Trial by Ping Pong, a Broken Tradition, and The End of Brendan the Intern

As my third month of internship service drew to a close, and Old Man Winter bid adieu to the historical lands of the Kwikwetlem, I came to be aware of a tradition that exists within these hallowed halls of digital industry.

It was uttered offhandedly, as if to feign indifference, but betwixt such facades there was a glimmer of predatory elation.

In that moment, a dispiriting truth was laid bare: To partake in the pleasantries of lunchtime table tennis at ElementIQ is to consign oneself to a trial by competition. At the periphery of my senses, I could hear the voices of my colleagues softly crooning, 

Earn your ascension. Vanquish the one who came before you.”

A veiled directive, to be sure, but nevertheless clear: to complete my internship, I would need to defeat the previous intern in a game of table tennis. 

And so my fate was sealed. I was to topple that most dastardly of nemeses, the one spoken of in hushed tones and with great admiration.

Like the venerated rogues of yore, his legend is told in many tongues across many lands, but you may know him simply as…Carlos Ortiz, Social Media Specialist.

(Just to be clear – no, interns aren’t hired full-time based on whether they win a ping pong match against the previous intern. But it’s fun to pretend!)

And yeah, that’s pretty much where the story gets cut short thanks to what Wikipedia has deemed the 2019-2020 Coronavirus Pandemic. Brendan the Intern is no more, and ElementIQ’s great tradition of ping pong rivalries has been rent asunder. Gee, thanks COVID-19.

Anyway, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for indulging me a bit of epical blathering. As a content writer, sometimes you just want a free license to uncork that bubbly bottle of word champagne, you know?

But I digress.

I’ve never really been one to partake in deep reflection, so these internship blog posts have always struck me as a canvas to give prospective interns an insider’s look at what they can expect.

Now, that’s easier said than done given that every intern receives a distinct, personalized experience. My internship was bookended by Carlos’ and Andrew’s internships, and their journeys were and have been, respectively, markedly different from my own.

So, with my back against the wall, and the spectre of a due date haunting my every step, my hand has been forced.

I’ve…I’ve reflected.

It was a harrowing encounter, and I barely escaped with my mind intact, but I bring thee now wisdom from the beyond. Insights.

Insights on what, you ask? Insights on ElementIQ’s internship program and the 3 core qualities that make for a fruitful internship, of course. But there’s nary a moment to tarry – I can feel the words slipping away already. Quickly now, read on!

1. All Day, E’erday, Carpe

O Captain! My Captain! Or, if you don’t know which movie this is from, a bunch of guys standing on their desks.

I thought about composing this like my first internship blog post, with the generically inoffensive voice that narrates innumerable corporate blog posts, until I realized that a lot of the most successful blog sites don’t write that way. From an audience standpoint, co-opting their style makes sense, so here I am trying something different.

And that’s point number one. Carpe diem! Seize the day. It’s not that you don’t receive oversight here, or you’re not accountable to anyone, but that you’re given the autonomy to make judgement calls and pursue innovation where it presents itself.

In my mind, that’s a big part of what puts this experience a cut above your typical garden-variety internship. See, a lot of companies have a rather narrow process for their interns. Speaking from experience, it goes something like this: Here are your tasks, here’s how you do them, let me know when you’re done.

That’s not terrible by any means, and you still learn in those cases, but it’s confining. By comparison, in my time as an ElementIQ intern, I’ve had the opportunity to audition new tools, give input on process refinements, and play an active role in making collaboration more efficient. And that’s on top of the normal step-by-step instruction that I needed to receive while learning about entirely new tasks.

2. Keep the Creative Juice Flowing

Uh…not that kind of creative juice.

Rarely a day went by during my internship that didn’t feature some sort of opportunity for creativity, and that’s pretty representative of what life at ElementIQ is like.

Heck, just look at the featured image I created for this blog post – it makes Carlos and I look like we’re squarin’ up for a throwdown. Goodness knows there are organizations out there where HR would be filling out my pink slip already.

