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VOL. 129 | NO. 118 | Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Uncommon Internship

Sullivan Branding launches first formal intern program, The Refinery

By Andy Meek

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When the leadership at Sullivan Branding began cooking up their idea for what would become the agency’s first formal intern program, they knew one thing.

Maddie Ogletree, from left, Jason Jones, Jordan Marble, Jeremy Reisman and Kelly Latiolais are interns in The Refinery – a dynamic, unique internship with the local advertising and PR firm Sullivan Branding.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The young, creative talent that Sullivan would welcome through the doors wouldn’t be fetching coffee and shadowing the firm’s veterans who were doing the “real” work.

No, the agency’s program was envisioned instead as a way to open the agency up, to make the program so robust it could become a recruitment tool, and to offer interns the opportunity to make a distinctive contribution to the firm.

Cut to The Refinery, Sullivan’s newly launched internship program for the summer that has seen the agency take on five interns in Memphis and essentially build an agency within an agency.

Sullivan, to be sure, has hired interns in the past. But it’s been more a series of one-offs and involved the occasional shadow of a Sullivan employee – certainly nothing like this. Because for seven weeks this summer, the company’s five interns are putting in 40-hour work weeks.

The interns perform department work four days a week in various areas within Sullivan. On Fridays, the intern team works on a specific intern project – for a real client with real needs.

“We’ll also be doing resume workshops, giving them help with interview skills – really making this a well-rounded program where we’re not just allowing interns in and saying, ‘Here, get someone coffee,’” said Sullivan’s human resource manager, Nikki Walker. “It’s us saying, ‘You can actually be really useful while you’re here.’ It’s about us taking a different approach.”

The firm began conceiving the program in December, and after pulling it together in the months since then, the interns arrived at the beginning of June. Sullivan has five interns in Memphis and three in Nashville, and they run the gamut from recent graduates to some who are still in school.

More than half a dozen states are represented in the company’s intern pool, and they were chosen from a batch of more than 150 applicants. Illustrating the nontraditional nature of the program, applicants also were put through a screening process on par with what employees at some companies are likely to go through for more senior jobs.

In the case of the Sullivan interns, there were three rounds of interviews: on the phone, in person and then another round of interview selection. The multiple-layer process was partly to make sure the workers would be a good cultural fit at Sullivan.

“I just graduated from the University of Memphis in May,” said Jason Jones, one of the interns. “I’d put out a bunch of feelers for jobs and internships. I’d heard about the Sullivan program, because I’d taken a tour of Sullivan my senior year and they’d mentioned that it was happening. I knew it wouldn’t be a case of you shadowing someone – that we’d get an intern project and work on real things, and that kind of excited me.”

The other four Memphis interns are Maddie Ogletree, Jeremy Reisman, Kelly Latiolais and Jordan Marble.

The interns will lead brand development for a Memphis-themed children’s apparel line for a T-shirt company, according to Sullivan. They’ll create the name, strategy, logo and tactics for that apparel line as part of their work, which will include real deadlines and a real client pitch.

Beyond the office, Sullivan will also help plug the interns into the local scene by participating in the New Memphis Institute’s Memphis: The Summer Experience program.

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