The True Cost of a Digital Marketing Intern

You probably recognise this scenario: someone in the sales team points out that your corporate nemesis is making something of a splash in the target market with a clever blog that’s being shared all over Twitter. Or a candidate points out in an interview that a newcomer to the market has somehow managed to build a large community of your own prospects on Facebook. Or your CEO attends an industry event and finds no one (not even your competitors) has even heard of your company. A meeting is called and the first point on the agenda is ‘Marketing’. You all discuss and agree the urgent need for marketing, but then someone makes the observation that this will probably cost money. Since no one’s set a marketing budget since September 2008, you all put your heads together to come up with a way to do this on the cheap. It’s not long before some bright spark suggests hiring a marketing intern – someone “straight out of uni, young enough to understand social media, and, most importantly, cheap”.

I can see why this would seem like a great compromise, but I would argue that it’s not. And that’s because few companies ever sit down to work out the true cost of a marketing intern. Luckily, I’m here to do that for you:

Salary: total monthly cost: £1,762.50

I’m not even going to entertain the idea of an unpaid internship here. They’re discriminatory (because only people whose parents can afford to support them can apply) and bad for business (because people who don’t get paid don’t make the same effort).

So, let’s say you find yourself a smart grad and offer them a fair entry-level salary of £18,000 per year. With Employers’ National Insurance of around 12.5 per cent and an extra five per cent for the fixed costs of having another person on board, you can expect to pay £21,150 per year or £1,762.50 per month.

Marketing training in year one: £625 per month

Even if you’ve found yourself a marketing grad, they’re going to need training, especially if they’re in a marketing department of one. I speak from experience. I’ve hired 13 grads in my time, and every single one has needed to learn the ropes on the job. Marketing might seem like common sense to you, but for someone fresh out of uni it’s a minefield.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get someone uber-keen who can’t wait to devour marketing books and guides, but in my experience, people earning £18,000 a year would rather read fiction in their spare time (it’s not their business, is it?). So, your grad will need training. At a minimum they will need to learn:

  • Writing for business (one day workshop).
  • Google Analytics (one day workshop).
  • Search engine optimisation (two day workshop).
  • Google Adwords (two day workshop).
  • Social media advertising (one day workshop).
  • Facebook marketing (one day workshop).
  • Twitter marketing (one day workshop).
  • LinkedIn marketing (one day workshop).
  • Google+ marketing (one day workshop).
  • Video marketing (one day workshop).
  • Public relations (two day workshop).
  • Email marketing training (one day workshop).

Be prepared to set aside £500 per workshop day, bringing your total training budget for the year to £7,500 (or £625 per month) to equip them with basic digital marketing skills. And when I say basic, I mean basic – if you think you’ll be seeing your name on FT.com after sending your intern on a two-day PR workshop, think again.

Management time: £2,000 per month

Your intern will have no one to guide them in their marketing activity. They’ll be lost and they’ll be looking to you to teach them about the business. If they’re any good they’ll have lots of questions and be keen to learn, but someone senior will have to be around to answer them, so you’ll need to factor that in to the equation. Let’s conservatively allocate an hour a day to looking after your intern by a senior manager with an hourly rate (conservatively estimated) of £100. That’s another £2,000 per month.

Software subscriptions: £195 per month

If you want your intern to deliver the full digital marketing and PR package, they’ll need the tools to do so. At a minimum, you’ll need to equip them with:

  • A journalist database for PR activity, such as Gorkana or FeaturesExec. Budget around £130 a month.
  • Moz for managing your SEO campaigns: £65 per month (the lowest subscription level, covering five campaigns of which you’ll only need one).

That brings the total cost of your marketing intern to £4,582.50 per month. And here’s what you will get for your investment:

A junior person who might be very smart and competent, but who will be working entirely without guidance. That means their learning process will be slow and their campaigns will be limited by their ability to fit them in to five days a week; by the creativity of a single brain; and by a limited set of competencies (I don’t know many people who are great at building relationships with journalists, optimising HTML code for search engines and writing original and highly interesting copy – even more difficult if you’re in a B2B industry). If you’re lucky, you’ll get campaigns that score five out of ten on the marketing scale of greatness, but it’s unlikely you’ll be so lucky. You have quite a few factors working against you so be prepared for a three out of ten.

You’ll also need to consider who will do their work on the 28 days every year when they’re on holiday or sick leave.

Then, factor in the pay rise they will need after a year if they’re any good (and if they are, you’ll have to make it a big one because you’ve invested all that money in training them – they’ll suddenly be quite attractive to your competitors). Or, if they’re not so good and you find your digital marketing campaign plodding along at a slow and unimpressive pace, you’ll need to consider the cost of getting rid of them.

So, now that you know the true cost of a digital marketing intern, you’re in a much better position to evaluate them against the cost of an agency that will come with ready-made skills and business experience, will be able to spread the cost of software over a number of clients, can have their contract terminated at any time without risking an employment tribunal and will deliver a continuous service throughout the year – regardless of staff holidays and sick leave.

What do you think? I’ve worked with some excellent grads in my time but they’ve all had to learn on the job! What have been your experiences with grads? 

Comments

  1. Adriano says

    “they’ve all had to learn on the job”.
    Didn’t YOU have anybody teaching you anything at all when you first started? ;) Or maybe in your days grads were different…

    So… as of TODAY what is a new (bright) grad supposed to do once out of uni? Not an unpaid internship I take. Nor a paid internship either. Then what?

    • says

      Hi Adriano
      Thanks for the comment.
      I think you misunderstood – I am absolutely PRO paid internships for JUNIOR roles. It’s how I learned the ropes and was extremely valuable to me.
      My point is that any CEO who thinks that a marketing intern or grad can design, implement and evaluate the company’s marketing strategy is completely delusional.
      Heather

  2. matthew adams says

    I’ve got to disagree with your article from the start. I owe where I am today to my voluntary and unpaid marketing internships. And I’m now A huge advocate of such work…and my father was a taxi driver and my mother a babysitter so I’m pretty sure I’m not from a rich family.

    When I seek interns willing to work for free (1-2 days a week) I make sure the work I set them boosts their CV and gives them the skills that 100 years of uni won’t teach.

  3. says

    Ha – so true! There’s a lot of costs associated with getting new interns up to speed. That’s why I created an online marketing guide for my interns. They go through the same curriculum and ask questions when they need to. Saves me a ton of time!

  4. says

    I guess not a few eyebrows would raise upon reading your article, Heather. But I salute your courage on creating something that’s definitely against the current stream.

    Admiration aside, I can’t also help but disagree and probably that’s because we don’t share the same experience. A lot of successful marketers I have known appreciated the customary unpaid internship they went through. It makes them value what they’re going to earn afterwards more dearly.

    Of course you’re going to spend money on their training, but I personally think paying them while interns denies them the “sweet labor” principle. Besides, if they work hard enough, they’ll end up succeeding in the long run. That’s a better motivation than money, I believe. :)

    Riza. Kingged.com contributor
    http://www.kingged.com/the-true-cost-of-a-digital-marketing-intern/

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