Conversation with Barbara Krajnc, founder and principal consultant at Aurora Borealis in Ljubljana, Slovenia discussing the importance of strategic communication and public affairs for all types of organizations operating in an ever more complex world.
In this episode of Interlinks, we talk to Barbara Krajnc, founder and principal consultant at Aurora Borealis in Medvode, near Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
Barbara is an experienced international consultant, mentor and speaker with extensive experience in the public sector, international corporate affairs, professional associations, and general management.
Barbara describes herself as being in love with strategic communications and public affairs and she guides her client companies through rough and good times helping them to manage risks and acting as their reputation guardian.
Today she works most often as a strategist, specialized in the areas of public affairs, government affairs, regulatory & issues management, compliance, and corporate communications.
Barbara is also keen speaker at conferences in Slovenia and abroad and she is passionate about mentoring future managers and leaders and I was delighted to have her on Interlinks to get some insights into this fascinating, yet often overlooked area of strategic business management.
Click here to read transcript
Patrick Daly: Hello, this is Patrick Daly and welcome to Interlinks. Interlinks is a program about connections, international business, supply chains and globalization, and the effects these have had on our life or work and our travel over recent times. Today on the show, we’ll be talking to Barbara Krajnc. Barbara says she is in love with strategic communications and public affairs, and she’s an experienced international consultant with extensive experience in the public sector areas, international corporate affairs, professional associations, and general management.
Today she works as a strategist, specialize in the areas of public affairs, government affairs, regulatory issues, compliance and corporate communications. Barbara’s also a keen speaker at conferences in Slovenia, her home country and abroad, and she’s passionate about mentoring future managers and leaders. So Barbara’s company is called Aurora Borealis and is based in Medvode near Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. So welcome Barbara, and thank you very much for being here with us today.
Barbara Krajnc: Thank you, Patrick, for this very kind and extensive introduction. I’m happy to be sharing with you today.
Patrick Daly: You’re very welcome. So, to kick off, Barbara, could you tell me a little bit about your career and how you came to be working as an independent consultant in your field?
Barbara Krajnc: Sure. So my career spans across 30 plus years, so I think I did a bit of active working life already. I started in a local company after finishing my University of Economics here in Ljubljana, then I was actually headhunted and I jumped into relatively big shoes to go into politics as I worked as then junior advisor to the then Prime Minister of Slovenia.
So it was quite an interesting step in my career. After that, I joined a global corporation and I spent almost 15 years there. I quit because of things that I felt I didn’t fit into anymore. So I decided to leave, which was relatively unusual at that times. Unlike today people move around I think quicker. Then I went to regional, I would say regional Austrian based company in outdoor advertising, followed by managing a advertising association in Slovenia, which I really, really liked. And after so many years working for somebody else, I decided that maybe it’s time that I take everything into my hands and become independent consultant. So for the last six plus years, I’m fully into being independent consultant and I really, really enjoy it, I have to say.
Patrick Daly: And your company is called Aurora Borealis, which means the Northern Light.
Barbara Krajnc: The Northern Light. Yes.
Patrick Daly: What’s the significance of the name? Why did you choose that?
Barbara Krajnc: Yes, first of all, I’ve seen that already by myself in life traveling to north of Tromso in Norway, and it really blew me away. I mean, the nature and everything itself. The name was, of course, the company named selected on purpose. Basically, I’m trying to say to my clients that even if you don’t see me every day, and if you don’t hear from me every day, I’m here for you 24/7. So I’m thinking about you, looking around the ecosystem, the environment in which a company operates, and I’m trying to think, okay, how is this relevant? How is this important? Is this for the long term? For the short term? Yeah. So that’s being invisible, but still present here at the moment.
Patrick Daly: Yeah, that’s interesting because you work often in an advisory capacity, so you don’t need to be present in the building to be adding value, but it’s more about they have accessibility to you. Is that what you’re trying to convey with that?
Barbara Krajnc: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Okay. So you’re in a country that maybe isn’t very well known here. So you’re in Slovenia, which is a former Yugoslav Republic. So it borders with Italy, Austria, Hungary, and Croatia, short coast on the Adriatic. So what’s Slovenia like? And for those of us who are lucky enough to go there, what should we see and what should we do if we get to Slovenia?
