After two years of remote attendance and a hybrid edition last spring, the 20th Sofia Meetings went back to its usual dates during the Sofia International Film Festival, unfolding between 22 and 26 March. The prestigious industry gathering, focused on film projects from Central and Eastern Europe, renewed its partnership with Europa Distribution, hosting a new iteration of its workshop on Effective communication in professional interactions, team management and negotiation, aimed at members of the international association of independent film publishers and distributors.
The workshop brought together 14 participants coming from 11 different countries. The group mostly comprised directors and marketing managers from different distribution outfits, while Business Coach & Sustainable Talents Developer Patrick Zacharis reprised his role as tutor during the three-day activity. An expert in management, business communication and leadership with over 15 years of experience in the field, Zacharis presented the attendants with a comprehensive introduction to the Process Communication Model (PCM), a methodology designed by American psychologist Dr Taibi Kahler in the 1970s, which focuses on identifying and understanding a range of six different personality archetypes and structures within the context of communication and negotiation. The programme of the course consisted of a blend of theory and practical cases, where participants learnt how to analyse different situations which they commonly encounter as part of their work in film distribution, engaging in group exercises aimed to improve their self-awareness and help them fine-tune their communication styles to the personalities of their counterparts while building strong and durable relationships.
In an industry which is highly dependent on human interaction and cooperation between people from different cultures, markets and social backgrounds, with inevitable periods of stress and conflict, participants found the content of the workshop particularly insightful in terms of decoding human behaviour in professional exchanges. “I think we all make the mistake of believing that, if we structure an argument that makes sense to us in a certain way, the person we are talking to will perceive it in the same way […] This is a course that helps us understand ourselves better and makes us more open towards appreciating what the other person is like”, said Matei Truța, from Romania’s August Film, who deemed the workshop equally useful in terms of negotiating with external stakeholders and interacting with coworkers. “Each person is a very individual construct with its belief system and preferences. It is just a matter of finding that common ground where both parties are comfortable, and working together from there”, in Truța’s opinion.
Despite sharing a common appreciation of the crucial role that effective communication plays in their day-to-day operations, participants joined the course with slightly different motivations, according to their particular profiles and responsibilities within their companies. Štefan Cima, Head of Marketing at Aerofilms (Czech Republic), was particularly interested in improving internal communications within his seven-person team, aiming at implementing different approaches to enhance their structure and general work dynamics. “Communication is everything”, in Cima’s words, who also praised Zacharis’ method: “He talked about how we perceive things and craft reality. […] He really built a fundament for the naming of the framework, which I think people subconsciously understand, but he gave it a structure”. Cima also emphasised the inspiring environment of collaboration which arose during the workshop, fostering exchange among distributors and stimulating shared reflections on their work.
“When I looked at the theme of the course, it very much aligned with my personal training and development as a line manager”, said Droo Padhiar, Head of Marketing at British outfit Dogwoof, who also joined the workshop motivated by the prospect of exploring compelling ways to communicate with her team and get the most out of the different personality types among her colleagues, as well as to meet other European distributors who are in similar roles to “bounce off ideas” and discuss common issues. As for the practical application of the various tools and skills discussed in Bulgaria, Padhiar admitted: “I’ve been able to adopt the learnings quite quickly, not only regarding my management style, but also in terms of being able to identify who is at what particular stage within my team”.
When asked about his main takeaways from the course, Romain Leloux, Marketing and Communication Manager at Imagine Film Distribution (Belgium), stressed the importance of avoiding preconceived assumptions about other people sharing the same values and mindset, while being able to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” to address them assertively in a way that could inspire what you expect from them. “It’s a good reminder that you’re talking to different profiles and an opportunity to use these different styles as a starter to build a connection”, in his own words. Similarly, Johanna Mayer, from French distribution company Jour2Fête, underlined the versatility of the Process Communication Model and its method to decrypt, interpret and rationalise social interactions: “I really got to understand how I could use the tools in my job, stretching them to make them work in real life on a daily basis”, she explains.
Overall, participants highlighted the practical side of the workshop, which allowed them to consolidate some of the theoretical content. “We created scenarios, whether it was talking to a sales agent or pitching a marketing campaign, and we had to go through all six personality traits”, as explained by Truța, revealing that this sort of exercise helped the group understand themselves better, as well as their frustration in relation to certain types of people. “Now we have a new tool to decode why a particular way of communicating infuriates us […] When you understand it’s simply an opinion, you don’t take it personally”, he asserted. Likewise, attendants cherished the opportunity to network with other professionals in the sector, especially those in marketing positions who don’t get to travel that often: “Having the chance to meet other like-minded marketers from other territories has been really eye-opening […] I think it was great in terms of learning from each other about the different skills needed for our roles”, sentenced Padhiar, calling attention to the spirit of cooperation that permeated the entire workshop, which was greatly appreciated by everyone beyond the specific content of the training. During their stay at the Sofia Meetings, the participants also joined the numerous activities and industry sessions organised by the Bulgarian gathering, where they started to implement the notions developed during the workshop and spread the word among fellow distributors and colleagues, encouraging them to join a new edition of the course next year. The activities of the network will continue in upcoming festivals such as Karlovy Vary and Haugesund.