Community Spotlight – Priya Narain, Events Sales Manager
By Frankie Fitch-Bunce
Priya Narain wears many hats. She is Events Sales Manager at KERB events, which platforms some of London’s most diverse, innovative street food businesses. She is also Co-Founder of two separate industry initiatives – Event First Steps, a non-profit organisation with a mission to help event industry newcomers, and Diverse Speaker Bureau, which platforms industry experts from diverse backgrounds. We spoke to Priya about working within the sector.
Frankie: How long have you worked in the hospitality and events industry?
Priya: I’ve been in the event industry for 9 years. I was made redundant from a career in travel in 2013. I thought about my next steps and what I liked about my role- customer engagement, planning the instore events. Next I did a course in event management which was a three month diploma that I passed with distinction. It gave me a little insight into the industry, what was available and what I could do next. In 2013 I got my first role in events as an intern. Being a 30-something year old intern wasn’t the best thing to do. It was a means to an end for me and luckily I had the support of my family from the financial side. I worked for a venue for 3 months and after that I joined their team full time for two years. It was great and a good introduction to the events industry. I learnt the full process from sales and initial conception of the event, all the way to the operational side.
After two years I realised I didn’t like the operational side as much as sales. All the people’s engagement is in sales and where my skill set lay from my previous career. I left to work at a catering company who catered for the events company I used to work with. That was really good, I absolutely loved it. I was the sales manager and it was precisely the kind of things I liked to do. From conceptualisation of the event, dealing with the client and obviously food tastings. I mean, who doesn’t like food tastings?
Then I was made redundant at the end of 2020; a casualty of the pandemic. Because of my contacts within the events industry I was very lucky to get a job with an event association. I focused on member engagement, looking after the social media and newsletters and just general engagement. I did that for 8 months and then this lovely position at KERB events came along. It really took me back to what I loved and enjoyed about the events industry. I’m now the Event Sales Manager at KERB events which see’s me dealing with clients and putting proposals together.
Frankie: As Event Sales Manager at KERB, what is your favourite thing about working in events centred around food?
Priya: When you’re planning an event, the memorable thing about an event is the food. Event planners don’t put as much effort into food as they do the venue or the production. Whereas people come away from an event discussing whether the food was good or bad. We need to put the same elements of theming, management and client expectation into food. Working with street food traders specifically means that I get to work alongside 80+ different independent street food businesses which have a really diverse range of catering, not only in their different types of cuisines from all over the world but in their different set-ups, and the way they operate. That in itself is a very fun and unique concept. And obviously the biggest benefit is getting to eat food from all over the world!
Frankie: Is there an event that you have enjoyed the most?
Priya: That’s a hard one because they’re all very different and they all bring in different elements. I enjoyed an event in my previous role because it pushed the team to think outside the box. It was for a destination management company, and they wanted canapes served in a cat-walk style. All the canapes had to match a different element representative of the destination. The creative juices needed for the style of service kept it interesting. I did an event which was ‘food through the ages’ but through movies. So we had a Star Wars themed room and an Oscars themed room and the food to match that. It was very interesting.
Frankie: What do you think is the most common challenge when entering the events industry as a newcomer?
Priya: Aside from being part of Kerb Events, I am actually the cofounder of two separate industry initiatives. Events First Steps is specifically for newcomers taking their first steps into the industry. We providing them with a wider perspective on what is on offer in the industry in general. Last year we did a research paper on racial diversity in the events industry and we found that there are many barriers that can form, and one of them is lack of visibility and senior role models. As a newcomer, some of the challenges may be exactly that; not realising what opportunities are available because you don’t see someone like yourself doing it.
I’ve also co-founded Diverse Speaker Bureau. I got involved to solve that problem. Whether that’s race, accessibility, LGBTQ+, it’s helping people from diverse backgrounds actually speaking and being seen on panels and at events.
Frankie: What motivated you and the fellow co-founders to set up the Bureau? Was it seeing that lack of representation in the industry?
Priya: Absolutely. I’d spent most of 2020 talking on panels about racial diversity and people recognised me. I was asked to be on panels that had nothing to do with my area of expertise. It was almost like a tick box exercise- ‘oh i know that Priya talks about diversity so she’ll be good’. I got asked to be on a panel about diversity in recruitment and it was like ‘oh Priya’s brown she can do it, she’ll happily feature on that panel’. I don’t know anything about recruitment and there are loads of people out there that can talk about this topic but they haven’t bothered to go and look for them. That was another driving force of building this bureau – you can no longer tell me that you can’t find someone from a diverse background to be on your panel because we’re giving you them. We’re finding them and we’re putting them on your radar. We’re four women of colour who have started this and our aim is to make everything a bit more representative from a wider world view.
Frankie: Across all three of those roles that you currently do, what do you think is the most fulfilling part of working in this industry?
Priya: I love being able to give back. Having started in the event industry later on in my life, I’m very keen on helping other people come in and up. Getting people in, then helping them up. I really am passionate about making a change in the events industry in general. We can all say lets do a bit of this, or a bit of that. This is how we can do it and get stuff done. Each role has a very rewarding aspect, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing them.
Frankie: Can you name a drawback?
Priya: Just time. Being able to do everything the way I’d like it takes a lot of time. I’m just not afforded that time. Then, being able to get funding to do that. Everything that we’re currently doing is just off my own back. Other than my job with Kerb, there’s no funding. It’s really a matter of time and brain capacity.
Frankie: The future of hospitality and events is…
Priya: Is in the hand of new incoming talent. We need to look after them! Bring them in, and bring them up! Hospitality and events are always considered as low skilled, low paid. But it’s actually not. It’s very highly skilled, the skills that we have to work in events and hospitality is ridiculous, but it’s not recognised as much. If we start filtering down from senior management to industry newcomers, and being able to lift them up, it becomes a much more inviting and welcoming industry for anyone to get into. With these ‘skill shortages’, we should be encouraging more people to come in
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