Fotografije : Rade Kovač www.radekovac.com
Ivan Jaksic talks about the challenges of the profession and about creating a reputation as the president of the Serbian society for public relations and as director of marketing, information and promotion of the Serbian chamber of commerce.
Public relations are a strategic function, or strategic creating and reputation and communication management. When I say „strategic“, it means it should be a way of functioning and operating of any organization, therefore – a way of thinking: and organizationally – this function should be set to the top management level. And, an operative question is whether this strategic reputation management should be done by an individual or an internal department of the organization or in collaboration with an engaged professional agency. It is a matter of policy and evaluation of every organization, but it is important that the function of public relations is in a strategic, and not only an executive place. This is the role it has in all developed countries of the world – if you look at the most successful multinational companies, you will see that the function of public relations is elevated to the level of vice president.
This is one of the causes of the problems related to our profession – these stereotypes and prejudices that follow us. Dealing with public relations has become a modern profession here. To young people it seems interesting and attractive when they see, the most often on television, pretty faces that have signed as so-called PRs. So we have a „flood“ of PRs in river clubs, bars, parties, all sorts of „events“, and so on. In my opinion, the highlight of degradation and lack of understanding of the importance and significance of our profession is when in the beauty contests contestants massively answer the question what will they deal with after finishing their studies: „PR“, with a non-verbal amazement as „what else but the PR, I’m young, beautiful, and educated“.
The quality isn’t acquired with the quantity but with the high-quality and continuous education and setting up bases, and thus breaking the prejudices what public relations are and what are not! Usual opinion in Serbia is that mainly spokespersons deal with this. But this is a wrong identification. A person who is strategically engaged with public relations isn’t a spokesman and isn’t a person who deals exclusively with the media relationship, it is a much broader and more serious discipline and business function. The guilt doesn’t belong to public and society. We are guilty, mostly, because we do not distance ourselves from the self-proclaimed examples of bad practices that occur in our profession, and the managers because of the ignorance in this area in these positions place people who only need to mediate between the media and the top management, possibly to respond to some general question themselves, usually to prevent or to be the last line of defense against media attack. Unfortunately, there are very few examples of those who are strategically engaged with public relations in Serbia. Everything stems from the misconception that it is enough to be young and beautiful and handsome and in 98 percent of cases – females to do this job! And that’s not the main, neither necessary nor desirable qualification. That’s why we will run a general education and raising awareness about the importance and function of public relations in the DSOJ, as for representatives of our profession (and those who feel that way), so for the media and managers.
The person who deals with public relations is not a spokesperson, not a port parole. A port parole is a person who appearances on behalf of some individual or an organization; this is a term created from two French words: port – door and parole – message, so someone „who spreads what should be heard outside the house from the door to public “. Someone whom everyone knows and who should be seen. And, he is the part of the entire public relations, a manifestation visible to the public. And behind this there is „invisible hand“ of reputation management.
In the general public hardly anyone knows prominent and successful people who deal with communications in a professional and strategic way! These are „people from the shadow“. They manage communications „from the shadow“, strategically create and manage the reputation of the company, organization, product or individual whom they work for.
I will give one, not very professional, but prominent example. Hardly anyone in the general public knows who Alistair Campbell is. He was the director of communications and strategy of the British government at a time when the Prime Minister was Tony Blair. The famous „spin doctor“ ran strategic communications for Prime Minister Blair, he was his advisor for media and greatly contributed to a lot of important decisions that had global implications. For example, he influenced the perception of Markale by creating a „single truth“, and the global public’s perception that Saddam Hussein in 2002 had in his possession weapons of mass destruction what was the cause for an attack on Iraq, his role in creating the atmosphere for the NATO attack on Serbia was great… Do not understand wrong, this is not a professional PR example. In general, it is important to know the function of public relations is very important and it is dangerous if it is ignored. As we see, the more dangerous is the abuse of this function.
We have recently conducted research within the DSOJ and examined the professionals in this area in Serbia. We have found out that one of big causes of the problem is insufficient education of the representatives of this profession. Many of them have no formal education in public relations simply because they have been dealing with this for a long time, and only recently training at higher education institutions in Serbia has begun, on various subjects, directions and new faculties which study this area aside from marketing. Many people have been trained on courses and seminars for several days or weeks, and many are self-taught. The research results indicate that 55 percent have completed several days or several weeks course/seminar, and if we add to that 21 percent of respondents self-taught in public relations, we conclude that two-thirds are inadequately trained.
