Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
Ivan Stanković has launched the third season of his chat-show, What I am to you and who I am to myself, which is broadcast by K-1, the Belgrade-based TV station founded and owned by Željko Joksimović. Ivan is exceptionally creative, endowed by nature with an embarrassment of talents. One of them is his talent for communication. He is an excellent writer and conducts interesting interviews and discussions, as he has shown on various media and other formats, and especially at the Weekend Media Festival, where he has hosted high-level conversations with some of the best-known personalities in the region. Many years ago, I was the chair of the first BalCannes jury and, at the dinner organised for the jury by Tomislav Ricov, the director of Weekend, I told him that Weekend had its own first brand – Ivan Stanković. I don’t quite remember who his guest that year was, but I do know that I was left with a strong impression of Ivan as creative, provocative, and more or less merciless. That was my take-away, but others noticed it too, including the associate of Željko Joksimović who suggested Ivan for the new TV station he was planning, precisely because he had heard him at Weekend.
Please enjoy the conversation that follows. It explains the whole story.
Media Marketing: What prompted you to embark on the adventure of creating a TV show? Because there’s a Stanković in Zagreb, you decided there should be one in Belgrade too (a Serb in Zagreb, and a Croat in Belgrade), or it’s about TV as a family media business (you and Maja), or maybe you were just looking for a new way to express your undoubted creativity.
Ivan Stanković: Aha… that all sounds lovely, but unfortunately, I have to disappoint you. None of those reasons is quite right. As so often in life, it was a case of His Royal Highness requests….
It all began with a telephone call on a trip to a big meeting in Vienna in late 2019. I could see it was from my friend Željko Joksimović, so I texted him back to say I was in the Congress Hall and couldn’t answer the phone and that he should send me a message. In came a text: “You’re pinching pennies on roaming, when I’m about to make you a bigger TV star than your wife!?” Strange and provocative enough for me to call him at the first break. He explained he wanted me to lead a really ambitious project at the new TV station he had just founded and which we had discussed a few times before. To begin with I thought he was joking, but he was serious. Unconvinced, I nevertheless agreed to a family dinner at his and Jovana’s (Jovana Joksimović, the well-known TV personality, his wife), when I got back. In the meantime, he sent me some more detail on the project for me to think it over.
I discussed it with Maja and reached the firm conclusion that we would have a great time over dinner but that it wouldn’t lead to much in work terms. I had two, in my view, unanswerable objections: I have reached a stage in life when making a public fool of myself trying to do something I don’t have the skill set for might be attributed to age-related dementia, like contemporaries who try to halt the ageing process by suddenly sucking in their stomachs, wearing slim-fit shirts, and cackhandedly experimenting on their own with women’s hair dyes, becoming redheads overnight. My second reason was more serious: journalism, and particularly television journalism, is an area I just don’t know.
So, I went to the Joksimovićs with Maja and my mind made up, but Manja Grčić, who is originally from Sarajevo and Željko’s partner in the TV venture and who has an enviable amount of experience in TV, was there waiting for us. She is a recent CEO of the Antenna Group in Serbia and has managed both TV Prva and B92. So, it was heavy guns against an ordinary footsoldier.
And that was when I found out why I was on their radar at all.
They wanted to make a TV station that would be really different from what was already there and wouldn’t be based on reality shows or the daily political grind, offering new programming, values, and content instead, and, of course, new faces. A business associate who had seen me at the Weekend Media Festival in Rovinj, where I had conducted conversations with some pretty big names – Aleksandar Tijanić, Goran Milić, Željko Mitrović…, had suggested me to them, and that was how they persuaded me I was wrong to think I wouldn’t know how to do it.
They countered my second reason, about making a public fool of myself, by suggesting we do a pilot and that, if I wasn’t happy, we could call it quits.
Obviously, I wasn’t much of a negotiator. Or, as the more maliciously inclined might say, ducks and water. In any case, once that part of our business had been dealt with, we turned to the “minor matter” of what I would be talking about and how. They already had the stage and set worked out.
What we didn’t have was a concept, and I had no idea how my conversations would differ from everybody else’s. Except in terms of the host, whose first TV show this would be, in “the full flower of youth”, providing living proof that it’s never too late.
Manja and Željko really helped me with this, getting Dušan Bulić to work with me. He’s a screenwriter with loads of experience (amongst other things, he was involved in setting up and creating one of the most popular shows in Serbia: Tonight with Ivan Ivanović). Even more importantly, he’s a wonderful, positive, and creative individual, always in a good mood.
