Media Types: Worth her weight in greasy pizza: The advertising PA

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The Independent Online
ADVERTISING SECRETARY/PA n. (in media/account- handling departments) general definition of a much-maligned, ill-treated serf (sorry, 'valuable team member') who has to look after and organise usually up to five egomaniacal, career-thrusting account managers/directors.

Like the agency management structure, there are several levels: 1) the junior dogsbody (who'd probably earn more if she busked on the Underground); 2) the PA, skivvy and invisible backbone of the agency; and 3) the aloof senior secretary on loadsamoney who thinks typing more than five pages is hard work and who has only a vague recollection of what a typewriter looks like.

A true battle-scarred secretary is astute in defining her boss's remarks/requests. 'You're such a star,' translates as patronising disbelief that a secretary can string more than four words together without simultaneously looking them up in a dictionary; 'You couldn't just bash this document out (ie, type it), could you?' means 'My meeting's in five minutes, I forgot all about writing something; if the document's not ready in time, I'll just blame it on my dozy, inefficient secretary who spends all day on the phone'; 'You're an integral part of the brand team' - watch out, this is supposed to keep secretaries from moaning - 'You don't mind staying late, do you?' translates as 'Good God, you don't have a social life, do you?'

Verbal dexterity can spring just as smoothly from any well rehearsed secretary's lips: 'Oh, that internal post - I sent that memo around two days ago' means 'Bloody hell, I completely forgot to distribute that'; 'I'm sorry, he's on another line at the moment, can he call you back?' means 'He has no intenton of talking to you, and as for ringing you back, you can forget it.'

When a pitch rears its ugly head a shudder goes down the secretary's spine: even though the meeting was diaried weeks ago, you can bet that on the eve of the pitch, she'll be typing through the night while confused/panic-stricken business managers rack their brains for the winning strategy. Her finger and shoulder joints will be aching, her vision blurred and just when she thinks the team has cracked it and it's all over, the vice-chairman will decide the approach is totally wrong and can everybody please come up with something a bit more useful. Of course, what more 'ample' reward could one receive than a greasy takeaway pizza at 3am, a warm Diet Coke and the 'bonus' of a taxi home.

The advertising secretary loves 'leaving' lunches (particularly if the agency is picking up the tab) as they give her licence not to return to work until she is as least as pissed as everyone else. She can drink anyone under the table (as long as someone else is paying) and thrives on agency gossip (if a secretary doesn't know about it before the staff memo appears, it's definitely not worth knowing).

Media secretaries have the grovelling task of regularly apologising to sales representatives (on behalf of media planners) regarding their 'missed' appointment because of an 'overrun' meeting or an 'extended working client lunch'.

Observing potential secretaries arriving for job interviews can be tremendously entertaining, with easy bets on the winner: usually whichever candidate has the longest, blondest hair (8-1); biggest bust (odds-on favourite); longest, sexiest legs (8-1); the most plummy accent (7-1).

Likewise, when agency parties take place, the race is on to ensnare the most wealthy/attractive available director who can help them to skip a few rungs on the career ladder. Gushing tones of adoration/enthusiasm all converge in a cacophony along the lines of: 'I really love working here: it's just so thrilling; I've met soooo many interesting people who do such a brill job. I hope one day I might be considered for your personal assistant.' Naturally, it does not bode too well for the secretary's career if she has to be carried out to a taxi with her stockings in full display, having over-indulged on beer.

An advertising secretary's radar for scandal should never be underestimated, as it could easily be you that she 'inadvertently' catches in a heady embrace with that new girl from accounts. She'll call her 'favour' in when that pay rise is looming, don't ever doubt it.

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