Polina Akulenko, a very skilled fighter on our team, tells how to lose your voice but never collapse, how to boost your zen and protect your nervous system during the long years of work in the event management, what democracy is and what the advantages of working from home are. Polina knows from experience that you can’t just leave the Travelpayouts team. She also shares a playlist and a booklist for when you feel melancholy.
- I’ve always loved nature and wanted to be an ecologist when I was little. I used to write abstracts on global warming. I also admired Greenpeace and planned on joining their team, not realizing then that their actions were quite controversial. After some time, I realised that ecology is more about chemistry than saving animals and decided to choose a humanitarian field of studies.
- Before joining Aviasales and Travelpayouts, I had only one experience doing something in the event industry. I prepared a booth for launching a project at the SXSW Conference in the United States. That experience definitely wasn’t what I was dreaming about. At that time, Aviasales had just opened the position of an event manager, and after I joined the team, this work was both new for me and the company. One of the first events I organized for Travelpayouts was the Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas in January 2015. We had the most noticeable stand in the summit, and it attracted all the attention we needed.
My role at Travelpayouts
- I organize events and make them compliant with the current goals of the company, so there is no magic.
- Extreme is the perfect word to describe a weekday of an event manager, and sometimes I think that this is exactly what I’m paid for. Even if everything seems to be ideally prepared, something might still go wrong. For example, a monsoon starting a day before an open-air event (we needed to drop everything and build a roof), or the night before the conference, assemblers would damage a very expensive screen and try to pin it on others, something would break or someone might even get banned from entering the country. These kinds of thing happen all the time.
- I remember very well my first event was in the city of Kazan (Russia) in September 2013. We were the general sponsor of the conference, and the scene was specifically decorated to showcase our brand. The night before the conference, I came to check on assemblers and saw that the background fabric with our logo was improperly placed so that the plane – our logo – looked ugly to say the least. At that time, I thought that my career with Travelpayouts was over. Anyway, the fabric was replaced, and after that I became less sensitive to such things. To work in the event industry, you need to switch off the emotions, otherwise it is going to be hard.
- My work includes diverse tasks. As for people working in accounting or banking, I admire and fear them at the same time, I couldn’t manage to do what they do. Naturally, my tasks are pretty much the same for every event, but the environment is always different, and it excites me a lot.
- Jetradar and Travelpayouts don’t have a special events team. There is just me.
- The process is quite simple. I meet customers from various industries bringing different products, and we decide together what the final goal is and the desired outcome of our event or events. Then, I get to work.
- I receive different requests from the team. Anything from “We are entering a new market and need to find some specific people,” to “Next year, we’ll need a booth for ITB,” and “I want to organize a conference specifically for Travelpayouts.”
- If an event is going to be huge and/or the time frame is tight, we involve more people from the team. For instance, while preparing for the Travelpayouts Affiliate Summit 2018, our awesome Ira Kotikova assumed responsibility for creating the content, which helped me a lot.
- Sometimes, we hire a temporary employee or collaborate with an agency. For example, this year, we have big plans for the Travelpayouts Affiliate Summit in May. And, we’re also preparing another event at the same time, so I guess we’ll have to hire someone to help us out. However, outsourcing to agencies is a rare thing, because we try to do everything ourselves.
- When planning a budget, we first decide on a desirable outcome of the upcoming event, and then think of how to do it. We calculate an approximate cost, and if it is too expensive, we cut something. For example, to make our next TPAS as cool and informative as the previous one and avoid repetition, we decided that Ivan Baidin would be getting on stage directly from a helicopter. Then, we calculated the cost of our idea and understood that a hall with a built-in helicopter pad would be super expensive, and found another option.
- We learn from events of other companies by comparing the price of sponsorship/booth/sending a delegate and the overall profit from the event. Based on this calculation, we decide whether we need it or not.
- Some tasks haven’t changed for many years. For example, once every six months, I update the calendar of events for the next half of year according to the current tasks for every line of work. We decide on our participation in events, what we will tell the audience, etc.