Professional engagement with public relations requires multi-interdisciplinary and multi-functionality. Therefore it is necessary to receive great width during the formal education, because the largest and the most responsible part of our work are: research, analytics and anticipation. That’s how we facilitate planning and gain a competitive edge and we can implement the strategy and fulfill goals. Persons engaged in public relations, in addition to basic skills and abilities in the area of communication, must – I say a little in jest, but more in reality – be also a political and economic analysts, sociologists and psychologists, journalists and editors, as well as lobbyists and stylists. Our profession includes all of this and that’s why I say it is a multidisciplinary and multifunctional, especially because all of these functions often have to be performed at the same time, and we have to dedicate to them in a same way.
Many theorists and also practitioners still argue that PR is not an independent discipline. As someone who has graduated marketing at the Faculty of Economics in 2003, I taught then, and it is still taught there that PR is part of marketing. We have those famous marketing „4 Ps“ (product, price, promotion, distribution), and in the promotion, one part of it – publicity, is related to public relations. I’m closer to that theory (and I usually have constructive discussions with the „marketers“) that it is outdated, that while the time was passing „public relations“ have developed into a discipline, not a fully independent – because of their multifunctionality they are closely associated with many functions, marketing for example. Depending on the company – somewhere marketing and PR are merged into a single function, and somewhere they are separated and even conflicted. Mostly depending on the business needs and objectives, somewhere marketing is dominant and somewhere public relations are. There are no rules. As a strategic function of the reputation creation and management, public relations without any doubt have come from marketing whose primary goal is creating and satisfying customers’ needs. The goal of both is to make profit, and this is their common thread. But satisfaction of the customer is a goal of marketing only, while public relations create a reputation – or a picture of the company, its image, and the image of the product sold to these customers, a perception and association that is later associated with a the brand loyalty and so on. What the practice proves is that integrated marketing communications and PR give the best results.
Again, as a joke, but more as reality, I say that one of the few uses of relatively unsuccessful privatization in Serbia – is bringing or implanting PR culture in our area. Multinational companies that have created awareness of the importance of public relations came with privatization and transfered their experience to local companies, then organizations, including the NGO sector, the government sector, local institutions, with the introduction of the public relations function in the form of individuals, departments, or hiring agencies.
Nearly six years ago, when I came to the Chamber, I have also had a big challenge to change a reputation of the national association of Serbian businessmen. It was previously closely related to the politics, as budgetary and quasi-state institution. It was a challenge to create an image and to return its reputation to the key thing, and it is that the Chamber is a representative and promoter of Serbian economy interests. Also, that Serbian chamber of commerce supports the government to create an ambient for business and to create an economic policy program. This means that the government receives information from the database, of the economy itself. This major challenge has resulted in what we have achieved in recent years – a significant step forward, as confirmed by the results of numerous studies among businessmen. Serbian Chamber of Commerce has significantly repositioned reputation comparing to the previous period. As for cooperation with journalists, the best proof are the awards in 2008, 2010 and 2012 which The Chamber received for the best media relations among national institutions. When a confirmation that we have turned to the media professionally as an institution matches the feedback of our primary target group, where entrepreneurs are satisfied with the cooperation, it is proof that we do our job professionally and our pleasure is even greater.
Let’s „clean up our own backyard“ before we go out. There is a big challenge in front of our economy which is in a very bad condition. Re-industrialization is necessary. A major problem in Serbia, unemployment (ranks us among the countries of the Third World), can only be solved by increasing economic growth. That’s why the Serbian chamber of commerce exists, to create a business environment and all the proposed measures that will contribute to this in cooperation with the government. State reputation is certainly very important for attracting foreign investments necessary for economic growth. And entrepreneurs need to recognize the importance of public relations and reputation building for their brands and companies, in order to position themselves in the domestic market and to endure a very difficult game in the regional and the European Union markets.
I think one doesn’t exclude the other. It would be ideal if we had a strong industry and tourism. Why to base on one?
We have based the economic growth on growth of services last years and this hasn’t worked well. We have to return level to the „base“ and therefore: re-industrialization and the growth of industrial production. Now, we are at 40% of gross production compared to the level in 1989. It’s sad after all these years. At this pace of increase, by the end of the century we will not reach the level of 1989! This is worrying.
So, one does not exclude the other. Re-industrialization is very important, but also is the development of other parts of the economy, including the tourism sector. We have some strategic advantages here, not comparing to Croatia which has a coast, but we have to turn to the congress tourism, health tourism, rural and spa tourism.
But, the special opportunity is IT-sector which is recognized only now and it needs an attention. We have very developed „IT knowledge“ that can contribute to development. We have huge technical and technological industrial backwardness in comparison to other developed parts of Europe, and this causes further weakening and failure. IT should help to overcome this, or at least to reduce the technical and technological gaps and allow it to create the products in this sector that will be attractive to export.
