The birth of the PR profession in Croatia occurred at a much later date compared to the USA or other developed European countries such as Germany.
It began in 1964 when the Esplanade hotel in Zagreb opened a position for a PR manager1. In 1968 the biggest Croatian food-processing company, Podravka, also opened up a PR position within its marketing department2. From the 1970s to the 1990s, PR developed in the tourism industry while in 1990s it was highly influenced by the transitional economical changes that have been slowed down by the Croatian War of Independence of 1991 to 1995. During these difficult times, Croatian PR mainly focused on providing information about what was happening in the war-torn country.
The Croatian public relations profession only started to thrive from 20003, although at that time PR was mostly seen as an additional cost instead of investment4. In Kvantitativni i kvalitativni dosezi odnosa s javnošću u Hrvatskoj 2003 (“Quantitative and Qualitative Ranges of Croatian PR in 2003”), Božo Skoko5 argues that specialized public relations agencies contributed the most to the development of the PR profession in Croatia because they implemented quality communication management and best case studies in their daily work while simultaneously rising awareness about the importance of PR on their clients’ side. Meanwhile, the Croatian public relations association (CPRA), which was formed in 1994, has positioned itself as a central meeting point for PR practitioners.
However in spite of all this progress, the Croatian PR profession (and in particular its PR agencies) has suffered two major setbacks in recent years, in addition to economic crisis that has severely affected the Croatian economy since 2008. The first setback was the unjustified linking of the whole profession to the firm Fimi Media when it was involved in a major corruption scandal. Despite being a marketing company, the firm was wrongly labelled as a PR company by the media at the time, and so the PR industry suffered because of it. CPRA6 and public relations agencies failed to react appropriately and in a timely manner to the scandal, leaving the general public with the impression that PR agencies are used for money laundering.
Another event that negatively affected already damaged profession occurred on 19July 2012, with the enforcement of the government’s Decision on Performing Public Relations. This Decision forbids any government or public body, including companies in which the Republic of Croatia is the dominant owner, “to contractually engage any physical and legal persons to create or maintain public relations and communication management with defined target groups or publics”. Exceptions are possible only with prior explicit approval of the Government of the Republic of Croatia7.
Although the government’s initial intentions with this regulation were to reduce the possibility of various illegal activities by means of PR agencies, it had just the opposite effect, creating a sizable grey area for PR services that are contracted as business consultants. More importantly, this Decision caused enormous damage to PR agencies because they were excluded from half of their market8.
Fortunately, on 28 December 2017 the current government repealed the Decision. So, 2018 represents a new beginning for PR profession in Croatia and hopefully all participants (from students to PR professionals, academics and educators) will work together to reposition our profession and to regain recognition of the role public relations plays in democratic society. This of course will take time and continuous education, while the enhancement of existing skills and the acquisition of new ones will have a major role in this process.
1 See Tomić (2008), p 43, Tkalac Verčič (2016), p 55.
2 See Hajoš and Tkalac (2004) p 86.
3 See Skoko (2004).
4 See Hajoš and Tkalac Verčič, (2004), p 88.
5 See Skoko (2004) p 80.
6 Although they published an official statement in which they reacted by saying that Fimi media is not a PR agency and is not a member of the association and asked media not to call it PR agency in their reports – see HUOJ (2018).
7 Translated from Government of Croatia decision, see Vlada Republike Hrvatske (2012).
8 See Petrović et al (2014), p 573.
Hajoš B., and Tkalac, A. (2004) "Croatia", in B. van Ruler and D. Verčič (eds) "Public Relations and Communications Management in Europe: A Nation by Nation Introduction to Public Relations Theory and Practice", Mouton de Gruyter, New York, pp 83–94
HUOJ (2018), URL: http://www.huoj.hr/index.php?opt=news&act=mlist&id=2981&lang=hr, accessed on 15th January 2018
Petrović M., Tepeš I., Žigić I., (2014), "Analysis of the public relations agencies market in Croatia and prediction of its future in European Union", Proceedings of the 2nd International OFEL Conference on Governance, Management and Entrepreneurship 4th – 5th April 2014, Dubrovnik, Croatia
Skoko, B. (2004), “Kvantitativni i kvalitativni dosezi odnosa s javnošću u Hrvatskoj 2003”, (Quantitative and Qualitative Ranges of Croatian Public relations in the Year 2003) Medij. Istraž (10/1), pp 67-82
Tomić, Z. (2008), “Odnosi s javnošću Teorija i praksa”, (Public relations theory and practice), Synopsis Zagreb – Sarajevo
Main image: The bay at Split, Croatia, seen through stone window; the outlook for Croatioan PR hasn't always been as sunny / Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto