Ad firm Marc USA is luring incoming college freshmen for internships

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Every year, Marc USA brings in between 10 and 20 interns to its headquarters at Station Square — generally rising seniors in college whose studies have prepared them to plunge right into the work done at the advertising and marketing firm.

This summer, for the first time, the agency also brought in two interns fresh out of high school and not yet trained in the nuances of creative work or public relations or account management.

Rob Throckmorton, Marc’s director of employment and staffing, is clear about why the agency decided to take that step. “Our industry is not good with diversity,” he said.

Despite reaching out to a variety of colleges with student bodies made up of individuals of all colors, backgrounds and ethnicities, he said, the agency’s call for recruits typically brings in a lot of applicants who are like those who already dominate the industry.

Like others in the ad industry, Marc executives have decided that waiting until young people have declared college majors is too late.

Neither Saniah Tolbert nor Ausha-Lae Jenkins-Pryer could recall knowing anyone working in the marketing business before they started their internships at Marc in July.

Ms. Tolbert, who graduated this spring from McKeesport Area High School and plans to start at Penn State University in the fall, already had an interest in commercials — she singled out Dr Pepper and Doritos as doing some creative stuff — when she went for an interview with Howard A. Russell Jr., president of the Pittsburgh alumni chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi business fraternity.

“Really, I was just focusing on trying to find out what I want to study in college,” she said. She ended up getting the internship at Marc.

Ms. Jenkins-Pryer, who plans to attend Temple University in the fall, has been hearing about college and career planning for years, since that’s a focus of the Neighborhood Academy in Garfield, where she went to school. The students there visited colleges such as Bethany College in West Virginia and Duquesne University closer to home.

She knew she was interested in business marketing when she talked with the folks running the WorkReady Pittsburgh program, led by the Downtown-based Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board. The program launched in 2011 sets up six-week, paid internships for youth at companies in the region.

In Ms. Jenkins-Pryer’s case, they linked her up with Marc, where she started the same day as Ms. Tolbert.

Both had similar expectations for the experience: “Coffee runs,” they said unison during an interview last week.

Instead of having them pick up Starbucks and run errands, Marc exposed them to many different roles in the industry. They've sat with public relations staff, broadcast production teams and other segments that handle assignments at the agency, which has 250 employees, including 165 locally. Marc also has offices in Chicago and Miami.

The idea was to show them how many different types of jobs are involved in the profession. And it worked.

“Now I’m thinking about public relations maybe,” said Ms. Jenkins-Pryer, who noted the interns spent some time helping on assignments for Cooper Tire.

“The interactive team was pretty cool,” Ms. Tolbert added. They got involved in looking up beauty trends for projects done for the Rite Aid drugstore chain.

Their experiences also raised awareness of the advertising around them. Ms. Jenkins-Pryer said she now takes note of what ads are served to her while she’s listening to music service Pandora, while Ms. Tolbert is paying more attention to online marketing. The Marc staff talked about how buying something online from a site like Amazon is likely to trigger ads for similar products when the computer user visits other sites.

The internships were set to wrap up this week, with the two young women scheduled to check out a holiday photo shoot for Rite Aid and finish up an assignment to create their own ad campaign.

They appreciated the opportunity to spend the summer inside the agency. “If anything, it solidified my interest,” Ms. Tolbert said.

Marc will do a review with all the involved parties and get everyone’s feedback, Mr. Throckmorton said, but he said it’s likely the agency will bring in high school interns again next year.

Teresa F. Lindeman: or at 412-263-2018.

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