Event Management: Ain Deheb Bensenouci
Ain Deheb Bensenouci, Events Programme Manager, Penguin Random House.
Ain Deheb Bensenouci has been the Events Programme Manager at Penguin Connect, part of Penguin Random House, since October 2019. She previously worked at Oxford University Press as their Senior Academic Partnership Manager. Ain has also been heavily involved with the Society of Young Publishers (SYP), initially as their Events Coordinator and then as the UK Chair of the SYP in 2018.
Ain was named one of The Bookseller’s Rising Stars in 2018 and is also part of Team Unplugged, who run BookMachine’s Publishing Events. Alongside this, Ain also runs a successful blog, YouTube channel and bookstagram account where she offers publishing insights and advice to publishing hopefuls via her new series #PublishingNotes.
The Publishing Post asked her how she managed to adapt to the new virtual normal.
How have you found working from home in a job that thrives on human contact?
It’s been challenging! I was lucky to have already forged strong relationships with our colleagues in our publishing divisions, our clients and many brilliant authors who have been absolute champions throughout this very unsettling time. Having said that, at the very beginning nobody expected this to last for as long as it did so my biggest priority was to make sure I could effectively communicate virtually. I tried to over-communicate externally with our clients and streamline the conversation internally to make sure the division knew what Penguin Connect was working on. It was more difficult on a personal level than it was from a professional point of view. My previous position as a field sales rep trained me well to be able to communicate virtually whilst travelling, but as someone who loves to connect with others it was, and still is, pretty tough.
What are the essential tools/software you have had to use in your career?
I have used many different digital tools and software in my career, from CRM to stock management, but this year it’s been all about virtual platforms. I have tested quite a few and worked with different clients who all have preferences on what platform to use to run our events, most of which are closed doors and therefore need to be very secure. Some platforms I’ve worked with more recently are BlueJeans, Hopin, Microsoft Teams and, of course, Zoom.
What skills are necessary to do your job?
When it comes to events, it’s important to be organised, but also to keep calm under pressure and be a good problem solver. Because anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, you need to be able to sort things out swiftly and with a smile. In my current role, however, I work on both account management and event programming, which means that I work directly with our clients to ‘sell’ the programmes. When it comes to sales, it’s all about relationships and understanding your clients’ needs.
How do you keep focused when things take unexpected turns?
I never expect things to go as planned, so that helps. I’ve learned that having a million back up plans only helps you so much (though I still like to have a few up my sleeve). What I do when something doesn’t go according to plan is to look at it as objectively as possible. I take a step back and then re-assess the situation. When something doesn’t go according to plan, you can either focus on what’s gone wrong or on what opportunities have come up that weren’t there before. I like to focus on the opportunities, it makes it easier to move forward with a positive mindset.
Will hybrid events become the new normal as lockdown restrictions begin to ease?
Hybrid events will most certainly become more frequent, but they were always there. Many events already had live streaming incorporated to reach a wider audience, but now we’re exploring even more with the different platforms and tech. It will be interesting to see what formats we end up with.
Will paid-for events survive post COVID-19?
Of course, they will. There are many different kinds of events and to be honest, I don’t see why any events should be created for free (with very few exceptions). The costs associated with event planning are still there, even when it comes to virtual ones. We need to move away from thinking that experiences and content should be free. Art, in all its forms, deserves to be paid for.
Can virtual events still seek partners or sponsors?
Yes, there will be just different types of agreements in place. For example, for live events and conferences turned virtual, there may be the need to explore inventive ways to make sure the sponsor and partners are visually present during the event. There are new platforms for multi-stream events who allow the organisers to brand different rooms/screens or to even have an exhibitor area. Ultimately, it depends on the specific partnership.
People often talk about author care during physical events, could you give examples? And how is it different for virtual events?
Author care comes in many forms, from negotiating the best deal for them, to making sure they are happy with the format and questions, to arranging their travel and accommodation.
They are individual people with individual needs, so taking some time to understand these ahead of the event is crucial to make sure we can support them in any way necessary. The same is true of virtual events, though instead of arranging travel and accommodation, we schedule some platform training and make sure they know we’ll be with them every step of the way, even if remotely.