Here, that’s very much not the case. Right from the day you arrive, you’re given a long leash to craft a first-week internship blog post that reflects who you are, what your experience was like, and what your expectations are for the weeks ahead.

Creativity isn’t confined to self-expression either. As a member of the team, problem solving is almost always an open forum, and that’s one of the places where your creativity can really shine. You’ll be encouraged to share your ideas and serve up your take on problems, just as you’ll be able to draw on the perspectives of other members of the team.

3. No Unitaskers Allowed

No unitaskers in Alton’s kitchen, no unitaskers at ElementIQ.

If you’re a fan of American culinary pop culture, you probably already know where the term “unitasker” comes from. But for the uninitiated, “unitasker” is a term that was originally popularized by chef Alton Brown. It refers to kitchen tools, like a banana slicer, that can only be used for one specific task which could otherwise be performed with a more versatile tool like a chef’s knife.

‘Round these parts, that’s a familiar philosophy, because being a member of the ElementIQ team is a lot like being a chef’s knife: you have to look sharp and be ready to handle all kinds of different tasks. Whatever competencies you bring to the table, whatever professional interests you’re seeking to pursue – they’ll be put to work and provided with a chance to flourish.

In my case, I went into my internship knowing that I wanted to work with content and data, and that’s precisely what I’ve been able to do. Any given day could be focused on copywriting, SEO, analytics, or all three rolled up into a single project.

Can it get hectic? Sure, but ask yourself: do you like having more task variety? Are you interested in gaining new skills that can make you more valuable as a professional? For most people the answer to both of those questions is a resounding ‘yes’, and from that reference point, putting in a little more effort to stay organized is a small price to pay.

The ElementIQ Internship – Is it Right for You?

Choices, choices…

Truth be told, not every intern makes it to the end of their internship, and not every completed internship produces a full-time hire. And that’s totally fine! The way I see it, internships are a chance to gain experience not just for the sake of having it on a resume, but to be able to know whether a job brings fulfillment. That’s especially important for digital marketing because it draws upon so many skillsets and exists in so many places and forms.

For some, being able to solely focus on marketing a single set of products and services is ideal, and they find contentment working with an in-house marketing team. Others crave variety, dynamism, and the irreplaceable satisfaction of seeing a client’s vision be fulfilled. For them, agency life is the answer.

You’ve probably heard that agencies are “fast-paced” or “work hard, play hard” environments, but that’s about as informative as me telling you that the Grand Canyon is tall and deep – it just doesn’t capture the full experience.

But even though words fall short in describing the agency environment, you can still look inwards and ask yourself three guiding questions based on what you read above:

Am I driven and motivated to learn?

Do I crave the freedom to be creative?

Can I handle variety and spontaneity?

I can’t definitively say that answering “yes” to all of those questions means you’d be a better fit at an agency – job satisfaction should be based on a whole lot more than just three questions, after all.

What I can confidently tell you, though, is that answering “yes” to those questions means that you’ve got the right qualities to fit in at ElementIQ.

So if you’re searching for an instructive introduction to agencies and the world of digital marketing, give some thought to applying. It’ll be a whirlwind four months, but you’ll emerge with a thorough understanding of digital marketing that no lecture or online course could ever hope to match.

Brendan’s First Five Days As A Digital Marketing Intern

A Note About The Intern Blogs:

If you’re reading this, you’re probably a prospective applicant trying to figure out what the internship experience is like at ElementIQ, or maybe you’ve already reached the next step and now you’re just fishing for interview hints. Either way – great! It’s a sign that you’re trying to make an informed decision and you’re being strategic about solving a problem, which are both qualities that’ll serve you well if you end up as an intern here.

Before we go any further though, here’s something to keep in mind: no two interns at ElementIQ have the same experience, and I don’t mean that in the cliched “each person has different thoughts and feelings” way either. Like every intern before me, my internship experience has been shaped by the things I want to learn about, the people who have had a role in helping me learn, as well as ElementIQ’s current stage of growth. To me, that’s what sets the internship apart from what you’ll find elsewhere. There’s a flexibility here which allows you to explore what the industry is about and whether there’s a place for you in it.

