Valentina Mezdić, student of the Croatian Studies, and Eli Čerkezović, student of the Croatian Catholic University, did their internship in CTA komunikacije, where they are currently employed. At that time, these two fresh PR assistants worked on the campaign This Truly Matters, with which they fought for free ferry transport for children with disabilities. Their campaign won the world’s most prestigious PR award, the Golden World Awards for Excellence so we decided to have a talk with the award-winning female students.
Although they did not have any budget for the campaign, the Association of Parents’ with Children with Disabilities Brački pupoljci in cooperation with the CTA komunikacije agency fought last year to amend the Law on Transport in Linear and Occasional Coastal Maritime Traffic, which now finally grants free ferry transport for children with disabilities from all Croatian islands to much-needed onshore therapies.
Their efforts were also recognized by the International Public Relations Association (IPRA), which awarded them the world’s most prestigious PR award, the Golden World Awards for Excellence, for the This Truly Matters campaign.
However, there is more to this interesting story. Two female students, then interns and now employees of CTA komunikacije, also worked on the award-winning campaign. Both are still students of communicology – Valentina Mezdić at the Croatian Studies, and Eli Čerkezović at the Croatian Catholic University.
We asked them how they happened to find themselves in the award-winning campaign, what they learned and whether they struggled and what their plans are.
Have you participated in similar campaigns before or was this your first?
Valentina: I came to CTA komunikacije in July 2019, when the This Truly Matters campaign had already been launched. As this is the first agency in which I was (then) doing an internship and which, among other things, deals with strategic communication, this campaign was a kind of ‘baptism by fire’ for me.
Eli: At the moment when the campaign itself started, I had just come to CTA komunikacije for a student internship, so this campaign was also the first one in my life. It will definitely remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life, primarily because it is a proof that nothing is really impossible, ant that when you fight for true values and true goals, this gets recognized by the profession and people all over Croatia. This makes me truly proud.
How did you join the campaign?
Valentina: Since one of the most important items for the success of the Brački pupoljci’s fight was a timely and proactive communication, the whole team continuously monitored the media, parliamentary sessions, worked on media articles, reactions to actions. Two pairs of eyes are always better than one, so the CEO’s Petar Tanta and Gordan Turković included me in the project during the first month of my internship, informed me about its importance for children with disabilities from all Croatian islands and, most importantly, conveyed their passion for combating injustice to me. In fact, everything happened spontaneously and naturally.
Eli: Gordan Turković and Petar Tanta introcuded me to the campaign as early as the first days of my arrival to the agency. They told me what it was all about and when I found out our final goal was a law amendment I reacted as most people do and thought “how on Earth are we going to achieve this?” However, several days in, everything fell into place and there was no doubt – we are doing this campaign and it was out of the question to even think about giving up until we amend the law with Brački pupoljci Association.
What was the hardest for you?
Eli: The hardest for me was the revelation that children with disabilities did not have the right to free ferry transport. To be honest, first I thought I had figured it out badly because I simply could not understand it was necessary to fight for something that supposed to be a basic human right. In addition to this, I am from the Island of Krk, so this might be the reason of me getting into the whole story with a lot of emotions and desire to obtain this necessary change.
Valentina: In campaigns like This Truly Matters, in which you fight on the side of a non-profit organization against a larger organization that has continuous and guaranteed media coverage, in this case the Government of the Republic of Croatia, the speed of reactions to their statements is important to hear the client’s voice. Whenever the topic of free ferry transport for children with disabilities came on the agenda of the Government Committees or Parliament, everything else stopped, and it was up to us to have a ready response within a maximum of one hour with warnings of irregularities in the Government’s narrative and by pointing out their omissions. For someone who had never worked in such a dynamic environment before and was just learning to write quality press releases, such a short deadline was the biggest challenge. Of course, this has changed over time, and I was left with an adrenaline rush driven by the desire to enable fundamental human rights to one of the most vulnerable groups in society.
What do you study and how did you connect your campaign work to college? Did you manage to do everything?
