Dušan Stojaković, Chairman of DSOJ’s Managing Board: Digital communication is a new global opportunity

The digital world is a global market, and the best ticket to enter it is digital communication or communication in a digital environment

“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the world, people’s attitudes and habits. Distance is what has prevailed in the past year and a half, and that is contrary to human nature,” says Dušan Stojaković, Chairman of the Managing Board of the Public Relations Society of Serbia (DSOJ). “Many people have mistakenly equated physical distance with social distance. These two distances are by no means the same and there lies a great potential and hidden threat of the pandemic for the whole society,” says Mr Stojaković in an interview for D&C magazine’s special called Communications.

Dušan Stojaković, Chairman of DSOJ’s Managing Board

The global pandemic has changed not only the way we communicate but also people’s behaviours and habits. What has changed the most compared to how it was before the crisis?

People are social beings and their key need is to correspond with the world around them. No matter how much we try to overcome the barriers imposed by the so-called external factors, I have the impression that our relationship will never be the same. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing necessarily. Over time, thanks to this, we might undergo some kind of renaissance in human relations and communication. Maybe we will realize how important we should be to each other.

For now, whether we are on the side of science and vaccination or the opposite side, suspicious people and conspiracy theorists, whether we want to wear a face mask or not, we find ourselves stopping more when we want to say goodbye or meet someone, and make this movement of a hand that is going for a handshake into a light touch with clenched fists or touching elbows.

The new reality created new circumstances such as social distance and lack of physical contact. Many companies adjusted their operations to these new conditions. How has all this affected the communications segment?

Physical distance doesn’t necessarily need to be social distance too. For the most part, companies have overcome the new situation and the challenges it brought by moving communication to the digital world. Prevention of the coronavirus spread also entailed remote work and the combination of both remote and office work. I think that most employees have not yet returned to their offices. In addition to quality and verified information, agility is one of the most valuable communication currencies and nd it was exactly the agility of the transition to the digital world that dictated the greater or lesser success in communication.

“My challenge in improving communication will be to advocate for the principle that the information contained in the title of an article should be in its content”

Before the pandemic, online meetings were a rarity, except for those people working in multinational companies. In a year and a half, MS Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and other applications have become an inseparable part of our reality, whether we use them for business requirements, educational purposes or just drinking coffee online with dear people. Although I believe in the power of physical encounter and body language that completes the impression of the interlocutor’s interest, I must admit that digital communications have brought many advantages in my work and that I am now better acquainted with the work of my co-workers.

Since the start of the lockdown, in the company I work for, a short team online meeting has been held every morning at 10 am. This helped us to preserve a working atmosphere, but also to support each other when morale drops because of everything that has been happening to us. Since I am one of those people who see opportunities rather than threats in everything, I would like to remind you of one extremely positive outcome of this imposed alienation – remote work is possible and is productive if we are responsible enough and able to strike balance between our private and work lives. Let this occasional remote work, along with intensive digital communication, be a small gift brought to us by the coronavirus.

Is our market ready for the changes that are happening all around us, and by the market, we mean consumers, companies and agencies?

Perhaps we should not ask whether the market is ready. It is always and never ready. The question is whether we are agile enough to see and understand the coming changes and to adapt accordingly, and then to incorporate them into our work, clients and people’s needs. I could go on and on about the changes in the market brought about by the pandemic, but also the changes in the needs of consumers, companies and agencies.

Since all the dimensions of these changes are still not certain and final, I would like to mention another type of change that we should not ignore or skip. I call these generational changes and TikTok is a prime example of that. This social network introduced a completely new aesthetic and communication format, which was readily accepted by young people. At first, older generations did not really understand it. However, an increasing number of older people are beginning to understand TikTok, while companies and agencies that have recognized the potential of this social network have achieved phenomenal results in reaching the desired target groups and conversion.

How can we achieve synergy between communications, marketing activities and sales on the one hand, and new customer needs, on the other?

Digitalization is the keyword here. It is a new global opportunity. I always say that to my students, encouraging them to develop an entrepreneurial spirit. I try to inspire them to think that the whole plant is a limit for them, not just the country they come from. The digital world is a global market, and the best ticket to enter it is digital communication or communication in a digital environment. Today, everything is for sale – our performance, image, style, lifestyle… I wouldn’t separate communication, marketing and sales. This is yet another new hybrid of the modern age, created from the new and increasingly complex needs of consumers and clients. Most of us are just a click away from our favourite brands. Brands are “in our pocket” (on a smartphone) so to speak, and if we, as communicators, do not put our ‘hand’ in that ‘pocket’, it will be difficult to achieve the desired result, regardless of the type of communication we use.

What will be the biggest challenges for the communications industry in the coming period?

Constantly reducing the budget and zipping up the business are already challenges. People from our profession, the media and companies, already feel, suffer and live this in their daily work. Although everything has become more expensive, the communications market is having to deal with even smaller budgets. This is not good because an insufficient budget often leads to low quality, while key messages are only partially communicated, which often results in noise in communication and various additional consequences. On the other hand, people are listening more and hearing less, both to each other and to all of us who are directing key messages to them. Their patience to consume correct and timely information is dwindling.

“The question is whether we are agile enough to see and understand the coming changes and to adapt accordingly”

Simply put, life is different now. We feel more tension, have less time and more challenges. Communication is digitized. This shortens the path that leads from the message to the recipient, but also offers much more content, which is often below acceptable quality and hinders the use of common sense and the development of critical thinking. My challenge in improving communication will be to advocate for the principle that the information contained in the title of an article should be in its content, i.e. if we start reading certain content, we should get answers to questions that made us want to read it. In other words, we can call this reasonable sensationalism, on the account of sensationalism per se, because without it, today’s media cannot survive.

How did DSOJ adapt to the new environment and what were the biggest challenges for you as an organization?

As a professional association of public relations professionals, DSOJ especially felt the consequences of this crisis, diversified interests, lack of time and reduced budgets, which delayed the implementation of some of our key formats, such as the annual conference, which we are known for. We had to find a temporary way to bridge the period until both the market and our profession are normalized, hypothetically speaking, without depriving the professional public of new findings, education and approach, mostly digital communication trends. Also, we should bear in mind that the market has been flooded with online formats that have saturated supply and stifled demand. At one point, as the second wave of the pandemic subsided, almost everyone tried to offer some kind of online content and new formats, known as hybrid events, were created (speakers were in physical space, without an audience or with an extremely limited audience, while most audiences were online). I think hybrids are more or less the future of the conference industry.

Encouraging change

As a group of professionals gathered under DSOJ, we noticed a lot of things regarding communication in the media, at all levels and on all topics, and suggest how to correct them. But before we do that, we, as a society, have the priority of fighting the greatest scourge of modern times, and when the time comes, we will transform our observations into recommendations for better communication, both qualitatively and in terms of modality, discourse and content, and we will be ready to offer it to all interested parties.

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