Journey To The Center Of Advertising: A Summer Check-In From The Backstage Pass

The Backstage Pass is an internship unlike any other. Each year it shakes, shoops, and shimmies to the groove of fresh projects and a new BSP team. This year, the genre could be described as Alternative Surf Indie Screamo…with just the smallest dash of EDM. The station isn’t for everyone, but that’s kind of the point. It takes a one-of-a-kind individual to find their groove backstage. This year’s team of four has spent a lot of time on the mixing board to create a sound the Backstage Pass Internship has never heard before.

Albeit each of us with a different degree in the industry, we’ve all been pushed by the same thing: curiosity.

Bryan was that weird kid who watched the History Channel and visited museums for fun. He continues to do these things to study society and write fiction during unholy hours of the night.

Chris, who often goes by his nickname of Topher, has and always will be a “why” guy. His curiosity and wonder continually drive him to research just about anything and everything that he is unsure of. Sydney’s intrigue in people was sometimes mistaken as an interest in the field of psychology. Truly, it was her way of gathering reference material to make up skits in her head. Now, it fuels her passion for writing scripts and copy for ads.

Ben discovered the magic of drawing early on, and a fascination with visual creation has remained an underlying motivation for his studies in the design field.

No time to waste. Let’s get to work.

Within the first week, we were challenged with a research brief to scope out the banking industry in Idaho. What is each major bank and credit union was doing? What kind of paid and organic elements are they sharing? How do they talk about themselves? Where do you think they are headed? This project was research-heavy, requiring us to survey press releases, social media accounts, websites, conduct in-branch visits, and utilize various programs to gather data. While it sounded daunting, something about the vibe of the downstairs office–with its giant Jenga blocks, limitless kombucha, occasional foosball tournaments, and our beloved 5th intern (Lucas the Saint Bernard), made this first research project the perfect introduction to ad life.

Our next project was more on the creative side of the spectrum, calling us to develop a new microsite for the travel industry for an upcoming winter campaign. This was our first time working together as a creative unit, testing our innovative abilities and how many sticky notes we could fit onto one dry erase board. Our first creative brainstorm session helped us understand how we each think up ideas. As we developed and pitched new concepts to each other, we became more comfortable to critique and joke with one another. We went through a large learning curve during this project, especially after making a breakthrough three days before pitching to for internal review. As with any last minute changes, we basically turned into a group of insomniacs.

After experience with tourism, our next brief shifted gears and towards the foodservice and hospitality industry. We found ourselves studying the relationships between socially conscious food culture, locally owned restaurants and their suppliers, and getting really hungry in the process. Two presentations down, we had identified areas we could grow and where we could put more effort. One has been to spend more time picking the brains of project leads and gleaning their insight. After a productive brainstorming session with the project leads, our team dynamic started to shift.  Instead of making every task a discussion session, we were able to build working strategies that appealed to each of our strengths, which led us to be more efficient. Brad and Britton, our go-to-guys, will be happy to read that they were right in our first meeting as a team– learning and emphasizing strengths rather than focusing on weaknesses can be a better use of time. This shift allowed us more time to practice our presentation and fine-tune how we wanted to pitch this work for internal review, and finally to the client. An interactive presentation + free tacos + a mini field trip + tangible examples of our deliverables = our best presentation yet. But of course, improvement is like tacos; there’s always room for more.

It’s not all briefs and games.

We have the opportunity to join project meetings, learn about different roles in the company, and take on specific campaign tasks. Steve, a Creation Director, guided us through a history of the internet to contextualize web design for us, while Molly acquainted us with how she developed some of the practical skills that she utilizes in her current role as a Project Manager. Share the Love, the company’s weekly gathering in the main conference room is a showcase for whatever’s relevant that week – from new best practices in ad design to Volkswagen’s laughing horses commercial, initiating a cascade of laughter throughout the room. Through role shadowing, we’ve learned aspects of agency workflow from management to creation and everything in between. Some of our most compelling experiences, however, have come from being able to access professional knowledge during individual work sessions with various people throughout the agency. Time spent sketching logo ideas, writing copy for blog posts and listening to personal advice has opened a line of communication between us and the people who are doing what we strive to do.

Agency culture is actually a real thing.

Between the deadlines and meetings, we jaunt over to Trader Joe’s to split a bag of peanut butter pretzels or even take our brainstorming sessions to Goldie’s Corner and camp out at a booth with our iced coffee, white mocha, black tea and blueberry muffin, respectively. We find through cultivating a friendship amongst each other, our creativity and workflow thrive. However, this seems to be the same throughout the entire agency. Lunch breaks, coffee breaks, and even vacation breaks are planned with co-workers (friends). These relationships happen organically, quite literally over organic coffee and pastries from Slow by Slow across the street. Drake Cooper is an agency full of creative, ambitious people who appreciate the like.

The interesting thing about investing so much creative energy into these projects at an ad agency is how it gets absorbed into the needs of the agency and the client. By the day our next pitch rolls around, we feel as though we’re watching one of our kids walk in the door to their first day of preschool, but we’re not going to be there when they graduate high school. After week one of a project, we’ve created and synthesized our ideas into something great. A week later, we’ve refined and polished our final presentation and released our ideas into the atmosphere above the conference table in order to receive final feedback. What we don’t know immediately, and what we may never know, is the implication thereafter.

The modern worker and workplace are dynamic.

As part of our initial tour of the agency, we were asked what kind of work we like to focus on. Some of us spouted out work titles with confidence while others were undecided. While working on our first client, within the first few days we realized our abilities went beyond the short titles of copywriter, researcher, or graphic designer, and that our strengths were better utilized as part of a whole. We weren’t alone in this. Turns out, the entire agency thrives on that type of collaboration. Adapting one’s role through mere curiosity and ambition is commonplace. Simply put, no graphic designer, project manager, or copywriter is chained to the bulleted list of their job description.

We’re halfway through the program, and the four of us have already accomplished a lot at Drake Cooper. We ran some numbers to quantify everything we’ve done. The research concludes that we’ve drunk 267 cups of coffee, pet 7 different dogs–each one a couple hundred times, ate 15 too many donuts (but who’s to say how many is too many), used 749 sticky notes, asked countless questions, killed 26 pens, shadowed 14 employees (only caught by 2), and gained an immeasurable amount of insight into the industry we are each so passionate about.

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