I once worked in an advertising agency in a soaring city building that also housed several hundred of the types of corporate accountants and lawyers that you never see, you just know they are there. They must all arrive at 6 a.m. and leave after eight in the evening, because they only people I ever saw in the lift were couriers, lunch delivery people and the lolly lady.
The building had a marble lobby that you entered through one of those rotating doors that always seem to be about to slice you in half, and the agency was on the 27th floor, away from the grime and the noise and the lunchtime joggers.
I had been working there for a few years as a kind of freelance to clean up the on-staff writers' bad writing and do the jobs they didn't want to tackle. Annual report for a national office supplies company? 64-page brochure promoting a self-managed super fund? Give it to the freelancer, they said. Lazy pricks. On the other hand, I spent long periods waiting around for the next job to come in. During the quieter moments, I wrote a blog entitled The Advertising Agency documenting some of the industry's more, er, 'interesting' idiosyncrasies. (No longer online - I'm turning it into a book.) My 'links' list included several weblogs about the industry from all parts of the world including London, New York, Chicago, Rio, Mumbai and Nairobi. One of them was a savagely cynical take on the industry written under the pseudonym of Wrightoff, a pun that had become a metaphor for the writer's career. We regularly commented on each other's posts and we were equally cynical. I didn't know which city Wrightoff was in. Being semi-intelligent human beings, we were usually careful to not divulge the identities of selves or agencies.
One day, I had finished writing a live-read commercial for a hardware store's Christmas opening hours, or a brochure for a bank's fixed-rate loan, or a press ad for a superannuation company run by ex-unionists who had set up an opt-out life insurance scheme to further fleece unwary members – whatever - and I had just checked in at my blog to see if anyone had commented that day.
Just then, the account executive who worked in the next cubicle came into my office, saw my blog masthead on the screen and said, "Oh - The Advertising Agency blog. I read that as well. In fact, its writer has linked to my own blog. Want to see it?" (He had no idea, of course, that The Advertising Agency was my blog. Why would I be reading my own blog?)
He took my mouse and clicked the cursor on a title in my sidebar.
The blog he had clicked on came up on the screen. It was Wrightoff.
"That's your blog?" I asked him, trying not to look shocked.
"Yes," he said, then asked conversationally, "Do you know who writes The Advertising Agency?"
I felt a prickly feeling crawl up my back. Knowing that I had satirised, if not actively offended, 90% of the people in the advertising industry in this city, I had about half a second to decide whether I should reveal my identity. It could be awkward: imagine the conversation at an industry Christmas party if, after a few drinks, someone introduced me by saying, "Did you know that this man writes The Advertising Agency blog?" I could be beaten up by twenty drunk account executives (the last four words being the mother of all oxymorons when it comes to Christmas parties).
"No idea," I said airily.