A Russian Successor to Niccolo Machiavelli

By Yulia Koval-Molodtsova

A painting done by Ekaterina Egorova, president of the strategic communications company, Niccolo M.

She creates African-style pictures with house paints, and she decorates her house with them or gives them to friends. She enjoys thriller films and reading books. Sometimes, she composes psychological fairy tales for her friends. She holds a master’s degree in social psychology and a Ph.D. in political science.

Ekaterina Egorova is also the president of the large Russian agency for strategic communications, known as “Niccolo M.” She partnered with another professional to establish this political communications company shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The name came by chance. Her little daughter ran up to the bookcase, grabbed the first book she could get her hands on, and left the room. Egorova ran after her and looked at the title. It was a book by Niccolo Machiavelli, the so-called “father of modern political theory.” Egorova came back to the room and said, “We have the name. This is the guy who created a system we are still working in.” They never regretted the choice because it was provocative and different.

Throughout her career, Egorova has been attracted to two main areas of research: personalities of political leaders and the decision-making process in international conflicts. Her first psychological portrait of a political leader was President Reagan’s profile that she created back in 1983 at the request of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, a major Russian academic think tank. Since then she has done a variety of portraits including a comparative psychological analysis of the personalities of the 2008 U.S. presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama.

“Almost every major politician had certain family problems,” Egorova says. When she was working on President Reagan’s profile, she came across a story about his father who used to get drunk quite often. “Once Reagan came home in the evening and found his father lying unconscious in a puddle, which was starting to freeze over,” she said. “He then promised he would work hard to never end up in such a dreadful and helpless state.”

One of her international clients was Hugo Chavez, the current president of Venezuela. He had no access to the mass media at the time of his first election campaign in 1998. Egorova and her partners considered the cultural context of Venezuela and came up with one innovative strategic decision. They recommended that he approach his target audience at local cemeteries. Most people in Venezuela are Roman Catholics, and they traditionally gather as a family at the cemeteries for religious holidays. Chavez went to the cemeteries, greeted and hugged people and talked to them. He visited almost every cemetery and gained huge public exposure that eventually helped him to win.

“Every major political decision should be based on the thorough research of psychological aspects,” Egorova says. “Unfortunately, many military decision-makers don’t take that into account.” Last winter she and her American colleagues started to work on a new model that they call: “The Psychological Code of Nation.” It is literally a complex code with different scales that helps to evaluate a nation’s basic concepts and attitudes before planning military interventions or even humanitarian missions. Egorova compares it to a luggage code-lock. They take about 35 different characteristics of a nation and evaluate them on a zero-to-five scale. They then get the decoded information and are able to slightly influence every characteristic of a nation’s behavior and attitudes with the help of propaganda, information technologies or public campaigns.

“This is a powerful tool. If military officials had this model in place earlier and applied it properly, say, before the intervention in Afghanistan, we wouldn’t have these recurring conflicts and defeats,” she says. “National experts’ opinions can’t always be trustworthy. We have learned it well in regards to Iraq. The whole strategy was based on the wrong assumptions about the local elite and didn’t even take into consideration the attitudes of the general public.”

Egorova has worked with clients of different levels of authority, including former Russian President Boris Yeltsin to a governor of a small autonomous area of the Kamchatka peninsula, which is situated at the Russian Pacific coast. She says that President Yeltsin was one of the most interesting and respectful clients. The candidate from Kamchatka was most memorable. He was so determined to become a governor that he lost about 130 pounds of extra weight and got rid of his stammering. He won.

Photograph taken by Yulia Koval-Molodtsova

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