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Trusted Advisors: Up Close and Personal with… Zdenka Buric

As part of our Trusted Advisors series, our web editor meets with the Firm’s leadership for one-on-one interviews on their experience, expertise and professional journey. We’re happy to present the latest of these interviews with the managing partner of our Vancouver office who, in addition to being a crisis expert, turns out to be a true Disney princess connoisseur and Veuve Clicquot aficionado. Time to meet Zdenka Buric.

Zdenka, on what types of mandates/projects do you mostly work on?
 

The bulk of my work pertains to crisis management but I also conduct training programs (media, presentation skills and crisis). I particularly like doing the media training because it’s an area in which everybody gets better. Many of our clients are very successful and accomplished people, but for whom the thought of doing a media interview can be quite overwhelming.

We lay the foundation and give them the tools they need. After their first media appearance, we sit with them and play it back to identify what needs to be worked on. When they do their second interview, we can already see some improvement, and then again the third time. We can see their confidence levels increase, and it’s always fun to eventually hear them say, “I can do this”!

We often joke about how hard it is to offer guarantees in our business… But this is the one guarantee we can provide: everyone gets better.

What is the biggest misconception that clients have about your profession?
 

I would say that there is a lack of understanding and appreciation of what we do and how we can help, and of the distinction between media relations and advertising. Media relations require a lot of work, especially when we’re doing something proactively. We’re always competing with other news and stories that might be more interesting, and no one can guarantee good coverage… We always try our very best but at the end of the day, if you’re only looking for a story that sells well, that’s advertising. As PR professionals, we deal with the “reality” part. If a client comes to us with a good story, we will communicate it and get out there. But we need something to work with. We can’t make things up!

Another challenge we face in British Columbia is that people really don’t know how many things we need to consider when working in different jurisdictions. We do a lot of project work requiring a true appreciation of the environment in which our clients operate.

I assume this means that there are many factors to take into account to get the ball rolling?
 

Exactly! What do we have to do to get through an environmental assessment? How must we proceed to work with First Nations? How should we approach the communities involved? These factors are all critical to the success of a project. When you’re coming from a different province or country, the effort required to get something done can be quite surprising. People don’t know about all the steps that need to be taken behind the scenes.

What is your take on the importance of social media in public relations?
 

I believe that social media is probably the biggest game changer that we’ve seen in our industry since I started my career in PR. If we don’t embrace it and utilize it to help our clients succeed, we’ll be at a huge disadvantage. It’s impossible to have a successful campaign/project without appreciating the importance of social media and digital in everything that we do.

Especially considering how things are now evolving at lightning speed.
 

So true – my colleague Alan Boras and I often joke about how “in the olden days” actually refers to… 2008! In the past five to seven years, the shift and the changes have been dramatic. Just look at Twitter. It’s instant, it’s accessible and it’s fast. People can just see or hear something, tweet it out and watch it take a life of its own in a matter of seconds. When you think about it, the impact of witnessing something and putting it out there is quite powerful.

In your opinion, what’s the most important quality of a PR practitioner in your area of expertise?
 

 When it comes to crisis management, considering that it may be the very worst day a client has ever had, I think that the most important quality is to be very calm, collected and steady. We’ve worked with clients on cases involving workplace fatalities or large layoffs. These situations are very difficult and can be emotional for them so we have to bring in a certain calmness and reason to the day and make sure that everything is taken care of. Our role is also to provide that valuable outside perspective because when clients are in the eye of the storm, it’s often all that they can see. It’s important to acknowledge the scope of the tragedy but also to be able to take a step back and look at the whole context. Bringing a poised and objective perspective to our clients is often what is the most helpful during a crisis.

So situations that would cause many people’s hearts to skip a beat or two are actually those in which you are at your best ! To each their comfort zones…
 

As consultants, clients come to us because they don’t have the expertise in-house. When they call us in somewhat of a panic mode, they need our help with things that we deal with every single day. It’s what we do. And trust me, it’s a great feeling to be able to help people and tell them that you’ve got everything under control. And it’s just as rewarding when a client thanks you and shares that what you were able to accomplish still leaves him or her speechless.

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Fun facts about Zdenka
 

I was born in: Šibenik, Croatia (a beautiful seaside town on the Adriatic sea)
Favourite food: Rib eye steak
Favourite movie: Love Actually
Favourite book: I can’t pick just one, so:  A prayer for Owen Meany, A fine balance, and Olive Kitteridge.
If I didn’t work in PR: I’d have so much free time!
If I could be a superhero, I’d be: I have daughters so I’m more familiar with princesses.
If I could be on a reality TV show, it would be: I don’t like reality TV but if I had to pick, it would be House Hunters.
If money didn’t matter: I’d have even more free time!
Number one travel destination: Somewhere I haven’t been yet. I’m currently favouring Vietnam and Israel.
Most memorable vacation: A trip to Costa Rica, although visiting all my cousins in Croatia was pretty great.
If I could be a celebrity, I’d be: I would never want to be a celebrity because I really value my privacy.
Favourite past time: Spending time with my family, reading and traveling.
Person I most admire: My father
First concert I ever went to is: Rush
Favourite musician: I don’t have a favourite one but my favourite song is Into the Mystic by Van Morrison
Guilty pleasure: Veuve Clicquot

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