Most of the hard work has been done, you’ve done the difficult part by actually getting your foot in the door for your graduate interview at Leo Burnett. You shuffle up to the desk, self consciously trying not to sound too nervous to the receptionist. Remember the lady in front of you for future reference. Freda Allen is the first face you meet when you walk through the doors of Warwick Building and beloved by everyone in the company.
A receptionist doesn’t really give Freda full credit for everything she does in the daily life of the agency. She is variously, a surrogate mother, a psychiatrist, a nurse, a comedienne and a friend. Freda has been working at Leo’s for over a decade, and in that time has welcomed everyone from global CEOs to prospective grads. “When I started at Leo’s all that time ago, it was so different,” she recalls. “When you look out now and you see how nice the building is, you wouldn’t believe that when we moved in there wasn’t even any toilets, we had to go to Tescos across the road.”
Despite the humble beginnings when the agency moved to West Kensington from its former central London base, Freda maintains that Leo’s is still characterised by its unique friendly atmosphere. “It’s just great, I can tell you that this place is much friendlier than most others. They make a huge effort socially and it helps to bring everyone together.
Last year at Christmas, Freda took part in the company’s attempt at Strictly Come Dancing. Failing to disclose how she placed, Freda feels that the event was typical of Leo’s attempts to integrate everyone in the building. “To be honest, I was the token oldie there, but it was great mixture of us, I was partnered by a young account director and I suppose out of all the dancers you could say that I was the joker in the pack.”
Over ten years, Freda has greeted hundreds of prospective grads. Some she remembers, and some she still deals with years later as colleagues. She says each group is similar. “People generally come in the same every year. They are all nervous, but soon enough once they calm down a bit and get chatting they relax into the day.”
Freda is well known for her caring attitude in the agency. Recently, she insisted on sewing buttons onto my coat, because “your mother isn’t over from Ireland to do it.” It comes as little surprise that she wants me to get one simple, yet golden piece of advice over to all the interviewees that will be coming here in the next few weeks. “I always feel so sorry for someone who gets here late, I’ve seen it so many times, it’s not easy to find here. Immediately they feel they’ve messed up their chances, which isn’t true, but it doesn’t help their anxiety. Try and make it nice and early so you don’t have to worry, that’s absolutely the last thing you’d need!”