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Letter from Croatia

by Violeta Colić

I have been a public relations practitioner for 14 years now. I began my career in the corporate world then switched to the agency side. Presently, I lead Premisa, the biggest PR agency in the Croatian market. Even after all these years in the PR business one of the toughest challenges for me is how to explain to someone what I actually do – in a short and simple way.

In Croatia, as in many other countries, Public Relations remains a vague and unclear term to most people who see PR experts just as pretty girls and handsome men appearing in the media as PR managers in charge of promoting clubs, beach bars, fashion brands and events. Altough we, the real PR practitioners, know that there is much more to PR than this sort of glamorous activities, the average citizen neither knows that nor sees the difference.

Just like the average Croatian journalist who is convinced that, apart from answering their questions and flooding their inboxes with news releases, we have nothing else on our to-do list. Although this might make you think that we are in an early stage of the PR industry's development, do not be fooled: Croatia's public relations market is well developed, largely following the global trends, thanks to many excellent professionals with years of practice and holding recognised qualifications such as the CIPR Diploma.

Operating in a tough market

Nonetheless, both the Croatian PR industry and the entire economy are undergoing a serious crisis. The Croatian economy has been on a downward spiral since 2008; moreover, the drop in Croatian companies' profits and the lack of investments have had a negative effect on the PR industry as well. Most companies' communication budgets have been cut significantly as compared to the period before the crisis, and so have the agencies' revenues. Nevertheless, Croatia's private sector, particularly the big-sized companies, remains the biggest clients of PR services.

Public sector organisations, on the other hand, had rarely used outside PR services before. In 2012, the Government even made a decision to ban not only the ministries and other state institutions but also majority-owned state companies from retaining outside PR agencies.

As a general rule, journalists are hired to work as communicators at public institutions, which is one of the reasons why the public sector's communication practice lags significantly behind private-sector PR: journalists lack the necessary knowledge and expertise, as well as the broader understanding of the role and tasks of public relations within an organisation.

Croatia's PR practitioners are organised in two associations: HUOJ (for individual PR professionals) and HUKA (for PR agencies). Both associations, but HUOJ in particular, are actively working to raise the quality of PR practice and to improve the public perception of the profession. They also welcome readily any practitioner willing to join them in these efforts.

It's all about the coffee

Anyone who decides to do business or even live in Croatia needs to know that drinking coffee and socialising are Croatians' favourite pastimes. Having a cup of coffee, a ritual which may occupy one for hours at a time, is not something that just friends are invited to – colleagues and business associates are welcome as well. So don't be surprised to see our cafés jam-packed with people all day long. Naturally, even journalists use such coffee-drinking occasions to dig for stories. That means you are hardly going to be a successful PR practitioner in Croatia if you don't like coffee. Luckily, our coffee is really good.