How This Condé Nast Producer Leveraged Her Elevator Pitch into an Amazing Career
If you're anything like us, you spend a lot of time catching up with viral videos. While a lot of our time spent on YouTube or Facebook Live is not productive, occasionally we come across a video that inspires, motivates, and empowers us. This was definitely the case when we saw this viral video of two best friends teaching each other about the harm of self-shaming. You probably recognize Tiffany Bender as one of the stars of this video — but she's so much more than one of the faces of a viral trend.
Not only is Tiffany the founder of a non-profit called Y.U.N.G. Harlem, but she's also a senior producer at Condé Nast Entertainment, where she produces content for some of the world's best-known magazines and collaborates with many of her favorite brands. Today we're talking about her many passions and how she created her dream career!
Name: Tiffany Bender
Location: Harlem, New York
Current Title/Company: Senior Producer, Condé Nast Entertainment
Education: BS Communication and Rhetorical Studies, Syracuse University; MA Television, Radio and Film, Syracuse University
What was your first job out of college and how did you land it?
While I was in my final semester at Syracuse University I applied to all of the cool production jobs, but nothing was happening. I come from a hard-working family, so sitting at home and waiting to get called for a job wasn’t an option. Walking from my house on 96th Street to 34th Street with a stack of resumes in my bag, I’d stop in every store where I liked to shop. I finally got my first job at ALDO Shoes as a Manager Trainee.
I ran into MTV personality Sway Calloway on the elevator. I gave him my best elevator pitch and the next day I interviewed, was hired on the spot, and put to work immediately.
One of the producers at the "Wendy Williams Show" went to Syracuse and I landed an internship at the show as her personal intern. She told me, “You’re going to sit in my office. Come in here first thing every day and you’re going to knock off a list of things before you leave.” When the show launched the segment "Wendy’s Next Great Voice" during TV’s busiest time of the year called sweeps week, my supervisor allowed me to do basically all of the casting for it by myself. To this day she is one of my biggest champions, and I feel very lucky to have had her support so early on.
Around that time, I visited my brother at his apartment on Fifth Avenue and I ran into MTV personality Sway Calloway on the elevator. I gave him my best elevator pitch and he gave me his manager’s contact information. The next day I interviewed for his radio show, was hired on the spot and was put to work immediately.
All of a sudden I had two internships and a full-time job. I was working seven days a week on top of running my non-profit.
featured above, founders of Y.U.N.G. Harlem
Tell us about starting your non-profit, Y.U.N.G. Harlem, while still a student.
In the summer of 2008, my best friend Alize and I were back in Harlem after our first year of college. We were driving to a cookout off of 125th Street, which is like the Times Square of Harlem, and we heard gunshots. The traffic was at a standstill, there were cops everywhere and literally hundreds of teenagers were running up and down the streets. When we pulled over in front of the New York State Building, we saw a 15-year-old boy who had been shot lean over one of the benches and die.
When something is truly, innately your passion, you find the time.
Later, it was reported that 14 kids were shot and killed that day, the youngest being 13 years old.
We went back to my house and cried. I remember thinking, “Why does this have to happen in our community?” That was the start of our non-profit, Y.U.N.G. Harlem, which stands for Youth Under New Guidance. By providing hands-on, positive leadership, Y.U.N.G. Harlem encourages young Black students in and around Harlem to consider higher education and to pursue solid careers.
You’re actively involved in the non-profit you founded as well as in your career as a producer at Condé Nast. How do you manage two such time-consuming roles?
The thing I learned is that when something is truly, innately your passion, you find the time. Alize and I never had the luxury of taking a break from Y.U.N.G. Harlem and I can’t say that I had a magical schedule that made it all work. This non-profit is something that I feel like I’ve been called to do. I was a junior in college using my tuition money to put towards our non-profit’s scholarship fund.
Now we’re starting to restructure Y.U.N.G. Harlem. The NYPD and our civic leaders in the community have done such a tremendous job lowering gun violence in the community amongst the youth. Harlem has grown so much and we want to continue to grow with it, so we are constantly asking ourselves, “What are some of the ways that we as adult women could tangibly and effectively see change in our community?”
