The Best of the Summer 2015 Internship and Lessons to Share

I love an internship that lets you dig in, really contribute, learn lessons and build your portfolio. This internship at the Pueblo Riverwalk did all of that. My internship at the Riverwalk was social media and marketing. Under the marketing label, I provided communications, photography and graphic design. Today I'll share my project highlights and lessons I learned that can help you with your internships.

I had a camera in my hands since I was five years old and I actively pursued it to a semi-professional level as I grew.  However, I was just as actively told that I wouldn't make a decent living in photography, so when college admissions were received, I enrolled in my two other passions: graphic design and integrated communications.

I never let my photography die, though, and continued to pursue personal projects and enrolled in college photography courses as my studio electives to my graphic design. Thank goodness I did, because my three internships have shown me that photography is a valuable skill and something that I can make a decent living at. True, it isn't easy to make a living strictly as a photographer, but magic happens when you pair it with communications or graphic design careers.

People are visually inclined creatures and with the growth and popularity of social media like Instagram, it's unlikely to change. Visual skills such as photography, videography, animation and more are hugely valuable communications skills. Good images on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were vital to growing excitement about our Riverwalk events ahead of time, reporting live during the events and summarizing the events afterwards (and thereby building excitement for next year). Posts with good photos received more impressions, more likes and where shared more often. Never underestimate the power of good photography and never let someone discourage you from it.

Logo Design
This was a special project. After weeks of photography, Facebook posting and Tweeting it was nice to roll up my sleeves and really dive into a graphic design project. It was refreshing to brainstorm, sketch with markers and dive into Illustrator for the sake of a logo instead of a post that needed to launch live in five minutes. Graphic design for production and graphic design for social media are two different animals and I'm glad when I can do both rather than only one.  Below are the two rough designs presented to my boss, who chose the corn design.

Photography and graphic design were just as vital to my social media tasks at the Riverwalk as were good writing, communications and marketing skills. I helped contribute a large part of the Facebook posts and, during our major music events, my photography skills made all the difference. All those years avidly pursuing photography as a youth and all those college photo classes were a life-saver during this internship. (A little tip to the mass communications and marketing communications students reading this--you don't have to be a world class shutterbug to ace your social media attempts, but if you are comfortable with your camera you are one step ahead of everyone else.) 


Before my internship, the Riverwalk Instagram only had 7 photos on the account and a handful of followers.  I was the sole contributor and over the two weekends of Boats, Bands and BBQ and Rollin on the Riverwalk I added a great deal of photos and the followers quadrupled. Being a DSLR photographer, it was fun to explore other photographic options with an iPad and Instagram's filters.  Many of the filters took me back to my film days and the toy camera and cross-process techniques.

The Twitter account become my baby when my boss assigned me the task of doubling the followers. I was the sole person managing the account and over the course of my internship I became a Twitter junkie, boosting the number of tweets from a couple a month to a couple a day.


Again, photography and graphic design skills were handy in converting the Twitter stream from text-heavy to multi-media rich. The Twitter account was a crucial tool in both pre-event posts and live event updates such as notifying Riverwalk patrons when certain bands were up next.
Twitter was also handy as a substitute for the media pitch--instead of formal letters or emails, I followed many regional news professionals and wrote my tweets to answer Who, What, Where, When, Why and How and appeal to at least one of the seven  news values. It was a special day when one of the Twitter followers, news professional John Martin, arrived at Boats, Bands and BBQ and spent the whole morning capturing multiple video segments for Fox 21 in Colorado Springs.

Ad Design
Like the farmer's market logo project, it was rewarding to design for print production. These various sized ads ran in the local daily newspaper, The Pueblo Chieftain, and the monthly news editorial, The Pulp.


As all of the above projects show, it was an asset to be majoring in graphic design with skills in photography and drawing, but it was also an asset to be double majoring in integrated communications. My communications projects included press release writing, event posting and the creation of a strategic communications plan for the Twitter account, which I blogged about in my tips for writing communications campaigns.

Lessons to Share
My internship was essentially an integrated marketing communications and visual communications internship. For anyone seeking such an internship, here is my advice for what you can do while still in college. 

If you want an integrated internship, you need to integrate your portfolio. You don't have to go as far as double majoring, but if you are a communications major do consider advanced classes or a minor in graphic design or visual communications. While you are in college, build an integrated portfolio by taking a diverse range of classes.

No matter what you choose as your major and minor, it will benefit all of you to take photography classes, some graphic design and a little drawing (see below for more on drawing). Look for graphic design classes that teach poster design, logo design, advertising design and basic theory of color and composition and you will have your basic design skill-set. For communications, make sure you take a basic journalism course with an emphasis on AP style (so you can write above-average press releases) and a basic public relations writing course.

Drawing is a language. If you are a communications major you can speed up your discussions with a designer if you can draw your logo ideas. Graphic design and visual communications majors will benefit from drawing in two ways: increased conceptualizing speed and the ability to render original artwork.

Once you are comfortable with drawing (and you don't have to draw like Michelangelo to be comfortable) you can create more logos in half the time on paper than on a computer.  Different drawing styles can also be a marketable aesthetic--you can draw, scan and vectorize your creations for unique posters, t-shirts etc.

Get Comfortable with Photography
Just like drawing, you don't have to be a world-class master to get the job done, but you must be comfortable at what you can do. Practice regularly with DSLR cameras, you phone camera or tablet camera. Learn its strengths and weaknesses. I've seen people with cheap cameras get better images than pros with high-end equipment because they knew their camera's sweet spots.

While in college, look for classes that teach you basic DSLR mechanics as well as studio photography and photojournalism. You might also consider a fine art conceptual photography course as this course will teach you visual story-telling and how to convey abstract ideas in images (very handy for marketing and promotion).

Master Writing
Good writing is the backbone of integrated communications and two things will greatly lower your professionalism--spelling errors and an inability to be concise. Granted, if one or two posts has an 'it's' instead of 'its' you're professionalism won't fall through the floor, but do correct occasional mistakes ASAP. Concise writing is also crucial with today's shorter attention spans and limited writing space in social media. Nobody wants to read a long paragraph on Facebook with all the important stuff buried at the end. Break up your paragraphs, keep them short and answer the WWWWWH (Who, What, When, Where, Why and How) right away.

Answer WIIFM with Social Media
A big mistake you could make with an integrated communications internship is to assume that you know everything about social media because you use it in your personal life. I could write a whole article on the difference between personal social media and professional social media, but for this article I'll give you the biggest tip to get you started: answer WIIFM, or What's In It For Me. 

Instead of posting what you think is cool, ask yourself what does your audience want to see? Why would they care? How will you show them why they need to care?  If you can ask and answer these questions, you will have a major leg-up in social media for integrated communications.

I had a great internship, created a lot of work and learned great lessons.  Hopefully this post will inspire you and give you the tips you need to have your own great internship experience. Best of luck with your adventures!


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