- On my first day, I lost my voice. I flew to Phuket specifically to meet the team, and it just so happened that some of my friends were on the island as well. We had nothing better to do than to meet in a noisy Bangla Road, which turned out to be a bad place for having a conversation, and I spent the following day using gestures instead of words in order to communicate with my new colleagues.
- Almost everything we do is created inside the company. I thought that it is quite common before, but then I realized that an event manager is usually a mediator between the marketing department and the agency. I came up with a metaphor of having an agency inside the company to describe my work.
- You don’t just leave this company. I tried that, but came back in one year.
- My husband says that I have a dream job, and maybe he is right. I have a lot of non-trivial tasks, the company is growing, we’ve established corporate rules, but we still have a low level of rigidities of work practices, which is a big plus. Sometimes, I would even favor to have less democracy inside the company.
- I have never faced gender discrimination at work, so I can’t say much about it other than I am aware of its existence in general. In some companies, women receive less pay because the management assumes that their female employees are supported financially by someone else. Fortunately, our company is different.
- I would like to refrain from sharing some of our corporate traditions.
The company plans
- This year, we decided to broaden our usual set of events and take part in travel expositions. The first one was ITB Berlin (we made a nice booth specifically for it), which brought us a number of useful meetings. Right now I see that we have set the right course, so we’ll just keep working in the same direction.
- In the autumn, we are holding our traditional Travelpayouts Affiliate Summit.
- I like that I work for the company whose services I used myself.
- I have a dog (a mixture of a beagle and a devil), and she helps me deal with stress and leave the house more often. When you need to organize two huge events at the same time and don’t have time to sleep or eat normally, it helps to spend one or two hours a day outside. Also, hugging your dog (or someone’s dog) washes away all sorrows.
Things I’d like to improve
- It is quite hard to calculate how an offline event efficient was, and it took me time to get over this. I used to work in online-marketing where you can calculate anything. Here, on the other hand, efficiency and performance are somewhat ephemeral. We were trying to come up with a way to quantify how well we do our job, but the efforts were fruitless. However, our team is growing, and soon we’ll be able to present our performance in numbers, and this type of approach would be good for business development.
- My job helps me become calmer and more well-adjusted every year.
- I have been working from home for six years, and it’s fine, I still smile. Every now and then, I feel like getting out of the house and meeting people, whether it is at an office, an event or a business trip. But despite that, I prefer to work remotely. It is hard for me to focus while in the office, so I go there only to learn more about the current state of affairs or to change the scenery.
- Remote work has one great disadvantage. It is never finished. As soon as I wake up in the morning, I check my email, and my working day starts right away.
Let’s get personal
- I have a degree in philology, so I am entitled to teach the Russian language, literature and English.
- I used to be so excited about traveling, but now I feel like the thrill is gone. I don’t dream of visiting any particular place anymore. Of course, I still have some destinations on my list like lake Baikal in Russia (because in the winter, this lake is incredibly beautiful. The water is so pure so that when it freezes, the ice looks like a natural masterpiece). We are going to visit the national parks of the United States during our next vacation.
- If one day aliens come and ask where to go to understand the human race better, I won’t recommend them any particular place, because people are the same everywhere. As for my personal life-changing experience, I was really impressed by Myanmar.
- I have never read a book or watched a film that would change my personality, but I still have a favorite book called “Moscow-Petushki” by Venedikt Erofeev. This is a rare example of when you read a book in high school and are so impressed that you keep reading it later.
- Among my recently read books, I can highlight the novel “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak and the novel “June” by Dmitry Bykov, and I don’t usually read non-fiction literature.
- I wouldn’t trust myself with choosing a playlist for a corporate party, but I will tell you the first three tracks that come to my mind (just in case, they are somewhat melancholy):
- Rolling Stones – You can’t always get what you want
- Red Hot Chili Peppers — Scar Tissue
- David Bowie — Under Pressure
- How I imagine my life in 10 years? I will definitely be doing something interesting.