Both of them, but mainly the software.
I do not know if it is an average estimation of experts in the branding field, but whatever the amount was, it should have been done long ago. It is an investment, not an expense. Since it was not already done, we should start as soon as possible! Prejudices and stereotypes about Serbia are huge. Single Novak Djokovic cannot change that. We need to manage our reputation strategically, logistics is necessary for this, and branding and re-branding, and it is a task for the state which must include the relevant people. Look what Spain or Turkey has done. We know where they are now, and where they were a few years ago?
That is an interest of all of us, but still – I think the initiative and coordination of activities should come from the government. It is the responsibility of the executive authorities primarily. When relevant factors are gathered, the state budget for this purpose has to be determined. But I’m afraid that’s not possible in Serbia even in the following years. We have no visionaries, we are always looking for leaders, for someone who will drag and draw. Which government in many past years had dealt with strategic, visionary matters? We are constantly in the story of early elections and afraid of it. This government does not exist for a year, but the story of an early election exists for six months already. And in the government itself. Which serious investor would come to Serbia, where political uncertainty is potential? No one! Who will think about strategic goals in the Ministries, when they do not know if the government will be same tomorrow or new distribution of political power in the scene expects us? There are no long-term calculations, all of that are short-term goals set to achieve effects in many areas.
Let’s not go into the everyday politics matters – it doesn’t matter whether it is desirable to have a visionary as a president, government vice president or president of the assembly. It is important that rebranding of Serbia finally starts. As an independent institution, we shouldn’t be a council because we already have a million of them. We need an executive institution with work continuity which is responsible and independent of political turbulences and changes. Spotless people of the profession with integrity and without lucrative intentions (political and business). People who should be there because of the country interest and their knowledge and potential. And then, budget means should be procured and all those who can contribute to the goals that will help everyone should be gathered: donors, entrepreneurs, donors from abroad.
Previous activities have to be overcome. Single, ad hoc activities, something we have done – as a chamber, something SIEPA, TOS for their part, they have short-term goals, non-strategic, non-systematic. Such are also general results.
In our profession, a special area is the „crisis PR“. This is something we keep emphasizing. I repeat that the most important research, analytics and anticipation; followed by the strategic, planning and resolution of potential problems. This way you avoid the crisis and the crisis won’t come into your business. You have never even heard of the best crisis PR! You heard only when something happened, and then they react in a certain way. Our mission is planned problems preclusion.
If one area of business changes, with the development of information technology, these are public relations. There are the target groups we communicate with on social networks.
I wouldn’t agree the importance of traditional media is decreasing. Television will keep its role, print media also, radio slightly less, and growing and special role will have the Internet and social. Each of these media will have their future, and Internet may have the brightest. The costs are lowest there both to the owners and us who are dealing with this business.
Social networks are very popular in Serbia and unlike widespread opinion, not only used for the exchange of private information, but also for business. According to a survey conducted by the Serbian society for public relations, more than 80 percent of our respondents, the companies they work in, communicate via social networks. Some companies have more active profiles – for each brand separately. 100 percent of these have an account on Facebook, and 85 percent twits. This way communication with target groups is faster, more interactive, and more active. This is more accurate and more reliable – you can segment your group, for example „females from 20 to 25 years, with a university degree, who lives in Belgrade, on Vracar, with her parents, in three-room apartment“, so one defined profile which with traditional media cannot be made reliably. What I’m particularly looking forward to is that in Serbian companies are increasingly employing people who are engaged only in communication on social networks. Or, PR agencies are hired to manage communication of specific company or product/brand on social networks.
I think, with the caveat that I am completely apolitical, no matter „Chairman of the UN“ is more protocol function, it is good for Serbia that UN are chaired by our man next year. And we, the Serbs, discordant, will always find a way to downplay that role. Like when Djokovic wins a small tournament, and we wave our hand as if the only „grand slam“ or „masters“ are important. Although with no executive powers, to have someone from Serbia for a year in such a position, it can only benefit us, it cannot harm us.
I think he did – his function and integrity has enabled a discussion on the Hague Tribunal, for example. If someone else was president, this would not be done, because there would be no initiative. Have we succeeded? That is another debate… I don’t know, but that subject was talked about at least, the voice of the President of Serbia is heard before the whole world. Within his authority, I think we’ll take advantage of that position, because we have united most of the world with our candidate in one moment, if nothing else.
The first thing I thought of was a quote of Nobel laureate, French philosopher Albert Camus: „Success does not come by itself, you have to fight for it!“. This is a maxim I use in career and personal life.
What are the future plans of the Serbian society for public relations and what benefits profession can expect from this organization?