Chapter 1: Day 1
By Nadia Lotti
Read the first installment in our fictional series about a young girl starting her new career in an ad agency. Follow her on her journey as she tries to navigate the quirks and challenges of working life in adland.
**DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.**
Bleep bleeeeeeep. The glass doors swing open.
Hallie removes her thumb from the sensor pad next to the door. She can’t believe it actually works. Her thumb is now one of an exclusive group of thumbs that can open this door at will. She has been chosen; she works here now. No longer the chaotic student she was just weeks earlier. No longer the fuck-up who moved to London and has been sleeping on her friend Ella's sofa whilst working a dead-end internship. She now more closely resembles some sort of high-profile agent newly-appointed to a top-secret mission. In reality it’s just her first day of her first ever job - a job working in an ad agency. But in that moment, it feels pretty great.
After a short pause in front of the fully-functioning thumb-activated door, Hallie realises there is a queue of several people clad in black turtlenecks on the inside of the door waiting for her to come through so they can come out. She hurries through the door with an apologetic smile and a bow of the head. The turtleneck-wearing group are a sea of pale skin and pointy bones, thick reading glasses and beanie hats. They look at her only briefly and without emotion before they leave the building, all carrying MacBooks, notepads, iPhones, and all impossibly well-dressed, preoccupied-looking; clearly important people here.
As she hurries through the doorway and approaches reception, Hallie is suddenly aware of her hair – a thick, dark mound of tight curls – and of the way her thighs rub together as she walks. Hers don’t have a fashionable gap between them. Her knees don’t knock together as she walks in that pleasing, demure way thin girls’ knees do. Girls who do hot yoga in the morning, followed by ten-step Korean skincare rituals, with time leftover for overnight oats eaten from kilner jars. Porcelain girls who are guaranteed to fit into anything they try on in vintage stores, even the bigger sizes, which slip over their heads and hang off their frames making them look even more impossibly delicate.
The girl behind reception smiles up at her as she approaches; a smile of half-warmth, half-curiosity. A couple more Mac-bearing colleagues stride past on phones, looking up at her momentarily before returning to their screens, as if they haven’t seen her at all.
“Hi, I’m Hallie, I’m starting an Account Executive internship today,” Hallie says, her voice cracking slightly. She’s embarrassed by how husky and low it sounds.
“Hi darling,” beams the girl behind reception. She is curvy and pretty, with sparkling eyes, a turned-up nose and highlighted blonde hair. She’s wearing a pastel-pink fluffy jumper. “Do you know who you’re seeing today?”
“Umm, I had my interview with Will Fox, but I think I’m meeting someone from HR. I think it’s…” she pulls out her phone, hurriedly opening the Gmail app, her face heating up, “Rochelle?” Hallie asks, finally finding the introductory email, “Rochelle Smith?”
“Ah yes that’s perfect thank you. No worries darling, I’ll give Rochelle a call now and she’ll be down to see you as soon as she can. Take a seat,” the pretty girl gestures over the top of the reception desk to a seat by the stairway opposite, which is actually two sets of skis that have been nailed together with cushions for the seat. It’s one of the edgiest benches Hallie has seen in her life. She sits down next to a nervous-looking boy on the bench who’s clutching an oversized black backpack. He looks much younger than her.
“First day?” Hallie asks him.
“Yep, yours too?” he asks, smiling back at her with obvious effort, only making brief eye contact before looking straight back at the floor again.
“Yep first day, Account Exec internship. What accounts are you working on?”
“Oh, no…I’m just a runner. I won’t work on any accounts. Just be making teas and coffees and carrying things around,” he says, “but I want to get into production, eventually.”
“That’s great,” Hallie says. She hadn’t even realised the office would have ‘runners’. Now she thinks about it, she doesn’t know anything about most of the different job titles you can have in an ad agency. She'd just decided she was too scared to be a 'creative' and then defaulted straight to the more organisational 'account management' job description.
“I’m Hallie,” she says, holding out her hand.
“Joe,” he replies meekly, shaking it.
A gaggle of laughter erupts from the adjoining room. A group of about seven people come into the reception area, all speaking in hushed tones in between more cackling laughter. A line of Nikes, Doc Martin’s and desert boots stomp across the echoey reception floor. Many of them are topped with turtlenecks and chore jackets. A couple wear short fisherman-wool beanie hats and more of the thick tortoiseshell glasses she'd seen in the doorway. They all look her up and down as they pass, and then walk on as if they haven’t seen her. One or two give her a tight-lipped smile. This dismissive greeting is becoming familiar to her, even after just a couple of minutes in the building.
Hallie wonders whether there had been some dress-code memo she’d somehow missed in-amongst the documents attached to her new-starter email. Her ankle boots, skinny jeans and white shirt now seem so obviously an ill-fitting outfit choice for a place like this. Why hadn’t she been better prepared? She wonders whether she has time to run home and change, or even to make a dash for the nearest Urban Outfitters. She’d pay any price in this moment, if it meant she could look like the rest of them.
