Taking the Lead: Life as a Distilled Creative Intern

This post was written by Distilled intern Khadija Mahamud, with input from fellow intern Nina Evangeli. Khadija is an alumnus of Kingston University, and has worked for BBC, Deliveroo and her own company, Network and Chill. Nina is a 2nd year student at the University of East Anglia, where she studies English Literature. This post is about their experiences in the Distilled creative team...

Grunt work and coffee runs. Those are usually the two things that come to mind when you think of interns. Contrary to popular belief, the only coffee runs we’ve been doing here are the ones that feed our own caffeine addiction.  

Between us and through all of our combined work experience, jobs and internships, we’ve never worked at a company quite like Distilled. The interview process consisted of three stages, a phone interview, a group interview and an individual interview. As tough as it might sound, it makes you want to prove your worth, why would a company go to such lengths to find interns unless they were going to make it worthwhile?

More than just grunt work

A lot of companies advertise their internships in the same glamorous way, but when it comes down to it, you’re lumped with the grunt work, nothing but filing and basic tasks which you can’t possibly mess up. The frustrating thing is that it’s less of a reflection of the individual’s capabilities, and more of the standard in which most companies hold interns.

Intern coffee runs are becoming a thing of the past.

Part of what makes the work so fun is the creative ideation process. Before this internship, we thought it just meant coming up with ideas, but there’s way more to it than that. There’s so much research that goes into it; it’s about knowing the brands you’re working with, understanding their content and their competitors. Even before you submit your ideas, you need to research target publications to decide whether they would cover it and whether it would engage your target audience. It’s about looking beyond the first stage of any piece you work on. Doing that means you’re aware of what will and won’t work, and you’re that much closer to creating content that actually has a story. It’s in seeing the execution of these ideas that you really get to witness the magic happen.

Straight in at the deep end

From the process of coming up with ideas to creating pieces and then outreaching them to the world, we’ve each been a part of our own projects, inputting at every step of the way. There’s never a shortage of help when you need it but you’re also taught to stand on your own two feet. A perfect example of this was the first time we were each tasked with writing a press release. With no previous experience and no example to refer to, we were told to jump straight in. We knew there was a chance we could fall flat on our faces, but we were given the opportunity to learn from any mistakes. Rather than imitating someone else’s work, we were taught how to develop our own individual styles and voices.

Working in this way, we’ve learnt more here within the space of a few weeks than we did during months spent at various other places.

The best thing you can do as an intern is 'jump in'.

All you have to do is ask

If there’s something you want to learn, all you have to do is ask. Even at the very beginning, one of the most important questions we were asked was ‘what do you want to get out of your time with us?’ It’s not a trick question. They’ve let us help with tasks from each team, gaining valuable skills and knowledge and building us up into the skillful employable people we strive to be.

As an intern, the phrase 'if you don't ask you don't get' is very true.

The ideal environment is one which encourages you to ask questions, not one that shames you for doing so. The teams at Distilled have never made us feel small for not knowing something. Instead, they try to help you to understand, all while having a laugh. Although it shouldn’t be, it’s rare to find people at work like that. We’ll definitely be looking for these qualities in future employers. The best way to grow as an employee is to be with a company that looks after you and encourages you.

Become a well-rounded marketer

In the space of a few short weeks, we’ve learnt how to put together press lists and write media plans, how to create media reports and pitches, how to build coverage reports and coverage alerts, how to come up with your own ideation process and build upon it. To be completely honest, before Distilled, both of us knew very little about SEO and how vital it is for companies today. Now, we want to pursue our own careers in it.

We’ve learnt more about content and PR than we thought possible and dare we say, we actually understand how content and PR integrates within search marketing; the icing on the cake? We now know how to utilise SEO tools in a way that measures brand awareness. After only a few months, we are by no means experts, but we’ve found that surrounding ourselves with them is the best way to learn.

We would recommend doing a range of work experiences and internships. It’s not just about gaining experience to write down on your CV. It’s about dipping into a range of environments and developing a T-shaped skill set. This essentially means that you may specialise in one area, but you are also able to pull enough knowledge from a wide range of skill sets. You can then tackle diverse projects, making you a T-shaped individual, and a desirable employee.

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Words of wisdom for budding interns

We’ve been discussing our time as interns in the creative team.

  1. Go into your internship open-minded. Don’t limit yourself to learning a specific skill. You might find yourself leaving with a whole new career aspiration in mind.

  2. Be proactive. Get stuck into as many things as you can. The experiences you gain are only as unique as the place you’re in so make the most of your time there.

  3. Those who don’t ask, don’t get. Write a list of all the things you want to learn during your internship and set out to learn those alongside what you’re already being taught.

  4. Keep the list we mentioned. It might come in handy when you’re updating your CV or you’re in an interview giving examples of all your new skills.

Advice to Employers

While we really enjoyed our time at Distilled, we know it’s been a learning process for the Distillers, too, as there’s been a total of nine interns spread across three offices. The following really summarises the most important lessons for them and, indeed, any other companies taking on ambitious interns:

  1. Don’t be afraid to throw us into the deep end, we’re here to soak in as much as possible in the space of a few weeks.

  2. Learning goes both ways. If you ask the intern about their thoughts and ideas, you might just be surprised about what they can teach you.

  3. Create your own list of things you want to teach interns, it’s an opportunity to showcase what you can offer them and what they can take away from their time with the company.

  4. Don’t get complacent. In the same way that you expect your interns to bring their A-game, do the same for them.

At the risk of sounding extremely cliche, we finally understand the saying ‘Find a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ We are fortunate enough to have had the chance to work in a place that’s made us feel like that every day.

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