Barbara Krajnc: First of all, yes, you are all very welcome. And Patrick, I hope that yeah, if you come, it’ll be my pleasure to go around. Slovenia is a small country of 2 million population, as you said, it’s bordering two countries, four countries, sorry. And it has the coast of 42 kilometers. So if you want to try and run a marathon, you can do that-
Patrick Daly: Along the coast, yeah.
Barbara Krajnc: … running alongside the coast. Slovenia is a country where that offers activities, and you can see a lot throughout the year. Depends if you like summer, if you like winter, it has a mountains, lakes, beautiful nature. Slovenia is one of the greenest countries, because it’s covered, I think 60 or 70 plus percent, if not even more. I’m currently not hundred percent sure with the forest. So if you really enjoy hiking, that’s something you may want to do or bicycling, skiing or just sitting in the old town of Ljubljana or any other towns, many beautiful ones. And you can just enjoy the wipes and even now the Christmas time. Yeah. It’s beautiful.
Patrick Daly: And it’s a full member of European Union. You used the Euro, right?
Barbara Krajnc: Yes, we used the Euro since 2007, and we are members of the EU since 2004.
Patrick Daly: Okay. Excellent.
Barbara Krajnc: So quite some time already. Yeah.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. And in your business in Aurora Borealis, what services do you provide to your clients and what kinds of people or companies or organizations become your clients?
Barbara Krajnc: So, I’m really specialized in public affairs, strategic communications in our environment. When people say public affairs, government relations, or even lobbying if you want, this might not sound very positive, but I think that any company that has a legitimate business has also legitimate interest to engage with key stakeholders. So it’s a combination of strategic corporate communications, public affairs, meaning that I advice the management level or C level if you want, about the current and especially the future brands in business ecosystem.
When I say business ecosystem, I mean all the stakeholders, all the key stakeholders that the company has to engage one way or the other, who are really the groups, the audiences that you have to or a company has to address. Big chunk, of course is a regulatory part, regulatory framework that impacts any business. And since becoming a member of EU, this has become much more complicated because you have to have your radar screen in Brussels as well as in capital of Ljubljana, because it goes both ways as you much better than we do.
So, it’s really about insights, foresights trends, risks, and opportunities for the businesses, that’s what basically I do. Mostly I advise and work with international clients because they seem to understand much better the added value of such advisory services or consultancy services where I can say that more and more local companies or domestic companies also have become aware of that positive potential.
Patrick Daly: And what’s the client’s perception of the benefit of working with you and how do they feel that they’re better off after having worked with you or continuing to work with you?
Barbara Krajnc: I think it’s probably my experience and a good understanding of the political, business, economic environment of the country. Understanding how the government, the parliament works, being having extensive network or having a capability of finding the right information at the right place, I would say, of having the sense of important details that are really relevant and that matter at specific moment. I think I’m a trustworthy person, so I understand what is really important. And I think I have this sense of urgency as well. A sense of, okay, this is coming, so there might be something cooking. So this is important for a company to be aware of, so to better plan, not from today to tomorrow, but longer term.
Patrick Daly: And when we talk about strategic communication, what exactly do we mean? What makes communication strategic?
Barbara Krajnc: Well, I would start by saying that there’s quite some confusion sometimes. Strategic communications seem to be a bit more important than business strategy as such, but it’s the other way around. First you need to have a good business strategy, a vision, and you really have to have all the business functions, the business units running properly. And strategic communications really come as a support to the business side, of course. But because we tend to see what’s in the public, then sometimes we believe that our communications are really important. Yes, they are important, but they will not solve your business issues if you don’t have the right business strategy, if you don’t have the values. And if you don’t live these values, strategic communications can do miracles.
Speaker 3: 93.9 Dublin South FM.
Patrick Daly: Yeah, we’ve seen a lot of communication lately, whether it’s from politicians or businesses where the communication is saying one thing, but it’s quite obvious that what they’re saying is not the reality. And we can see through that. So that seems to be a big issue with communications at the moment that there seems to be more and more of it. Is that your perception and where are we going with all of that?
