Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Ekrem Dupanović
After years of gaining experience in the PR business in various agencies, and at a time of big crisis in the communications industry, Marina Bolanča decided to venture into entrepreneurship and set up her own PR agency. Thus, Abeceda komunikacije was created – now a highly reputable Croatian PR agency. Marina’s decision was obviously a good one, because in the five years since she’s been running her agency, her list of clients has been constantly growing.
We talked to Marina about the PR profession in Croatia, about Abeceda and about current trends.
Media Marketing: What do you think of the PR profession in Croatia today?
Marina Bolanča: Public Relations is an extremely dynamic profession, as we who are engaged in it are best aware. But the market is very dynamic as well. It is interesting that it was in a time of crisis that there was a significant expansion of PR agencies, including Abeceda. The reason for this is probably the fact that in recent times (the last 10 years) there has perhaps been the biggest change in terms of communication, the emergence of platforms that support communication, and it’s already a well-known fact that communication has become more a two-way street than ever before. However, the reason probably also lies in the increased need for communication, it’s just that, partly due to reduced budgets, it’s shifted from the sphere of advertising into other channels, including PR. Another positive thing is that there are now possibilities for formal education. That makes it easier at work for us seniors as well, because it facilitates our complementation with younger colleagues. So I think that today there is a great opportunity for the complementation of professionals who have many years of experience with their young, fresh colleagues. At least we have organized ourselves in that way, and this mix of generations has proved great for us. What I find negative is the bad reputation of the profession, which really hinders our work, for all of us, not just the agencies. Since the quality of the work has risen, the perception should have changed as well, but as we haven’t dealt with that in a systematic way we will have to wait for that process to occur naturally, through the slowest but still the most efficient tool – the expression of good will.
Media Marketing: You usually compare large and small PR agencies by saying that the big ones are the “state hospital”, while the smaller ones are “private clinics,” where patients are going more and more often. What is good for the client in each of these types of agencies?
Marina Bolanča: It’s a matter of the preference of the individual client. In a larger agency the client has a higher number of specialized staff capacities at their disposal, in the sense that the individual teams can work together on large projects; but a smaller agency has greater flexibility, clients are given holistic treatment and commitment to the client itself is much higher. It’s similar to a specialist in private practice, and that’s why this is a matter of choice and preference. Communication, especially in the field of PR, is also an intimate relationship between the client and the agency. In this relationship our function is similar to that of a law firm, which becomes particularly evident in crisis communication. So the relationship can’t be reduced to a formal level. We have to know and understand each other well in order to be able to function.
Media Marketing: While he was Prime Minister, Zoran Milanović barred the ministries from collaborating with PR agencies. You say that agencies themselves are to blame for such a decision because of their behavior. How so?
Marina Bolanča: Let’s dig a bit deeper into the genesis of this decision. What preceded it was the fact that there were people in the bodies of the state administration who were performing those functions pro bono, while they were employees of their parent agencies at the same time. This fact was negatively viewed by the profession, and immediately before that we were also faced with the Fimi Media case, which is still in progress. As a profession, we were hit by this case, as a kind of typical crisis communication, because Fimi Media was publicly declared as a PR agency. All in all, infuriated by the criticism, and probably wanting to prevent any suspicion of a new Fimi Media being created, the then Prime Minister made a decision to prohibit the hiring of PR agencies by government bodies and companies owned by the state. We have thus become the only “prohibited” industry in the country. I think that the chain of events itself clearly shows that we – through our behavior – brought about this situation. I feel it’s out of place to repeat that PR is mainly how we behave, and much less what we say.
Media Marketing: Is behavior still the reason why the ban is still in force?
Marina Bolanča: Yes, because our profession was represented to the public by people who were in conflict with the Prime Minister in completely different fields, unrelated to that decision, and it would be naive to expect two people in conflict to find common ground in a topic while there is an ongoing barrage in another field. So the whole thing has been unnecessarily dragged on for almost five years already. I think we as a profession have failed in this case, and that something urgently needs to be changed in this matter. There was recently an initiative by some fellow agency owners and directors, but there’s still no concrete progress, which means that we are still stuck in the status quo on this issue.
Media Marketing: Abeceda is introducing innovations into its operation. The first innovation is the PR Scan. What does this give clients?