Let’s go back to the beginning. How did your college experience lead you to your first job, and how did your first job lead you to your next job?
As an undergrad at Syracuse I studied Communication Global Studies and had aspirations of becoming a lawyer. I eventually shifted gears and ended up going to grad school immediately afterward, which I think is one of the only regrets of my career. I graduated in May at 21 years old and started up grad school in July, and I don’t think I took it as seriously as I should have. A lot of my peers decided to take time off or started working right away, where I just floated into more schooling because I couldn’t find a job. When I talk to students in college now I tell them to wait to go to grad school.
I entered into the graduate Broadcast program because I wanted to be an on-air personality. The program at Syracuse focuses on news and research, and at first, I was unhappy because news can be depressing and I wasn’t really feeling it — I wanted to cover entertainment. One of my friends who was involved in a counterpart of my program called Television, Radio, and Film (TRF) said that she could make a show for me. We created a show called “Breakfast with Tiffany” where I would go all over Syracuse talking to restaurant owners or interviewing talent on campus.
When I landed my first paid job in the industry, I couldn’t believe that I was getting health insurance and a 401K. I thought:
“I’m grown! Honey, I’m alive!”
While my friend was putting my show together, I watched her work and admired the art of producing. A producer is responsible for everything from top to bottom. I transferred to the TRF program halfway through the year and completed a whole year of coursework in one semester despite the doubts of my professors.
When you were growing up, did the word “producer” stand out to you? Did you ever imagine you would make a living doing what you do now?
My childhood nickname was “HollyWould” and my brother got me a jersey with that name on the back. Early on, I knew that I would be in entertainment, but I had no idea in what capacity. Originally I wanted to be in front of the camera and that’s where I thought life would start, stop, and end for me. Fast forward to years later when I watched my friend produce my show at Syracuse. It was then that I knew I wanted her job.
I don’t even think I knew what it meant to be a producer until I started working for the conflict resolution talk show, "The Trisha Show," which was my first paid job in the industry. I remember I couldn’t believe that I was getting health insurance and that I had a 401K. I thought, “I’m grown! Honey, I’m alive!” Working for that show was the first time I struggled with work/life balance. I stepped in the office at 8:00 a.m. and sometimes wouldn’t leave until 10:00 p.m., but that was the job for me because I realized the importance of the way you treat your talent as a producer. I’d be asking people who had never been on a plane before and who never thought that they would be on TV to share some of the most intimate moments of their lives with me. As a producer, you need to know how to talk to people, from the people in the middle of nowhere to the Beyoncé’s and Jay Z’s of the world. You have to have respect for people and for their stories. I am so grateful for that job and the influence it’s had on me
What’s the most exciting part of your job, and how does it change from day to day?
I get to work with brands that, as a kid, I would make collages from their magazines. I would inhale Teen Vogue, cutting out the outfits and stapling articles together. I remember when Glamour came out with their “Women of the Year” issue, I was in ninth grade when I read that article. They announced that they were giving out scholarships to college juniors who were making a difference in their community. I had the article on my wall at the time and it’s disgusting looking now, but I still have it. Before Y.U.N.G. Harlem even existed, I had my mind set on getting that scholarship once I was old enough. Now to be working with Glamour on a daily basis feels surreal. Maybe I didn’t get the scholarship, but I get to help pass on the stories that Glamour makes on a daily basis.
In the same day at work, I could produce a story at GQ, then have to go to Pitchfork, then go to Wired, and finish off the day working with The Scene. Every brand has such a unique identity that sometimes I feel like I’m 50 different people in one day. It’s fun and it’s crazy.
Your job at Condé Nast focuses heavily on Facebook Live. How do you see this new medium functioning in the future, and what is its staying power?
