The interview was published in “The Cyprus Journal of Wealth Management 2019”. Interview by John Vickers / Photo by TASPHO.
After a long and successful career in journalism, you founded a company whose services include helping individuals and corporates deal with the media. Did you experience any kind of moral hesitation when ‘changing sides’? It’s true that, having worked as a journalist for about 20 years, I learned the ‘tricks of the trade’ and when the time came, I crossed the ‘bridge’. I don’t see a moral issue here. The way the media works is out there for anyone to discover and my work gave me more than just a theoretical understanding. However, more important than knowing the media from the inside was the fact that I knew people, so I could pick up the phone and explain my client’s point of view to a journalist, helped by either personal friendship or the credibility that my own years in journalism gave me. I think that this was the key to the relationship on both sides.
One of Gnora’s main areas of activity is developing, maintaining and protecting companies’ corporate image. As a journalist, you would probably have been doing the exact opposite. Has your view of the media changed?
First, let me say that, compared with their counterparts in other countries, Cypriot media people are very proper, even in their worst moments! They are much more ethical than many when it comes to following a code of conduct. There are sections of the media in other countries that are much more aggressive. This has a lot to do with the country’s size – we all know one another and we need to maintain our human relationships – so it’s better to work with the Cypriot media. Most of the times you know where you stand. That said, the ongoing effect of the financial crisis and the fact that traditional media are losing a lot of their influence to new technology have made certain media outlets either easier to manage or, in some cases, more aggressive. When I worked in journalism, I always held the simple view that the media are doing their job and everyone else should be doing theirs. In the corporate world there are people who love publicity and they will flirt with the media but most of them don’t like journalists – they are scared and suspicious of them. On the other hand, the media all over the world tend to view big companies and their profits in a negative way. This is where a company like Gnora fits in.
Are media outlets too ‘soft’ here, happy to do companies’ public relations rather than investigate the things they would prefer us not to know about?
Journalism is changing all over the world because of technology and the financial crisis. Traditional media may be less investigative when it comes to some big advertisers or sponsors or shareholders. Having said that, the new media have revealed some very big stories, such as the Panama and Paradise papers, for example. So, the coin has two sides. In the past, the New York Times, the Washington Post or the Financial Times would spend months investigating one story. Just think of Watergate in the ‘70s. Today, could they afford to have one or two people in a newspaper or media organisation working on an investigative piece for a week, let alone six months? Unlikely! They need a new story every 15 minutes and if a competing website comes up with an exclusive, you need to come up with something immediately. The shift to speed, online clicks and page views is damaging journalism. However, if people were willing to read long stories, the media would write them.
Having switched from journalism, you focused on what was then a brand-new niche market in Cyprus – reputation management, especially for politicians. Presumably you didn’t have a very high opinion of how they were putting themselves and their policies across?
I think that Cypriot politicians themselves felt that they had a need for that, long before we created this company. It’s worth remembering that former President George Vassiliou was the father of political marketing and the first who brought it into Cypriot politics. When he won the election in 1988,it sent shockwaves through the political system and, consequently, during the next election campaign, Glafcos Clerides used a communication consultant from Greece for the first time. That’s how the whole thing started. In 2003, Tassos Papadopoulos did the same thing. When we came in, we were the first Cypriot company to offer such services and we had to work twice as hard to compete with the Greeks, who were very good at their job. But politics has never been our main business. It’s perhaps the more high-profile part but corporate communication was and is our core business.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR OUR SECRET, IT LIES IN THE PEOPLE AND THE WAY WE DELIVER WHAT WE PROMISE
Still on the question of politics though, in 2013, you coordinated Nicos Anastasiades’ successful presidential election campaign. Do you feel that you can claim a certain amount of responsibility for the election result?
It’s not a matter of responsibility, but winning definitely makes you feel good. By then we had worked on parliamentary and municipal election campaigns but that was our first presidential campaign. We were part of a team of communication consultants and responsible for the coordination. Winning even the easiest campaign makes you feel good, so winning the big one is really special. So yes, there was a lot of satisfaction there.
Much of your work nowadays has to do with looking after high-profile individuals, particularly as far as their media coverage is concerned. How hard is it to balance their desire for privacy with natural public interest in who they are and what they do?
This is not a case where one size fits all. There are different needs at different times. The basic rule of suspicion between journalists and business people applies here as well. And because the stakes may be higher, the preparation and planning take longer. The decisions may not always be the result of your advice, but the result is definitely something you will be called in to manage. One must never forget, however, that a consultant only offers advice. The ultimate decision rests with the client.
Does this mean that, in your experience, wealthy clients are de facto ‘difficult’ clients? Can you be straight-talking with them or are you simply expected to get things done?
I don’t think that there are difficult clients. There are difficult moments and they can affect anyone. Even the easiest guy to get along with may react strongly if he sees his photo –and not a flattering one– on the front page of a major newspaper in Europe along with a negative story about him or his firm. Everybody faces difficult moments and we are there to give advice, which will be tested. There are difficult times when we get to say our piece and there are difficult times when we’re just expected to deliver. It doesn’t depend on the person but on the moment and the particular situation. Additionally, there is often a struggle between people like us and our clients’ lawyers. They will advise them to say nothing (because whatever they say may be used against them in court) while we are more likely to advise them that they should say something because the court of the public opinion is judging them right now. Such situations are all part of the job.
How important to Cyprus are the investments and presence of such individuals and companies? As a state, do we treat them properly? Do you hear many complaints about the country?
I don’t hear even half the complaints about Cyprus from high-profile individuals that I hear from Cypriot business people! The only complaints from major investors tend to be about our bureaucracy and cases where, for example, someone has €100 million to invest in Cyprus but, by the time the authorities have responded, he has seen a better opportunity somewhere else and so he will take his money and go there. These are justified complaints and you will hear the same ones in other countries but otherwise, there are no serious complaints. These people love the weather, the slower pace of life, and the more relaxed attitude to business and our professionalism.
What is the secret of success for a company like Gnora Communication Consultants? What makes companies and individuals choose you rather than a competitor?
I don’t really believe that there is a ‘secret of success’. What’s Ronaldo’s secret that makes him the best football player in the world today? He works hard, he stays longer than anybody else after training, he takes his job seriously, he respects his employer and his fans but that’s not a secret. I cannot pinpoint one single thing. I think that Gnora has a great team. I’m very proud of the spirit of the people here. We’re about 20 people, most of us have been together for years and we’re very close. I think that this is the backbone of the whole thing. And the other is that we will never promise something that we know we cannot deliver. If you ask for something, we’ll look into it and we’ll come back to you and either say ‘this can’t be done’ or ‘we can try to do it’. So, if you’re looking for our secret, it lies in the people and the way we deliver what we promise.