Making It There:
Comms NYC Internship Program

by Sarah Ostler Hill

I

n 1977, Ray Beckham started the New York City Internship Program for Communications majors’ after hearing students repeatedly talk about their future in what he says were limited terms.

In 1979, a white Ford Crown Victoria departed Provo, Utah, bound for New York City. As four young men drove across the George Washington Bridge, they gazed in wonder at the vast skyline of towering buildings. They were about to begin their summer internships through a program that almost never happened.

Genesis of a Legacy

R

ay Beckham had returned to BYU’s faculty after serving as mission president in Canada. He was determined to bring something unique to the Communications Department but felt discouraged by the students’ career perspectives.

“They were getting excellent training,” Beckham remembers. “But they weren’t looking at the big time. No one had a vision that we were good enough to compete with people across the country.”

So Beckham set out to change that vision.

Ray Beckham

“New York was the center of communications for the world,” he says. “If you’re going to do it, go to the top.”

Beckham made contacts through letters and phone calls. He scheduled appointments at a variety of news media outlets. He packed his bags and flew into New York City the first week of January. And then, he just sat in his hotel room.

“It was a disaster,” he laughs, remembering his disbelief. “A huge snowstorm blew in, and it just kept snowing.”

Mike Agrelius

Mike Agrelius looks through a director’s loop while shooting a commercial with the agency during his internship.

There was nothing he could do. Businesses were closed. Transportation was shut down. With classes at BYU resuming the following week, he had to return, without meeting a single contact.

On his return from New York, he got back on the phone, made calls and ensured that every single company he approached would take an intern.

Mike Agrelius was in that first wave of students eager to practice what his professors had taught. He learned quickly that while a college degree was important, the willingness and ability to learn was even more so.

“In the internship program,” he remembers, “we learned more in the first three weeks than probably the whole time we were in class. Ray had taught us that even more important than knowing the terminologies and nuances of the advertising world were relationships and building relationships. That’s what the New York City internships were all about.”

From Peanut Butter to President

D

arrell K. Brown rode in that Crown Victoria, listening to Steve Rizley say, in excitement, “New York! Skyscrapers! Everything!” This refrain, loosely quoted from a current Stevie Wonder hit, became an oft-repeated mantra between them that summer.

Brown had left behind a wife and 5-month-old daughter; Steve, a wife, a toddler and 2-day-old son. Today both of them declare the internship changed the course of their lives and career.

Rizley never intended to go to college, but he discovered, upon his return from his LDS mission to Germany, that in order to teach at the Language Training Mission (now the Missionary Training Center), you had to be enrolled at BYU. Within a few days, not only was he enrolled as a general education major and teaching at the LTM, he had met his future wife, Marilyn, who was in her final semester as a communications student.

New York Central park skyline Manhattan vista

Beckham left a lasting impression on Rizley as one who had a great blend of academic training and real-world experience. “I will never, ever forget him. Ever,” he finishes.

Beckham says, humbly, he just felt it was his job as a professor to give students the tools necessary to accompany their natural ability. Having done that, he knew they would succeed.

Rizley’s internship began at an agency called Marstellar (since acquired several times over), working in the media department, getting coffee, running proofs, and seeing firsthand the strategies involved with buying and placing advertisements.

“I got shouted at a few times,” he remembers, a little sheepishly, a little matter-of- factly. “But it showed you how the completely theoretical things you had heard in the classroom blended and applied in the real world. There was no way you could have replicated that experience in a classroom.”

Rizley is preparing for retirement from being a Senior Vice President at Cox Communications.

Marilyn and Steve Rizley

Darrell K. Brown. Photo credit: Bonneville International Corporation.

Darrell K. Brown

Brown has similar feelings and remembers Beckham as one whose brilliant foresight and inspiration began the internship program that was single-handedly responsible for the successful careers of so many students.

“I don’t know if he really understands the impact he’s had on so many careers in the media and public relations industry,” Brown says.

Beckham says, humbly, he just felt it was his job as a professor to give students the tools necessary to accompany their natural ability. Having done that, he knew they would succeed.

Brown, a self-described wide-eyed kid from Canada, remembers to this day how, that first week of the internship, they slept on sofas and floors of local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until the dormitory at Columbia University was ready.

While Brown’s manager at Harrington, Righter and Parsons was welcoming, he also wasn’t quite sure what to do with him, since they had never had an intern before. Brown joined the corporate training program alongside a newly hired sales account executive. Being a poor college student, Brown survived on peanut butter sandwiches and ate in the office, often working through lunch while the new hire left the office for his lunch break.

