What I Learned From Interning At One Of The Largest Retail Ad Agencies

Dear Student Unsure About Applying For That Internship,

If you don’t read any other line, read this one: Go for it.

After a semester of breathing room to put my learning experience into perspective, I want to share a few key lessons I took away from my internship experience at one of the largest retail advertising agencies in the world, Zimmerman Advertising. I know this article is long overdue, but I hope the lessons here can help you reach your next goal and push your personal growth beyond your expectation.

Zimmerman Advertising took me on a twelve week, forty hour per week Summer journey. As an intern with absolutely zero agency experience, unsure about whether or not this was even the field I even wanted to be in, I was thrown into the ring and began working on national name-brand clients, Nissan, Office Depot, Aubio, even Chuck e Cheese (I don’t have a link for my work on this one since it’s not in my portfolio). These were companies we’ve grown up with, watching their tv ads since we were toddlers, walking into their stores with our parents for decades, and interacting with on a weekly if not daily basis. Now, it’s my turn to have a hand in the creative these companies put out. So it’s safe to say the pressure was pretty much on. Do or die.

Lesson 1: Your “comfort zone” equals a “no growth zone”

One application. That’s all it took. Absent a resume, portfolio, much less any knowledge about how to construct either of those, I set my sights on my goal and worked backwards. The moment I left my comfort zone was the moment I began breaking down the steps from being offered an internship position backwards. This is where the growth began. Linkedin, (here’s mine), was one of my greatest research tools, reading articles on “how to build a resume” “what is a portfolio?” and about two dozen articles on “the importance of not swiveling in your swivel chair during an interview” (thankfully my interview was conducted over Skype and I could pick my own seating.) So I sent in the resume, attached a link to my portfolio website, which I hope you’re reading this on, and hoped for the best.

I had never done anything like this before, put myself completely out there on a resume and pour my heart into a portfolio I was unsure of, but that pure vulnerability paid off. I got a response. It was interview time. Hoping all that Linkedin research paid off, I set up my backdrop with a couple trophies, put a medal on the wall, wet my hair, buttoned up a button-down and sat in my not-a-swivel-chair. Shortly after, a welcome email appeared in my inbox, and the decision was real. I could stay in my comfort zone, and repeat the same intern-less Summer break, or go for it. Why not take a crazy chance? I’m in. Let the growing begin.

Lesson 2: Find a Mentor

While in a field of trail blazers and Harrison Fords, the best way to learn how to do something is to learn from someone who’s done it. Yes, when you leave college the outside world is competitive, but those around you just want to see you succeed. So find a mentor, ask questions, and read my story on how I turned mentors into connections.

We don’t always get to meet our mentors. Gary Vaynerchuk and I will likely never cross paths regardless of how many of his books I read. Although the real reason we won’t cross paths might have to do with living in separate cities, but that’s beside the point. Find mentors in those around you, and study those close who know what you don’t.

While at Zimmerman, I learned from Geoff Desreumaux, Director of Social Media at Zadv and CoFounder/CEO of WeRSM, who acted as a social media guru answering questions before I even knew I had them. Creatives Kevin Jorgensen, and Zack Roberts kept their door open at all times for any intern to walk in and learn. On day 2 of the internship program, Zimmerman CEO Michael Goldberg said “Ask. Ask to join meetings. And when we say no, ask again. Very rarely will your persistent thirst for knowledge start and end with a no.” So when he said he had to leave to go to a meeting with representatives from Michaels (I know the name appears a lot, but this time it’s the craft store), my hand shot up. “Can I sit in”


I clearly didn’t learn because initially I didn’t ask again, accepting “no” as my fate. The other interns looked confused. “He literally just said if the answer is ‘no’ to keep asking.”

“Can I sit in and take notes?”


I’m in.

Mentors are everywhere. Ask questions. Connect. Build relationships. When my resume shows up on Gary Vaynerchuck’s desk, regardless of how much of a mentor he was, my name will be unrecognizable. But when your resume shows up on the desk of those you asked questions from, studied, and build relationships with… you’re in, too.

Lesson 3: Demonstrate Gratitude

Experiences like these are hard to come by, so when considering whether or not to apply, think about the change of a lifetime somebody is offering you that you could miss out on. I feel incredibly lucky to get accepted to Zimmerman’s Internship program, and even more grateful to the people I’ve met ready and willing to teach me from their failures and accomplishments along the way. Look to those people around you and the chances you have.

Internships, experiences, anything and everything falls short of meaning nothing if it’s lacked appreciation for. Live in the moment, show gratitude for those who go out of their way, because your next destination is right around the corner. So to Brittany DemarestScott Thaler, Juan Francisco Martinez, Mike AndersonFig Newton, and any one else who I haven’t yet mentioned but has taught me more than you know, thank you.


Michael Rizzo

Brand Strategist & Copywriter

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