The Assistant Files, Vol. 35: Alyssa Surrett, Marie Claire's Nancy Berger Cardone
(NEW YORK) Following a slightly extended sabbatical, your Daily is reinstating the juicy tales of the assistants behind your favorite movers and shakers in the glossy world. First up, we introduce you to Alyssa Surrett, the chic Southern belle who keeps Marie Claire’s VP/publisher/chief revenue officer, Nancy Berger Cardone, on top of her game. With the mag’s career advice in mind, Surrett pens a personal style blog when she’s not tending to the day-to-day needs of her publisher boss.
BY DENA SILVER
Let’s start from the beginning. What’s your story?
I studied marketing at the University of Tennessee, but I always said my dream job was to be an editor at Marie Claire or an E! News anchor. I moved to New York right after I finished school on a major whim. A friend who has a jewelry company asked me to help her out for a month, and three years later I still haven’t left. From there, I got a job at Hearst in corporate marketing.
What were you doing there?
I worked on a few different titles, but the position was for Hearst as a whole, in our circulation department.
How did that lead you to Marie Claire?
I met this guy who worked at corporate advertising who bump, set, spiked me to talking with HR. It turned out that Nancy needed someone fairly quickly to assist her, so they asked me to interview with her that day. It was a Friday afternoon, I had on a tutu, and I was like, ‘I can’t go meet her in this!’ I was hoping that they didn’t know the reason I couldn’t interview was because I was in a tutu, but they did.
I interviewed with her the following Monday and it moved very quickly.
How was that first meeting with Nancy, sans tutu?
It was great. She was very easy to talk to! I thought that I would be kind of nervous talking to her, but she asked very thought-provoking and forward-thinking questions.
What’s your dynamic like with Nancy nowadays?
I feel like we kind of just click! In the beginning, I had some questions, and I wasn’t sure what to do. But now I can tell what she’s thinking through the different faces that she makes.
Is there an unspoken code between you two?
We don’t have a code, per se, but if she’s in a meeting and is trying to wrap it up, she’ll make a certain face. There’s something about her facial expressions; I can always tell what she is thinking, which is good!
What time does your day start at MC?
I usually come in between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. and Nancy’s first meeting is usually at 9 a.m. After that, it’s usually back-to-back meetings.
And what are your daily tasks for Nancy?
Standard things such as booking travel, scheduling her meetings, and other day-to-day stuff. On any given day, there are so many unexpected things that can happen. I might have to run out to do errands, for example. Since I love fashion so much, I get to pick out clothing for Nancy and help her with her accessories. I work as a stylist when it comes to her events. The Marie Claire team lets us pull some things for her from the fashion closet.
What is lunch time like?
Nancy usually goes out for a client lunch. But when she’s here, we’ve gotten into these weird ruts where we eat the same thing, because it’s easy. We keep it low carb and interesting, so we tend to get the same things. We’ll do take out from this little Italian restaurant right out the back door that has this awesome veal with zucchini, or we’ll get something from the Hearst cafeteria.
What’s the most unexpected favor that Nancy has asked of you?
I got to help plan a bar mitzvah for her son. I learned so much in the process! I got a call from the synagogue and I told Nancy that someone from the church is on the line! So we joke that I’m now an honorary Jew because I learned so much about the whole tradition.
Are you close with the other assistants here?
Yes, I sit in a section where there are four assistants. We’re all pretty tight. We’re all buds and help each other out; it’s good to have a little team.
Aside from assisting Nancy, what else do you do here?
I got to plan a breakfast for all of the editors to speak to our clients this year, and I took over the event from top to bottom. It was great to see all of the details that go into something like that and how every little thing needs to be planned, so there are no surprises the day of.
How do you balance having your own blog with work?
I take my pictures on the weekends or sometimes one of the girls in the office will take some pictures for me during coffee breaks.
Do you ever borrow from the fashion closet?
Not really! It’s too fast-paced and risky to borrow from the closet.
People sometimes say that working in fashion isn’t all that glamorous. Agree or disagree?
There are definitely glamorous parts about my job. I get to go to the fashion shows with Nancy during Fashion Week, which is one of my favorite parts of the job. My first show was Nicole Miller. There was something about the energy of the room and how much everyone just loves fashion that made me tear up.
Do you ever take advice from the mag’s career section, MC@Work?
One of the most important things I’ve learned through our pages is that it’s important to follow up and create connections. Opportunities can arise in the most surprising ways, so keeping an eye on connections in your own area is very important.
What’s the dress code like on the business side of Marie Claire?
When I first started, Nancy told me to always dress as if I might be pulled into an executive meeting. My personal dress code from day-to-day is a little dressier than other people on my floor, because if Nancy forgot her phone and I have to walk into a business meeting with high-level executives, I don’t want to be dressed down.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
When I first moved here, my dream job was to be an editor. But the more I learn about the digital age and how fast it’s moving, the more that I think I’ll steer into digital. I’d love to write about fashion and lifestyle.
Lastly, do you or Nancy ever use the workout bike in her office?
That’s a Fit Desk, you can actually sit there and work while you work out. We go on it from time to time, but we don’t really bust a sweat. We don’t use it as much as we should!