The Season of Lists, Lists and More Lists

November 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

‘Tis the season my friends for all those constantly updated annual lists to come into play. Frankly, by now you should be at least halfway through the gift buying cycle for everyone on your employer’s gift list, holidays cards should be at the printer, and final lists approved. And if you’re not yet kicked into high gear just wait until Monday! Right after the Thanksgiving holiday is when everyone gets the wake up call that they better get busy.

Back around September all these lists were dusted off, given to the employer for approval and gift decisions. Additions and deletions were made and depending on your employer, you may have made the gift buying suggestions, be the buyer yourself and some of you may have a gift buyer or personal shopper make a presentation and the gifts will be handled by them. (You lucky ducks!)  I used to be personally responsible for 300 personal gifts and another 200 corporate gifts in addition to my regular monthly responsibilities. I hated the holidays. And now, to the utter dismay of my teenage daughter, I can honestly say I loathe the mall, and see shopping in Beverly Hills as a sentence worst than the plague. But I digress.

Here are the lists I keep which I do update throughout the year.

Suggested Additions List

           This is the list we start out with of who has come into my employers life the past year that may go onto any of the lists below. Maybe the past year they were in construction and have a contractor or subcontractor to add, have a new employee, someone in the family has a new baby, or if they are in the movie industry, they have a new movie family depending on which project(s) they are working on at that time.

 Christmas Gift List

This is a database that lists the names, relationships (vendor, family, friend), level of gift designated (small, med, large), card message, method of delivery (local or shipping, hand deliver or runner), what was given the years prior and who is handling the purchase.

Christmas Gift List for the Gift Buyer

The same as above but additions are updated (in red) with the date of the change, has addresses and phone numbers (for deliveries), and the method of delivery is important so they know if they are gift wrapping for shipping or hand delivery, shows the date I want the gifts received, and after the holidays lists the final costs of each gift including delivery (for tax purposes later).

 Christmas Card List (Personal)

This database contains the name, address, relationship and if they will also receive a gift or donation to a charity on the recipient’s behalf. Usually everyone on the Christmas gift list is on one of the holiday card lists. (Note on card lists: if your printer is busy to get to the fancy 4-color card you’re printing, try to get the envelopes printed in advance so you can start addressing. Usually they always have a press running black ink. Back in the day a calligrapher had to have them weeks in advance. Now we label or laser print them but the sooner the better. Stuffing is the easy part.)

 Christmas Card List (Business)

This database contains the name, address, relationship and each will usually receive a gift card inserted in their holiday card letting them know a donation has been made to a charity on their behalf.

Employee Bonus Lists (coordinate getting the checks w/the gifts and cards)

This lists the employee, relationship and amount they will receive as a bonus (at least amount equal to one weeks salary), and what they received years prior.

So you can see, the gift season is ongoing and really begins long before September. For example, the charity has to be picked, charity cards designed and printed, monetary amount designated to donate, photos taken for personal holiday cards, addresses accurate, calls made to find out who is in town and who isn’t, corporate and office gifts that are perishable coordinated for delivery a week before their holiday closure, and we aren’t even talking about the personal gift buying yet!

The most important gifts you will buy will be for your employer’s immediate family and the people your employer works for. I recommend paying attention to the gifts your employer gives for birthdays (the monthly birthday list will be discussed in a later blog) as well as honing a taste for what the individuals close to them like. If you don’t know them personally, they have an assistant who can clue you into if they collect anything, have a favorite artist, author, wine, etc. Successful gift buying is your ability to pay attention to what people like and not what you want to give. (Gift buying blog to come.)

One thing I can recommend now that I have a little distance between myself and being on the exhausting front lines of the season is to enjoy the ambiance. As much as I don’t like Beverly Hills, even I must admit, there is such beautiful scenery and spirit in Beverly Hills and in all the shopping outlets that is not there at any other time of the year–trust me it isn’t! The holiday music is playing, the air is crisp, the retail people seem nicer, and the decorations are bright, sparkling and inviting.  Like everything else in life, stop, take a breath and appreciate it.


Employment Contracts & Confidentiality Agreements

November 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

When you work for celebrities and high net worth individuals most likely you will be asked to sign an employment contact and/or confidentiality agreement. It is perfectly normal and expected you will sign a document promising to never divulge your work, project content and employer to anyone.

Now, I am guilty of blindly signing a confidentiality agreement without reading it because I knew it would never have to be enforced. And usually, most of the language is standard and customary…but beware, I have also seen some real doozies!

I once saw an employment contract that said if the company wanted to fire me, they did not need to give me any notice. But if I wanted to quit, I had to give 1 months notice or forfeit pay equal to one month. Talk about fuzzy math?? (We changed it to reflect that we both had to give 2 weeks notice with no monies forfeited.)

I also read a confidentiality agreement that said if I was suspected of breaching confidentiality I would have to pay my legal fees and that of the employer to prove me guilty and/or clear my name. Suspected? (We removed the word “suspected,” and replaced it with “convicted.”) We should’ve replaced it with crazy.

