Sam Saifer-Berngard of SKOOG Productions
Listing the accomplishments of 29-year-old Sam Saifer-Berngard is nothing short of an exercise in admiration. After seven years of expertly juggling the public relations, marketing, and events efforts at Chicago's Modern Luxury magazines like CS Magazine, CS Brides, and CS Interiors, Sam now holds the enviable position of Senior Marketing Director at the Windy City's newest PR firm, SKOOG Productions. In her new role, she manages the reputations of national fashion retailers such as LOFT by Ann Taylor, attends events around the city at least four nights a week, and finds herself regularly jetting around the country for work.
Not even a decade out of college, and this once-upon-a-time community reporter has also claimed the title of Chicago Brand Ambassador to BCBG, sits on The Joffrey Ballet Auxiliary Board, co-founded the exercising-meets-networking group Fit Club, and in a true pinch-me moment, rubbed elbows with the fashion elite—Max Azria and Marc Jacobs.
We visited the St. Louis native's stylish two-bedroom Bucktown condo where she and her new husband live (they were just married last fall). Lucky for us, the sharp, tenacious, and impassioned Sam opens up to The Everygirl about how she started out in the competitive world of magazines and worked vigorously to become one of Chicago's leading PR pros.
Full name: Samantha Saifer-Berngard
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with a minor in Art History from George Washington University
When and how did you discover your passion for media?
Ever since I could read, I was fascinated by fashion magazines! I read Seventeen, Cosmo, People—anything I could get my hands on! Even those tween mags that just show pictures of Hollywood hunks (that I used to tear out and post on my wall in middle school). In high school, I would steal my mom's Vanity Fair, and then of course, I do not ever miss an issue of Vogue, Elle, W, InStyle, etc. I have always loved the beautiful photographs and imagery in the magazines, as well as the content. I have always had such a passion to know everything that is happening not only in fashion but what is trending nationally and internationally in pop culture, the art world, media, politics, entertainment, etc. It has become a lot easier to get this information with online magazines, newsletters, blogs, and the like. I think I receive about 10 emails from WWD.com a day, and I read them all! I always knew that I wanted to work for a fashion magazine and that I wanted to write—it's so funny the career path that we all start out on and where it takes us.
Tell us a little about your internship experiences. How do you feel that interning helped you move forward in your professional career?
Interning is the #1 most important thing that anyone can do to get started in their career. It allows you to find out what you like and don't like before you even get into the real world - automatically making you one step ahead. I interned all through college at newspapers in St. Louis, People Magazine in DC and at Conde Nast in New York. I did everything from buying coffee for the office to steaming curtains for photo shoots at House & Garden. I even got to stalk celebrities at shopping malls for tiny blurbs on People.com. I will never forget when an editor told me to go to the New York Public Library to look through a 500 page book to find a specific quote and report back to her on what page number it was printed on... I did it all! And I loved it! Looking back, that was truly the best hands-on learning experience I have ever had.
What was your first job out of college? What do you feel contributed to you acquiring this position?
Truth be told, my first job was at a small little newspaper in the Chicago suburbs. It was the job that brought me to Chicago. I knew I wanted to write for a publication, and I also knew that a lot of reporters and editors have to start small. I took the job because it was a job. I was there for about two weeks before getting hired as the Executive Assistant at CS magazine. I put in my two weeks so I was there for a total of a month. I knew I was not happy driving to the suburbs every morning and working for CS felt like a dream job—no matter what capacity! I am grateful for the opportunity to work at the smaller newspaper though, because I ended up getting front page stories that contributed greatly to my writing portfolio. Every job counts! I think that my aggressive follow up at both the newspaper and definitely at CS helped me land the job. I pretty much rehearsed my entire interview with the Publisher of CS mag to the photo of him in the pub note—I went to sleep at night talking to the CS magazine! I think I had it in my eyes that I was not walking out of the office without a job offer, and I did get the offer on the spot!
You were promoted several times during your seven years at Modern Luxury. What enabled you to move upward so quickly?
Again, I was clear and aggressive about what I wanted. I did not let a year go by without re-evaluating my place in the company and taking it one step further. Modern Luxury is a wonderful place for young people and those who are young in their careers—they are all about internal promotions and working hard towards a great outcome. Title changes and promotions are always something they reward hard workers with! It's a really nice incentive and keeps everyone happy. That is why I was there for so long—every year was a new and different adventure in a new role. I always knew I had places to go and more importantly grow.