But with all the money in the world she wouldn't even know where to start. The outfits are all so expensive-looking and impossibly well put-together, and somehow all similar but still unique. She thinks glumly of the suitcase of crumpled clothes she has, still sitting on Ella’s bedroom floor. She’s sure she has some Nikes somewhere, and she definitely has a black turtleneck, but the Nikes are scuffed and old, and she’d bought the turtleneck in New Look. She watches another group of girls walk past in silky skirts, cashmere jumpers and Air Maxes. She imagines the capsule wardrobes they must have, hanging on railings in bleached-white rooms covered in cactuses and Aztec rugs and chunky candles.
Discouraged, Hallie stares around at the warehouse-style space filled with the bizarre, miscellaneous artefacts from, as she had found out during her interview, various shoots over the years. She and Joe have made an unspoken but mutual decision to slip into a comfortable silence for the duration of their time on the ski-bench. It suits her well. She takes advantage of the silence and begins to reflect on how unlikely it is that she’s here; considering just a few years earlier she’d seriously considered dropping out of university. She’d received fails for essays, stayed out so late that she’d missed seminars the following day, and gone home with guys she’d never met before.
It’s painful now to recall how much of her university experience she’d wasted strawpedoing rosé and downing quad-vods with the netball society, before vomiting in the SU toilets, then hitting the dancefloor again and line-dancing to Cotton-Eye Joe at the (always reliably shit) 90s nights. But in her third year she’d become intensely self-conscious and not wanted to go out much. With all the extra time she found herself spending in the tiny bedroom in her uni house, she’d finally knuckled down. She found herself graduating at the end of final year with a First, totally bemused, and feeling like it was a qualification she’d unwittingly stolen from some more deserving student.
Hallie’s thoughts are interrupted in this moment when a young brunette woman arrives in reception. She’s wearing Chanel sunglasses despite the fact that they’re inside and it’s only Spring, along with a long silky chinois dress hanging off her petite frame, an oversized grey cashmere jumper and red suede ankle boots.
“Hallie?” she asks, removing her shades and hooking them onto the neck of her jumper.
“Yes,” Hallie summons her friendliest, most confident smile, though she feels suddenly conscious of how large and broad she is in comparison to Rochelle, as she stands and they shake hands.
“Welcome!” Rochelle says, “right, shall we show you the office?”
“Sure, that’d be great thank you.”
“Follow me! Oh, and don’t worry Joe,” Rochelle turns back to Joe who is still sitting nervously on the bench, “Jim’ll be down to show you around soon. He’s just dealing with a noise complaint from Friday night.” Rochelle rolls her eyes at Hallie, then winks at the girl on reception.
“Oh my god I heard about that,” the pretty girl behind reception sniggers.
“Soph don’t. I literally can’t even…” Rochelle says shaking her head, half laughing, half aghast.
Rochelle leads Hallie through reception into the darkened adjoining room, her heels clacking and the silk of her dress swishing as she walks.
“This is the library,” Rochelle says waving a long, dainty, ring-covered hand across the room. It looks like an old study from the 1900s – all deep pine, leather desks, plush carpets and stained-glass windows.
“We’ve got a rooftop area here in the London office you see,” Rochelle explains as they move through the library towards the staircase, “people in the agency like to blow off steam after a long week, so a group of them always tend to stay out there until pretty late getting smashed on a Thursday and Friday night, and then of course they make a load of noise, the neighbours complain, and then Jim gets pissed off and has to deal with it on Monday.”
“Oh really?” Hallie says, trying keep her voice casual in spite of her surprise that people are actually allowed to drink in the office.
“Jim's the office manager by the way," Rochelle says, before dropping her voice to a whisper, "I think it would’ve been banned by now, or we’d at least have a curfew, if it wasn’t some of the most senior people ring-leading it."
“Yeah, I see,” Hallie responds, in shock, and glad she’s too out of breath to have to reply in any great detail.
“Great time for you to start actually, we’ve got our staff away-day next week! You’ll get to know loads of people there.”
“Yeah, they tend to be good fun. Just be careful though. You need to have your wits about you at those things. There can be some pretty dodgy stuff that goes on.”
Hallie, feeling she already has enough to take in, decides not to ask what she means by that at this point.
They finally reach the 4th floor and enter a small corridor through a pair of blue double doors. They pass a booth with black-out windows labelled ‘The Hair Parlour’, another one with polka-dot wallpaper labelled ‘The Olde Sweet Shop’, and a small room with no windows and a sign on the door saying, ‘The Bouncy Castle Room’.
“Don’t touch the bean bags in there,” Rochelle says casually, gesturing to the Bouncy Castle Room, “So many people have shagged in there it’s gross.”