There was one who wanted to charge me any damages the person felt to their character or career (still not sure how they would quantify that??) to me if I was found selling stories to the press. Now I would not sell any stories to the press so even though I could be on the hook for an unknown amount they decided to put on me, this particular one didn’t matter because it was never going to happen. (Did that mean if an actor making 10 mil a movie could no longer work because I sold a story I would be on the hook for 10 mil??? Good luck with that).

Bottom line, like any legal document that you must sign, read it with common sense and have a professional read it too.

Handling Bad Behavior

November 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

If I had to say I had any regrets as a personal assistant for 23+ years, it is the fact that I put up with people behaving badly and made them think it was okay, condoning it by acceptance. When I say bad behavior, it is frankly, a understatement to the 10th degree! Now that I am older and more experienced, and definitely, more confident in my position, I will not tolerate anyone disrespecting me.

Now let’s face it, you won’t have a job for very long if you make your employer wrong, humiliated, or if they think you have nothing but distain for them. But how do you do your job when you do? After all, not every day is going to be easy.

What I found is when I look at all the circumstances of what made them react there is usually some fear behind their reaction or behavior—fear from not knowing what they think they should, fear that they won’t be respected if they don’t seem to be in control, fear of leprauchauns…who knows? All I know is I could usually see a pattern in why they got upset and how they handled it. And while I didn’t feel sorry for them, I also learned to distance myself from the outcome, not being personally affected emotionally. I found the best way to handle an outburst was dead silence. By remaining silent until the tirade is over, I don’t condone, don’t outwardly disagree, I just observe. And you know what? It is like a child who’s tantrums no longer get a reaction. There is no fun in it. And I no longer felt like a participant in their bad behavior. By not reacting I could live with myself and yes, they may want to find someone else who reacts in the manner they are seeking.

So make sure you set your boundaries early on in a job. What applies best is the old saying, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I apply that to bad behavior. The first time your boundaries are challenged, the monster has raised its ugly head and now you know what you’re up against. Now you can make a decision on how you want to handle it should it happen again. When things calm down you can have the conversation about what happened and how you were made to feel uncomfortable or disrespected. Maybe it can be a productive conversation? At the very least, they have been warned, right? So now, when it happens again, you have to enforce your decision, whatever that is. And no one will be surprised when you leave since you were clear on your boundaries.

You see, jobs will come and go but me, myself and I are together for the long haul.

Confidentiality, Confidentiality, Confidentiality…and did I mention Confidentiality?

November 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

You know, the quickest thing to get you fired in this business is a breach of your employer’s confidentiality. The quickest thing to get appreciation is keeping your employer’s secrets. Common sense right?

Your job as an assistant to a celebrity draws a lot of attention to you. People are curious and have questions. And there are plenty of magazines willing to pay you for those secrets you keep. Have you ever heard the phrase, “you’ll never work in this town again?”  Well remember it. Not only will your fellow assistants want nothing to do with you if you are a blabbermouth, no employer will ever want you within 5 miles of them.

Remember, all that attention you’re getting is not about you. Be careful who you speak to and especially who you let into your employer’s home. The simple, easy, and truthful response to curious people is, “I cannot discuss my employer. I have confidentiality agreement.” The insatiable media and curious questions will always be there and remember, it is insatiable. So don’t go down that road and you won’t find yourself regretting it.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

November 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Okay, at the risk of sounding like my father, I hope you sincerely heed this warning—don’t reinvent the wheel. So many personal assistants are afraid to ask questions because they don’t want everyone to be aware they don’t know something, after all, our employers come to us for solutions. But it is so much better to let them know, “I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you asap,” than to pretend or worst yet, to lie. You will paint yourself into a corner and lose credibility doing either. People respect that you can “man up” to not knowing and that you are resourceful enough to find out. Say this with me, “I can’t know everything but I know how to find out.”

This is where your contacts, friends, co-workers and vendors serve as valuable support. After all, it is rare that you are encountering a situation that hasn’t been dealt with before. Don’t start from scratch. There are ways to get the information and remain confidential.

For example, a client of mine was going to be shooting a movie out of town and we were trying to keep the location as confidential as possible of where the family would be living and there was a lot of buzz about it already in the press. But I really needed to find out where to source items for the home in this area before arriving. Rather than hunker down on the computer and research blindly, here are just some of my options that I used:

  1. Asked other assistants who traveled to this area who understood confidentiality
  2. Asked the scouts in the production office for help
  3. Called the concierge at a high-end hotel in the area (or the nicest hotel in the area) and asked for references for the items I needed. They are used to like clientele and understand the level of quality I was looking for.
  4. Called the Chamber of Commerce in that area and got more information to see if it is consistent with other recommendations

Any of these options did not expose my client or situation and saved me the hours of research and gave me the confidence I needed to give my clients the information  they needed.

And as always, my rule is if you get the same information/recommendation from two or more trusted resources, that is usually your answer.

Enjoy the hunt!



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