2012 March 13
The Assistant Files, Vol. 32: Berna Anat, Seventeen
(NEW YORK) At long last, another installment of "The Assistant Files," and your Daily is returning to the heights of the Hearst Tower for the scoop on Seventeen from perhaps the most behind-the-scenes person on the premises. Before landing her current gig as EIC Ann Shoket's assistant back in June, plus a few internships in between, Berna Anat was part of the venerable teen mag's "Freshman 15" program, where she chronicled her first year as a coed on camera. What could be more fun than that? Well, landing your dream job with your dream boss isn't too shabby, either. Join in on the "happy-go-lucky" good vibes of being a Seventeen staffer on this gorgeous spring afternoon, chéris!
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
What were you doing before Seventeen?
I went to UC-Berkeley for a semester, and then I transferred to USC, where I majored in PR. I always loved to write and I loved magazines. I especially loved layouts—the way information can be organized in a way that’s attractive but useful. I loved to write, and I did high school newspaper stuff. In college I was the editor-in-chief for Her Campus and I had a few social media focused internships; then I was an ASME intern at Glamour, and I fell in love with the industry.
What was your relationship with Seventeen like before you got the gig?
I’ve been obsessed with Seventeen since I could read, basically. I was a part of the Freshman 15 program at Seventeen—they handpick 15 college freshmen girls to basically document their entire first year of college, and I was in their inaugural class. When I found out I’d gotten into the Freshman 15, it was like the beginning of my life. I started screaming in the middle of the library. It was back when they posted it on, like, MySpace and stuff. I did a lot of funny, weird, and crazy videos. I basically embarrassed myself any way I could. Ann [Shoket] gave me really good feedback about the videos. I also was sent on a crazy Seventeen and Verizon marketing road trip in a party van from L.A. to San Francisco, and I got to bring two of my best friends. We fed ostriches and went surfing.
How did you score the job?
After doing the Freshman 15, I was really annoying—I kept sending Seventeen stuff I was doing at school, like a newsletter or mock pamphlet for a PR class. I was so obnoxious; they couldn’t get rid of me. Then I came out to New York to interview with other magazines. I told Ann’s former assistant, and it turned out she was actually leaving so it was perfect timing. I got the job two weeks before graduation. It was a whole whirlwind of awesome, and I’ve been here since last June.
How were your earliest days at the mag?
As I’m sure all assistants say, it was just nuttiness. It was a lot of asking questions, and a lot of being intimidated, because Ann had been my idol for forever. A temp trained me for two hours on my first day, and then I was given the binder that we call "the bible." There were a lot of new kids on the team, too, because a few other editors started off at the same time. Ann was very gracious with her time; she’d ask me questions like, “How are you adjusting? What do you want to learn? What do you think this job is about? What do you want it to become for you?”
What’s one of the most meaningful things you’ve done on the job?
A few months ago, I held my first Real Girl panel. A ton of normal, local teens come in, we order pizza, and we talk about boys, celebrities, love, life, and health with the editors. That’s why I’m so in love with Seventeen—it’s my kind of teen girl empowerment. These girls just light up when they come into the office—it’s like Disneyland to them—and I wish we could have their energy in the office all the time. In the very beginning Ann said, “unfortunately you have to be a Seventeen camp counselor.”
What else do your counselor duties entail, in addition to pizza parties?
Whenever we have teens in the office, or an executive’s teen daughter comes in, I give tours, set up beauty bags, set up panels Oh, and order pizza, of course. Are you joking? That’s like the best job I’ve ever heard of! It happens about once a month. Also, in August we went to upstate New York to Camp Mariah [Carey] and ran a workshop with some Seventeen editors. The kids made their own Seventeen covers and we discussed cover lines. They couldn’t get me to leave, practically.
Sounds fun! What other ‘hats’ do you wear?
My highest priority is, of course, being Ann’s assistant: I keep her files organized and completely handle her schedule, but thankfully she does her own email. There are some editors who make their assistants do that, but Ann is all about her inbox. I’m also kind of like Pam from The Office; I get all the random calls from readers, people who want subscriptions, or someone who wants to know what kind of earrings a celeb was wearing in an issue from years ago. And of course, the occasional really angry mom. I try to deal with that as diplomatically as possible.
What’s the most memorable random call you’ve fielded?
