Interns Face an Uncertain Summer as 4A’s Scrambles to Go Virtual With MAIP

The long-running multicultural program has raced to adapt to Covid-19

MAIP logo with photos of interns
This year's MAIP interns will experience agency life virtually. MAIP
Headshot of Minda Smiley

At the start of this year, 325 college students found out they’d been accepted to the Multicultural Advertising Internship Program, better known as MAIP. The 46-year-old program, run by the nonprofit arm of the 4A’s, is widely respected within the advertising industry, as it’s long helped students from underrepresented backgrounds land internships—and ultimately jobs—at top agencies across the country.

Yet this year’s program is shaping up to be far different due to the spread of Covid-19. Students who were looking forward to interning and networking in a new city are now accepting the fact that they’ll likely be staying put instead, as many agencies have canceled their summer internships because of the pandemic.

For its part, MAIP’s organizers have spent recent weeks scrambling to pull together a “virtual engagement” program for interns, or “fellows” as they’re called, to ensure accepted students will still get some sort of industry experience this summer.

“We really had to pivot quickly to a virtual program with the backdrop of Covid-19,” Simon Fenwick, evp of talent, equity and inclusion at the 4A’s, said. “We needed to demonstrate to the industry our continued commitment around diversity and inclusion. We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m confident that it’s coming together really well.”

Most of the MAIP 2020 interns that Adweek spoke with said they’re grateful that they’ll still have the opportunity to become alumni of the organization, despite the fact that their experience won’t include the usual perks.

“Everyone’s upset, of course, but I’m optimistic. At least they gave us something,” said a student who was supposed to intern at an agency in New York this summer. “I don’t think it’s going to be the same, but we’ll still get the connections, the network and still be considered fellows. I have nothing else to do this summer. I’d rather have a little something to stay busy if I’m not going to New York City.”

Making changes

Of course, the fact that this year’s MAIP interns can no longer rely on compensation from their respective agencies has become a source of frustration. According to Fenwick, roughly 95% of the agencies that were slated to host MAIP fellows this summer have now canceled their internships. While the majority of MAIP’s agency partners have agreed to participate in the virtual program, many will no longer be paying the individual fellows they’d agreed to host this summer before the pandemic hit.

To make up for it, Fenwick said the 4A’s is establishing an “awards program” of sorts that will reward students with a cash payment for completing its online internship, although it’s unclear how much it will be at this time.

Fenwick also said that seven MAIP interns have pulled out of the program because they’ve secured jobs for the summer in light of the circumstances. He noted that much of this year’s programming will be either pre-recorded or take place during the evening to accommodate students who’ve found jobs.

Another pain point that’s cropped up along the way is the fact that MAIP’s organizers chose to announce the move to a virtual program from an article published by trade publication Campaign U.S. instead of telling the interns first. Many students saw the article hours before hearing the news directly through a pre-arranged call the 4A’s had organized with this year’s class, according to one of the MAIP 2020 interns Adweek interviewed.

“We were all kind of blindsided,” they said. “I wish that we knew a little bit ahead of time.”

Fenwick chalked it up to “bad timing” on the 4A’s part, claiming that the organization did not intend to reveal the change via an article in the press.

“We messed up the timing,” he said. “We realized that as we were telling it to them, and a couple of them raised that with us.”

Moving forward

What the online program will look like is still being hammered out, but Fenwick said it will involve 10-15 hours per week of virtual training in addition to learning and development opportunities, many of which will come from participating agencies.

Some agencies are working with clients on “real-life pitch scenarios” and fake briefs that the interns can work on throughout the summer, Fenwick said, and topics such as mental health, career trajectory and “navigating the corporate jungle” will also be addressed throughout the summer.

Each MAIP intern will be partnered with a “coach” who works in the industry. This year’s program will culminate with a virtual career fair, which typically takes place in New York during MAIP’s weeklong Face of Talent event, a graduation ceremony of sorts for the interns. Face of Talent will take place online this year, as will an inaugural “MAIPCon” summit that will help interns with career prospects.

As has been the case in years’ past, agencies that support MAIP will pay a fee this year to help cover the costs of operating the program. Sources familiar with MAIP’s virtual program said the 4A’s is offering agencies different payment “tiers” depending on their level of participation.

The “standard”—or cheapest—tier costs $2,000 and gives agencies access to all MAIP fellows via various programming, projects and training sessions, as well as one-on-one interaction with their selected intern—or interns if they’d agreed to host multiple students this summer.

The $2,500 “premium” tier includes additional perks, such as unlimited job postings to all MAIP fellows and alumni, as well as the option to host a lab, which essentially lets interns learn more about a particular agency. The $3,800 “enterprise” option offers the most, as it gives agencies the opportunity to take part in MAIP’s virtual career fair and “greenhouse,” the latter of which gives creative talent the chance to share their portfolios with recruiters.

Agencies that want to proceed with their initial MAIP internship agreements and pay their individual fellow or fellows also have the option to do so, as this route allows agencies to assign client work. It’s unclear how many agencies have opted to do this since several have canceled their summer internships altogether.

However, some are moving forward with plans, albeit virtually. Wieden + Kennedy, for instance, plans to host three MAIP interns from its Portland headquarters, in addition to two who will work for its New York office. All of them will work full-time and be paid, the agency said.

MullenLowe is hosting seven MAIP interns on a virtual part-time basis this summer. The agency said the students who will work for its Boston, New York and Los Angeles offices will be paid hourly and have the opportunity to work with MullenLowe’s clients.

Fellows who take part in agency-specific internships must still complete MAIP’s virtual program as well.

Silver linings

While the move to an online internship experience has had some bumps along the way, Fenwick said there’s been some good to come of it too. For instance, roughly 90 MAIP finalists who hadn’t been selected for internships will now be able to participate this year. The 4A’s has also made the decision to fast-track all interns who will still be college students next year into the 2021 MAIP program.

Fenwick said the move to a virtual program has also made the 4A’s consider future changes to MAIP. Right now, both juniors and seniors can apply to MAIP internships. Moving forward, the 4A’s is considering having all juniors complete a virtual program before taking on internships during their senior year, a move that could help it accommodate more students as the program continues to grow. This year’s class is MAIP’s largest to date.

In the meantime, the 2020 fellows themselves are finding ways to put a positive spin on their unusual experience. One said they now know what they’ll say during job interviews when someone asks them to discuss a hardship they’ve had to overcome.

“We’re definitely going to have a different story than the usual MAIP fellow,” another student said.

@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.