Barbara Krajnc: Yeah, when we talk about communications, I think it’s getting very, very complex and very demanding because of so many channels. You have to have be really good listener and you really have to have good skills in getting the right insights. What the general public, what the media, what the whole digital landscape is talking about. And unless you’re really on top of that, it’s very difficult to be on top of everything. That’s one. The issue that I have is really that there is a gap between what the company says and what the company does.
To me for the last two, three years, we seem to hear more and more purpose of the profit, ECG, principles, et cetera, et cetera, sustainability. But when you go deep dive into what the company sides into communications sides and then into business side what they do, you see a big gap. And I think that’s where business leaders should really think twice sometimes to really bring back or take a step back, I would rather say to really think how they do business and how they go about communications. Because again, you cannot make it nicer if-
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Maybe they’re afraid to tell people how they really do business because they’re afraid people will disapprove. But I mean, the truth is the truth, right?
Barbara Krajnc: But that’s why I mentioned that’s communications or even business operations today are very complex because of so many different challenges and you really cannot hide. That’s one. And second, we as consumers, as clients of certain companies of products of services, we’ve become more aware. We have access to more information, and it’s us who are making informed choices. Which service are we going to use to which bank do we want to go? Which products do we want to buy? Do we trust that brand or this brand? Huh. That’s quite a challenge I would say.
Patrick Daly: I noticed you mentioned some different methodologies that you use, but you mentioned using Lego as a tool in your work, and I saw on the gallery on your website where you show many of these kind of Lego models that you use. So could you tell me a little bit more about that and how do you use Lego in your work?
Barbara Krajnc: Yes. So my consultancy or the work I do for the clients is relatively, sometimes we are talking about the issues that are not so tangible or obvious. You cannot really hold them in your hands. So I was trying to find, because I’m sort of consider myself as a creative person, so I was trying to find some tools, some approaches that really can bring some creativity, some excitement if you want, into the work. So couple of years ago I came across Lego series Play method. I got certified. So I do a lot of workshops advising, facilitating, and later on advising companies using bricks and why the method is so successful, so interesting because it really teaches you that you really have a lot of knowledge you have in yourself, just have to bring it out.
And also that the therapist would tell you that if you are in front of a big challenge, you have to do something with your hands. And when you connect your mind with your hands and you produce something, you create something, then something really interesting and relevant comes out. So yeah, that’s quite an interesting approach. I did a lot of workshops, just for example, when we were actually reviewing, making sure that the home teams understand the, let’s say, three year strategy, sales strategy. I did some on the values, on the team dynamics, interpersonal relations. So you can use it for a different types of-
Patrick Daly: So it’s interesting when the model is built, the people have built the model, they can see things that they couldn’t see before they built the model.
Barbara Krajnc: Exactly. And just maybe to add that people do really listen to each other because you really have to listen what somebody else says about his or her model. And then people also discover what other people are bringing to the table in terms of collaborating in a team. Because most of the times teams have issues because they don’t know each other well. And then that’s where those kind of tools, it’s not only Lego, there are many other methods I just decided for this one, but that’s what brings the best out of the-
Patrick Daly: I’ve experienced that in my own work and life. Sometimes you’ve got an issue or a problem you want to solve, and it’s not until maybe you start to write something down or maybe do some sketches that it actually crystallizes into a solution.
Barbara Krajnc: Yeah, that’s why I mentioned if you talk to any therapist, they would always say, just start writing or start creating something. Start sketching.
Patrick Daly: Yeah. Question here, now I’m interested in getting your view on what the hell is going on in the world. So what do you make of what’s going? So we’ve had all of these shocks and surprises, which seem to be coming out of nowhere. They’re probably not coming out of nowhere, but we have the war in Ukraine, we’ve had a pandemic, we’ve had some very strange election results around the world. We’ve had some very funny coup attempts, bizarre in Germany and America and so on. And perhaps there are bigger trends in behind that. What do you think is happening? What’s going on?
