The good thing about working in advertising – forget the long lunches, the exotic shoots, the opportunity to write eye-catching advertisements; these are all the stuff of urban legend – the really good thing is that most London agencies start work at 9.30am rather than the usual nine o’clock.
A 9.30 start is just late enough to miss the worst of the rush hour. It means that in theory you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast before setting off for work. In practice, it means you set the alarm to go off at the last possible moment and end up scoffing a Danish at your desk when you finally do arrive. But still.
I’ve worked full-time at three London agencies and have been lucky enough to haul myself in for a 9.30 start at all of them. The most recent was a place called DraftFCB.
It wasn’t always called DraftFCB. It used to be known as Draft, and before that it was called Draft London, and before that it was called Lowe Live, and before that it was called Lowe Direct. Today it’s known as FCBInferno.
But the agency I joined in 1997 was Lowe Direct.
Lovely place. Nice people. Good work. Linen hand-towels in the bathrooms. And a 9.30 start. How civilised.
Anyway, fast forward to 2007 and the latest name-change stroke re-branding stroke merger is announced. Draft is to merge with the famous old Madison Avenue agency FCB. (Foote Cone and Belding, or Foot Crushed and Bleeding, as no one called it.)
I can’t talk too much about the actual merger because there were, you know, issues. Headcount issues. We all had to sign something, and then most of us also had to leave and find other work. But before all that kicked off, we had one of those ‘this is going to be GREAT!’ pre-merger meetings.
There’d be an expanded client base. Opportunities to deliver incisive strategic initiatives. Amalgamated and streamlined things. Shiny stuff, across the board. Shorter queues for coffee, because of the issues you won’t be allowed to talk about. And guess what! The agency we’re merging with start work half an hour later than we do!
This was good news. This was almost unheard of. Everyone looked at each other with broad smiles and secret thoughts about how they’d spend their extra half-hour. 10.00am was very nearly lunchtime!
After the meeting we all headed back to our desks, or content creation modules as they were now known. There was general anxiety about the merger, tempered only by the welcome news of the later morning start.
“That extra half-hour’s going to make all the difference,” said someone. “Getting in at nine has always been a killer.” People nodded.
“Wait,” I said. “You’ve got it wrong. You’ll be starting half an hour later. Ten o’clock.” As soon as I said it out loud, doubts started to gather.
And sure enough, I was the one who’d got it wrong. The official start time of the agency I joined in 1998 was 9.00am. Apart from when I’d turned up early for pitches or for other genuine worky reasons, I’d been exactly half an hour late, every single day, for the previous 10 years.
And the headline of this blog? That relates to an art director I used to work with, an amazing character called John Williams. Yep, he knows all the jokes.
He strolled into reception one morning at about 10.15am, bleary of eye and over of hung. Just as the lift doors were closing, the managing director jumped in and barked ‘Late again, Williams!’
Without missing a beat, he said ‘Yeah, so am I.’