By Jesús Silva

Launched in 2019, ‘Distributors on the Move’ has become a flagship initiative within Europa Distribution’s annual activities, highly praised by the members of the international association of independent film publishers and distributors. This program specifically targets marketing professionals working in film distribution and consists of a series of exchanges designed to foster collaboration between companies operating in different territories.

Selected participants are paired with counterparts in different distribution outfits, whom they visit for a few days in their home countries. During their stay abroad, they serve as mentors to each other, immersing themselves in the daily operations of their host companies. The goal is to exchange industry insights, acquire new skills, and learn marketing tools they can apply later in their respective territories.

The project was duly adapted during the pandemic into a hybrid format, and after various years of success, it is already proving its long-term benefits and results for both participants and companies alike. A total of eight distributors from six different countries from Europe and beyond (Belgium, Poland, Egypt, Italy, Switzerland, and Lithuania) took part in the programme in 2023, including some returning participants from previous editions.

Seppe Vanhaecke, responsible for Promotion & Marketing at Belgium’s Cinéart, and Ela Tahmaz, Junior Marketing & Sponsoring Manager at Zurich-based DCM Film Distribution, participated in the exchange last summer. It was Vanhaecke’s second time joining the programme, after a fruitful experience in Poland the year before. On this occasion, the main driving factor when contacting a new partner was the similar profile of their companies: “My motivation to contact Ela arose when I noticed the similarities between our companies and their structures. We both have two offices in different countries, and we try to collaborate, but this can be challenging as we need to serve two markets”, said Vanhaecke.

Given that both Switzerland and Belgium are multilingual regions, Vanhaecke and Tahmaz delved into topics such as targeting different audiences within the same country, creating specific trailers and materials for the various linguistic communities, producing subtitles, exchanging promotional assets with larger neighbouring territories, as well as observing their strategies for releases. “Our focus is often on France […] Subsequently, we aim to implement similar approaches in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. However, we also actively engage in discussions within our own country”, explained Tahmaz.

Amin Mohamed Abdelrahman, Marketing & Distribution Manager at MAD Solutions (Egypt), spent a few days in Rome under the guidance of Giulio Bruno, Marketing Director at Bim Distribuzione (Italy). “My work frequently involves collaboration with foreign countries, especially France, so I was curious to know how the Italian perspective differs from that of other European countries”, mentioned Abdelrahman. Upon his arrival, the Italian team was actively working on the release of On the Fringe, a Spanish thriller starring Penélope Cruz. Over the next few days, the Egyptian distributor delved into all the marketing strategies and promotional materials with his partner, analysing their approach to positioning the film. “While the exchange primarily focused on marketing, I also had the opportunity to interact with other departments”, he noted. Abdelrahman was particularly impressed by the use of social media for marketing in Italy, which differs from that in the MENA region: “We mainly rely on Instagram and Facebook, with a heavier emphasis on the latter, while in Italy, they use Twitter as well for spreading news and information”.

Eline Van Hooydonck and Klaudia Mreńca, PR & Brand Manager at The Searchers (Benelux) and VOD & Marketing Specialist at Gutek Film Ltd. (Poland), also partook in the exchange during the last call. While in Poland, Van Hooydonck also seized the opportunity to attend a brainstorming meeting to strategise the release of an upcoming title. “Joining that meeting was very valuable for me because they involved their entire team, something we don’t usually do in our company, where we tend to work in separate units”. The Belgian distributor highlighted this as a key takeaway she hopes to integrate into her company’s workflow, as “it allows you to gain different perspectives” from the various departments involved.

During Mreńca’s visit to both Brussels and Amsterdam, key topics such as event marketing, the future of VOD, and the particularities of working in two countries emerged as the main focus of the exchange. Although she spent most of her time at the Belgian office, Mreńca had the opportunity to meet both branches of The Searchers and examine the differences in their respective markets. This proved to be an incredibly insightful experience for the Polish distributor, as her company is now part of a Central Eastern European network of VOD platforms, collaborating with territories like the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary. “This network aims to facilitate cross-promotion across different markets. It was intriguing for me to observe how to manage and communicate with various teams and to understand the importance of tailoring our approach to the specific audience in each market”, in Mreńca’s words.

Showcasing the positive results and impact of the program, along with the favourable word-of-mouth among colleagues, Gutek Film participated in the exchange again later in the year. Digital advertising, partnerships and the use of data analytics tools were some of the main lines of work discussed by Agnieszka Matynia, Distribution and Marketing Specialist at the Polish outfit, and Amelija Otkinskienė, Film Distribution Project Manager at JSC Europos Kinas (Lithuania). Despite significant differences in numbers and market size, both participants were impressed by the similarities between their companies and the transferable knowledge and practices they could learn from each other. “I think the main highlight is inspiration. Both of us got some great ideas from the exchange. We’re now trying to experiment in our communication and social media work, and this came from Gutek Film because I was so inspired by how they’re doing this job”, commended Otkinskienė.

Beyond praising their effective collaboration with partners and influencers and their approach to building special screenings, Matynia highlighted the team spirit and management outlook of her Lithuanian counterparts. “Every team member gets to attend a festival of their choice once a year to see how it works. This approach to team building and management is fantastic as it extends beyond marketing to encompass team management”, she explained. On a more practical note, she expressed interest in their use of software like Power BI for data management, considering it as an alternative to their current data analytics tools. Moreover, she found very intriguing the way they handle their B2B sales. “There is a designated person who contacts other companies to sell private screenings. I believe that we should adopt something similar because we are not currently doing it regularly”, as the Polish distributor admitted.

After the conclusion of the exchange, all participants expressed their eagerness to maintain ongoing relationships, intending to transform the experience into lasting connections. The goal is to facilitate the exchange of ideas for future releases, sharing valuable data and assets for potentially shared films, while continuing to “mutually inspire and support each other”, as Mreńca eloquently stated. Some pairings have already translated into tangible actions and the implementation of diverse business practices. Additionally, some distributors emphasised the initiative’s value from a cultural and social perspective. As expressed by Van Hooydonck: “It was also about discovering a new country, understanding their company culture, exploring unique aspects of film from a different standpoint, and getting to know other interesting people in the film industry”.

When asked about spreading the word and recommending the exchange to their colleagues, there was once again a consensus on its advantages for European distributors, particularly those starting in the business. “It’s a great opportunity to go beyond the borders of your country and see different markets, different structures within companies and how people approach work differently”, said Tahmaz. Having participated in the program twice, Seppe Vanhaecke underscored the value of establishing a network of like-minded colleagues in other countries, benefitting from a non-competitive environment. “I can simply send them a message to inquire about their approach to certain matters, like how they handled a premiere or their interactions with a particular contact. […] You can freely ask questions and exchange experiences without feeling that you can’t talk about certain things”.

As anticipated, given its past success, the latest round of ‘Distributors on the Move’ is already underway. Members of the international network are engaging in exchanges across Europe until May 2024, expanding an ever-growing community of independent distributors willing to foster cooperation and build a knowledge economy across borders.