With a barely post-adolescent bounce and a 'Hello, everybody!' of smoothie-curdling cheeriness, Sophia Prentice bursts jarringly into the office on the dot of 10 o'clock. Just in case they'd missed her earlier salutation, she greets each member of her team individually, with more bespoke, bright-eyed enthusiasm of exactly the kind guaranteed to grate on tender Monday morning nerves. She sits down to check her hotmail, log on to instant messenger and begin texting her friends.
The business of catching up with last night's gossip and this week's Heat magazine will probably take her through to, say, 10.45 or so, by which time she will require sustenance in the form of a skinny soy latte at the nearest Starbucks. On her untimely return, she might put in, oh, an hour's 'really hard work' before a two-hour lunch spent sucking the marrow from the accessories concessions at Selfridges.
Sophia's summer placements have become an annual event at RGR, one of the brighter stars in London's advertising firmament. When she arrived last year, everyone was happy to welcome her into the RGR family. There were two reasons for this. First, she's an attractive girl: her mother is a former model. And, second, she is family: her daddy, Robert Prentice, is the first R in RGR. A fellow with an eagle eye for sloppy copy and zero tolerance for artwork that doesn't work, Robert has a blind spot when it comes to the fruit of his loins.
Two weeks after her arrival, an unofficial competition to rebrand Sophia was under way. It resulted in a tie between 'Bungalow' (nothing upstairs) and 'Flashlight' (her eyes light up, but only when you shine a torch in her ear). Neither stuck. She is now Bambi (for her propensity to bounce up to you like a silly fawn) – although after an especially drunken awards ceremony, Bill, one of the younger creatives, suggested 'Thumper' might be a better epithet. Two weeks later, Bill suddenly moved to a rival agency, where he has won several awards for his ground-breaking breakfast cereal ads.
This year's competition (she is, alas, doing a language degree, so we're on number two of four) is to discover Sophia's most outrageous utterance. Hot tips so far are 'I work as hard as any of them and they still pay me a work experience salary' and 'I practically came up with the whole idea'. So far, she has said this of three campaigns, to each of which she contributed just one line of copy, all of which were quietly cut before the client saw the ad.
You might think she'd pick up on some of this. But in a world renowned for its knowing irony, Sophia skates cheerfully across the surface of things. Her ideas are politely brushed under the rug because people who've won Creative Team of the Year several years running 'don't know what they're on about'. The fact that she's a precocious 20-year-old entitles her to speak for her generation, and people ask her to meetings because they genuinely want her opinions.
Indeed, no matter what she does – spending the afternoon idly rearranging her iTunes, dropping everything to disappear to Marrakech – she can't believe that the rest of 'her crew' do not find her cute. To some extent, she's right: if a five-year-old mutt chews the sofa, it's straight to the dog's home, but if a fluffy puppy does it, it's cute. (If her co-workers had their way, this puppy would be going for a walk along the Thames with a sackful of rocks.)
So will she be in for a rude shock when starts her first real job? Probably not, for – as Churchill said – a beautiful woman without a brain can still be interesting. If this were true of polite society in the 1940s, it's doubly true of the client-facing side of advertising (and quite a few other industries) today. And Sophia is unlikely to face the brutal filtering process that other, far more able graduates will face.
After that, she'll nepwork (networking through nepotism) herself up to a position of sufficient importance that her lack of ability is no longer an issue. And, on the off-chance that things go horribly wrong for her in the world of advertising, she has a fall-back position: her mother runs a PR agency.
Prentice just the start
1985 Born Hammersmith, London. Educated Frencham Heights School, Farnham; St Andrews University (ongoing)
2003-04 A year's travel and self-discovery spent precociously bothering foreigners from Belize to Botswana
2004-06 Summer work and self-discovery spent precociously bothering advertising executives from Soho to Shoreditch
2007 Well-paid graduate job at RGR.
Just in case anyone out there thinks that MT's Business Lifeform pertains to themselves or to somebody they know, please be reassured that the piece is a work of fiction and that any resemblance to persons alive or dead is entirely co-incidental.