I met Petar 4 years ago on the first Conference. Since then I try to be around. It’s obvious – He is doing a great job. Actually – he is doing what we all should do; to help our beautiful country to find it’s place among the other countries showing people around the world what, what and where is Croatia!
So, we had a friendly chat…
You’ve been organizing Branding of Croatia conference 4th year in a row. How did you come up with this idea?
– Nenad Bach was one of the key reasons this conference came to fruition in the first place. I met Nenad in the diaspora back in 1999, and would often go back to reading his articles on www.croatia.org and follow his TV and media appearances. As you know, Nenad loves to talk about the hidden potentials of Croatia, and about the branding of the Croatian Nation. After his appearance on the “Lica nacije” with Branimir Bilić, on the Croatian National Television (HRT) I decided I’ve had it… Feeling fed up waiting for the Croatian Government to *do something*, I simply invited Nenad to Pula to teach a seminar I entitled “Branding Croatia in the World” for a limited number of 18 participants only. The rest was history, as they say…
How do people outside Croatia perceive Croatia?
– Many have heard of Dubrovnik, but think it to be in Yugoslavia, not Croatia. Others think Pula’s Arena is in Italy. Frankly, sometimes Croats abroad are not making it any easier… “Croatia? Well, It is VERY close to Venice!” or “Never heard of Croatia? No worries, it is just a stone-throw away from Vienna…” You know… Haha… Imagine being a foreign student from Croatia and meeting a pretty girl in California that you are trying to impress. She asks where you’re from and since she has never heard of Croatia – would you ever really say something like “Oh, yea, we’re near Serbia and Bosnia. You know, those territories your country, the United States bombarded barely a few years ago… but no pressure..” Haha.
That’s the branding we’re talking about here. Do we have a strong, positive story to tell about Croatia when meeting people around the world – the story that “adds value” to who we are, and what we do? That is the question. Truth be told, our “stories” are certainly improving now, and perhaps the world knows more than ever about our sunny beaches, organic food and amazing accomplishments in sports and culture. However, an appropriate question a Croat abroad might get asked in 2018 is, “since your country sounds so amazing – why then entire families and young educated people leaving it behind and running like hell to escape from it? What’s the catch? I don’t get it…”
How do we Croats perceive Croatia?
– See, branding of a nation is not about lying to anyone, including one’s self, about the reality. Or acting “all is well” when it is not. Branding means strategically differentiating those good and positive aspects, and further emphasizing them (putting more investments in it, promoting it, making the country famous for it!- whilst, on the other hand, minorizing the importance of, or completely part with, those negative aspects. Now, since elimination may not always be possible, at least a decision should be made that the country will no longer invest in something that other countries can simply do better. That means creating a system and sticking to it for at least 8-12 years, and ideally more! That is what branding is all about. Long-term plans and long-term vision. It is about the vision!
Can Croatia change its image?
– Image, perception, reputation, or simply put “a promise that Croatia can deliver same great way time after time” – those are all aspects of branding. But the imperative for a country to really be called “a brand” is, that someone, somewhere (usually not far from the Government seat) had purposely created the vision for this country’s future. In other words, how can you rebrand a country if you never branded it in the first place?! Now, some might say “Well, we got the country, it is here, people already have certain opinions about it and its image.. so there you have it! It is branded!” Wrong. Permitting others to paint your own picture for you is not only lazy and childish, but also extremely naive. For heaven’s sake, Croatia is not the only country in the world!!! Other countries also have their own interests and more often than not are keen to legally lower (and often destroy) other countries’ reputations just so they can build their own and make them stand out as better, more desirable and more dominant on the world’s stage.
Is there someone who specifically encouraged you?
– Yes. Everyone that ever wrote a sentence about the idea of Branding Croatia and discussed its potential for branding certainly got my attention, and in one way or another influenced me to: 1) move ahead with the conference and make it bigger and stronger each year, and 2) get those very people on board with us, and involve them in the conference giving them the necessary spotlight! People such as Davor Bruketa, Boris Ljubičić, Sanja Bach, Zvonimir Frka Petešić, Mate Rimac, Božo Skoko, Miroslav Ćiro Blažević, Nenad Bach, Mirko Novosel, Marijan Bušić, Zdenka Weber, Tuga Tarle, Anja Bauer, Ashley Colburn, Davor Pavuna and many many more.
How the preparations for the first conference went? Who were the people who immediately recognized you and supported you?
– We were truly blessed to have enjoyed success with this project from the get-go! Naturally, in the beginning, most people did not know about the project. We organized the first “Branding Croatia” in Pula with no money, solely depending on students’ participation fee and personal contributions from Nenad and myself. No governmental funding, no municipal, country or ministry support. Nothing at all. Just us, and our honest wish to create something out of nothing, for the betterment of the Croatian society at large.
In fact, our biggest supporters were our student-participants. If it were not for them, I don’t think we’d ever go ahead with the Branding Croatia 2, 3 and this year Branding Croatia 4… Luckily, we started getting attention from the media very soon, and as of 2016 were able to move the project to Zagreb, with the support of The Zagreb Tourist Board, The Central State office for Croats Abroad, The Croatian Heritage Foundation, and – as of 2017 – the Croatian Chamber of Economy. This year we took a step further and also got sponsored by the Karlovac County and The City of Ozalj. There are countless individuals, friends, and colleagues that were crucial in helping us make this project into what it is today. We thank them all!
Who were the first panelists?