So, as you read about my experiences and the experiences of other former interns here at ElementIQ, don’t make a list of all the things that we’ve done and expect to do the exact same things. Instead, reflect on our experiences and ask yourself, “If I were in those positions, what would I do? Would I be able to use this kind of environment to help myself grow as a professional and learn how to create value for clients?” Once you’ve done that, you should have a better idea of what the ElementIQ internship is all about, and whether it’s a good fit for you.

My Scouting Report:

A rendering of the proposed outdoor stadium at Simon Fraser University

Stadium Render4” by Simon Fraser University – Communications and Marketing | Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Way back when I was a naught but a young pup, I earned my BBA from Simon Fraser University, choosing to specialize in marketing and human resources. Going into university, a career in marketing was never a certainty, but it emerged as a natural fit for me since it combines qualitative and quantitative elements in a dynamic environment – basically, a bunch of things which are right up my alley.

Prior to this internship I didn’t have a ton of work experience in general, let alone relevant work experience. Having said that, the little relevant experience that I did have – a semester as an intern at another digital marketing agency – had allowed me to work with established industry players like Carl’s Jr. and Activision. As a first introduction into the world of marketing, that had really been an eye-opening learning experience, and it helped me to discover more about what kinds of work I enjoyed, and what I needed as an employee to feel fulfilled on the job.

For what it’s worth, I also represent a bit of an experiment for ElementIQ, as I’m joining the team as a client of SUCCESS’ Chance to Choose (C2C) Youth Employment Program. Like a couple of previous interns lamented, finding a digital marketing job is immensely challenging for new graduates when most employers are seemingly seeking at least a year or two of relevant work experience even for entry level positions. Unlike a lot of other places, ElementIQ is willing to take a chance on young talent, as they did when they brought me on board in November of 2019.

Day 1 – All Aboard For Onboarding

As other interns have mentioned, the first day involves a lot of new information, and my experience was no different. ElementIQ is all about iterative improvement though, so what I was expecting to be a hectic onboarding process based on prior interns’ chronicling turned out to be quite structured and logical thanks to all the hard work that Andrea and Carlos had put into refining the internship program.

Just because the information was organized, though, didn’t mean that there wasn’t still a lot of it. Looking back, I don’t think there’s really any way for a new intern to prepare for the sheer volume of details and processes they’re exposed to on day one. To put that statement into perspective, I read all the previous intern blogs, as well as the client case studies on the website, and I still felt moderately overwhelmed by the end of the day. When you’re looking at whiteboards full of organizational tasks and walls plastered with colourful arrangements of Post-It notes, it’s a lot to take in.

A group of people pickup up menus at a restaurant

Photo by Greg Ma | From ElementIQ internal resources

The whirlwind morning was capped off with a team lunch down the street at Shio Japanese Kitchen. Naturally, it was a good chance to get acquainted with individual members of the team, but it was also a chance to observe the team’s interpersonal dynamics. All-in-all, I came away feeling like the atmosphere of supportiveness and camaraderie within the team was accurately represented during the recruitment process. Chummy folks all ‘round!

To close the day, Carlos sprung a completely unanticipated task on me: a post-hiring interview. The questions were remarkably open-ended and – in some cases – considerably more cognitively intensive than the previous two recruitment interviews. As I understand it, the interview was meant to create a record of how each intern’s goals and perspectives change over the duration of the internship, but I think it was also a valuable way of prompting new interns to be introspective and reflect on both where they’re coming from and where they want the internship to take them.

Day 2 – Learning…And Getting Schooled:

As all days do at ElementIQ, my second day kicked off with a huddle. I won’t go into too much detail since other interns have written a lot about huddles, but it was novel to get a first-hand look at how remote working operates in practice.

