By: Donna Kang (Loyola Junior)
Internships are a gateway to getting a job, but internships aren’t easy to obtain without prior work experience. While classes teach you fundamental skills and discipline that are supposed to translate into illustrious careers post college, there is a need for more programs that provide real-life work experience. Especially after COVID-19 and the current volatile entry level hiring market, students need more internships that accept only the prerequisite of being a student. Loyola heard this need, thus, Inigo was born.
In the spring of 2017, faculty advisor Cheryl McPhilimy, sat down with Loyola’s School of Communication to discuss what no one had done before: starting a completely student run communications agency. Inigo is an official course held through Loyola’s School of Communications.
Eliana Jacobsen, 22, is a student at Loyola and a firm director of Inigo, Chicago’s first and only student-run agency. Here, students are creating campaigns and analyzing business needs for clients like United Airlines, American Heart Association, and more.
*Interview has been edited for length and clarity
RogersEdge Reporter: How did Inigo start?
Eliana Jacobsen: Inigo started in 2017 through our firm advisor Cheryl McPhilimy. She had been practicing in the PR world for decades. She was an adjunct professor at Loyola, ran her own PR company, and would teach classes at Loyola. A couple of students approached the administration after doing some research on what other schools were doing in their own communications program. Originally they didn’t even have a logo yet or really an agency structure at all or anything like that, but it started off with one client which helped build our structure today of an agency with 25 students.
RER: Seeing as you started with just one client, how did you later on get those connections?
Jacobsen: First they really just came from referrals. Sheryll advertised to her PR friends along with Loyola investing in us and providing us with clientele. It’s really a mixed bag though, I would say. There are some clients who see our work through other clients that we have had in the past and then also through our own efforts by putting our name out there, knocking on doors, sending out emails. It depends and it really takes an entrepreneurial spirit to go out there and find new business.
RER: Right, and I’m sure it wasn’t easy. But, being a student run agency, have you ever found that it’s proved an issue with obtaining clientele compared to an agency run by working professionals?
Jacobsen: We are a student run company and that is not a secret. It’s always put on the forefront of the pitches that we do when we sit down with the client and say “Listen, here is our plan. Here is where we’d like to get to, and we are going to do our very best to impress you.” On the business side of it, we charge at about a discount of 91% to our clients, so they’re actually getting a lot more than they pay for. I think that each one of our clients choose Inigo in the first place because they’re like, you know what? We have professional PR people within our departments, that’s not what we need. What we need are new and fresh perspectives from the people that are in college learning new things.
RER: What is your experience like as a firm director?
Jacobsen: I officially started as firm director in May of last semester. Like anyone else who joins Inigo I had major imposter syndrome like, “What the heck did I get myself into? This is so much work; I have no experience.” And by the end I was like, “Wow, this is an amazing experience,” and I learned so much about myself. I can give this presentation on all of the work that we’ve done confidently and talk to clients confidently.
RER: You mentioned that you didn’t really have that much work experience prior to entering Inigo so is that something you try to look at in students when they apply?
Jacobsen: Yes and no. Inigo comes from a wide range of experiences and not necessarily only from communications. We have people who have fine arts backgrounds, political science backgrounds, people who have had a steady job since they were in high school or people who have never had a job before besides babysitting. There’s really no adult standing over our shoulders saying “This is what the agency needs to look like; this is how it should run, and here’s what you need to do with your clients.” There’s none of that. It is us.
RER: That sounds like a lot of responsibility for someone like you who is in charge. How do you deal with the pressure of being in an important position of leadership?
Jacobsen: Right. My success isn’t about me taking over and saying this needs to go to this client and here’s exactly what you need to do, follow my syllabus. That is not my job at all. My job is to make sure that everyone else is stepping up and finding their own goals, and then accomplishing them at the end of the semester. Students in particular are so used to having a syllabus and following it to the tee. If you do this you’ll get an A. That is nonexistent in the world. There’s no feedback like a letter grade. You really have to figure out your idea of success in the end.
RER: Well clearly everyone has done a great job because it is such a successful program being Chicago’s first and only student-run agency. Where do you see yourselves expanding in the future?
Jacobsen: That is a big question and a question that we are asking ourselves right now. The pandemic really pushed us to figure out ways to stay connected and then it also opened up a great opportunity to bring in clients. We reached out to national companies located in other cities and we got one in Wichita, Kansas, a healthcare practice. We did some work for them and then we actually got a call from someone in Ireland so we thought, “Why weren’t we doing this before?” Our short term goal for this semester is to really focus on revamping the application process and figuring out how we attract a diverse group of students. Before, we felt like we had a reputation because everybody was on campus. Now we kind of have to start over and build that again for ourselves as an agency to let students know who we are and what we have to offer.
Applications for Inigo opens October 1st and closes on October 20th. To learn more visit www.inigocomm.com