Before Hallie has a chance to respond to this, Rochelle walks onwards into a large open-plan room. It looks more like a carpenter’s workshop than an office, with MDF tables, slate floors and exposed-brick walls. There are lots more vintage-adorned people in here, sliding towards each other on swivel chairs, tapping away at Mac keyboards, drawing on Apple trackpads, and crowded into small groups around screens, pointing and discussing. One group are gathered in front of some huge graphic posters pinned up onto cork boards on the wall. They are gesturing at the designs in apparent heated debate over which is the best execution.
“So this is where most of our teams sit,” Rochelle explains, “You’ve got your different accounts sat around each of these tables, but the creatives tend to sit over in that corner altogether.” She points to the corner furthest away from them where there’s a ping pong table, a football table, bean bags, a sofa, a dartboard and a beer fridge. Some of the creatives slumped in beanbags or hitting the ball lazily to each other are wearing sweatpants, looking enviably comfortable and at home in their surroundings.
As they stand surveying the room Hallie feels conscious that she’s getting in the way and taking up too much space, as people continually jostle past her on their way to meetings. Every employee for some reason seems to be carrying their laptop with them wherever they go. Hallie wonders what sort of email or PowerPoint-related emergencies necessitated such a refusal of each and every person to part company with their laptop for even five minutes of the day.
“You alright Dave?” Rochelle calls to a dark-haired man sitting at a table in the corner nearest them.
“Fucking shattered,” Dave replies, and he looks it. He’s the oldest person Hallie has seen in the building so far. Around early 40s she thinks. He’s handsome, chiselled and stubbly. He has dark circles under his eyes, and he and his silver-haired partner are swigging from bottles of Peroni and mugs of coffee in alternation.
“Long night?” Rochelle asks.
“Haven’t been home,” Dave says with evident despair, as if he’s only just realising this fact for the first time.
“When’s the pitch?” Rochelle asks.
“Today at 3pm,” Dave replies, “Got to go home soon to get into my chinos.” His head falls into his hands.
“Good luck!” Rochelle calls, as Dave snaps at his partner who appears to be trying to point out a mistake he’s made.
“Oh dear!” Rochelle whispers to Hallie, “We’re pitching for a massive alcohol brand today. Pitches tend to be pretty crazy around here. If you get put onto a pitch, be prepared to pull some all-nighters!”
Hallie secretly thinks this sounds pretty exciting, and hopes there might be a time when she is so needed here that she has to stay all night, but doesn’t say this to Rochelle, instead laughing and agreeing, “God what a nightmare!”
“Let’s introduce you to your team then!” Rochelle says brightly, taking her by the hand and leading her across the office floor. A few heads bob up from screens as they pass. A couple even nod at her in acknowledgement - a warm greeting indeed, for this place!
“They’re just around the corner here,” Rochelle leads Hallie around The Olde Sweet Shop booth to a secluded area where a huge MDF table sits in front of an open window. The desk is empty except for two young guys, one bent down behind a laptop, the other leaning on his elbow and doodling something on a notepad.
“Oh right, no one’s here!” Rochelle says. “Hey guys. Do you know where Will and the rest of the team are?”
The doodling boy puts his pencil down and looks up at Hallie. His eyes are heavily-lidded, fringed with long dark lashes behind a pair of the familiar thick tortoiseshell glasses. His hair is long, slightly curly and brown, flopping almost into his eyes, his jaw framing his face like cut glass. He’s wearing a navy cable-knit sweater which is a little too long in the sleeves. They slips over his hands, exposing the tips of his fingers holding the pencil.
“They’re on a client call,” he says, then smiles at Hallie, “Is this our new Account Exec?”
“Intern,” Hallie corrects him with a humble smile.
He smiles a little and raises his eyebrows so they disappear under his floppy fringe, “We’ll see.”
Hallie flushes, wondering whether she should read into this. She had applied for a permanent role here, but they’d only been able to give her the internship. She is already hoping, perhaps foolishly after just ten minutes here, that this might turn into a proper job somewhere down the line. Does this mean there might be?
“What’s your name?” the boy asks her, resting his chin in his palm and continuing to doodle, so he’s only half looking at her. Hallie begins to think she’s seen him before in a magazine advert for designer glasses.
“Hallie,” she says.
“Nice to meet you,” he says smiling with one side of his mouth, “I’m Elliot, Art Director, and he’s Rupert, the Copywriter,” Elliot flicks his pencil in the direction of his partner, who is still typing furiously and hasn’t yet looked up from his laptop.
“These are your creatives,” Rochelle says, “You guys will be working on Levi’s together.”
“Ah nice,” Hallie says, pleased at the prospect she’ll have at least one friendly face working on her team.