After a couple of meetings, he came up with a proposal that gave the whole thing shape. He said: “You’ve been dealing with brands all your life, so how about talking with people as though they were brands.” Bingo. That’s what we were looking for, something to make us stand out from the rest. And to give me credibility as a host on screen. What I brought to the table was the knowledge I had from my work in branding and particularly branding strategy, so, we and a strategic planning colleague at Communis, Dušan Simić, who has since taken his doctorate, came up with a questionnaire and the Who I am to you and what I am to myself show was born. Once the creative director Vladimir Radivojević had come up with the graphic design, we were ready to start.
When we realized that, more or less out of dissatisfaction and the desire to come up with something new and different, we had actually created an entirely new and unique format in the chat-show category, our first move was to copyright it. We realized that we had come up with something that could be of interest on other markets too. It’s a simple concept, talking to a person as a brand, and easy enough to adapt to local conditions. Find someone people already know and with name recognition (not to say a brand) in the field of marketing, communication, and advertising, and adapt the questionnaire. I am sure there are plenty of people in the region who meet that criterion, so maybe this will serve as a public call for expressions of interest.
That left just the “small stuff”, like finding guests who are brands and I thought deserved to appear on the show. And we had two fundamental conditions for ruling out guests: no politicians or entertainers.
Media Marketing: Where do you see the importance of what you are doing and what message are you trying to get across through your shows?
Ivan Stanković: Again, I’m going to have to disappoint you with my answer. I really don’t have any ambitions to send messages. This is a TV show, and the main thing is that for it to meet my ethical criteria and attain a certain level in terms of what and whom I want to hold a conversation with. No matter how popular and famous or how much of a brand they really are, if I’m not okay with how they act in public, ethically speaking, I don’t want to have them as a guest. There are loads of personalities around I don’t have any values in common with, but I have no problem hosting someone who doesn’t hold the same views and isn’t committed to the same things as me, so long as they behave ethically.
Another important thing is that the show has to be fun, watchable, digestible, and grapple with the basic issue in the title: how people see the guest and what he or she is really like.
We live in an age of perceptions which quite often outweigh reality. That’s a pretty good basis for a conversation that is interesting, entertaining, and gives the viewer something they didn’t know about the guest before.
And then there’s the third important required thing. I have to feel good about it when I’m preparing a show, talking with the guest, and in the end watching the final product with my family. I have to enjoy the creative process and feel comfortable watching it too. In fact, to be truthful, that’s the most important part for me. If I’m sincere and at ease, viewers sense it and won’t change channel. Otherwise, any messages or ambitions I might want to achieve through the show collapse under their own weight.
Media Marketing: There’s a common saying in the profession that brands have their own personalities. Now you’re talking about personalities as brands. How does one go about making a brand of oneself?
Ivan Stanković: Whether or not we want to be or however conscious we are of it, all of us are to some degree brands. I like to put it in very simple terms: we develop a particular image in public and in people’s heads, which, if it gets reproduced often enough, becomes a brand.
This may not be terribly important for most of us ordinary mortals, but for public personalities it can be crucial. They’re selling their services (as singers or actors or artists…), and, when the public comes to see them, they already have a particular image of that person and if it’s confirmed by contact, then they’re happy, and if it isn’t, they’re not. Most public personalities base their public image on their own personality and a desire to present and situate themselves in a particular way. I think that very few of them carry out any actual or serious research into their standing, however, or use it as a basis for working out their public strategy.
In our work with leading global brands on projects looking for famous personalities to use as their faces or representatives, we have learned a lot about methodology and how personal brands are created and positioned.
In my view, this is a relatively under-researched and broad field that is growing in importance and scale at a frightening rate in the developed world. Not that it’s particularly new, however, as a glance at Hollywood’s history makes perfectly clear to anyone.
Media Marketing: What are the most important characteristics of a good brand in human form?
Ivan Stanković: Your question is about what makes for a good brand in human form. What I consider good may not seem quite so good to somebody else or even quite catastrophically bad to someone else again. It’s very individual and there’s no single answer.