When I first got to Condé I started working for The Scene, a hub for the best digital series, shorts and documentaries for brands across the Condé Nast portfolio. At The Scene, I was asked to help create 25 live videos per week. At the time, people were shooting videos on their phones and the production quality wasn’t "all that." Condé Nast has quality brands — you can’t ask Vogue to shoot a video on a cell phone.
You need to have that hustler’s drive and that ‘go and get it’ attitude.
Condé was relaunching The Scene and honestly, before Facebook Live, people didn’t know much about it. We had the chance to set the market for Facebook Live and get the production quality up. Today, we have the site pushing out at least three funny, cute videos every single day. You can’t go a day without seeing something from us. We relaunched an entire brand for little to no cost while building up a huge following and getting other brands to get excited about using Facebook Live.
Facebook is moving light speed ahead of other social networks — it went from being a source of keeping up with friends and family to a source of quality television and video. I’m very interested in seeing the opportunities between Condé and Facebook and just the way Facebook will grow in general.
Tell us about the new show you’re producing, #AskAuntie. You recently sold it to CentricTV, which was a massive career accomplishment.
Whenever my mom, Auntie Landa and Auntie Fran get together they are always a hoot — and a hot mess. At family functions, the three of them used to bully me into a corner and say, “You’re a producer! When are we going to get our reality show?” Over the past year as a side project, I’ve been filming episodes of #AskAuntie, a series with my mom and two aunts sharing their ridiculous and hilarious perspectives over glasses of wine. Word of mouth and shares on Facebook gave the show some traction.
My family was on vacation in Paris and I brought my mom and aunt out for drinks with one of my friends who happened to be in Paris. My friend showed up at the restaurant with the Executive Producer of Centric TV. My mom and aunt’s antics had the man leaning over his chair and belly laughing. He said, “You need a show.”
A week after we got home from Paris, the Executive Producer emailed me and said, “Let’s meet and get this show on air.” Two weeks after that we were shooting. I got very lucky working with a network that believes in my vision.
What skills do you believe you possess that set you up to succeed in a fast-paced work environment?
I am from Harlem and the things we love most are dressing well and hustling hard, whether that be selling bootleg DVDs in a nail salon or senior producing at Condé Nast. You need to have that hustler’s drive and that "go and get it" attitude. When I was a kid, I always had to be moving because it’s just this fire that lights inside of me. I think that’s how I am able to manage all of the stuff that I do. Being from Harlem plays a very important role in my spirit. If you look at the way Diddy moves, that is a typical archetype for somebody from Harlem. You have to do it all, you have to do it well, and you have to be well dressed while you’re doing it.
Tell us about your most viral video, “Best Friends Get Brutally Honest About Their Bodies,” which you filmed with your real best friend.
Alyssa and I met at Condé and we instantly connected because we are Yin and Yang. I don’t always recognize when I’m overworking or underappreciated, whereas Alyssa is very self-aware and she taught me what it means to take care of yourself at work. We got close and even though Alyssa has always been very open and honest about her eating disorder with me, I’ve never spoken to anybody about the struggles that I’ve faced. I’ve always thought to myself, “You don’t get to have problems. You don’t get to feel bad. You don’t get to have anxiety.”
One day Alyssa approached me about making a video where we would say the negative things that we said to ourselves out loud to each other. I was expecting to do a comedy bit that day since The Scene is known for its comedic videos, but when she pitched me the idea I instantly loved it. It ended up being the first serious video we ever shot for The Scene. We filmed it with the head of Digital Video at Condé Nast, who is this big, burly, serious director. Once we finished shooting he came up to us with tears in his eyes and said, “Never do that to me again.” That’s when we knew we had something.
I had never verbalized those things out loud. Because Alyssa and I had built such a great friendship, after we shot the video we thought “If it’s so painful to say such terrible things to each other, why are we saying those things to ourselves?” We went back to film a reflection and that conversation was necessary to take the video to the next level. It brought the video home.
Why do you think this video was important for people to see, and why do you think it so resonated with people (women in particular)?
