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Nataša Pavlović Bujas, President of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA)

Trust: The Ultimate Question

Neither companies nor individuals and institutions will be able to remain silent any longer when it comes to social events, especially in this historically unique year of elections, with over 4.5 billion people in more than 60 countries set to decide the future of their communities in 2024

Research indicates that communications professionals are now more equal members of top management than ever before, but also represent pillars in many strategic decisions. That’s why our conversation with Blumen Group Director Nataša Pavlović Bujas, who has amassed decades of experience in the field of communications and was recently elected global president of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) for 2024, focuses on questions that aren’t only important for companies and professionals in this field, but also for citizens who – in an overabundance of information – are increasingly losing trust in what is written or spoken and seeking guidance.

What do people want to hear today, and from whom?

— The communication scene in this and the coming year, or even in subsequent years, is indeed fascinating. On the one hand, we have the intensifying use of artificial intelligence, which arrived earlier than expected and predicted. On the other hand, there ias growing concern about the decline in trust and the increase in content offering unreliable, false, and/or entirely fabricated information. Artificial intelligence certainly streamlines many phases and processes in communications, saving resources – in terms of time and people – and opening up space for communication and professional communicators to be elevated to a higher level.

The internet and social media have allowed local brands to survive with smaller budgets, and direct communication with customers has become key to their development

To address the PURPOSE – the essence of our profession and everything we communicate. Back to basics – to return to our roots and take responsibility for our own impact – to inspire real change and progress with what we communicate, to unite the public (any) around common goals and values. What people want today from companies, institutions and individuals is the transparent communicating of views on significant social issues, activities, activism for community advancement, reliability and consistency.

Which communication channels do audiences prefer and most trust today? Are traditional social media platforms like Facebook and X truly a “deserted land” now?

— Again, the specificity and complexity of the times in which we live and work: on the one hand, we have a large and even excessive number of communication channels and tools, software, and algorithms that change and develop extremely rapidly. On the other hand, we have several generations of users that differ completely in terms of their habits, behaviour, values and beliefs, and that are quite digitally illiterate. Optimising communication towards target groups that are so different has been a significant challenge for some time already. I don’t think traditional social media is entirely “deserted”, but I think there is a clearer profile of what each network is used for, how to use it intelligently, and to whom and how to address messages.

The same thing happened with traditional mass communication channels – radio, TV, print newspapers. Nothing disappeared completely, but everything evolved. It is clear that social media platforms will also evolve, rapidly and intensively, under the influence of AI. The question of trust is particularly relevant. According to the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer, a reputable and traditional annual survey, the question of TRUST will be the question of all questions this year. It seems that the public trusts the media the least, followed by governments and politicians. People most trust those they see as being similar to themselves, which is why social media platforms remain highly important for communication, along with those sources that convey scientifically confirmed information and/or information from verified experts. Therefore, alongside trust, another key word will be REPUTATION.

What are today’s key trends in digital and video marketing?

— I avoid making such assessments and predictions, because previous research indicated that artificial intelligence (such as ChatGPT) would only enter into use from 2027, with applications like Midjourney becoming relevant from 2030, and yet we are already witnessing the intense use and impact they are creating! We made mistakes in our predictions. Nevertheless, some trends are already being recognised. The significance of genuinely high-quality and unique content is growing, because the goal is no longer just to reach users and prompt a reaction/ engagement, but to keep them engaged for as long as possible with the created content and the message we convey. We know that video will remain a favourite communication tool, and we will even see longer video content on TikTok – of up to 15 minutes. Discussions and public communication are increasingly shifting to Instagram Threads, which, in just six months, has reached 100 million monthly users and is continuing to grow. LinkedIn continues to surprise – as a unique network based on organic content reach, which has gathered more than a billion users to date. It is also important to know that data, data, data – whether that relates to personal data protection or analytics – remains an essential topic for education and understanding the digital domain and communication in general.

Will the use of AI help or hinder our creativity?

— Over the 30 years of my professional career to date, both in management and communications, we’ve been cautioned about various things: the internet was the first threat, then websites and emails, followed by mobile phones, Google knowing everything about us, and t

en social media. It was on these platforms that intimidation reached its peak and was most intense until this most recent one: intimidation by artificial intelligence. The only thing that can threaten us is ourselves – giving up on learning, adopting, improving, adapting and insisting on resisting change. Although the term “artificial intelligence” contains the word intelligence, it is actually software, algorithms and tools that will help us if we learn how to use them. It’s true that it’s advancing rapidly, some even say it’s self-improving, but the human brain is an incredible device and I believe in its potential to be inspired and stimulated by the use of AI. I read something somewhere that I’ll paraphrase here because it illustrates the current situation well: “Artificial intelligence won’t replace you; that will be done by the person who knows how to use it.”

Is there room today for local authenticity, or are we all global citizens for global brands?

— Today, more than ever, there is room for local authenticity, and I would even say it’s on the rise in terms of the attention it receives in the public eye and its increasing value. Even in these regions, we are learning and slowly realising how important each authenticity is – even though it can be costly. Or more affordable. We are indeed global citizens, and global brands will always exist, but they have been localising in recent years – if not their products, then at least their communication, considering the specificities of the local environment. With the development of the internet and social media, local brands have received an opportunity to exist on the market with much smaller marketing budgets than was the case, for example, two decades ago, and to communicate directly with users – which is crucial for their development.

The public has the least trust in the media, followed by governments and politicians. People trust their peers the most, making social media platforms a key communication channel

Local brands are often family- owned businesses, which is additionally important because it’s precisely that kind of entrepreneurial spirit that drives development and innovation. Local brands also care about the welfare of the community and the development of the environment in which they operate, and I would personally love to see much greater support from both the media and the government when it comes to the development of local brands and family businesses.

What should today’s PR and digital marketing look like, to ensure we don’t perceive them as being intrusive?

— It’s important for me to emphasise: if PR is intrusive, then it’s not PR, but the unskilled use of some marketing tools. PR today requires multidisciplinary expertise– it’s called a 360-degree profession. And it truly is! Communication experts have long been more than just spokespeople, mainly responsible for media relations, having become experts trained in multiple fields who, as members of management, participate first in making strategic company decisions and then in implementing them in the communication plan. That’s not by chance: PR experts are primarily familiar with people’s behaviour and needs, then the specifics of communication channels, marketing strategies and management, but they are also excellent analysts and are knowledgeable about data and the use/ interpretation of data.

So, intrusive PR is bad PR, but it exists and will continue to exist. The situation with the intrusiveness of digital marketing is slightly different – on the one hand, it’s necessary to be skilled to resist the capabilities of algorithms and/ or budgets to make your messages always visible, everywhere and to everyone. On the other hand, that’s certainly not what you do if you understand the harm it causes to a brand’s reputation. And not just reputation.

So, digital marketing or digital communications that are not guided by strategic communication ultimately do more harm than good over the long run. And yes, you’re right, people perceive them as intrusive, unempathetic, even arrogant, and sometimes even aggressive.

RESPONSIBILITY

As uncertainty in the environment grows, so do the expectations of the public, and with that our professional responsibility

CHANGES

The only thing that can threaten us is ourselves – giving up on learning, adopting, improving, adapting and insisting on resisting change

MEASURE

Computers have replaced typewriters, mobile phones are gradually replacing computers, evolution is more revolutionary today than it has ever been in history, but the measure of everything is still determined by humans