Letter from Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Amela Odobasic
Amela Odobasic MCIPR, EACD, is Head of Public Affairs at the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the nation's regulatory authority for electronic media and telecommunications. Her professional experience ranges from heading an office guarded by armoured army vehicles in post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina to being a sophisticated strategic communicator.
Post-conflict areas and countries in transition are her preferred environments to practice strategic communications. She is currently working on assignment for Albany Associates as the Head of Media Development and Fundraising for a project in Somalia.
Ever since I joined the PR profession back in 1999, two questions have prevailed in my mind - how to become recognised as a member of senior management and how to keep the reputation of an organisation (as well as my own) untarnished. Looking back to the earliest days of establishing myself as a professional communicator, I've learned that outstanding performance in a situation of substantial change sets a milestone in one's career and a springboard to a future position as a communication professional in any organisation.
Public Relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina were first introduced by the foreign experts employed by international organisations active in the West Balkan region as a result of the armed conflict in the 1990s. However, professional standards were not easy to introduce.
From a late start to a fully-fledged profession
At first, PR was primarily identified with media relations. International PR expertise entered the country massively with the setting-up of international businesses. Later on it started having a strong influence on the functioning of state institutions and the public sector too.
According to a survey carried out by PRIME Communications, a renowned PR agency in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 40% of PR specialists work in public administration, 13% in marketing and PR agencies, while the rest are divided between the corporate and non-governmental sectors. Bosnia and Herzegovina is still struggling to bring its economy back to its feet, and its complex political situation is not making the process easy. When it comes to PR job opportunities, as it turns out, the most profitable 'industry' is the public sector.
PR practitioners in my country largely adhere to professional standards, which represents a remarkable accomplishment considering that a national PR association does not exist. PR is taught at universities (undergraduate/post graduate studies) and there are also other educational events, which always attract large audiences. The young generation is targeted in particular, which is a positive sign for the future of the profession. In 2010, a regional PR agency, Apriori Communications started a project, the 'PR Arena,' which gathered up to 300 students from the Balkan region in Sarajevo (capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina) to provide them with education in line with the best international PR standards and practices.
Reaching your audiences
Bosnia and Herzegovina is a country of stark contrasts in many ways. Whereas in developed countries, communication specialists are shifting their focus to social media and individual content management, PR practitioners in Bosnia and Herzegovina still face some significant challeges. On the one hand, our stakeholders and clients are highly sophisticated, mostly young people and fans of the newest technological gadgets who are taking full advantage of a fast-developing ICT sector (Bosnia and Herzegovina has 60% Internet penetration). On the other hand, outside of the capital and big towns, people still use dial-up internet connections (if any) or they have one fax machine in the whole local community. In conflict and post-conflict countries like mine, the real and the most important challenge is how to reach your audiences at all. And here, in the transitional society, we are in between those two worlds.