Can anyone ever forget his or her first week in an advertising agency? It’s not just another job after college. No, no, no, no, no. It’s far, far greater than that. It’s akin to leaving the confines of a zoo and entering a national park. But don’t rejoice and go frolicking just yet. The animals might be all the same. But they aren’t in cages here. Nor are there pretty signboards with general information printed about their species. They don’t beg for food or scare little kids for a laugh. They are wilder, stronger and not really afraid to eat you up.
Which is what got me working towards preparing a rough guide for the hapless youngster. Who, with a chest full of passion and starlets in his eyes, knocks on our doors, hoping for a career. He needs a little help to survive. From someone who has been there before. Hence, I volunteer. This is my CSR activity. This is me giving back to the industry.
Here we go.
Son, what you will see here will far exceed your scope of imagination. Whatever you might have heard about this place is correct. All the generalisations will prove accurate. The clichés will be played out to script. And just when you will struggle to keep up with the topography, you will meet the exotic inhabitants of this wonderful habitat. Rule of thumb: Maintain safe distance. Let them approach you first.
The Art Directors
The Art Directors, you will discover, will all be socially and sartorially far-removed from the others. Scratch the surface and you might find a seething resentment at being treated like second-class citizens. But they are also the simplest and the easiest to mould. Teach them a catchphrase and see how fast they pick it up. Take them out for tea. Re-forward all their email forwards. Ignore their spelling. To truly win their trust, always volunteer to take them for the meeting. Nothing makes them happier than that.
The Copywriters will seem free-spirited and dreamy. Don’t be taken in by their charm. It is carefully cultivated. They will seem terribly fascinating and eclectic in their likes. They will all have an interest in foreign films, European football and American television shows. The men will be ready with puns and be armed with toilet humor that’s befitting a thirteen year old. The women on the other hand, will seem both sexual and unattainable. And while most might claim to be working on a graphic novel, they will actually be slaving over script ideas for Bollywood. They love to eat and sleep. Pamper them occasionally. Claim to have the biggest hard drive and the lowest inhibitions. To truly win their respect, have your dealer’s number on speed dial.
The Creative Directors
The Creative Directors will be attractive, enchanting, intelligent and always ready with a joke. Most of the time the jokes will be rude, personal and insensitive. Do not judge. To you, the 21-year-old toddler with delusions of changing the world, this animal will seem like a natural leader. Ye Who Can Make Anyone Eat From Thy Palm. He will be generous. Do not attempt to pay him back but worship him openly. Get him the number of the cute servicing girl on the first floor. Admire his shoes. But never take his commitment for granted. He will, as a rule, forget.
The Planners will appear like the owners of the place. They will seem aggressive and intelligent. Calm and yet menacing. The impression created on your fresh-out-of-college mind will be nothing short of electrifying. The practiced baritone, the young-at-heart vibe, the queer obsession with fitness – all add up to the aura of the species. You might feel lost in your initial attempts at interaction. But do not lose heart. Talk to them about exciting things like rock climbing, motorcycles or drugs. Chances are that they will claim to have excelled in all three. Praise their taste in music. Most of them will declare to have been part of some rock band in college. Don’t be too inquisitive about this. Play along. They will invent a lot of new words. Memorise them and drop it sometimes in meetings when they are present. They will love you dearly for truly recognising their talent.
The Servicing Team
The Servicing Team will appear more hostile than the rest. They will be condescending, aloof, insecure and a tad gossipy. They will assert that they run the place. Humour them. But remember that they will often know which buttons to push and which knobs to turn to get things done their way. Eventually, these are the ones, who will grow to become your best friends. Or, your worst enemies. Treat them with respect. These are the few who actually meet the mythical client almost every day. They know just how much money the place is making or for that matter who’s having an affair. Do small favours for them. But keep tab. Remind them occasionally that they owe you one.
The Studio Artists will appear the most confusing of all. The boisterous and smiling undercuts are nothing like anyone else in the building. Possibly, till the day you joined, you weren’t even aware of the existence of this studio. And the concept of one, that is occupied and run by beasts such as these, will be alarming. Remember, this is the mint. And these are the elves who run it. The studio is what pays for the Porsches and well, you. Learn their language. Know their respective poisons. Forward the aforementioned Art Directors’ email forwards to them. They will find them hilarious. Add them on Facebook within the first few days. Make them your friends and they will stay loyal for life. Then get them to make you a copy of the Agency Rate Card.
The Big Guys
The Bosses will be the legends. Like a mirage, you might spot them on a hot day. They will be calm, collected and will always smell fresh. They will occasionally wear suits. They will have secretaries who will know everything. They will have a set routine. You will be invisible to them for a few weeks. But don’t lose hope. Careful planning will eventually get you noticed. Keep a fountain pen in our pocket and at an opportune moment use it in front of them. Spread the rumor around office that you are a voracious reader. Keep some fat books on the desk. Listen to Leonard Cohen during lunch. Keep your nails clean. They will eventually talk about you as one with ‘great potential’.
The Client is not your friend. At least, not yet. Right now, he will just be pissed that another kid is being trained at his expense. Keep your eyes and ears open. The first few times he meets you, he will not notice you. When he does, he will mispronounce your name. Don’t correct him. Don’t even volunteer an opinion. Get a lowdown on his marital status. Find out where he lives. Don’t ever go there. Stalk him on social networks. Find out what he likes and eventually write about it in an ad. When he smiles upon reading it, feign genuine surprise. Once he is your friend, he will make you rich and famous.
The more you will live, the more you will learn. Follow this guide and you will be one of us one day. But today, keep your head down and try to blend in. Be quiet. Don’t bleat. Don’t stare at the women. They are ours. Don’t smoke up during office hours. This is a place of worship and serious business. Now dive into those guard books and learn everything there is to know about your brand.
And yes, it is perfectly okay to leave early on your first day.
Trilokjit Sengupta is the creative director and one of the founder members of Metal. He has spent almost ten years in advertising and currently moonlights as a photographer.