Award-winning Graphic Designer Marissa Lewis Shares Her Unique Internship Experience

We caught up with Graphic Designer, Marissa Lewis who shared her journey as an award-winning advertising freelancer. She gives us insight into how she secured the opportunity to work in Texas for SXSW, and having the chance to work with different agencies exposed her to different areas of the industry.

How did you land 16 internships?

“In my second year at university, studying Graphic Communication, I secured a spare space at a non-compulsory talk for the third-year students where a few agency CEO’s were presenting. With my interest in packaging design growing at that time, and knowing a Fast Moving Consumer Goods packaging design agency would be there, I created a leave-behind in the form of a water bottle label stuck on a water bottle, where at a closer glance the label included information about myself. I had my tutor introduce us and utilised the opportunity to have a quick, non-formal chat. I inquired about visiting the studio for a day however, a few days later I was invited in for a full 2 week internship!

The connections that I made and the good impression that I left during that internship brought my attention to a local industry award called the Ben Martin Apprentice Award. With a little help from colleagues at the agency, I applied for the award, won and was flown to America in March 2019 for SXSW – the worlds largest interactive media festival, as well as had 14 internships lined up after I finished university. Although winning the BMA Award provided those 14 internships, I did also secure another internship myself at a global integrated agency.

The second time I secured an internship myself I was in America at SXSW and I was introduced to a partner at McCann. We had a quick lunch together and he asked me if I wanted anything from him before we went our separate ways. While it felt bold of me I mustered up the courage to ask for an internship at McCann, knowing the name would look great on my CV and the experience in such a big agency would be really insightful, and after finishing university I spent two weeks in their Birmingham office.

Do you have any advice on how to make the most out of internships?

“I saw my internships as an opportunity to learn as much as possible and knowing that a good designer needs to understand the wider industry and how specialisms work together, instead of limiting myself to the Graphic Design department I also asked to spend time in Strategy, Marketing and UX/UI. This also helped me to figure out what I like or don’t like doing quite fast. Although having 16 internships gave me more opportunity to gain this wider experience, if I was at one agency for two weeks I would split my time between a couple of departments.

As I graduated with a degree in design, I noticed that a lot of my internships were naturally design focussed and so it was down to me to speak up and ask to experience other areas of the business. I realised that this curiosity and eagerness to learn was usually welcomed. A few work events also came up during my internships and even if I didn’t feel like going I still made an effort to be present. 

One key thing I had realised by this point is that if you want something you have to show up and ask for it, in the right way, without feeling unworthy of the opportunity. In my experience, more senior people in the industry are usually open to helping upcoming talent as long as you bring something to the table, and without a lot of experience that something can be as simple as some skills, passion and a genuine eagerness to grow.”

Do you stay in contact with people you met on your internships?

“Even though my time at each agency was short, I made an effort to genuinely get to know people and afterwards I would add everyone I met on LinkedIn to stay in touch with them. LinkedIn gives me an opportunity to keep those professional relationships going as for example, if someone secures a new job I’ll message them saying congratulations and we then have a mini catch up which leaves me fresh on their mind if any suitable opportunities arise.

Although the main reason why we network is to gain opportunities, I believe it’s important to remember that people are people before they are opportunities and treating them like people by taking a genuine interest in them, before pitching ourselves or going in with the killer questions, will help to leave a good impression and build long-term professional relationships. However, context is also important here as some situations will require you to just shoot your shot.

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Do you feel networking is important early in your career?

“I graduated in July 2019 so I’m fresh out of university, but I believe that networking has had a huge involvement in securing my opportunities. While it may seem like luck, every opportunity, both big and small, has come from pushing myself out of my comfort zone and physically putting myself in spaces where I could talk to someone who could help me, who knew someone who could help me or who needed my help! I can literally trace every opportunity I’ve secured so far back to a person, but this doesn’t mean I didn’t have to put in any work, they just directed me to the right place or people.

When networking make sure to turn up with a purpose as this will help you to make the most of the opportunity as well as provide some talking points when speaking with people. If the conversation gets a little dry or awkward my favourite tip is to ask them a question for example, “so how did you start your business?”, if you end up working with them this will give you some base knowledge but it also buys you both some time to wrap up the conversation properly without leaving thinking “well that ended awkwardly”.

When looking for opportunities at any stage in your career, I believe that networking is a great addition to emailing or reaching out online. I now find local networking events by following agencies, people who are established in the industry and relevant organisations on LinkedIn or Eventbrite. I recommend researching the people or places that you want to be in contact with and from there trying to figure out when, where or how you can get to them for example, if they have an open event coming up attend it.

Check out Marrisa’s website here.

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