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Sofia 2022 - Sofia Meetings

Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming

At Sofia Meetings, independent distributors improved their communication skills

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During a closed Europa Distribution workshop, nine participants got to learn about the Process Communication Model in order to work better within their companies and with outside collaborators

At Sofia Meetings, independent distributors improved their communication skills
A moment during the workshop

Following a two-year gap owing to COVID-related constraints, Europa Distribution returned to Bulgaria in 2022 to renew its partnership with the Sofia Meetings. The industry gathering had to be postponed from its usual dates during the Sofia International Film Festival in March, adopting a hybrid format which unfolded from 6-12 June. On this occasion, Europa Distribution organised a closed workshop for independent distributors, under the title "Effective communication in professional interactions, team management and negotiation," which focused on essential skills that are at the heart of the work carried out by independent distributors worldwide, both in their internal organisation and their relations with other stakeholders such as exhibitors, sales agents and even their audience.

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The workshop gathered nine participants from seven different countries – mainly directors and CEOs at their respective companies – who worked over three days under the guidance of Patrick Zacharis, a business coach with over 15 years of experience as a trainer and consultant in the fields of management, communication and leadership. "The main goal of this seminar was to connect to the best in everyone, in order to facilitate people working together and understanding themselves better. That means building better relationships within a team, which implies interaction, self-regulation and negotiation skills," said Zacharis. The workshop focused on the Process Communication Model (PCM), a methodology first created in the 1970s by American psychologist Dr Taibi Kahler, which has been implemented by leading companies and government organisations. "PCM reveals how a person perceives the world, how they communicate, how they are motivated and how they will behave in distress," as explained by its promoters. Through a mix of theory and practical exercises, the workshop aimed at identifying what was the "personality type" and "communication style" of the participants, while helping them establish strong connections with other people, bearing in mind a fundamental motto: "It is not just what we say, but mostly how we say it," as explained by Zacharis.

Most participants shared common motivations and concerns when joining the workshop, derived from their specific work dynamics, which require being in contact with a wide range of personalities and people with different backgrounds, which can lead to challenging scenarios, particularly when interacting in digital spaces, which became increasingly common over the last two years. For Anders E Larsson, Acting Director of Doc Lounge and head of various film festivals in Sweden, the main concern was "team management" and how to generate "a healthy working environment," notably when dealing with both professionals and volunteers, "in the sense of keeping everybody happy but also trying to be a listening leader and mediate in a context that is always open to questions. That's why I was interested to see how this model could be applied." Pascal Trächslin, CEO of Basel-based production and distribution outfit Cineworx, was particularly attracted to "reflecting on communication on a different level, because it has always been an issue for our job, and it became even more important during the pandemic, when we had to work from home and missed a regular contact with other people."

In general, everyone was looking to develop their professional aptitudes and approaches in terms of communication, team-leading and negotiation, but the various set-ups and structures of their companies, as well as the particularities of their territories, constitute a slightly different ground to apply the lessons extracted from the workshop. "We deal with so many different stakeholders, whether it is talking to the audience or with exhibitors and sales agents, where there's more trading taking part, and even within our company. We are a Benelux-based firm with offices in Brussels and in Amsterdam, and there are a lot of differences in cultural backgrounds," said Vi Nguyen, Managing Director at Imagine Film in The Netherlands. As for her main takeaways from the training, Nguyen acknowledged a greater awareness of her personal communication style, "and how I can use PCM as a practical tool to enhance my competences, and improve relationships with others by understanding their personality," while stressing that these particular techniques are not about a "one-size-fits-all approach," but based on personal and contextual interactions. "The key to making an impact with communication is to be aware of the person you're talking to."

Anastasia Plazzotta, Founder & CEO of Italy’s Wanted Cinema, also came to a similar conclusion related to building a solid and effective communication channel based on understanding the needs of your interlocutor: "The most important thing that I understood, which I started putting into practice already, is that my way of transmitting information has to change in order to take more into consideration the person that I have in front of me, recognising his or her needs and personality, especially when it comes to negotiations when buying or selling films." As for these more specific business-oriented discussions, when both parties focus on reaching the most beneficial deal, the workshop's methodology underlines the need to strive for a balanced outcome that satisfies both groups. According to Larsson, "with sales agents, the relationship is obviously about the money. They want to sell films to us, but it is not about one winning and one losing, but about reaching a win-win situation. That's my idea of collaboration and compromise. Both parties should be happy."

All participants highlighted the versatility of the workshop, showing great interest in applying these tools to their daily work and recommending it to other distributors of the network. "It was one of the best seminars I ever attended because it opened up so many things not only on a core business level, but also on a human level, which you can use in your daily life," said Trächslin. It also proved to be a much-needed learning opportunity, especially for people in management positions who didn't have formal training in the subject, as well as a chance to gain new skills along with peers. "It was interesting to see how other people lead their teams, how they handle common issues that we usually don't discuss with each other at festivals and events: how you negotiate, how you deal with conflict… This is just a great opportunity to connect with like-minded people and learn something together," stated Nguyen.

The workshop enabled participants to discover and experience a methodology that was mostly unknown to them, offering some valuable food for thought as well as some new tools to facilitate their everyday workflow. As noted by them, these tools can be easily implemented in different environments: first and foremost, the communication with their teams, and second, in industry negotiations to get optimal business results while avoiding misunderstanding. In light of its good reception, Europa Distribution is determined to launch another edition of the workshop, which will take place in the framework of the Sofia Meetings next year.

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