Right before I left for Christmas break, I get a really late night call from an older man in Milwaukee. He told me he’d been in a spread about Milwaukee teens in a spring 1961 issue of Seventeen, and that his daughters and granddaughters didn’t believe him. They were coming home for Christmas, and he wanted to show them. So I flipped through all of our super old 1961 issues. The guy wrote back to me afterwards to say that it really lit up his family’s holiday, and that “my daughters think I am as cool as I think I am now.”
Any other roles you fill, or have created?
I’m kind of known around Seventeen as the designated shameless person: if there’s a funny video or weird stunt to be done, I’ll do it. I will do crazy things in the name of a brand that I love.
Do you deal with interns much?
Yes! I’m the ‘intern mama’ for the features department—I hire and handle them. I try to set up weekly cupcake chats and lunches with the editors, and the interns have a chance to meet the art or fashion team, or sit down for a one-on-one with an editor. That’s how they did it in the ASME program; it had great structure, and I try to bring that to Seventeen. I really encourage my interns to send that email, or leave that post-it on someone’s desk. They’re often super-excited whippersnappers, and I feed off that the energy.
What’s your best advice for being a superstar assistant?
A really good friend of mine who’s an assistant at another magazine once told me, “don’t ever touch anything more than once.” If you know the answer to an email when it comes in, just shoot it off right away. ‘Mark as unread’ is like my greatest enemy; it lets me procrastinate.
Any advice tailored to stellar interns?
It’s definitely about building a niche for yourself and really developing your thing. Sometimes it’s just the first thing that comes to mind; are you in love with turtles? Or doorknobs? Whatever it is! Be in love with something, be that expert, make it relatable to whatever your final goal is, and just really push yourself. I was graduating from a PR program right when everybody was always saying, “Self branding! Be your own brand!” We were told to package ourselves with tangible things to offer.
Is it ever tough to channel that teen spirit?
Some people are meant to be a certain age—for example, I’m pretty sure my best friend is meant to be a 35-year-old mom. My whole life, I've felt like I'm meant to be a teenager. I feel a close connection to teens, and I’m a very happy-go-lucky, positive person. A cheerleader at heart. People might sometimes see me as naïve, but I’m just super enthusiastic, and that’s the kind of energy you can only get from teens.
Are you into any teen phenoms because you’re surrounded by it all day?
Hunger Games is the first thing that comes to mind—I’m obsessed! The magazine is planning a bunch of fun Hunger Games things in the future; there’s mad Hunger Games fever in this office.
Is your iTunes at all teenified?
It involves so much Taylor Swift! For some reason, listening to T.Swift really fuels my editing process; she brings out my own 17-year-old voice. I can’t help it. My friends judge me for that so much…
How do you pitch in editorially?
I’ve been slowly taking things on; when I started, I told Ann I wanted to wait five or six months to sink my teeth into the job because I really wanted to do well. In November I started taking on the Traumarama pages, and I was so psyched about it.
Are those “reader traumas” real, or do you ghostwrite them?
They’re 100 percent real! Ann would definitely call us out if anything sounded fake or even just embellished. When I have to buckle down and edit the stories, it’s the best—I just sit at my desk and laugh to myself. These girls are so funny and candid; they trust Seventeen so much with their most embarrassing stories.
What surprises you most about Ann’s gig?
Everyone knows that being an editor-in-chief is not all glamour and glitz, which is true, but I’ve been surprised to learn that it’s an incredible amount of business: negotiations, figuring out partnerships, incorporating our staff’s ideas into a huge company, and massaging relationships between all of those parties. Maybe I would have taken a business course if I’d known that was part of the EIC’s job! It’s about thinking five steps ahead of our competitor, and Ann is incredible at doing that.
Does Ann divulge any of her own internship tales?
Oh, yeah. She was a fact checker at American Lawyer, she was working on a story about Apple—their offices said they’d return her call. And then, Steve Jobs himself returned her call! Kurt Cobain died while Ann was an intern at Rolling Stone; she went through a lot of reader mail, and there were thousands of letters about Cobain.
What’s the most unexpected thing about this job?
I definitely didn’t expect it to be so time consuming! I’d wanted to work at Seventeen for so long and Ann is such a huge idol of mine, so I thought I’d be able to handle the job, do my thing, then clock out and have my life in New York. But I’m thinking about the job when I’m at home; it’s just burrowed its way into my brain, and I didn’t expect that. I now try to do things for my personal life, like taking dance classes, which is so important. I guess that’s just the way it is when you’re living out a passion—you can’t really get away from it!
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