search burger
search ×

The courage to be open to change

Founder of Probeat Agency, the story of Paolo Ruffato, who 20 years ago helped change the rules of the game in public relations


Paolo founded his PR agency in 2002. Those were different times for communication. Milan, however, was already the Italian hub where it was right to choose to do so. A past as a breakdancer, an unbridled passion for hip hop when hip hop was not yet a mass genre, and a sea of doubts. 

When I meet him, the first thing that strikes me is his enthusiasm. To this day I think it takes great courage to be enthusiastic.

The new communication is contradictory, what are the main elements of change compared to the communication of 20 years ago?

First of all, the times. Slowness was still the protagonist of our lives. When I started I remember doing the press review by hand. I would stand there, cut out the articles I was interested in and paste them on a preset sheet to show the customer. Today we talk about and experiment with artificial intelligence, virtual assistants. Change is very fast and the pressing need is to try to stay more up-to-date and more on the ball than others.

Does one have to be cynical and ruthless to be an entrepreneur?

A good entrepreneur creates a team of people whom he respects and by whom he is respected and tries to tell the story of the goals to be achieved together. Unhuman practices, cynicism and ruthlessness have nothing to do with healthy entrepreneurship. I have always advocated authoritativeness over authoritarianism, there is a big difference.

How did you start?

I was a professional dancer. I was in the breakdance business. I was achieving more than I dreamed but I knew that at some point I would quit. The epiphany came when some brands started giving me products to wear on television. I realised that I could mediate for people who were much more important than me, friends, and with whom brands would want to work. To simplify, my agency took off with product placement to my circle of artist friends, an idea that no one else had at that time.

A person who has been instrumental in your professional success?

I remember a time, some time after I had started working, when “Milano da Bere” was sucking me in. I had lost the habit of waking up early and was seeing the goals I had set myself blurry. Tiziano Russolo, a bigwig from Safilo and then Nike and Converse, called me and told me that in his opinion I was losing myself and throwing away the trust I had gained with great effort. I realised that he had the courage to take care of me. I put the phone down thanking him and a second later I took control of my life again.

Have you ever thought you did something wrong?

I made a ton of mistakes, those mistakes allowed me to question myself and questioning allowed me to make the right choices. 

The problem with most entrepreneurs? Once they get into the swing of things, they think they have the truth in their hands, that they have figured out how to do it and that they can teach without continuing to study. That is when they are swept away by the 'new kids on the block'. The new kids on the block, a young trained reality that makes them look outdated.

What does it mean to be open to change?

I respond with a quote from one of the most iconic artists of the rap scene, Afrika Bambaataa. He was asked how he saw hip hop. His answer? “Like energy, it dies if it does not change form”.

What does it mean to be brave?

Keep your eyes open, question yourself and be willing, indeed, to change, even when it is scary.

Entrepreneurial paths are subject to exogenous variables that are often uncontrollable. What is the most important thing you learn as an entrepreneur?

The most important lesson was that to stay on my feet I would have to learn the rules of the game. Let me give a concrete example: I came from a family where there was no financial education, I realised that I would have to train myself. I couldn't afford the 20,000 euro masters? I bought and studied the books written by those who held the masters, at the cover price.

Why Milan and not elsewhere?

Milan is the kingdom of communication. The media is here, the industry has decided that this is the pole of our industry, I just adapted.

What will your job be like in 20 years?

I ask myself this every day. Courage is also about trying to imagine the future and taking into account that we are no longer needed. One thing I have realised over time is that we have to change when we win 5-0, not when we are one goal down, at which point it is already too late...

Images Gianluca Caldara