference in the life of a brand, and a company, is important to us. When one person in the industry is better, we’re all better. Their success is our success.

Proud marketing parent? You bet we are.