– Nenad Bach & his guest of surprise, Angel Investor Saša Cvetojević, as well as Robert Schenk, an entrepreneur from Pula (2015); Mate Rimac, Ivan Mažuranić, Ante Mandić, Daniel Kolak and Nenad Bach (2016) and so on… In 2017 we added the so-called “accompanying programs”. That is, along with the guests advertised, we added short presentations and meet-ups with the likes of TV-actor Robert Kurbaša (“Branding and the Dramatic Arts”), Dominik Galić (“Branding and the Croatian War of Independence”), Kristijan Lopac from Berlin, Antonio Vukorepa from Dubai, blogger Cody Brown McClain and others.
Who impressed you the most in these 4 years?
– Honestly, everyone that we featured was really great! But I must say we were particularly impressed with the exceptional level of our student-participants. Let’s make something clear – probably 99 % of all our so-called students are actually the kind of individuals that could easily be holding a speech or giving a lecture at the Branding Croatia conference! And, as time goes by, many do. They are all exceptional people from all kinds of professions, and all walks of life. But the imperative is that they have demonstrated excellence in their professional and/or private lives. That’s all we are really asking for.
Was there some kind of „current“ that happened among the people which help to make the whole concept of branding stronger?
– Definitely! We are in “the-who-you-now” industry. The whole world is. Case in point, I was recently invited to give a lecture at the Ekspertiza conference on politics in the health sector. Who do you think jump-started the project? Anita Galić. Our alumnus last year. And she personally said to me that it was thanks to the Branding Croatia conference that she got the idea to get her own project started. Very cool to see people grow together. That’s what we are about.
How does the public react?
– So far so good. My father Mate Ćurić was a professional journalist for many years so I was able to pick up on some of the stuff that media feels attracted to. And simply put, you’ve got to give them what they want! That’s just the way media works. Therefore, I do try to “pack” events at our conferences in such way that they are truly valuable and high-quality events, but I do try to also add an interesting angle to it if you know what I mean?
For example, featuring Dr. Davor Pavuna (an individual with strong Christian views and values) on the same bill with one Davor Bruketa, who, we all know, is a very liberal type of guy. Since this is definitely a non-political project, or (should I say apolitical?) I strongly believe that this opened a brand new window of opportunity here. For, all we have to worry about is quality. Excellence. And, of course, patriotism. Now, the right-oriented individual might consider patriotism to mean raising flags or dancing to Marko Perković-Thompson music, which is fine, but do keep in mind that his counterpart on the left may actually consider remaining in this country (and not leaving for Munich or Frankfurt, for example!) to be an act of patriotism. To tell you the truth, I am fine with both. As long as one respects and cherishes Croatia and wishes for it to have a better and more prosperous future – he is fine with us! Regardless of who he votes for. Party politics is definitely not a part of this project. This project is about working together and growing together.
Have you been successful in these 3 years? Where did you score the best results?
– We really only ever had three goals for this project. Number one – get the media and the public opinion mobilized about the necessity for the Croatian national branding. That is, if five years ago the national papers published like, two articles on this topic a year, and nowadays they publish three articles a month we are more than happy and our first goal is getting accomplished successfully. Number two – connect and interlink everyone in Croatia and the Croatian diaspora that has ever had an interest in this topic, and is willing to contribute to the betterment of our Homeland. And number three – to effectively lobby the Government in power and the politicians of influence in this country to create the National Office for Branding of Croatia and the Public Policy strategies adjunct, not to any of the State’s ministries, but directly to the Executive authority, such as is done in most developed and successful countries we look up to!
That’s pretty much that. Now, our goals might change in the future. However, I can safely say that the three mentioned targets will remain intact until at least the end of 2020. Why? Croatia is presiding over the EU in 2020. There is no better opportunity in the world to brand the country than that and to present the country in a new, creative and best way possible.
Besides, we have never had a better situation in the top-rows of our policy-makers! President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarović definitely understands the matter extremely well. Heck, she was Assistant Secretary General of NATO for Public diplomacy, so she must be an expert. Furthermore, Zvonko Frka Petešić, ‘one of ours’ is now Head of Office for the President of the Croatian government, Mr. Plenkovic. Thus, if we do not brand Croatia by 2020, chances are we never will.
In your opinion, is Croatia branded at all?
– No, it is not. If it were, this conference would not be here today.
What more can be done and what are, in your personal opinion, key steps to do in the future?
– I think we just need to wait another month or so. But, it will get done. There is no doubt in my mind that it will get done.
Politics and branding, do they go hand in hand or do they stay at gunpoint?
– Branding of Croatia is a long-term strategy that requires a solid compromise on both sides of the political arena. It will likely overlive not one, but a number of politicals overturns of power. Therefore, it is something we should all agree to do for the sake of our children, and their children’s children. A grand coalition? Sure. If you wanna call it so, be my guest.
Experience is here, the media are responding, what do you desire outside that?
– We desire to succeed with this project and then move on to other worthwhile projects necessary for the long-term progress of this country.
Do you have any clear goals or is it subject to upcoming changes?
– In addition to the information already stated, I can say no matter how small any step forward for this country may be – it is still a step forward. And that’s how we look at it. A journey starts with the first step. For me, life is not wearing a king’s crown and going around showing it off, making people jealous. Life is a process, a learning curve… an experience! We should happily and mercilessly enjoy each day God gave us. Some mafia Don once said: “Every day above ground is a good day”. 🙂
In your opinion, where is Croatia’s future and how does it look like?
– We, you and I, are the future of Croatia. I think we look pretty good.
Thank you Petar, let’s do our job!
Andreja Horvatić, April 20. 2018.