M2T: building a better internship

—It’s that time of year, when hopeful students across the country are finalizing their internship plans. Attracting, retaining and developing a new generation of top talent is an important topic for The Message, since it is fundamental to maximizing industry performance for years to come. Today, JEROMY LLOYD looks at a unique collaborative effort centred around building a better internship program—

Diana Luu has just spent two gruelling days locked in a room with eager, nervous, talented internship candidates, all of them hoping to build a career in media.

After wading through hundreds of applications, Luu, the head of marketing solutions at LinkedIn Canada, is now interviewing more than 20 finalists vying for a spot in a unique internship program she helped develop. Dubbed The M2T Collective, the program is designed to turn newcomers to the media and technology industry into well-rounded job applicants. And take some pain out of the media business along the way.

“We are a collective of like-minded professionals working in the marketing, media and technology space,” reads the introductory copy on the collective’s website. “We see the challenges that exist with the norm, and believe that we can change our industry for the better through our most powerful asset—talent.”

M2T (an abbreviation of Marketing, Media and Technology) launched last June with four business school grads split into three-month working rotations at its founding organizations—Zag Bank, Starcom, LinkedIn and EQ Works. The companies represent  the pillars of modern media—brand, agency, publisher and technology company—in order to show applicants how each one approaches strategy and overcomes challenges.

Diana Luu, Linkedin Canada, head of marketing solutions.

“If you work at just a publisher, for example, you might see how to respond to an RFP,” Luu said. “But we want you to see where it really starts: with a client putting out a product or service. And how an agency will in turn address that challenge. Seeing where other people in the chain are coming from means grads will be more compassionate and better able to deal with challenges.”

Participants are paid a full-time wage, and according to Serena Kung, an Ivey School grad who joined M2T’s inaugural cohort last June, the companies do a better job of treating these internships like full-time positions. Before signing on with M2T, she held a marketing internship with a large packaged food company, but said M2T offers a better view of her chosen career path.

“They give us much more consistent work,” Kung said. “It’s fewer one-off projects and more ‘here’s how we do things everyday.’ I’ve gained more experience doing things alongside management, working with clients and integrating with the team.”

M2T’s approach to job training reveals how complex media has become, as brands and publishers continually integrate technology into their approach, said Kung (second from left in photo, along with her M2T colleagues, from left, Megan Purcell, from the University of Liverpool, Ioana Diaconescu, also from Ivey, and Bianca Velasco from the University of Calgary).

“I’m so surprised how intertwined and complicated this industry really is. [University] teaches us about digital marketing and the different media channels—the players that execute a marketing strategy. But to be able to see every side is really eye-opening.”

This is the exact reason M2T was born, said Jed Schneiderman, EVP of growth and marketing at marketing data firm EQ Works and one of four M2T founders, along with Starcom CEO Alastair Taylor and Zag CMO John Hillis.

“The industry enables one-trick ponies,” Schneiderman said. “People tend to pick one part of the industry and progress within that path. A media assistant is promoted to a media executive, planner to senior planner to group account director, eventually an agency president… You grow up only working for an agency, a vendor, ad ops or whatever. You cannot reach your peak potential if you don’t understand other parts of the ecosystem.”

Jed Schneiderman, EQ Works, EVP of growth and marketing.

But beyond individual potential, the industry as a whole is harmed by this approach, he said. As co-founder of mobile marketing agency Tapped Mobile (which EQ Works acquired in 2018), Schneiderman said he was often subjected to unrealistic demands, simply because other companies in the chain had no idea how his business worked. “In my world, someone will call me on a Friday afternoon with a request from a client and needing a proposal back in an hour,” he said. “In what professional world is that acceptable?”

M2T’s interns not only get to experience a range of companies that can help them find an ideal job, they also see how strategies move from partner to partner. Schneiderman said that will help the next generation of business leaders run smoother, more efficient programs. “This will produce better results and more knowledgeable people,” he said. “Dollars will be spent more efficiently and with better ROI. It’s good for the whole community.”

M2T is now selecting its second cohort through in-person interviews, and has an ambitious growth strategy. It has doubled the number of internship positions, bringing aboard Snap, MiQ, Starbucks and GroupM for Year Two. All eight interns for the new cohort have been confirmed now and start work in June.

“We want this to be the most sought-after program in the country for anyone who wants to get into marketing, media and technology. We want to be the Harvard of this industry,” said Schneiderman. “We’re getting lots of requests from people who want to get involved. Some companies want to run mini boot camps for the participants, and people are offering to be mentors. We’ve clearly produced something that’s resonating within the market.”