We may want to recall the famous triangle our mutual friend Jerner Repouš liked to use and which we apply in working with “ordinary” brands. In one corner, you have identity: who you are, what you are, what you’re like… In the second corner are the identification characteristics: how you appear in public, what you say, what you do, how you behave… These two corners are then related to a third, which is image, or the pictures you create for public consumption. What I consider crucial is for identity and the identification characteristics to be in sync with each other, as the key element in creating a good brand in human form is authenticity. The really important thing here is that you’re working with people, and if they’re not authentic, you get a feel for it very quickly and a fake image begins to build up, which involves a loss of credibility and then a loss of effectiveness, until you end up with irreparable damage.
And it’s not easy when you’re working with human beings, because as individuals we find it difficult to accept our own limitations, the idea that somebody may not like us or that were not as pretty, tall, or smart as we might like to be. Some people are so invested in the image they’ve created of themselves that they end up believing all the lies they made up themselves. That’s pretty dangerous territory, as we are talking about a pathology, and one which unfortunately we get to see quite often in public life.
Media Marketing: Does a human brand have to be a good person and if so how come we make brands out of politicians who are not just bad politicians but bad people too?
Ivan Stanković: It has absolutely nothing to do with it. In fact, it’s often the other around. Some very big brands are absolutely appalling human beings, but we glorify them nonetheless, raise them up and idealise them. There’s an old song by the Belgrade band, the Pilots: Don’t put your faith in idols… They’re just flesh and blood people too…
As the cynics say: Pray God you never meet your idols…
I certainly wouldn’t agree that brands have only positive characteristics. You can also have brands with negative characteristics. You mentioned politicians and (due respect to exceptions) how tough it can be to find honourable, smart, or honest ones, and I certainly agree with you fully there. But that, unfortunately, is the type that dominates the regional political scene, and people keep on voting for them. Haven’t we all asked ourselves at times, what are we like, given we know all that and still vote for them.
It does give some cause for concern.
Media Marketing: How would you describe Aleksandar Vučić as a brand? Will you invite him on your show, or do not want to step on Milomir Marić’s toes?
Ivan Stanković: Aleksandar Vučić is definitely one of the best connoisseurs and practitioners of political marketing in all its aspects, not just in Serbia, but in the region overall. And he is also, no doubt about it, an extremely strong brand. That is obvious both on a day-to-day basis and at elections.
If anybody had asked me, I would probably have advised him not to do some of what he does, but nobody did. He does what he thinks, knows, wants, and feels, and he does it 24/7. And that’s why he is where he is.
I mentioned that one of my conditions was no politicians on the show, so he won’t be on as a guest, any more than anyone else in politics. I have spent my whole life keeping out of politics and trying to achieve a certain amount of peace in that area. I see no reason to change now.
Media Marketing: What criteria do you apply in choosing guests? What’s your criterion for deciding somebody is a brand?
Ivan Stanković: Like with any brand, the first criterion is awareness or recognisability. People have to know about the person. Naturally, the target group is also a factor, because it’s one thing to be well-known to a narrow or expert public (like, e.g., doctors or scientists), and another thing entirely to be known to a broad public (like artists or athletes are).
The next thing is that the individual must have established a certain public image in terms of their personality and achievements, whatever that image may be.
The third is that they have to have at least some media attractiveness.
The fourth is subjective: I have to respect the individual, whether or not I agree with their opinions. If I have no respect for them, that’ll come across, and it won’t be a sincere conversation. If I’m not enjoying the conversation, neither will the viewers, or the guest.
And, of course, there’s the non-negotiable, which I’ve already mentioned, which is “personal and professional ethics” and then there is not being a politician or an entertainer or reality show star or something like that.
Media Marketing: To date, you’ve had 30 very interesting personalities on your show. Who did you do your best show with and who was the most interesting interviewee, in your view, and why?
Ivan Stanković: At the risk of being a bit clichéd and pathetic: that’s like asking a mother who her favourite child is. It’s very difficult to single someone out, because I’ve still no distance towards the work we’ve done, and I’ve only ever watched any episode once, generally looking for mistakes. If you want to think in terms of the ratings of the individual shows, then the definite record-breaker was actually my first show, the pilot with Jovana Joksimić, which persuaded us to go ahead. It had almost 450,000 views on YouTube, which is an enormous number of views for that sort of show, without sketches, or music, or bits, but that lasts around an hour. The total number of views has been more than 2 million, which makes clear there are people out there who enjoy getting to know my interviewees, for which I am grateful.
Media Marketing: What answer surprised you most?
Ivan Stanković: I’m still waiting.
