Is 15 years a lot or not? If you ask me – it’s quite enough. I clearly remember that early spring of 2003 and the determination of a group of PR department colleagues to leave a huge international advertising agency, each for their own reasons. Ambition and high hopes turned this group, literally overnight, into young businessmen fighting for their place in the emerging PR market. And no, it was not easy...
Perhaps an interesting, but surely a less known fact, is that the name Media Val was not created by us, instead, we took it over from an inactive company. We liked it, and it was related to the basic activity of the new agency – media relations. The other part of the name (Val/Wave) fit us well because all of the partners shared the love for the sea.
In the beginning, our headquarters was located in the city centre (Ilica at Britanac), and we were not alone there. In fact, the room we used to work on our first projects was a weird mix of a meeting room and a gallery, so we were often distracted by potential buyers – art lovers, and we were being described by words such as: "do not pay attention to them – guys are up to something here". Then these guys figured out that it would be good to move to the West. On Faller's Promenade, on the ground floor of a family house, we stayed for a couple of years. A few key things happened to us there that would end up having an important effect on further development of Media Val: apart from a sudden increase in the client portfolio, two female colleagues joined the all-male club, and we also started an advanced student internship program.
Thanks to that program, to which, even to this day, one is selected based on a CV, satisfactory results of written assignments and additional verbal checks, we came up with an effective foundation for recruiting young talents and future employees. Despite the strict criteria and a demanding selection process, the fact is that, every now and then, we encountered students that we still remember for their illiteracy, shyness, and their inability to cope with stressful situations... And all of these characteristics were incompatible with their desired future profession, that they often (so wrongly) considered easy and glamorous. However, most of these young people have learned a lot about business, relationship with clients and suppliers, teamwork, and general functioning of the agency. Because our internship does not involve making coffee or document copies... but instead, it involves work and help on concrete projects. Some of them are now in various positions in different companies, and it's flattering that they are grateful that their careers have started with Media Val. And eight of them so far, got the opportunity to get a permanent employment with our agency.
The fifth year from the agency founding was by many standards critical because of some key changes that happened back then. Besides moving to a "real" office in Banjavčić street, it was time to hire someone who will not be our secretary, but manage, at that time, an already large office. Around the same time, one of the partners left us (for health reasons) and one of our female colleagues left (for love reasons). But that actually marked the beginning of a major "personnel expansion" in the upcoming period. Although one could already feel the economic crisis, more and more clients started recognizing our quality and a fair and balanced relationship with everyone – regardless of the size of the client and the available budget. And here is also something that we are especially proud of – they stay with us for a very long time (yes, I'm talking about a period of 10 or more years).
Although we had already been covering almost all the key market segments and industries, we decided to expand our activities to the so-called public affairs and thus founded the Alpheus agency specializing in public policy and advocacy. We originally started this business venture with an external partner, but today Alpheus is owned by Media Val and one employee. This opened the door for something that we have resisted for a long time (consciously and deliberately) – the "real" politics. By that I mean working with parties, or concrete candidates for functions at all levels of government. New knowledge and experience gained from such projects and campaigns were really valuable, but they also made us realize that it was still easier to work with corporate professionals. The prohibition of work with state institutions and with state-owned companies shocked us, and the entire profession, but it did not discourage us, since the majority of our client portfolio was the private sector anyway.
Because of the new tenders won, more work with existing clients and an extra-large team (where men were for the first time outnumbered by women), we moved one more time to a business building in Budmani Street in the heart of Zagreb’s City. Besides greater comfort and finally appropriate meeting room, the newest office had a significant bonus – two balconies that not only supported smokers’ unhealthy habit, but also gave others ability to get some fresh air. In addition, often the best ideas were sparked during those kind of 'balcony breaks'.
Thanks to the open dialogue among co-owners, from the very beginning, we have tried to realistically evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, but also take advantage of any opportunities that are being offered on the market. As soon as we realized that we had possibly become too "serious", we partnered with and adopted the XoXo agency (and two dogs) with which we have completed many lifestyle projects over a two-year period. After that, with different team and equal partners, we established another agency called Fabula. In less than a year, it has been able to prove that this was indeed the beginning of a good story because Fabula's carefully designed events and unique approach to communication across all channels, are gaining more and more new customers, but also complementing the needs of the existing ones.
A bit of self-criticism is never bad, so I must mention our later entry into the digital communication field. By this I mean something much more serious than putting QR codes on the background of a business card or activating an agency on social networks. So, our newly created digital department already has a number of dedicated members with high level of knowledge and experience (and no, we did not want to set up another company, but you never know). Recently, the momentum and success in winning public and nature conservation tenders have also been noticeable.
Speaking of the environment, it is worth noting that we are generally above average ecologically aware: from day one, we separate waste and recycle all paper in the office, we use biodegradable detergents and worry about energy consumption (read: we often work in the dark). We also demonstrate our social responsibility through active pro bono work on humanitarian projects and non-governmental organizations, and we regularly report on the sustainability of business by participating in the DOP (CSR) Index.
Our team buildings can be considered a counterweight to all these other “serious” things. They include (almost every year) a minimal amount of predetermined or physical activities and mostly hedonism. And it doesn’t matter if a happy bunch of people is off to an extended weekend trip to an international destination or simply visiting a (literally) deserted island with only one tavern.
Unlike the employees’ birthdays, the anniversaries of the foundation of Media Val have so far been celebrated poorly or not at all. Still, for this fifteenth one we decided to make a step forward – we launched a new website and there are rumours that we'll have a birthday party after the summer break...
It will be a chance to celebrate a Croatian success story together with our friends, associates, clients and competitors (and all the best to the latter ones). A story in which a group of enthusiasts took a personal and a business risk and, in a decade and a half, created a company that is at the very top of the domestic PR scene. And all that thanks to the effort, skills, flexibility and stubborn insistence on the quality of the co-owners, as well as the employees. It is a team of Media Val employees, which, with the help of openness and winning spirit, transformed all their individual differences into their advantages and strengths. And I'm convinced it will continue to do so – at least until I (or all of us) retire.