“This is not some internship where you’ll run around getting coffee for people. I want to give you a challenging project with a tangible outcome that we can point to at the end of the summer and say, ‘Tanmay did that.’ It’s going to be hard work, but along the way, dude, you’ll have fun.” Hearing that on the first day of work from Bryson Gordon, senior vice president of data strategy, immediately quashed any doubt that spending the summer at Viacom was going to be epic. Given the ludicrous amount of television and movies I watch and my love for acting, working in media and entertainment felt like a no-brainer.
I’m an MBA intern (out of approximately 350 interns, there are only eight of us), and while that comes with elevated responsibilities and exposure, the same opportunities to learn about the company have been afforded all interns. This summer, I’ve:
- Been welcomed to Viacom by Chief Financial Officer Wade Davis at our kick-off event – and subsequently serenaded by “Chief Guitar Officer” Andy Grammer
- Taken employee training workshops such as Production Techniques with the New York Film Academy and Brainstorming & Quick Sketching
- Volunteered to help create the Wild Efflux art installation in the 1515 Broadway lobby
- Participated in employee resource groups, even if I’m not personally of that affinity (Asian-American Media Professionals meetings, Thursday Think/Link panels, Emerge event with Sir Ian McKellen)
- Attended mid-semester forums in production and business development
- Attended a taping of the Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore
- Heard the Belmont Lights at the VH1 Save the Music concert
- Gained invaluable, candid career advice at a boardroom roundtable with Chief Administrative Officer Scott Mills
Hang on Tanmay; that sounds like all fun and games. Are you doing any work?
Indeed I am. I devised a standardized, repeatable model that generates and collates data-driven audience insights from multiple sources and translates them into a visually appealing infographic. Our highly creative Viacom Velocity team could then use those infographic reports internally in the creative and integrated marketing process and externally to prove to advertisers that data science backs our recommendations for custom integrations and run-of-site ad spend. That’s right, creativity through science.
© Randall Munroe, xkcd.com (used with permission)
My MBA foundation at the Yale School of Management – both my core courses and outside electives – has been invaluable in preparing me for work at Viacom. The Visual Storytelling elective I took at the Yale School of Drama helped me improve the aesthetic appeal of my presentations and infographics by making me think more closely about color theory, typography, storyboarding, and layout. You can see the difference between a poorly designed slide and a visually engaging one:
The core MBA curriculum has been key as well. Each semester, we are given “raw cases”—i.e. contemporary, real-world scenarios with an excessive amount of information that we sift through to identify salient points. In order to get us used to thinking from multiple viewpoints, our core courses are named after perspectives, such as “Customer” instead of marketing, “Employee” instead of HR management, and “Investor” instead of finance.
Putting the customer/audience first while at the same time thinking about the broader impacts of my project throughout the organization was invaluable, especially when presenting my project to Ross Martin, executive vice president of marketing strategy and engagement, and to Velocity co-leads Niels Schuurmans and Dario Spina. I worked across departments fluidly and learned how integration of the Data Strategy team’s insights into Velocity’s creative process could be used as an opportunity for the Ad Sales team to upsell.
One advantage of an MBA internship is a broader perspective than I had as an undergrad, and so I’ll offer a parting note for undergrad interns. I’ve heard this question in almost every panel: “I’m majoring in abc but I want to work in xyz. Did I screw up picking my major? Am I doomed for the rest of my career? #realworldproblems.” Well, college presents a great opportunity to learn how to learn – to become proficient at mastering new topics quickly. Before business school, I spent several years at a top consulting firm, working across industries and managing full-time employees and interns. I also served as a recruiting lead for my alma mater, Johns Hopkins. In my experience, when it came to mobility around the company as well as promotions, the ability to execute on projects very quickly trumped educational background.
So, my advice – step 1: Take a deep breath. Step 2: Eat some ice cream. Step 3: Work hard, knock your internship out of the park, and devote your spare time to learning about the brand/function that energizes you. Start by helping people out with small projects to build up your street cred and close any skills gaps. People can tell when you’re genuinely excited about a field and will give you a chance to demonstrate your passion and work ethic.
Don’t believe me? Try this on for size: I majored in biomedical engineering.