As summer starts to officially wind down and back to school, back to work mode(s) set in, I am constantly looking back at unique and rare, professional experiences to help give me an edge to finish the year on a good note. Such unique experiences are overshadowed by the majority of being conventional. But it is proof that people are willing to not follow, rather change the status-quo.
If you’re going to break the rules, understand them, first.
During the spring semester of my sophomore year in college, I started an aggressive hunt for an internship that was going to give me the opportunity to learn actual professional skills for a post collegiate life. Some of the experiences I had was a messenger for a private bank in Wall Street (a.k.a “go-fer” work) and an assistant in the art department of a magazine publication in midtown-Manhattan (a.k.a. sorting mail and getting coffee for executives). I was ready to see what school was trying to teach me. One day, I read over the classified section of the newspaper and saw a post stating ‘A boutique, Manhattan ad agency looking for an individual to help an overworked art director…’ Soon enough, I sent a cover letter and my resume via fax machine (yes, fax!). A few days later, a message on my phone came in from Jim Cronin, the president of BCA Advertising (Brian Cronin & Associates) asking me to come in for an interview and a portfolio review.
Being naive helps. Being honest does, too.
Along with the art director, Kevin Fegan, who sat in the meeting, Jim looked through my portfolio, which was the wrong portfolio. It was a portfolio full of drawings and paintings, because my prior summer jobs had no graphic design work to show. He told me that “it’s great work, but not the kind we are looking for,” The ONLY thing I had to support my graphic design knowledge were a handful of business cards that I designed and printed from a friend’s computer. It showed a very novice piece of work on a design program. I paused for a bit and realized that across the table, was a president of a company and an art director, who both took the time out of their schedule to meet with me. I gathered enough confidence to then honestly told them that I was not looking to get paid to work, but to get a learning experience with real work – an internship.
I think it shocked them. But they saw an opportunity for the both of us. They gave me a tour of the agency and I realized that it was a small office consisting of just 8 people. The agency dealt with travel and hospitality, which was exciting due to an extensive travel experience I had with my family. I was offered to start working the week after the last day of school.
All hands on deck!
The work was real! There were edits and revisions needed to be done. Concepts to be drafted. Images to be sorted for possible campaigns. Clients to call and meet face-to-face. I realized the bonus of working with a small group, that all hands were to be on deck, with each person willing to wear multiple hats. One time, the art director, had to be called in for jury duty and I was told that I had to manage the art department by myself for a few days. It was intimidating, at first, but I knew that if I did it well, it would add to a unique experience.
Experience wasn’t the only thing I was getting. Jim decided that it would be fair that I should be compensated for my performance, which went to purchasing a new computer, along with a letter to my college internship advisor for 9 credits towards graduation. At times, I would meet college classmates for lunch who were also interning at HBO, Y&R, Grey and other heavyweight names in media, but were doing “go-fer” work, which reminded me to be thankful for my position in a small, personal working environment.
Ending on a GREAT note.
My summer with BCA ended with a design portfolio that consisted of over 20 pieces of published work, which appeared in The New York Times, stacked in hotel lobbies and restaurants in Manhattan, or tucked in front of passenger seats of commercial airline jets. Not only did I learn design, but copywriting, accounting, media, sales, client acquisition and new business development, among other trades that I would not have gotten the chance had I been in a conventional environment. What was great was that while I was finishing up my college years working for a diploma, I remained ’employed’ with BCA Advertising on a freelancing and consulting basis. It was gratifying to know that somebody looked at me as a working professional, while still an amateur. Below, are some images from the internship portfolio:
Look, people make rules and abide to them because of formality. It’s just a way to set things straight – to be conventional. That’s it. But it doesn’t mean that we should do things the way they have always been done. If that’s the case, then nothing new, innovative, or unique, would happen. You’d be surprised to see what may come if you are willing to bend, or break away from the mold.
Because there are people like Jim Cronin who are willing to take a different route with you and make it an adventure.