Valentina: During the campaign, I was finishing the first, and enrolled and attended the second year of graduate study of communication studies at the Croatian Studies, in the field of Scientific Research of Mass Communication. Given that during my undergraduate studies I listened to courses mostly related to public relations, every lecture focused on practice suddenly got its purpose, but I also realized that, unfortunately, no person without additional experience of working in an agency after college is ready for such a labour market.
It is more than possible to study and work in an agency, but the approach to working in an agency such as CTA komunikacije has both facilitated and (positively) made this relationship more difficult. Namely, although I am still a student, in addition to Brački pupoljci I worked for a few other clients and received the responsibility that would be given to full-time colleagues. My experience was not important to my superiors, only my motivation for work and progress. Due to my own desire to prove myself as soon as possible in the agency, I often worked on projects during lectures, but my university career did not suffer, perhaps only my social life. After the internship, Petar and Gordan offered me a student job in an agency, and at the very beginning we agreed that my studying is always a priority. During the periods of preliminary exams and exams, I always got exactly as many days off as I estimated I would need, which is an indescribable benefit that many in similar positions do not have.
The hardest part for me was the almost daily trip on the route Samobor – office on Savska – Borongaj campus, but that is now behind me. Just like the well-known proverb says, where there is a will, there is a way. The bus and tram are always a great place to write an essay on a cell phone, especially if the trip takes over an hour.
Eli: I am currently a second-year graduate student in communication studies, majoring in Scientific Media Research and Public Relations at the Croatian Catholic University. I have to admit that the campaign helped me learn that skills can and must be used for such noble goals and it was an ideal time to put all the knowledge I had gained in college into practice. As for my time organization, I must especially thank Peter and Gordan who always had understanding for my absences from the office and who always emphasized that college comes first which helped me a lot to fulfil all obligations on time.
What does this award mean to you?
Eli: I think I am still not fully aware of what we have achieved and what it means to win two such prestigious awards. Both HUOJ’s Grand PRix and IPRA’s Golden World Award for Excellence are a proof that all the people who conducted the campaign together with us did a great job and without any hesitation did their best to ensure these rights for the youngest in society. I was honoured to be able to help, but I still think changing the Law is our greatest reward.
Valentina: Both awards won by the This Truly Matters campaign are a great recognition for every public relations professional, especially for someone who is still attending college. On the one hand, I am aware that a very small number of people in Croatia is in possession of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) award, which makes it even more special, but no less valuable than the Grand PRix of the Croatian Public Relations Association, which we also won. On the other hand, winning these awards cannot be compared to the sense of satisfaction that reigned in our office as we watched the unanimous vote on the amended Law on Transport in Linear and Occasional Coastal Maritime Traffic and the final victory of Brački pupoljci.
What are your plans now after the campaign and the award?
Valentina: In the coming period, the plan is to first graduate, and then stay and further advance in CTA komunikacije.
Eli: The award is definitely a huge incentive for me to continue to improve and absorb knowledge from my colleagues in the agency. I believe that in our profession brings new challenges every day, as well as new knowledge, and it only takes good will and a lot of perseverance to turn each challenge into its own profit and learn something from it.
Do you wish to add or stress something?
Valentina: First of all, I want to say to all students out there that they are never too young or inexperienced, no matter who tells them so. If, on the other hand, people who should be you mentors tell you this, I suggest you change these mentors immediately – look for motivation, not frustration. Also, I hope that one day many other large and small agencies will realize that people at the very beginning of their careers can do much more than make coffee or endlessly check their media list, especially if they are there to practice voluntarily and purposefully. I often hear my peers wasting time on internships or not even getting them because impossible working hours are required alongside college. CTA komunikacije are a proof that with flexible working hours and with a lot of will and friendliness, you can successfully attend college, amend law and society for the better, and to receive the highest Croatian, even global recognition of the profession.
Eli: I hope Valentina’s and my experience will encourage other students who may be hesitant about student internship to decide for it anyway. Good mentors are the foundation for every start and they are the ones who help you deal with initial insecurities. We are really lucky to be in an agency surrounded by people with extensive knowledge and patience.