When Lisa Ditchburn tells people what she does for a living, she is often asked if she wears a sparkly spandex leotard to work. “Magician’s assistant” certainly sounds like a fun, if somewhat frivolous, role. “It’s a conversation starter,” she comments. However, in the four years she has spent at Marvin’s Magic as PA to founder Marvin Berglas, she has proved it’s not all fun and games and managed to gain his trust to the extent that she now oversees key company accounts, including Harrods, Hamleys, John Lewis and Tesco, as well as buyers in the US.
So it isn’t all waving wands and pulling rabbits out of hats then? “I see Marvin as the MD who happens to be a magician,” she smiles. “He steers the company, is very brand conscious and is extremely specific about the direction the business takes. He’s aware that the appearance of the products and tricks we sell are crucial and talks about the employment of ESP – Entertaining Sales Presentations.”
While Marvin ensures the company stays centre stage with his showmanship, Lisa’s background has led her to become closely involved with the retail accounts. She spent 12 years running her own business, a marketing database, before deciding she wanted a change. When she saw the opening at Marvin’s Magic she was sceptical. “Now, I’m proud to be Marvin’s PA,” she says, although she admits to not having much interest in what goes on behind the scenes. “I am impressed by magic, but tend not to want to know how it’s done – it kills the mystique.”
She has, however, become ensconced in the magic industry. Marvin is closely linked with other well-known magicians such as Derren Brown and Dynamo. David Copperfield once called the office and Lisa had to hurriedly track Marvin down to call him back. Alongside private appearances and booked shows, he isalso one of the resident magicians at Arsenal FC, providing entertainment in the exclusive match hospitality areas. As a huge fan of the team, this has given Lisa the opportunity to meet some of the players.
Although she appreciates the occasional brush with a superstar as a perk, Lisa also knows this is the right role for her. “I like working closely with the owners of a business. It’s a very demanding job, but I’m willing to put in the time to get the work done.” She now has her own assistant to help her deal with aspects of admin and Marvin’s travel schedule, which sees him visiting New York, Dubai, India and even Russia throughout the year.
Lisa feels that all PAs have certain innate characteristics, such as the ability to always put the needs of their boss first, but what about the retail and accounts side of the business? “Because it’s so full on, the last thing I want is to go to night school after I’ve finished for the day. I do the odd course as a way to separate from my work and turn off,” she explains.
She was also instrumental in bringing the Mizz Magic side of the brand to life. Both Marvin and Lisa saw a gap in the market for a girls’ range of magic and Lisa worked with Marvin and the company designer to make an alternative product for young girls. “I was working with two men, so I had to help them,” she jokes. Although the content of the products doesn’t vary a lot, girls absolutely love that they can have their own pink and sparkly versions of the tricks. They don’t sit back and wait for further inspiration, she adds. “It’s been a couple of years since Mizz Magic came out, so we will continue to improve the kits.”
Lisa hasn’t yet become a fully-fledged magician herself. “I’m learning about using the products and getting more confident.” She adds that it’s difficult to learn from scratch when you have a professional looking over your shoulder. But there is no smoke-and-mirrors trickery to her success – the magic is in the hard work she puts in every day.
A DAY IN THE LIFE
6am I get up to do some training at the gym – I previously tried to go after work but it was too difficult after a long day, so this works much better for me.
8am My day will start at our head office in Markyate in Hertfordshire.
I deal with any emails that have come in overnight from international clients. There may also be some appearance enquiries for Marvin to perform at weddings and parties. As his time isn’t cheap, these will be quite high-profile clients.
After an hour or so dealing with emails I will usually prepare for a meeting with Marvin. If he’s not coming in to the office I meet him in London.
2pm A typical meeting will involve me showing Marvin product samples or new prototypes. Then we visit the Hamleys store or head office to meet up with the demonstration manager; Hamleys has a team of more than 10 employees who show off the products. We might also visit Harrods, where Marvin’s Magic is also on sale..
If I don’t go to London there will be a team meeting at the Markyate office between finance, production and sales. The rest of the day will then be taken up with administration, such as sending samples internationally, plus liaising with merchandise planners, buyers or designers.
Marvin comes into the office for two or three days every week and will end up staying until 7pm, so I make sure I’m available. If he isn’t there we’ll talk on the phone several times.
7pm My day has normally finished, but as the business is international we have to be flexible and be prepared to work until the job is done.