There’s a right way to hire interns.
My first internship was in the PR department at a major television network. Shortly after I started, the PR Manager went on maternity leave, leaving me to report directly to the VP of Communications (as if she had time to nurture me). I was given tasks with little training and even less room to ask questions. I spent the semester exploring trial-and-error, my confidence slowly ebbing with each mistake.
That’s not the right way.
It’s also not, “we never make our interns get us coffee.” Companies love to brag about that without saying what they actually do for future talent. CBX interns don’t get us coffee; they give us a brand.
The CBX Method
Each year our interns spend the summer not only working on client projects, but also branding a hypothetical product from scratch. This gives them a chance to work beyond their individual departments on an integrated team.
In the first week, the group is given a detailed creative brief outlining the CBX process: from research and brand strategy to package design and final presentation. Then it’s up to them to work together and agree on how the project will be executed.
“At first [our biggest challenge] was communication and getting an understanding of what each of us does,” design intern Lauren Ng told me. “Then we had to communicate deadlines, what needed to be accomplished each week, and delegate tasks between everyone’s projects.”
Of course, we don’t throw our interns into the agency deep end before teaching them how to swim. Each department gets a mentor to guide them through the process, similar to the agency–client relationship.
“There’s always a visible hump in terms of seeing progress,” Audra Nebolini, ACD and creator of the internship program, explained. “It’s the same every year—after about a month into the project we start to see the group act more dynamically and it shows in the work. When they can start leaning on each other to ask questions and develop the project as a unit, there’s a confidence and shared pride in what they create.”
This Year’s Take
I witnessed that sense of pride myself when I sat in on this year’s final presentation. The task was to develop a “nonalcoholic beverage brand for a major CPG company.” Not to throw shade, but I wasn’t expecting much—maybe a replica of a presentation we’d done previously, with some cosmetic changes.
I was wrong; they nailed the project.
Their extensive category and consumer research led them to “create” a sparkling cactus water for Gen Z-ers who didn’t want to choose between wellness and having a good time. It had all the hydrating benefits of the prickly pear cactus but could be spiked for late-night sippers.
They designed unique packaging using shadows, popping vibrant colors, and abstract textures, and finished the presentation by demonstrating how it could be brought to life on-shelf and in market.
“This project was one of my favorites,” Audra said. “They did a really great job identifying a product that could actually be produced. They looked at supply chain, ingredients, and sustainability. And it’s a product that’s really relevant for today’s consumer.”
Ironically, I had been at a festival in Palm Springs the weekend before, and this was exactly the drink I would have reached for. But for now, it lives in the interns’ portfolios as evidence for future hiring managers.
And, lucky for us, interns return all the time looking for full-time gigs. Because when you foster good talent—even temporary talent—you build a reputation for being a great company to work for. Just ask our interns.