“Management quickly noticed I was completing assignments much faster than the trainee on their payroll,” he says. “By the end of my internship, they fired the trainee and offered me the job. That got me into the industry I’ve enjoyed for the past 36 years.”

Brown’s greatest realization, he says, was that the experts were regular people.

“No matter where I went professionally,” he says, “after my internship I never had to ponder or question my ability to compete, contribute, and be successful in the industry. The classroom experience doesn’t teach you that.”

Today, Brown is president of Bonneville International Corporation, located in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Salt Lake City Skyline

Steve Carlston at the Brokaw News Center

Steve Carlston stands second from right at the opening of the Brokaw News Center, April 2014.

Steve Carlston remembers the nervous excitement that accompanied him and some friends the next year as they drove to New York City for their internship experience. An entrepreneur from an early age, he had started his own advertising agency, had sold water softeners and insulation all over Utah, ran a janitorial company, played basketball for BYU, and was now ready to bring his book and street smarts to Petry Television.

Carlston participated in their sales trainee program alongside new hires. Initially he read ratings and put together sales packages. Then he began going on sales calls.

“I often tell students now,” Carlston shares, “You’ve done all your schoolwork but I hope you’ve done your networking. It’s really who you know.”

Carlston maintains relationships with a number of people he met as a result of that internship. Agrelius, one of his friends from the early days, is proud to point out that Carlston is one of the most influential people in the media today.

“He doesn’t wear his Mormon badge on his lapel,” Agrelius says, “but people know who he is and so people have a good idea of what being LDS is.”

Over the years, Carlston and Agrelius have collaborated on various projects and directed business to each other.

“BYU teaches principles that aren’t taught any more,” Carlston says. “Integrity. A worth ethic. The perfection model we grow up with and teach extends to the business world. Employers look at LDS kids, with their values, and know they will lift everyone’s efforts.”  

Steve Carlston is the president and general manager of NBC4 in Los Angeles. Mike Agrelius is the senior producer and vice president of marketing at Smarter Enterprises. They agree that their internships to New York City provided them the opportunities for their first jobs.

21st Century Interns

T

hese first interns’ experiences, nearly 40 years ago, was not that different from today’s internship participants. Now, students fly instead of drive. But, students still approach New York City with a mixture of excitement and fear. Meg Monk spent eight weeks at the New York Daily News during the summer of 2014. She laughs as she recalls her first day on the job. She had gotten lost on her way and arrived at the office late. Her first assignment was to to interview bartenders visit at nearly 50 bars in lower Manhattan to interview bartenders.

“Here I was, someone who had never been in a bar in her life,” she winces. “I was so uncomfortable. I managed to get some good quotes, but it was miserable.”

She quickly gained confidence to approach people on the streets. She also notes that her writing became more concise and polished. She also realized the urgency of the a daily deadline wasn’t a good fit for her and is now pursuesing a career in magazine writing and editing.

Mostly, Monk shares, the internship has taught her that the world needs more positive influences in the media. She knew she had been taught higher standards than others when she approached her editor about a problem she discovered with one of her reports. Instead of lecturing her on what she had done wrong, her editor sat back and paused in consideration.

“You have a lot of integrity,” he said to her.

Monk remembers it catching her off guard and says, “That’s when I realized that maybe my approach is a little different from what he usually saw. My editor said he got his best interns from BYU. We work hard, are honest and bring a positive spin to the industry.”

Brock Talbot
Brock Talbot

Monk was joined by Brock Talbot, a piano and organ performance major turned public relations student. He spent the summer at Middleton and Gendron, recently acquired by Eric Mower and Associates. Instead of the usual eight weeks, he committed to staying the entire summer. He thinks this may be one reason they offered him a job at the conclusion of his internship.

“I did the work of an entry level account coordinator,” Talbot says. “And they saw I was dedicated.”

Although Talbot was there on his own dime, he says the experience was invaluable.

He had enjoyed his PR classes on media history, campaign planning and strategy work. But he says that real-world office work isn’t something he could learn in a classroom.

“They can’t teach you how to stay on top of 10 emails a minute,” he shares. “They can’t teach you how to handle a client meeting. My classes taught me how to work and how to work in teams, but in the real world if someone drops the ball, you have to stay late and figure it out.”

That first year, Beckham had to convince agencies they should take BYU students. Now, for most of the agencies, taking a BYU intern is tradition. They appreciate the solid work ethic, strong values and skilled training the students bring. Meanwhile, BYU students have also come to learn that they can make it to the top of their field.

These students have the vision Beckham wanted to instill within them. The legacy lives on today despite that snowstorm nearly 40 years ago.

Raymond Beckham

Ray Beckham

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