Ultimately, you became the Director of Marketing for all five of Modern Luxury’s Chicago publications. Can you tell us about this position? What were some of your responsibilities? What were the greatest rewards? The biggest challenges?
My position at the magazine was to oversee all of the events, public relations, and marketing initiatives for all five titles (CS, CS Brides, CS Interiors, Men’s Book Chicago, Front Desk Chicago). My job involved managing a team of three, managing client added value, as well as managing the magazine's reputation in the city through strategic partnerships and event sponsorships. We executed and/or supported about 180 events last year! That was no easy feat. The greatest reward of the job was making our clients happy. It's almost like giving birth to a creative concept or event idea—we created the concept, got all of the right partners involved and executed. At the end of the day, we created events, promotions and strategic partnerships out of nothing that in the end contributed greatly to the success of our clients (advertisers) and ultimately the magazine. There is nothing more rewarding than that!
I would have to say that another challenge that also became an award was managing a team. Delegating responsibilities is a huge challenge that a lot of managers struggle with. Building a successful team is probably the hardest thing to do at any company, however once they are in place—it is absolutely the most rewarding. I hired the former marketing manager when she was an intern in the design department. After working together for three years, she now got promoted to my old position as the Director of Marketing. I cannot think of anything that is more rewarding than helping to facilitate that kind of growth.
Tell us about your recent transition from CS to senior director of marketing at SKOOG Productions.
So in my efforts to become the next Anna Wintour, I learned that while I do love to write and I still love fashion magazines, what I love most about my career path is the marketing, PR, and events! Don't get me wrong, I will always be a magazine junkie and to be honest, keeping up with magazines is even more important in a PR role. At CS, I found that my biggest strengths were conceptualizing creative marketing strategies for clients and then executing those ideas and making them a reality. I love events, because I realized I was born to throw them! There is nothing more exciting than creating and executing the perfect event. Writing is still a huge part of what I do so I am very happy that I have my journalism background.
I guess for me, I love Chicago and did not want to leave (I just got married in the fall), and we love it here! Unfortunately, the opportunities for magazine jobs here are limited. I really wanted to take my career to the next level and work in a more national capacity by taking on clients in other cities. I basically wanted the New York fashion job here in Chicago, but really had no clue how to get here. When I met Melissa Skoog who just recently founded SKOOG Productions, she offered the full package by representing national fashion retailers throughout the country here in Chicago. Melissa's background is absolutely incredible: she has worked with all of the major magazines—Vogue, Elle, etc.—and was the vice president of Prada in the United States for 10 years. When I met her, I knew we were destined to work together. I find that I am challenged the most when I am surrounded by extremely inspirational people like Melissa, and now I am working with LOFT (owned by Ann, Inc) on opening 12 of their new stores throughout the country. I am doing exactly what I had aspired to without having to make the move. And now we just get to travel all over! I am loving it!
For many Everygirls out there, you have had the dream professional career. How did you make it happen?
It is a blessing and a curse but I am very critical of myself and my career. If there is ever a moment where I feel that I am not being challenged, then I panic. I am not sure where I picked this trait up from, but my drive for success is something that I have always had. Also, I try to make big decisions without double guessing myself. Since I made the decision to leave CS and work at SKOOG, I have not looked back. What is the point? Every experience—whether small, large, good or bad—contributes to who we are and should be looked at as a learning experience. And, if you don't like something, change it and don't be afraid. Did I mention how I was at my first job for two weeks before I put in my two weeks? Success is not easy—and is certainly not for the lazy.
What advice can you give Everygirls seeking employment in marketing/media/public relations?
A very wise person once told me that successful people are never comfortable with what they are doing—in order to be in a challenging, around-the-clock environment like that of marketing and PR—you have to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Make yourself uncomfortable by challenging yourself—even if the task seems nearly impossible. You can do it! You want to be the next Anna Wintour—go be her! Why not? The field of marketing, media, and PR is very exciting—constantly evolving—you have to really keep up and always push the envelope. There are new ideas at every turn!
What obstacles have you faced during your career and how were you able to overcome them?
