Interview with Koko Udomah, ELI Alumnus (‘20)

Koko Udomah, Junior Copywriter at Thesis Agency
Koko Udomah, Junior Copywriter at Thesis Agency

I talked to Koko about the unprecedented challenges and rewards of being an ELI intern in 2020.

Elise: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you come to be an intern?

Koko: I found out about the internship from another fellow intern Sasheen—she posted a link to ELI on her LinkedIn earlier this year, right before the deadline. We both went to PSU and were in the advertising program together. We actually worked at a student-run agency called FIR Northwest. And I saw that one of the EL categories was for marketing and advertising. I was kind of in a transitional period—I had just graduated the year prior, in 2019. So yeah, just took a flyer on it. I didn’t think I would get chosen, to be honest, but it’s been great so far.

Elise: It’s competitive, right? I think 10% of applicants get an internship.

Koko: Something like that. And I didn’t know that at the time. As someone who’s a creative person, you know, I was just like, “Oh, my work isn’t good enough—that kind of thing.” But actually, everything I did prior in my academic and personal life, it all helped me to get accepted into ELI. I’m really thankful because I can see why it’s competitive. It’s a really great program. I’m grateful that Sasheen was able to give back to people that she knew. That’s what ELI’s all about—sharing knowledge with people that are coming up and “emerging.”

“Everything I did prior in my academic and personal life, it all helped me to get accepted into ELI.”

Elise: Tell me more about your actual internship.

Koko: So after going through the process, I was selected as a junior copywriting intern at Thesis. It was a little bit different this year because of everything that’s happening in our world; it was amended. Originally we were supposed to start on the 13th of June, but we started on the 13th of July. And we went from 10 weeks to 6 weeks. I got to work on multiple client accounts with the writing team at Thesis. As an internship group, with the six other interns, we also formulated a project relating to a skills matrix that leadership at Thesis wanted us to make. So we spent six weeks working and collaborating on that and presented that in our final week. And that was great. Just to build something from scratch, especially as someone who’s into creative campaigns, it was really cool to make something and have complete ownership. It was great. Everyone on the writing team was awesome. And I learned a lot about working in a real agency experience.

Elise: Let’s talk about how the internship was entirely virtual this year. How did that play out?

Koko: Yeah, obviously, it just made things a little bit difficult, you know. Advertising—it’s very people-driven, very people-centric. In my experience, when you’re working on any project, it’s very hands-on; we’re sitting next to each other, bouncing off ideas, collaborating, spending all that time together to bounce off each other’s energy and vibe. So missing that element, it was tough. That was all replaced with screens. And while it’s easy to relay information and we’re more connected than ever, it also lacks a personality—it’s very impersonal.

My first month of the internship, it was just me trying to get used to that. I still don’t really like virtual meetings, but it’s just learning how to adapt. You have to communicate a little more now that you’re not in the office with each other. You have to take a little bit more of a proactive approach. So all the things that I was learning how to do, I had to ask a lot of questions to the people that were assigning them because we weren’t in the same room and I just couldn’t get the full breakdown. You just learn that you have to be ever vigilant about exactly communicating your needs and wants.

“Giving yourself that time to unplug and relax is really imperative at the moment.”

Elise: For sure. And I think you’re not the only one who’s tired of screen time.

Koko: Yeah, eight hours a day, it gets to be a lot. And learning how to balance work and life—you have to actually make sure you go outside and do things that aren’t related to your job. So giving yourself that time to unplug and relax is really imperative at the moment. Even though it seems like our world’s burning, you still owe it to yourself to do that.

Elise: Absolutely. What do you think companies can do to make their workplace feel more inclusive?

Koko: First and foremost is just hiring diverse talent. Being in this position that I am now, you realize that there’s really not that many in this industry. Being more inclusive starts with giving more opportunities to people of color coming out of school and giving them the benefit of the doubt. And having employee resource groups, like BET (Black Excellence at Thesis), Asiancy, and Queery—because then I feel like I can talk frankly about issues with people that look like or identify with me. That’s really huge because sometimes it feels like you’re alone or that you’re isolated. So I think having a forum or a method to discuss issues that may be specific to your group with other people in your group is really helpful because it helps you work through those issues and reconcile that I’m living in a majority culture.
Making that part of the company culture, like, “Hey, we’re going to talk about this very uncomfortable thing, but it needs to be talked about because it’s important.” It’s not just something that we say, but it’s something that we do. Those three things show me that a company is actually concerned about inclusivity. It’s cool that Ryan [Buchanan, CEO of Thesis] takes such a huge role in ELI. Thesis has done all of this, and it’s awesome to be matched with a company that knows those things. I’ve worked with companies that don’t, and it doesn’t feel good to not be as valued. We need people who have a different perspective and add different values. Without that, you’re lacking something.

“Hey, we’re going to talk about this very uncomfortable thing, but it needs to be talked about because it’s important.”

Elise: Yeah, working alongside peers you identify with makes a huge difference.

Koko: It’s easy to say, but it’s hard for people to conceptualize that all of our lives are different, you know? So that’s why you need someone to check your view of reality because what’s true for someone might not be true for others. We’re having a BET forum at Ryan’s house this week. Stuff like that—it goes a long way to show that I’m not just another number. A couple of weeks ago, when I was distraught about the Breonna Taylor verdict, I just had an instance where I couldn’t work. I couldn’t work, and so I reached out, and it was nice to be reassured by management. They were like, “Hey, if you are feeling this type of way, don’t work. Reach out to your manager.” And that kind of thing goes a long way. I can count on my hand on how many places I’ve worked at that would say something like that.

Elise: Do you have any advice for next year’s interns?

Koko: I would say just don’t be afraid to ask questions. You kind of feel like, “I got to fake it ’til I make it,” but as an intern, they know you’re in the process of learning. So take that opportunity to ask as many questions as possible and broaden your knowledge base.

I would also say do as many one-on-ones as possible, meet as many people in your company as possible. Broadening your knowledge outside of what you do makes you so much more versatile. It makes you so much more marketable. I picked up some things that I feel are going to help me later in my career from those one-on-ones. Those are the two things: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and meet as many people as you can. Try to build your network and build your knowledge base.

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