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Commentary

Andrew Ericsson is a principal at Alaniz Marketing.

Finding employees with the digital marketing skills needed to engage customers online has been such a challenge that at Alaniz Marketing, a Novato-based digital marketing agency, we have developed our own internship program to train college students during their junior and senior years, and often offering full-time employment upon graduation.

The program started when we participated in a mentorship program with Sonoma State University School of Business and Economics. It was a great experience for our agency and for the intern. Over the years we’ve refined the training process and developed three internship tracks — digital marketing, public relations, and project management.

We’ve found that the surge in digital marketing has led to a shortage of marketers with the right kind of experience. Our program brings students up to speed in the latest digital marketing strategy, tactics and technology through mentoring and hands-on experience. Students work on real client projects like building social media ads, optimizing websites, distributing press releases, and crafting marketing emails with guidance of the firm’s senior staff.

“We’ve had close to 20 students intern with Alaniz Marketing,” said Karen Thompson, Ph.D., managing director for the School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University. “We connect students to around 300 internships and 100 professional mentorships each year, and the students love it because they develop real-world skills that help them make a positive professional and community impact.”

Alaniz specializes in B2B marketing for companies that are new to digital marketing, either startups that need a marketing program or businesses that predate the digital revolution and need to shift how they find, or get found, by new customers. In a digital world, advertising, marketing and public relations all work together, and our interns learn best practices in each area, and our clients have a one-stop shop for marketing.”

Amy Lee came to Alaniz as an intern in her senior year in the SSU Communications and Media Studies program in early 2016, and joined the firm as a public relations associate after graduating later that year. “I was able to apply skills and knowledge learned in the classroom directly to real-world business issues during my internship. Executing marketing campaigns with real clients, using the latest technology was an invaluable experience.”

Lee builds media lists and pitches stories to journalists around the world, helping clients get press for their innovative products and services. She also helps build and maintain websites, create digital advertisements, and run direct email campaigns.

We train interns very methodically in a project-based environment. They learn best practices working with senior staff, are tested regularly, and they move to the next phase of training when they are ready.

Training starts with a certification in “inbound marketing,” a new approach that reflects how search engines have changed buyer behavior. Inbound marketing makes it possible to automate marketing campaigns, attract web traffic, convert visitors to leads, and qualify and nurture leads into new customers.

The internship program also offers training in digital advertising platforms like Google Adwords, Facebook ads and other pay-per-click channels; as well as how to use a public relations database platforms like Meltwater and Cision to distribute press releases, pitch journalists and win press coverage for clients.

This year the program also offered a marketing “boot camp,” where students went through a six-week program to learn the basics of inbound marketing, attain a certification, and get a letter of recommendation from the agency when they complete the program.

Commentary

Andrew Ericsson is a principal at Alaniz Marketing.

The boot camp participants get real certifications that are recognized in the digital marketing world. This gives them a credential that most students or graduates won’t have. They also gain awareness of the many roles and career paths in marketing.”

Most employers want employees with experience. Students are often stuck in the chicken-or-egg scenario of needed experience to get a job, but lacking experience because they can’t get a job. This program gives them a helpful leg up.

A certification and letter of recommendation can make a big difference in the job market. Training programs that nurture new employees are hard to find in the so-called “gig economy,” which is more focused on instant gratification.

“There is no substitute for working with real clients,” according to our intern-turned-employee Lee. “Tracking real ad results, adjusting messages to improve performance, automating inbound marketing campaigns, pitching journalists for clients — all the theory we learned in school becomes very real very fast.”

Our interns have found homes at the agency and beyond, with some moving on to tech companies or startups. We work hard to help interns identify their strengths and interests and to find the right next step in their careers. Sometimes that has meant helping them find a role at a different company.