The huddle was followed up with an insightful lesson from Lincoln about the fundamentals of digital marketing, and how ElementIQ applies those fundamentals to the different channels it operates in. It was instructive, even entertaining, to hear a few stories about his experiences with former clients, and how those experiences have shaped the way that ElementIQ chooses its clients and formulates strategies for them. Lincoln explained that business owners know that digital marketing is important and want to see return on their marketing expenditure, but a lot of them are simply too busy to take the time to sit down and understand how digital marketing activities affect their business.

There was also a little nugget of wisdom from Andrea about how, down the road, I’d have some time to go over client accounts with Vikram and Lincoln, and that I should pay careful attention to how each of them approached the process of account management. It was a small thing, but with so much new information being introduced to me, I really appreciated receiving that kind of guidance about where to direct my attention. I’ve always had the notion that some organizations pay a lot of lip service to the idea of allowing individual styles to thrive – i.e. just be yourself and let the “real” you shine through – but then immediately hammer down the first proverbial nail that sticks out. Consequently, it was encouraging to see that ElementIQ was genuine about its commitment to helping its staff thrive and leveraging their individual strengths.

Photo by Greg Ma | From ElementIQ internal resources

Afterwards, Carlos and Greg invited me for a bit of lunchtime table tennis, which was a great change of pace after being seated for most of the morning. I’d played a bit of table tennis in high school, but nevertheless promptly got my butt handed to me. I mean, just look at Carlos’ gleeful expression! That is the face of a man who knows he’s about to give nightmares to his opponent. Still – it was awesome being able to play table tennis at work, and I’m sure I’ll be back for more.

The day wound down with a photoshoot session since Greg needed to update the existing staff photos on the ElementIQ website and add me as well. It was fascinating to watch the planning and setup that went into something like a photoshoot; not only did Greg take the photographs, but he also set up his phone camera so that he’d have footage to create a time-lapse later on.

Lastly, even though it was a small thing, I’d remiss if I didn’t mention that it was gratifying having my place cemented within the team as a visible member of ElementIQ on the website. There’s just something about seeing yourself up on a professional website among other professionals – it’s a satisfying sense that, hey, maybe I’m on my way to developing a career and making all my years of education pay dividends.

Day 3 – Motivated Self-Starting 101

My first remote day! I’d worked from home in the past, but it was interesting to work within a system where everyone met face-to-face via video call in the morning just to establish their tasks for the day and make sure any pressing issues were squared away.

Post-huddle, Andrea introduced me to the process of client onboarding, which was entirely new to me. Every organization naturally puts their own spin on how they familiarize clients with their services, workflow, and relationship expectations, so it was tremendously interesting to see how ElementIQ approaches this process.

From there, I was free to chart my own path for the remainder of the day. Anyone who’s ever read a job posting is probably familiar with that tired phrase “motivated self-starter” – heck, it even says “reliable self-starter” on the CTA at the bottom of this page. Well, working from home made it immediately evident why this is a necessary quality. The distractions that are the bane of every procrastination-prone student’s existence will rear their ugly heads with a vengeance if discipline and focus aren’t present. I didn’t struggle too much with this, but I certainly could see how this might be problematic for anyone who’s easily distracted.

My “Big Rock” for the day was collecting and consolidating client information from internal documents and online sources to create unified “client profiles”. That meant not only including basic information like phone numbers and addresses, but also in-depth information about clients’ competitors and pain points. Candidly speaking, it was tedious work, but it was also an excellent way to learn more about each of ElementIQ’s clients.

Beyond that, Slack made everyone seem much more accessible than email, even if there wasn’t the expectation of an immediate response. Through a few conversations, I discovered that people don’t always follow a nine to five schedule on remote days, sometimes opting to handle other commitments during the typical nine to five while bumping their working hours later into the evening.

