One of the unsung heroes of PromaxBDA died on New Years Eve at the age of 58 after a long illness. Most recently, he had worked as a senior designer consultant at Vizrt in Russia.
Mrach (Misha) Spirov was the first Russian to attend Promax. This was back in the mid-90s when the Russian Federation was still trying to figure out how to deal with the norms of Western media. Misha worked for a group called Internews. They were an NGO created to help newly formed independent television stations in Russia. Their primary focus was electronic journalism, but Misha convinced them they needed to teach television marketing and design as well.
I met Misha at the PromaxBDA Conference in Los Angeles in 1996, and by 2000, Misha had convinced me to lead a four-day workshop in Moscow. We had about 75 television executives from all around Russia in attendance. Most were experiencing on-air promotion and design for the first time. The workshop was conducted with simultaneous translation through headsets, but Misha translated the hundreds of powerpoint slides and personally subtitled scores of promos. For a four-day workshop, it was a Herculean effort.
The workshop was a success and helped create the first generation of Russian TV promo and design professionals. Misha had the recordings of the conference transcribed and Internews published the first Russian text book on on-air marketing, promotion and design. It was distributed throughout Russia. The next year the book was translated into Armenian as well.
Misha had been a Captain in the Soviet Army early in his career. His primary responsibility was translation, but he had some fascinating stories about being in places where the Soviet Army was not supposed to be. I don’t think he was an actual spy, but he was sent to places where he could translate English communications.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Misha left the army and began to explore the new opportunities of the Russian Federation. He became enamored of electronic media, particularly design, and was convinced that Russia could reclaim its vaulted reputation as visual storytellers.
Misha loved the camaraderie and learning environment of PromaxBDA and tried early on to establish a chapter in Moscow through Internews. But once Putin came to power, Internews’ championship of a free press made it a target. The head of Internews had to flee to Paris to avoid arrest and the Promax chapter never got off the ground.
However, one of the students from that first workshop, Regina Yurkina, helped complete Misha’s vision by creating a Russian version of PromaxBDA in 2011, MediaBrand. Ten conferences later, it is still going strong.
In 2017, MediaBrand recognized Misha for his pioneering work in on-air marketing, design and promotion. I was lucky enough to attend the ceremony in Moscow. He had no idea he was going to be presented with an award; he had come to see all the media professionals whose careers he had helped make possible, and be inspired by the work he knew they would create.
Rest in peace, my good friend, Misha.
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