This video was released at the perfect time. I think that it resonated with women in particular because we are in the heart of a Team Estrogen movement and we recognize what things we can never say to women. We know how to be more supportive of our friends when they need it, but sometimes we have a hard time supporting ourselves. We may have girl power, but what about “me power?” There are times when I may be telling Alyssa, “Girl, those jeans look good on you today,” while thinking, “Damn, I wish I was 10 pounds lighter.” We all need to stop that.
It seems like you’re constantly working on a myriad of projects. What kinds of things do you have coming up in the new year?
We just sold 10 #AskAuntie episodes to CentricTV and we recently signed a talent management deal, so the Aunties will be going on tours and hosting cool events outside of Centric. That is going to be a huge priority for me. At Condé Nast, we are going to continue to grow. Right now we’re interested in diving deeper into 360 media and virtual reality.
In media, we direct the narrative for the entire world, so if we start to be more inclusive in a time like this, it will be reflective in the way people are speaking and engaging.
The world of television and Internet video is constantly growing and evolving. How do you stay up on trends, news, and updates in your field?
I read. Every morning when I wake up I read Deadline and Variety to get a feel for what’s going on. I look at all of the brands at Condé and see what they’re up to. At work, we get Executive Report emails that let employees know what the company’s goals are for the week, and that influences my goals because I need to make sure that I’m doing my part.
Outside of that, I think that it’s very important to help increase the diversity at Condé Nast. I joined the Diversity Task Force at Condé, which is one of Anna Wintour’s chief priorities for 2017, and there I head up Business Development and Partnerships. That is going to be equally as important to me as my job as a producer, because we need to start having more conversations about diversity. In media, we direct the narrative for the entire world, so if we start to be more inclusive in a time like this, it will be reflective in the way people are speaking and engaging.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
I would tell my 23-year-old self that patience is equally as important as humility. I think that I overly humbled myself by working in a shoe store and through the work I was doing in my community. I’ve always been afraid to be as boastful as others in my career path might be. Though I learned that humility is crucial, there were a lot of times when I wasn’t as patient with myself as I could have been. That could have contributed a large portion to all of the anxiety that I’ve dealt with.
The best quote I ever heard is, “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” I find myself going back to that quote often.
Tiffany Bender is The Everygirl…
Favorite subject you’ve ever covered?
My favorite could be a video that we released after the inauguration about how women and their bodies will be affected by the new administration. Before writing it with one of our fantastic editors, I had no idea the level of stuff that women are up against right now. I was asked if I was OK with being the face of the video because of how touchy the subjects are, but I wanted to do it because the things that I say in it are important.
Honestly, I think that because of this project, my boyfriend has been permanently converted into a feminist. He usually likes to stay out of politics but for him, hearing what I had to say brought into his scope what women across the board face. He was on set when we were shooting and he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. I might be lucky that I have insurance and I don’t have to worry about some of the things that were brought up, but other people do. I’m happy with how it came out.
One thing people would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m actually very shy. It’s happened more recently to me, and I have to coach myself before going to a party or a networking event. Even if you’re dope as hell, you don’t want to come across as too strong.
I’m still learning to shake that fear of what I’m going to come across like. I know that I’m a good person and a kind person — my accolades and accomplishments don’t diminish any of those things. I think it’s a women’s issue in general.
Best way to blow off steam?
I’m still figuring that out. I used to love meeting with my girlfriends for a drink, but now one of my goals is to put my health first. You can’t pour from an empty cup. A couple glasses of wine every night will not help me deal with my stress and anxiety, so I’m trying to find the most effective ways for me to relax. One week it might mean working out and the next week it could mean binge-watching something on Netflix and not feeling guilty about it.
Instagram or Snapchat?
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Obviously, I would love to have lunch with Oprah but I feel like that’s in the cards for me. In a couple years that may actually happen, so I don’t want to waste my wish.
It would have to be a toss up between Ava DuVernay and Michelle Obama. Ava is so in line with my life in entertainment and Michelle is in line with my life in philanthropy. I’ve got questions for both of them.