“And you’ve got a Levi’s expert here too,” Rochelle says, “Elliot used to model for them!” She says this in a sing-song tone of subtle mockery, to which Elliot makes absolutely no response.
“I was kind of hoping they’d all be here!” Rochelle continues, looking annoyed, “Will was supposed to be giving Hallie her induction at 10. And I’ve got to go to a meeting now…” She looks at her watch anxiously.
“You can leave her here with us,” Elliot says, smiling again, “We’ll keep her safe til Will gets here.” He then mutters something under his breath which sounds faintly like, “And more importantly when Will gets here,” but Hallie is sure she must have misheard him.
“Is that ok with you?” Rochelle asks Hallie.
“Sure, fine by me.”
“Ok great. IT should be with you any minute anyways to get you set up with your Mac and phone and stuff.”
Hallie suppresses her delight at the news she’ll be getting a work laptop and phone. When did she become one of those people who is in any way important or cool enough to have a work phone?!
“Well, bye hun, have a great first day,” Rochelle says, giving them a wave, “Look after her won’t you,” she says, pointing at Elliot and then disappearing off.
“You know you can sit down,” Elliot says.
Rupert sighs, slamming his laptop closed and standing up, hissing something about “going to work somewhere quiet.”
Hallie winces guiltily, sitting down and opening her bag as quietly as she can, looking down at the table.
“Don’t worry about him,” Elliot says, “he gets a bit stressy when we have a deadline but he means well. He’s a really nice guy. He’ll probably be your best mate over a pint later.”
“Ok,” Hallie smiles nervously, noticing Elliot’s straight red mouth and his delicate pointy nose. He runs a hand through his hair and then looks back down at his sketches, putting the end of his pencil to his lips.
“What’s your deadline?” Hallie asks.
“Oh we’ve been working on the rum pitch,” he replies, “been here all night with Dave and Jason.” He gestures over to Dave in the opposite corner of the room who has now broken out into a full-blown row with his partner – obviously Jason – and is gesticulating wildly. Elliot and Hallie watch them argue for a moment, before looking back at each other, exchanging a grimace, and then a smile. Hallie feels hot and swallows, pushing her thick hair off the back of her neck.
Just then, a raucous outbreak of laughter explodes from the doorway of the Bouncy Castle room, now open. Two girls, both slim and very attractive, one blonde and one brunette, and a slightly chubby guy with an open, friendly face wearing a long-sleeved Pokémon t-shirt, file out of the room. They retrieve shoes Hallie now notices had been left on the floor in the doorway.
They spot Hallie and their faces break into smiles of recognition.
“Hallie?” the brunette girl asks.
“Yes, hi!” Hallie says, a little breathless.
After a short pause the girls are rushing over and hugging her one by one, still clutching their shoes.
“We’re so happy you’ve joined us, I’m Liv, Account Director,” says the brunette.
“I’m Holly,” says the blonde, “Producer. So happy to have you on the team. Also, great time for you to join – we’ve got the office party next week!”
“Yeah, Rochelle mentioned. Looking forward to it!”
The guy in the Pokémon t-shirt sidles over and gives her an awkward hug now too, “I’m Adam, Account Manager. Really nice to meet you. We’ve heard you’re really smart so hopefully you can help us out – we need you!”
“Oh...no...I'm not that smart,” Hallie laughs nervously, wincing internally at the idiotic attempt at modesty, “But it’s great to meet you. I’m so happy to be here.” And in that moment, she means it.
The door to the Bouncy Castle Room bangs open a second time and a red-haired girl emerges giggling. Retrieving her shoes from the floor and walking away she calls over her shoulder to someone following her out of the room, “Nice try, don’t think it’ll be that easy though! I’ll see you later!”
Moments later a face emerges from the artificial light of the dingy room. Stubbled, tanned skin, thinning caramel-coloured hair combed across a creased forehead and beady eyes that glint as they probe the room. A face that, though faintly handsome, if a little weathered, and filled with a strange energy that makes her drawn to it, has also made Hallie slightly uneasy each time she has looked into it. Will Fox, her new boss.
“Hallie!” seeing her he strides over with his arms outstretched, “So sorry I’m late for your induction. I just needed to finish up a chat with Steph back there.” He shoots a sideways wink at Adam which is so quick Hallie isn’t even 100% sure she’s seen it. “Anyways, welcome welcome!" he says, "So!” He barks this last word and looks at her wide-eyed as though he’s trying to tell her something without words.
Confused, Hallie waits for him to speak again.
“So…come on then!” he says playfully, “get your stuff, and let’s go and get you inducted!”
“Oh…yes. Great, thanks!” Hallie flushes and bends to retrieve her bag, pencil case and notebook. As she does so, she notices Elliot isn’t there anymore. She hopes she’ll get to see him again later as she follows Will back across the office floor and down the staircase to the basement.
Image by unknown Pinterest artist