Like I said before, there are times when I say to myself, Why don't I just throw in the towel and do something 'easier?' I don't have to be stressed all of the time. There are 9 to 5 jobs that are not so challenging and do not involve four events a week and working until midnight on Sunday. But then I really refer back to my own advice about how the truly successful people are never complacent. They push themselves and work for a successful end result. I think I would die of boredom if I had a typical job. Whenever I am faced with a task that just seems impossible, I like to step away from the task, clear my head, maybe dance around to some fun rap music, and come back to it and say, "Let's do this!"
You are also a Chicago Brand Ambassador for BCBG in Chicago. What a fabulous role! How did you land this opportunity?
It's so funny actually! I still don't really know! They called me and interviewed me ,and I was not sure what it was about. Then I sent in a photo and all of the sudden I was representing them in Chicago. It's been so much fun! We are on hiatus right now, but the clothes are fabulous and I got to go to New York Fashion Week last fall to meet Lubov and Max Azria. It's a fantastic company!
On top of everything else, you are also an entrepreneur! You co-founded Fit Club in Chicago which offers women in media and public relations the opportunity to network through fitness classes. What inspired you to start this business venture? Can you tell us a little bit out Fit Club?
Fit Club is honestly my release! My friend Stacy Levy and I were at a party once trying to come up with a date that worked for both of our crazy schedules to have dinner, and we were like, Wow! Why are we so busy? There is no time for friends, working out or eating healthy (especially with all of the 6pm - 8pm events we throw and go to). So we thought, let's make the time! We got a little group together of women who are in similar careers in public relations and media to try a new fun exercise class in the city, followed by a healthy dinner. It was so fun that we started doing it once a month! Equinox caught wind of the idea and ended up sponsoring us in January and treating us to dinner at NoMI. Now our Fit Club has 40 members and we have exercise places calling us all of the time to sponsor each month. It's amazing! Exercising has always been a huge part of my life, ever since high school when I played sports year-round. It's probably the only way that I can fully unwind and de-stress. I am so glad I found a way to enjoy it with some of my best friends and work colleagues!
Please share with us the process of starting Fit Club from the ground up. What should an Everygirl know about becoming her own boss? How did you recruit women and gyms to sign up?
It literally just started out as an idea. The difference is that we acted on the idea instead of just talking about it—no idea should be forgotten about! From there, it has just spread like wildfire.
You even find the time to give back to the community of Chicago by serving on the The Joffrey Ballet Auxiliary Board and are involved with Fashion Group International and Dress for Success. Then of course there are the number of events you attend week after week. How do you balance it all?
It's not easy—my calendar looks like a red pen exploded all over it. Sometimes it gives me insane anxiety, but I know myself and I know that if those red marks were not all over my calendar, that would make me even more anxious. I thrive on doing 10 things at once and having a million places to go. Sunday is my day of rest—that is the day, I make no plans except to cook dinner with my husband, drink red wine on the couch, and enjoy each other! I also do a lot of yoga. That hour is mine every day!
Describe a day in the life of Samantha. With so much going on, how do you stay balanced?
I like to start everyday with a yoga class or a run, the Today Show while I get ready so I feel connected and a really good cup of coffee (generally a latte from Starbucks). I am definitely a morning person. It's when I feel most alert, so I try to wake up as early as possible, so I can enjoy it! I read all of my favorite blogs, websites, etc. I love my morning time. It's like the calm before the storm. I also try to be somewhat regimented and routine in what I eat for breakfast and lunch because I find nothing else that happens throughout the day is expected nor can it be planned for. I need some routine in my life to keep me sane! I usually end the day with an event or plans with a friend and then my favorite time is when I get home to spend time with my hubby!
What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?
"Don't worry. Be happy!"
What are your top three commandments for professional fulfillment?
1. Set your goals high, even if they seem impossible to reach
2. You learn the most from your biggest failures—try everything!
3. Never lose sight of what you want. If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it!
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Enjoy this time because from here on out, you are going to pretty much be held accountable for everything you do in your career!
Any other words of wisdom for Everygirls out there?
Work should be fun! We graduate college and work such long hours that we essentially spend more time on this earth working than doing anything else. Make sure you are happy and love what you do! Life is too short not to.