Marina Bolanča: As the financial indicators of individual companies undergo review, and a consideration of what was done as well as the prediction of possible future steps, we introduced a new tool called the PR Scan, which has been very well received by clients. Namely, with this tool we do a scan of the situation in comparison with parameters that we agree with each client individually. So every analysis is tailor-made to the needs of the client. Specifically, this tool gives us an insight into the current situation and gives recommendations for changes, upgrades and improvements. We can say that this is a good diagnostics tool for determining effective therapy.
Media Marketing: The second one is CommROI. What are its advantages and values?
Marina Bolanča: This service also stemmed from needs we identified while working with clients. The purpose of CommROI is to determine communication objectives, with clearly defined products and services, into which it is necessary to invest, and how, in order to increase sales and market share. For the implementation of both these services – PR Scan and CommROI – coordinated action between the client and the agency is extremely important. Our task is to give the client guidelines, considering all the communications possibilities, set up a plan and deadlines, and implement them. The success of the client is also our success, so we act synergistically.
Media Marketing: You will continue your collaboration with strategically important clients this year. Who are they?
Marina Bolanča: Our reference list is growing, which pleases us hugely, and we are also excited about the continuity in our work with our clients. We will continue our collaboration with Tele2, which we are proud of given the feedback we’ve had from the client so far. As of this year we have taken over Amway’s public relations for Croatia and Slovenia, and we are continuing to cooperate with the brand Bebimil. We recently also made an agreement with the representatives of the Spanish brand EurekaKids for our collaboration in the Croatian market. That is only part of our portfolio, the rest you can see on our website.
Media Marketing: One of the more important projects you will work on as a partner is the Woman.Comm conference which will be held 25-26 May in Zagreb. How important is the conference and projects similar to it for you for expanding your business and network of contacts?
Marina Bolanča: Woman.Comm is a conference dedicated to women in the communications industry, and we know that women are more represented in the industry than men, numerically. So the aim of the conference is to empower women in the industry, promote their ethical and professional standards, give them new skills and connect them with each other. We are honored to be a partner of this important international conference. Networking is the key to every business, and for communications in particular, so I think it’s extremely important for us as an agency, but also for all the conference participants. Details about the conference will be published soon, so I would like to take this opportunity to invite my colleagues, women and men, to come to Zagreb in late May and participate in the conference.
Media Marketing: How do you see the future of the PR industry from the standpoint of the collaboration of agencies and clients with the media?
Marina Bolanča: Although we are owners of some of our own media today, like our websites, without traditional media our survival is impossible. From the first day of my work in this industry – and that figure is already really serious – I have stuck to a rule that I learned long ago in one of the first PR trainings I ever attended, which is that as PR people, we have to have a thorough knowledge of the media, and respect their rules of operation. Having adhered to that principle, never, in nearly 18 years, have I had a single problem with any media, even in crisis situations or when they were really eager to “fire all guns” at some of our clients. In this respect, I still see a bright future and am optimistic.
Media Marketing: Will smaller agencies network in the future in order to be able to provide clients with a complete set of services? Is Abeceda already a member of such a group of agencies, or would it like to become a member?
Marina Bolanča: Networking is very important and this is primarily because of the level of knowledge and experience we can bring to the client when we have such a network. Abeceda is a member of the Global Communication PR Network, a network of independent agencies in the field of communication that brings together over 1,400 experts from 60 countries. Sharing knowledge and experience is invaluable, and the speed and helpfulness of our colleagues is commendable, so this membership makes us competent to take on even the most demanding projects and tasks. We also have an agreement with a group of colleagues on joint operational activities for individual projects, and we are extremely pleased with this cooperation. We ourselves have initiated some joint activities and I believe that in the future we will have many new things to offer our clients. We are also connecting locally with similar agencies and this is also proving to be an excellent move as we continue to remain independent, flexible and very operational.
Media Marketing: And finally, will the walls start tumbling down between the PR and other departments in communication agencies? Will everything we do today become part of pure communication, without the strict divisions that currently make PR and advertising agencies separate entities?
Marina Bolanča: As much as the building of walls is a trend today in some other spheres of society, I think that our goal is still to demolish the existing walls and prevent the building of new ones. In Abeceda there are no such walls and divisions. Our approach is truly holistic and communication is the crown of everything we do. I believe entities will merge elsewhere as well, and my recommendation is to let it happen. Tear down the walls. You can see much further without them.