Barbara Krajnc: Well, I think it’s a million dollar question, but we are here in the middle of this geopolitical turbulence. I think that in my view, it’s really difficult to sometimes digest what’s going on and how this will really impact. It’s all about, or there are too many divisions in the politics. Do we go into lean on being left or being right. There’s too many hate speech. So I think to me, I’m trying to really also thinking about clients, what to say to them. So I’m trying to put some things in perspective and say, okay, what’s this geopolitical turbulence is in advance that we can impact or that we have an impact on and where we cannot do anything.
So that’s something that I’m trying to reflect basically on a daily basis. But I would maybe conclude by saying that I see a lack of really people with huge charisma, leaders with huge charisma that would really show the way, because people have less and less trust in politicians, less and less trust in media. Then they take things into their own hands. And then we see what happens in the US and in many other countries, people don’t trust media. People look for other sources, whether these sources are genuine or genuine or not, that’s question. We saw that during Covid and people not trusting science. So, difficult to say it in a short period of time, I would say.
Patrick Daly: And what can companies or other organizations that you might work with, what can they be doing in terms of keeping abreast of all of this and keeping ahead of the trends and adapting to the unexpected shocks when they do arise? I find a lot of companies that just kind of head down in their own business. So do they need to get their heads up?
Barbara Krajnc: Definitely more and more. I have recently read, I think it was an article in Harvard Business Review, of course, we are talking really about global corporations. They do have chief geopolitics officer or even corporate ambassadors because it’s really about diplomacy, it’s really about international relations. So definitely even if you are not a global company, I think you should really have somebody in your team or somebody, an outsider, really help you have this 360 view because you need to really understand what’s going on, not only to understand your immediate competitors, but more in a broader sense.
What are the trends, what are the societal issues, what are the pressure issues that in local community where you operate. So it’s not only having the high level view, but you have to take care of also of your local community. Of course, you have to take care of your employees in the first place and then respect their concerns. So it’s getting really, really complicated. So yeah.
Patrick Daly: It’s an interesting challenge because companies, you go into a company and there’s engineers and there’s salespeople and there’s purchasing people and accountants and whatever, but they actually need some other type of person who understands, who likes to know maybe demographics and climate change and geopolitics and the emergence of a multipolar world. And to translate that into what it means for the business, right?
Barbara Krajnc: Yes. So usually the companies would have a position of corporate affairs, public affairs person. Sometimes that would fit into business development. So when I was part of the global company, I was part of the corporate affairs team and that’s exactly the main roles and responsibilities of working in that department. First of all, supporting the top management level. Giving insights and inputs into when long-term business plans are developed, when specific strategies are developed, when big changes are coming, you are probably the first to know, even if it’s top confidential. But you have to understand. You have to know because you are the one that you are outside ears and eyes of the company. And then this is the interlink between your external or business environment and Interlink.
Patrick Daly: Interlink indeed. The name of this podcast, Interlinks.
Barbara Krajnc: Yeah, exactly. You see.
Patrick Daly: So outside of work, what do you like to do on the way of hobbies and other interests?
Barbara Krajnc: Definitely, top of my mind is sport. I like skiing, I like hiking, swimming, and bicycling. That’s probably almost a national sport in Slovenia, I would say. Other than that, one of my greatest hobbies is calligraphy. So that’s why I mentioned, I tend to say to myself that I’m creative person. That’s something that’s really also, it is a sort of a meditation if you want. But I really like to create something with my hands. So now I’m in the middle of hand making my Christmas cards. It’s late. So my friends are anxiously awaiting every year, my Christmas cards.
Patrick Daly: Your creativity. And then where can people find out more about you, about your thinking, about your work in this very interesting field?
Barbara Krajnc: Sure. They can find me on LinkedIn. I’m active on Twitter and through my website, auroraborealis.si. So welcome.
Patrick Daly: Excellent, excellent. Many thanks, Barbara for being here with us today. It’s been a absolute pleasure to talk to you.
Barbara Krajnc: Thank you, Patrick, for having me, and wish you all the best and lovely, lovely holidays and happy New Year.
Patrick Daly: Likewise. Happy, happy Christmas. Thanks also to our listeners for tuning in again today and be aware that if you enjoyed this episode, you can find a full series of over 100 episodes of Interlinked on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Acast, and other major podcast platforms. So until next time, keep well and stay safe.