Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs in “Poslovni dnevnik”: “We educate leaders, not spin doctors!” - University of Applied Sciences

Ljubica Bakić Tomić

Prof. Ljubica Bakić Tomić, PhD, Head of the study programme Communications Management at the University of Applied Sciences Baltazar Zaprešić talks about the challenges of educating communications managers for the business magazine “Poslovni dnevnik”.

It is known that knowledge and competence are necessary for gaining experience in the profession of PR and communications management, but the public often seems unaware of the types of knowledge and skills it requires. A belief shared by most people is thatcommunications managers have poor general knowledge and manipulate the public in favour of various organisations or individuals that finance them.

In an interview with prof. Ljubica Bakić Tomić, PhD, we discuss these topics and some other deep-rooted prejudices about the profession of communications management, and about the education for this occupation. Prof. Bakić Tomić is the founder and the newly appointed Head of the first and only study programme of Communications Management in Croatia, which was launched at the University of Applied Sciences Baltazar Zaprešić twelve years ago.

Communications managers or PR managers are often referred to as spin doctors. Do you educatespin doctors within the study programme Communications Management at the University of Applied Sciences Baltazar?

We have never done this and we never will. It is a derogatory term because it implies that PR professionals disrespect and bend the truth, which is, quite frankly, a common public opinion about this profession. The reasons for this can be found in the complexity of modern world which is full of contradictions, ambiguities and insecurities, and the PR’s sphere of activity is exactly at the point where all the conflicting interests overlap. The problems of communications management (I deliberately use both terms although the term “communications management” is preferred, since it primarily involves management) can be defined in relation to the collision or potential collision of interests. Therefore, it may seem impossible for a communications manager to serve the interest of both the client and the public, but in reality this is, in fact, the only option, since PR plays an important role in today’s communications-based world.

Professional communications managers are often perceived as persons who give publicity to those who are already powerful, while simultaneously all their work done in the public’s interest virtually passes unnoticed. What are the professional PR managers’ reactions to such criticism?

Professional PR managers which are educated at the UAS Baltazar are very much different from the spin doctors and propagandists who use publicity as their only tool. The problem is, however, that the public doesn’t always perceive these differences, so the professionals’ task is to make this gap between them and the others visible. Professionals try to explain to the public what their job is and have to cope with the problem of their profession’s reputation on individual and public scale.

What knowledge should a communications manager have in order to be successful in their job?

In short, a communications manager should have the knowledge of economics in order to learn business basics, as well as the knowledge of politology and sociology to understand social trends, and also the knowledge of environment protection, sustainable development and social responsibility in order to maintain relations with the stakeholders. They have to have excellent communication skills and understand psychology and research methodology in social sciences.

Furthermore, it is necessary to be well acquainted with the management theory and practice, as well as with marketing and sales, and to have good written communication skills. They also have to plan communications campaigns, write, correct and publish texts and be good editors, in case they have to edit and publish texts and publications. Due to lobbying and protection of business in administrative environment, communications managers need to be familiar with the legal system, laws and legislative procedure.

In addition, they have to be good at transfer of knowledge and skills, know the techniques of giving training and training the trainers, learn conflict management techniques and be assertive. They also need to know about the non-profit sector, monitoring and evaluation methodology, but also have to be informed about current cultural events and processes on the local scale, be well acquainted with the Internet and the principles of online communication. Finally, communications managers have to be fluent in several languages, have a pleasant and healthy appearance, and be completely devoted to their job, since it involves a lot of work 24 hours per day.

What kinds of professionals are educated at the specialist graduate study Communications Management? What are their skills, in what way are they better than the managers of other profiles? What are the things they don’t know?

They know everything they need to know that was mentioned previously, and the things they don’t know can be learned quite quickly. At the UAS Baltazar, we encourage, among other things, teamwork and autonomous learning. They might not know some specific areas like the professionals, but they have to be familiar with them in order to plan them and manage communication. According to all indicators, the profession of communications management has been one of the particularly fast developing professions in Europe and worldwide in the last twenty years. Employers in the private sector, state administration and non-profit sector are seeking professionals with a wide educational profile who can perform multiple tasks of enabling the system to function both towards the outer environment and within the organisation. Within the general organisational framework of PR, these functions perform the so-called contiguous role at the system’s boundaries.Metaphorically speaking, they stand with one foot in the system and the other outside of it, which makes them highly suitable for fulfilling at least three key roles in an organisation, besides the main role of protecting and establishing a reputation. These roles are: protecting the system (one of the reasons why communications managers are often perceived as crisis management coordinators), advocating the value of the system, and increasing the value of the system.

How successful do you think you are in educating that kind of professionals at the UAS Baltazar?

I believe we are on the right path since many of our students who had previously been employed either changed their careers upon graduating from the specialist study of Communications Management, or were promoted in their jobs, which shows that their qualities are recognized. Our specialist study is the only one which offers the course on the principles and models of corporate social responsibility, which is not intended to be used as a PR tool since it is not one. It is aimed for communications managers at the highest managerial levels who can add value to an organisation in their working environment. Both the Management Board and the teachers share great responsibility in approaching this job because we are well aware that our current students, according to all indicators, will take the lead in those organisations in developed systems where the professionals of their profiles are already appointed to the leading managerial positions. Therefore, besides assuring the best quality, our attention is focused on the selection of the courses within the study programme, the ratio of general knowledge courses and highly specialised ones, as well as the methods of working with students, primarily fostering a two-way communication and application of new communications models, which are subject to the rapid technology development and the growing influence of the new media. It is our mission and we constantly strive for it. We educate the leaders.

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