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We spoke to Professor Vesna Žabkar PhD, from the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana, about marketing industry in Slovenia, about her professional experiences and challenges with organisation of the forthcoming ICORIA 2016 international conference, held in Ljubljana from June 30 to July 02.

vesna zabkar

Dr. Vesna Žabkar © Kavarna SEM

Could you briefly describe your professional experience and the way you gained it?

I am a full time professor of marketing at the University of Ljubljana's Faculty of Economics and since 2013 I have also been the deputy dean of research and doctoral studies. After completing my Bachelor's degree at the Faculty of Economics, I spent some time in Germany gathering practical experience in marketing before returning to Ljubljana to pursue my postgraduate and doctoral studies. I completed part of my doctoral studies as a Fulbright scholar in the United States, at the Northwestern University in Chicago. At the Faculty of Economics, I teach Marketing Communication at the undergraduate level and Advertising, Analysis and Marketing Decision-Making, and Marketing for Managers at the postgraduate level. I am also a visiting professor at the Universities of Vienna, Zagreb, and Rijeka.

What made you choose the field of marketing?

I was interested to know how advertising and marketing communication work, and today I still find it a big enough challenge to better understand consumers and marketing decision makers. I see marketing as a part of the problem, but at the same time also as a part of the solution as marketing knowledge can serve as a means to direct consumers towards healthier behaviour and nutrition, physical activity, and care for the natural and social environment. This is why I am particularly interested in marketing responsibility towards the economic, natural, and social environment and sustainability-oriented marketing.

How did you embark on an academic career?

While I was gathering practical experience in Germany, I was invited by the Faculty of Economics in Ljubljana to collaborate with them. I accepted the post of a teaching assistant, got involved in research projects, and discovered my interest in working in an academic environment. I then obtained my PhD, got involved in the development of new courses, mentoring, and collaboration with colleagues from abroad, and spent a period of study in Vienna. I still enjoy my professorial work. I delight in working with new generations of future marketing professionals, finding answers to new questions, and trying to better understand consumers and marketing decision makers.

How would you evaluate the marketing industry in Slovenia? Which marketing areas make Slovenia comparable to other countries and which are those that perhaps even place it at the forefront internationally?

This is a very broad question as marketing covers a wide range of activities, institutions, and processes involved in creating, communicating, and exchanging values for consumers and society as a whole. There are a number of aspects in which Slovenian marketing deserves to be rated as good, such as the speed of response to new trends and the aspects related to tactics, but there is still a lot of space for improvement, particularly in the strategic field, in defining target markets, targeting, and positioning. Over the last decade, the level of knowledge among the key players has improved. The industry has been rejuvenated and has changed considerably. Internationally, it has been facing the challenges of greater responsibility for achieving results based on investment in marketing as well as the challenges of digitalization and consumers' participation in new product development. I can say, however, that in the area of marketing and corporate communication both Slovenian marketing and advertising practitioners and academic researchers have been quite successful.

In June 2016 the Faculty of Economics will host the ICORIA 2016 international conference. What is your role in this?

My role is to lead the conference. I am the chair of the programme and organizational committees. ICORIA is an international conference on research in advertising. Its 2016 edition, set to take place in Ljubljana, will be held under the title of 'Challenges in an Age of (Dis)Engagement'. The age of (dis)engagement is an age of player's engagement and enthusiasm on the one hand, and their uninterestedness and lack of commitment on the other, which is the source of a range of challenges that will be addressed by more than 130 conference participants in the papers they will present in Ljubljana.

icoria 2016 ljubljana

How did you manage to bring the event to Ljubljana? Was Ljubljana in competition with other destinations?

We offered our candidature to host the conference two years ago, at the ICORA conference in Amsterdam. Last year's conference took place in London, where the European Advertising Academy took the decision that the 2016 conference should be held in Ljubljana. This is a sign of trust and a confirmation that we are visible and recognizable enough to be entrusted with the responsibility of organizing and hosting an international conference.

We have heard that you, personally, received a very special award at one of the previous editions of the conference. Could you tell us more about it?

At the conference in Amsterdam, I and my co-author Maja Arslanagić Kalajdžić, who obtained a PhD from the Faculty of Economics, were awarded a special prize for the best paper at the conference.

What kind of challenges have you been facing in organizing the ICORIA 2016 international event?

The organization of an international event of this kind is quite a bit to handle and I am glad to have colleagues and collaborators to take part in it as well as support from the Faculty of Economics, professional associations, the business community, and Ljubljana as a destination. All the papers to be presented at the conference were chosen based on review scores (each paper was blindly reviewed by two reviewers), which ensures greater quality of selected papers. The papers had to be distributed into sensible sections  the conference programme includes more than 30 of them  and section leaders had to be chosen. Separate from that, we have been running a selection of the best paper at the conference. We also had to make arrangements for a section featuring leading international magazines in the field of advertising and coordinate the meetings to be held in parallel with the conference we have been organizing on behalf of the European Advertising Academy (EAA). The conference programme includes two keynote speeches, by Jure Apih and Davor Bruketa, who will speak about advertising in our country and shed light on where we come from and where we are today. Apart from that, our organizational work has also included the booking of a venue for a gala dinner, the arrangement of transfers, support to participants from some countries in obtaining visas, media coverage (through social media outlets  the ICORIA 2016 Facebook and Twitter pages, e-news for the members of the EAA, and the conference's website), and much, much more. Before the conference begins, we still have plenty of work to do to finalize the programme and prepare participant materials.

Is there something else you would like to tell our readers?

The main motive for organizing a conference of this kind is to put a country, university and local researchers on a map of research and participate in research networks. Events of this kind are also an opportunity to present the host country and city to conference participants, who may choose to revisit them with their families at a later time. The organization of such events is extremely time-consuming, but exchanges with international researchers and the experience gained are priceless. As far as my family are concerned, they also appreciate the fact that despite participating in an international conference, I will not be away from my family circle.