Media Marketing: Your third season is now underway. Who should we expect amongst the guests?
Ivan Stanković: We’ve got some fantastic guests lined up this time too. I don’t want to reveal too much, so let’s just say that I will have on Slobodan Boba Živojinović, who describes his job as being Lepa Brena’s husband, but is an exceptional character in his own right, a great hedonist, a great businessman, and an even greater human being. I’m particularly pleased that Dr Vladimir Kostić, the president of the most august academic institution in Serbia, the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, has also accepted my invitation, while Jelena Djoković will certainly also prove very interesting. These are all people who either never appear on the media or only very rarely and it’s a great honour that they have accepted my invitation. There will be other surprises too. I warmly recommend that anyone who can should keep an eye out for K1 Television at 22:00 hours every Friday. Those who can’t should can join everybody else and watch it on YouTube.
Media Marketing: Has Who I am to you and who I am to myself become a bit of a chore, or is it still fun?
Ivan Stanković: I have to admit that I have a great time and really enjoy doing this. So long as I feel that way, I’ll keep doing it. When that feeling is gone, there’ll be no point anymore.
Media Marketing: Will you’ll just keep on doing this until you get bored of it, or have you something new in the pipeline already? The camera loves you, you prepare professionally, there’s is no seat-of-the-pants improvisation, and you’re still young enough 😊
Ivan Stanković: First, I have to say that Communis has always been and remains top of my list of priorities. But, thanks to the excellent management team there, which has been led by Bojan Stankov for some years now, I am free of operational or day-to-day obligations and can dedicate myself to other things.
As possibly the oldest debutant ever, I’m afraid I’ve had my first taste and I like it. Creating content, as the kids say, offers an excellent opportunity to build links between my basic job (communication) and this new “toy” – media work. We’ve already initiated a number of new, worthwhile, different steps.
To make it even sweeter, some members of my own family are included.
In the medical field, we’ve created a 60-episode show called Healthy the easy way, where we go through 60 different types of diseases, conditions, and situations, using a bite-size, easily digestible, simple three-minute format. That project was created and is being managed by my oldest daughter Selena, with lots of help from the team at Communis, led by producer Mladen Stojanović. The serial goes out five times a day every day on a specialised healthcare channel, TV DR, aswell as on YouTube and the hospital website (www.aurorabolnica.rs).
In our field, communication, my other daughter Lea has made a 30-episode series called E-dvertising, which uses a short five-minute format to discuss contemporary trends in advertising, good or interestingly different campaigns, various media, social networks, and other areas. This series is in the final phases and I expect it to have its premiere on TV quite soon.
As to my own personal TV career, well, we have a few ideas there, but… as you mentioned, I’m still young, so… we’ll see.
Media Marketing: In closing, tell me, how much has Maja helped you with advice, how much has she inspired you, and how much have you learned from her, living together for so many years?
Ivan Stanković: Living with a media professional of the calibre of my wife Maja Žeželj has naturally had a major impact on my professional life. She is, and it’s not just my opinion, the most credible news anchor we have, with a spotless career of almost 3 decades behind her now, always upholding the highest professional standards.
And that applies not just in public, but in private life too, as she starts and ends every day (which means I do too, if not always with the best of will) looking through all the news that’s fit and unfit to print, following all the major events, which can take hours as events unfold and isn’t all that easy to maintain.
She’s very careful about what media she’ll appear on, how she presents the news when she’s reading, and keeping her distance from the political aspects of working in newsrooms, as she’s never wanted to work in an editorial role. She’s been really careful about maintaining her position and her independence and never agreed to “hire out” or commercialise her voice, face, or actions by reading jingles or presenting commercial events, and so on. She’s a rare example of consistency and solidity. And she has worked on TV Politika, BK, B92, RTS, and now on N1.
Obviously, her assessment of my performance was the one I was most anxious about (you can breathe easy, I passed), particularly on certain technical aspects that are integral to making a TV show. Her main impact on this particular show was in the initial support she showed to my getting involved in a new venture like this in the first place, as it has created a new situation for everybody in the family, as, for example, recently at Jahorina, where we had people coming up to me, recognising me, and expressing their appreciation of my work, which, up until quite recently, would have been happening just to her.
So, I’m well on the way to not being just Mr Maja Žeželj anymore and becoming a brand myself. Then I’ll have to interview myself to get to the bottom of who I am to you and what I am to myself.