Europa Distribution explored professional interactions at the Sofia Meetings

By Jesús Silva

The 21st Sofia Meetings took place from March 20 to 24 in the framework of the 28th Sofia International Film Festival. The renowned Bulgarian industry event, focused on Central and Eastern European film productions, renewed its collaboration with Europa Distribution by hosting a new edition of its workshop on Effective communication in professional interactions, team management, and negotiation. The activity was specifically targeted at members of the international association of independent film publishers and distributors as part of their annual think-tank meetings.

The workshop gathered around 20 participants from 11 countries, including CEOs and marketing managers from various European distribution companies. Business Coach and Sustainable Talents Developer Patrick Zacharis led the sessions, bringing over 15 years of experience in management, business communication, and leadership. Zacharis introduced attendees to the Process Communication Model (PCM), a methodology created by American psychologist Dr Taibi Kahler in the 1970s to identify, categorise, and understand diverse personality types and structures, allowing individuals to adapt their communication and negotiation strategies accordingly. This method aims to help build strong, enduring working relationships, both in one-to-one interactions and within larger teams. “In today’s fast-paced and diverse world, effective communication and understanding others are more crucial than ever. Since the pandemic, whether in our professional environment or personal relationships, it’s essential to connect with others, understand ourselves, and excel in communication and negotiation. We must lead, organise, inspire, manage, and self-regulate, especially under stressful conditions. The program was designed to provide an overview of all these skills”, in Zacharis’ words.

The proposed methodology classifies personalities based on how individuals perceive and approach different situations (e.g. through their thoughts or perceptions, opinions, emotions, inactions, reactions, or actions), making them more or less receptive to certain communication styles and pieces of information. The central concept is that understanding someone’s personality type is crucial when initiating a conversation. This awareness helps tailor communication to include elements that resonate with different psychological profiles. By interpreting the other person’s responses, it is possible to identify their specific category and adjust one’s approach and tone to establish a more meaningful bond based on their personality traits.

For Enrico Dirksen, Head of Marketing at Piffl Medien (Germany) and one of the newest members of Europa Distribution, communication is the core of his job: “Talking to colleagues, to world sales, producers… And of course, communicating our marketing strategy to cinemas and all the people involved in a release”. For the German distributor, the workshop content is particularly insightful in exchanges with industry players who may have a different connection with the films. “It’s quite helpful when talking to producers because we often try to persuade them with facts, but that doesn’t always work since film is an emotional medium. Many people are very emotionally attached to their films. This approach helps us avoid a one-sided perspective and understand each other’s viewpoints to reach an agreement,” said Dirksen, emphasising the importance of using diverse resources and mindsets to engage with business counterparts.

Chantal Van Remmen from Cherry Pickers also stressed the potential advantages of the PCM method in various distribution chores, such as booking theatres for releases and, from a marketing standpoint, convincing the media to cover a specific title. “It’s crucial to communicate on their terms and encourage them to act to your benefit. You have to go to someone’s level to persuade them, always trying to find the aspect of the film or the way of talking about it that would vibrate with that person,” she noted.

Van Remmen decided to participate in the workshop due to her role as marketing coordinator, which involves overseeing diverse teams across multiple regions. “Our company is based in the Netherlands, but we also have an office in Belgium, so I regularly work with colleagues in both countries”, she explained. Moreover, the company employs an external marketing agency in The Netherlands. “There’s a lot of external communication that needs to happen for our releases, so I thought it would be useful to gain some extra communication skills”, added Van Remmen, acknowledging that the workshop provided her with valuable insights and techniques that might help bridge communication gaps between her teams.

The workshop presented a mix of theoretical concepts and practical exercises, dividing participants into smaller groups and allowing everyone to interact and put into practice some of these newly acquired tools. “We worked in groups and simulated situations from our daily work,” explained Sabina Coufalová from the Czech outfit Aerofilms. “It gave me another perspective of how to work with people, connect with colleagues, understand other professionals, and be more respectful towards others”. She also pointed out the benefits of the methodology when working within a large team, such as Aerofilms’ marketing department, comprising seven people. “Everyone is a specific person, so sometimes communication is on the edge”, she added. In that sense, participants widely appreciated that the workshop covered essential soft skills, which not only can enhance professional interactions and performance in the industry but also provide helpful recommendations applicable to their daily lives.

Vassillis Sourrapas from Greece’s Filmtrade, who recently rejoined the international association, admitted that the workshop challenged his initial expectations: “I anticipated something entirely different, like a standard negotiation seminar, but it was more psychological. I had never heard of this approach before. Although I’m always very sceptical about these strategies, I think that it’s a fascinating method because it gives you an entirely new outlook on how to approach not only negotiation but also personal relationships,” said the Greek distributor. He called attention to the importance of recognising the diverse ways team members may respond to the same situation, rather than assuming everyone shares the same perspective. “It provides you with flexibility and more tolerance when dealing with your team, but it also makes it easier to connect with others outside your company, who may be even more different and with whom you have no prior contact”, he explained. Overall, participants also praised the opportunity to meet other colleagues working in the same field, building valuable networks and gaining new insights into different European markets.

During their stay at the Sofia Meetings, attendees had the chance to further implement some of these communication tools and approaches during a working session organised by Europa Distribution and Europa Cinemas on March 23. Under the title Joining Resources for Even More Efficient Marketing Campaigns on Arthouse Films, this session addressed some of the current challenges distributors and exhibitors face in an ever-evolving film industry. The activity aimed to share best practices and explore collaborative strategies to enhance the circulation of independent European films.

Participants were split into six groups, composed of distributors and exhibitors from all over Europe, with a facilitator to moderate the conversations. During the final wrap-up, a designated spokesperson presented each group’s outcomes. Among the key takeaways were the importance of honest and open communication about the state of a release and its challenges, as well as advocating for early communication and collaboration to solve problems. Participants underlined the value of personal contact and mutual support, including providing all the necessary materials. Additionally, it was noted that the state of play varies significantly from country to country, revealing the need for tailored approaches for each territory. Overall, the session led to productive discussions, aspiring to build a healthier film industry for all players. The association’s activities will continue at upcoming festivals such as Karlovy Vary, Haugesund, and San Sebastián.