Questions for: Rebecca Ikin

News - Interviews Wednesday, 4th November 2020

The Cornerstone marketing director contributes to our Q&A series

Describe your current job
I head up the marketing team in the Cornerstone division of Penguin Random House and oversee our consumer advertising strategy across the list, as well as pitching for new business and being part of the division executive. 
What was your first job in the book industry?
I was assistant to a book buyer for a consumer book club (subsequently bought by Scholastic). I then progressed to buyer and ran the consumer magazine and book selection. It was a great training ground - hearing publishers pitch a book, selecting titles from those lists, putting them out in the world and seeing how they performed with readers every day. Ultimately though I knew I wanted to work in marketing "in house", and my first job doing that was with Random House.
Who has been the most influential person in your career?
I was lucky enough to work early in my career for Hilary Foakes, who was supportive and encouraging and introduced me to the wider industry. I was grateful for her insight and direction then (and that she let me be her plus one at many a publishing party!) and I'm grateful for her friendship to this day. 
How has the industry changed since your first job?
Digital and global are the biggest shifts, and the pace and complexity of the work within marketing. The marketplace and how we respond to it changes all the time. Though whilst the technology, delivery and even culture have altered, the essence of what you are trying to do as a marketer remains pretty consistent: how do I take this idea or story out into the world and get people interested in it? What's the need this book answers, or the conversation that it creates? 
What's the biggest challenge in your job?
Finding enough head space.
What are the most interesting things you're seeing at the moment in the industry?
I love how the #Merky Books team within our division are taking books and writers into different spaces. Their recent collaborations with the London Beats By Dre team, such as the Pop Up and the roundtable podcast series they've just launched, or the content they are creating with partners like Nandos, feel much more multidisciplinary - podcasting, zines, music, spoken word, long-form prose, brand and advertising spheres all mixed together. Those collaborations feel exciting to me and I can't wait to see how this approach develops. 
What do you think might be the next big thing?
Probably [the game] Among Us - it's set on a constantly malfunctioning spaceship which feels very appropriate for 2020. But seriously, it does fit into what seems to be a growing appetite for locked-room crime/thrillers. In non-fiction I think that the focus on immune health and the demand for understanding around the gut and plant-based diets will continue. More widely, I'm interested in how marketplace and audio will play out in the next few years. 
How are you coping with working from a home environment?
A wi-fi booster, tea and our cat are all essential. As is just picking up the phone to connect with colleagues and friends I miss seeing in person. 
How do you think the industry will come out of the Covid-19 crisis?
Whilst it's been a very tough year, I think it's been clarifying in key areas - accelerating change that might have taken years otherwise, in both digital transformation and organisational change in publishing houses. I think that will make us better publishers and a more inclusive industry, which will in turn impact on the voices we publish successfully. We've inevitably been focused on short-term business effects and crisis management and reactive thinking. I hope, though, that as an industry we don't underestimate the need to continue to build book brands and awareness over the longer term and do what we can to support our small business partners who are such a vital part of our industry. 
What do you most like doing when you're not working? 
Hunting for treasure at flea and vintage markets. This year I also started gardening a little, which I've loved and found so helpful in terms of switching off from work. I'm excited to get my own shed - this is what 2020 has brought me to!
What is the best book you've read in the last year? 
I was hugely impressed by The First Day of Spring by Nancy Tucker. It's a debut novel we'll be publishing next summer and is absolutely one-to-watch.