Day 4 – The Art Of Account Management

On my fourth day, Lincoln sat down with me again to give me an overview of the many different clients that ElementIQ collaborates with. This is a general area of business that I’d always been curious about, and I appreciated being able to draw on the insights of someone who had years of experience dealing with accounts and clients during the digital marketing industry’s fledgling years. For me, one of the biggest takeaways here was how difficult it can be to confer value to clients and to demonstrate how agency activities are indisputably contributing to positive business returns.

Since it was Thursday, we had our weekly meeting – in contrast to the “micro” nature of the items that typically come up during the daily huddles, the weekly meeting seems to deal with more “macro” level issues.

Since it was only my fourth day, a lot of what was being discussed rightfully went over my head. At one point, however, the discussion switched to the issue of local office space. As a lifelong Coquitlam resident, I was able to share my knowledge and was subsequently invited to seek out more information to guide ElementIQ’s approach towards the issue. That’s something I like to see at an organization – expertise being leveraged rather than sole reliance on seniority.

Day 5 – Channeling My Inner Picasso:

While the previous days were mostly focused on accounts, client relationships and logistics, I got to switch gears for for day five and dive into one of the more specialized areas of digital marketing: graphic design.

One of the things I’d been hoping to get out of the internship was an introduction to more of the tools that are used as part of the digital marketing process. I’ve always felt that being a complete digital marketer means understanding all the different workflows that feed into a stellar digital marketing campaign, and I think that part of that comes from recognizing the abilities and limitations of the tools that are available.

In this case, the tool was Adobe Illustrator. I’d never worked with Illustrator before, so – being completely candid – it was frustrating seeing how slow I was compared to a proficient user (and awesome teacher) like Greg. At the same time, those few short hours were enough to give me the skills I needed to start with a blank artboard and create the image at the top of this blog, so I’d say the short-lived frustration was worth it.

A group of people painting on small easels

Photo by Greg Ma | From ElementIQ internal resources

As the workday drew to a close, the flow of creative juices didn’t stop. I had the good fortune of starting my internship just before a team-building activity day. The activity? Painting! Considering that I hadn’t picked up a paintbrush in probably more than a decade, the notion of painting in front of a bunch of new colleagues didn’t sound like the most fun idea, but it ultimately was a refreshingly entertaining bonding experience. We wrapped up the day with a few orders of freshly baked, classic Neapolitan pizza, putting a savoury exclamation point on the final day of my first week at ElementIQ.

Post-Game Analysis:

A picture of a groundskeeper maintaining the pitch at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou Stadium

Photo of a Person Standing on Football Field” by Mario Cuadros | Licensed under CC0

There are a lot of entry-level positions where “learning from the bottom up” is used as an excuse to justify relegating tedium to employees lacking in seniority. In some ways, that’s fair – everyone only has so much time in a day, and senior employees may be more effective if less of their time is committed to menial tasks. At the same time, this is something that every young graduate tries their hardest to avoid, and rightly so.

Reading back through ElementIQ’s intern blog – which you should do if you haven’t already – you’ll notice there are some tedious, repetitive tasks, absolutely. For me, it was client profiles; for prior interns, it was “citation hell.” But that’s okay – ElementIQ positions its internship as the consummate learning experience, and I feel like that’s an expectation which has been met thus far. I’ve had a chance to see real-world theory put into practice; I’ve had a chance to do hands-on learning with new tools; and – perhaps most importantly – I’ve had a chance to be a genuine contributor.

To go along with ElementIQ’s sports-based theming, I’ll close by saying that, one week in, the internship’s closest sporting parallel is like a prospect’s first taste of a pro league. For any prospect, going professional is eye-opening. It’s a chance to work with pro-level talent, see how they conduct themselves, and witness the work that goes into achieving top-notch performance day-in-day-out. Sometimes you’ll have to grind, sometimes you’ll have to struggle, but those experiences are just part of the learning process. It’s the same with any sports team; if you want to make the team, you have to put in the work. The internship is ElementIQ’s investment in young talent for their team – they draft you, they surround you with support and resources, and the rest is up to you.