Name: Dario Susanj 

Course: MSc Strategic Communications and Public Relations  

Hometown/Country: Zagreb, Croatia 

Year of graduation: 2020 

Before he came to Queen Margaret University (QMU) in 2018 to study for an MSc in Strategic Communications and Public Relations, Dario was no stranger to the media, having written for technology magazines from the age of 13! After making the switch to PR, Dario discovered QMU when searching for professional development courses from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), but soon decided that he wanted to apply for the full master’s programme instead. We caught up with him to find out about his QMU experience.

Hi Dario, could you tell us a bit about yourself?  

I have a background in media, having started writing for technology magazines very early on. I have almost twenty years' experience in the media, covering almost exclusively technology. This has included several editorial positions, including being the editor-in-chief of a major technology magazine in Croatia for several years. I also authored and co-authored eight technology books during this period.  

Some 13 years ago, I made a switch to PR. First spending a couple of years at an agency, and then for the past ten years, I’ve been working as a freelance communications consultant. I have continued to work mostly with tech companies, but also airlines, some hospitality clients, and education providers. 

What made you decide to look into professional development courses?  

I came to QMU from a predominantly practical perspective in media and communications and with no theoretical background or formal training in the field. My journey in communications has been mostly operational, day-to-day PR work, such as writing media releases, pitching to journalists and some strategic planning. You know, the daily bread and butter for us PR professionals. I felt I had mastered that in practice but desired more insight into strategic planning, political communication, and communication and media theory.  

I was curious as to what drives some of the trends, as well as the theory and the research that lies behind industry best practices. I realised I needed to advance my skills and knowledge if I wanted to progress and develop further as a communications professional. 

What attracted you to QMU?  

I was looking for CIPR professional courses and so stumbled upon QMU as one of the CIPR education centres, finally deciding to have a go at the full MSc [Strategic Communications and Public Relations] course. I compared a couple of MSc programmes but was immediately drawn to QMU’s – I felt it was quite comprehensive. 

To be quite honest, I did not consider taking a full master’s course up until that point – my academic background has been spotty. I did study electrical engineering and computing for a while in Croatia, many years ago, but I did not complete that as my work took me into media and communications. Mprevious academic experience has, therefore, been quite a long way from media studies and social science. 

And so, I applied for this MSc course at QMU without a traditional honours degree, however, my previous work experience was substantial enough to gain entry to the programme. The programme lead had encouraged me to apply – this was a huge confidence boost at the time! 

What was your personal highlight of the course?  

My highlight has been that studying at QMU has both restored my academic confidence and helped validate some of the practical ideas of what works in communications today. Before my experience at QMU, I also would have probably never considered further academic qualifications, but I am now toying with the idea, having discovered that I enjoy both studying and research. 

What did you find helpful about the way the course was delivered? 

A lot of case studies were discussed in all the course modules, and that has helped augment the theoretical knowledge with current issues and relevant cases. Then there’s the freedom of optional modules that tie-in nicely with the core modules, helping you explore the topics communicators should at least be competent in – like, for example, negotiation and persuasion. 

"Going back to higher education was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I feel a lot of that has to do with QMU. The experience has been so entirely different from my earlier attempts at studying that I now regret not doing this sooner."
Dario Susanj, MSc Strategic Communications and Public Relations

Did you face any challenges with your studies, and if so, how were you able to overcome these?  

I spent these two years commuting between Zagreb and Edinburgh for my lectures. This was challenging and demanded quite a bit of planning but was also fun as I absolutely love Edinburgh and enjoy travelling. I also flew in every now and then for a couple of days just to immerse myself in the atmosphere and to make the best of the resources in the LRC [Learning and Resource Centre] when I needed to do some research, especially for my dissertation project. 

I don’t think I would have managed, however, had it not been for the fantastic support from all the lecturers and other university staff who were always available. But I would say the course itself is well-suited for people who work and who intend to study part-time, with a combination of face-to-face teaching and online delivery. I never felt alone or lacking support in my three online modules, for example, and the lecturers were always only an email away. The ELS [Effective Learning Service] also provides helpful booklets and advice, which have helped me a lot, given my previous gap in academic education. 

There’s a lot provided by QMU to facilitate learning when you’re not on campus – the resources provided by the LRC on campus are excellent, and the staff there are helpful, but there’s also a vast library of digital books and relevant journals from the communications and PR fields. I relied heavily on online access to these journals for my assessments, and the access to some of the online databases provided to students at QMU was key for my dissertation work. 

How did your lecturers support your learning?  

I think the greatest support has been, in a way, that the lecturers so successfully painted the bigger picture of the ever-changing and developing communications field by providing relevant, cutting-edge and up-to-date literature and readings, and then putting them into context. They encouraged learning and exploration throughout the course. If you are willing to follow these links and explore further beyond lectures, you will do quite well on this course, and you will learn quite a bit! 

I also learned tremendously from the feedback on my assessments, which was always constructive. You really do have to work hard to earn your marks. This has, of course, not been easy on occasion, particularly if you have a job, but the feedback helped me learn and improve from the very first module I took, right up to my dissertation project. The programme leader and my personal academic tutor (PAT) were always there for support. If you have been away from academia for a while, as I have been, knowing that someone has your success at heart truly helps. 

Working on the dissertation project in 2020 was quite a challenge – just as I returned from Edinburgh, where I did some research and data collection which I will need later for my project, we ended up in a series of lockdowns. But my project stayed on track thanks, in no small part, to my dissertation supervisor, who proved to be very supportive from the outset. Although I did come up with a project that I felt was perhaps too complicated for a master’s dissertation, I also felt the project was intriguing and too good an opportunity to miss. I was encouraged by my supervisor to think it through thoroughly and to come up with my conclusions. With the dissertation supervisor being highly supportive and aiming to provoke thought, this truly made a difference in these unusual circumstances. 

What advice would you have for anyone interested in applying for the course?  

I would say – just go for it! Regardless of whether your path in life is the same as mine and you are now looking to advance your career, or if you’re perhaps looking for your very first PR job after you graduate, I feel this course has you well covered on both fronts - both from the theoretical and the practical standpoint. There’s a lot to learn, a lot to question, and a lot to explore. There was also a good mix of young and more mature students on this course, coming from both perspectives, which was tremendously inspiring and made the discussions highly productive in the workshops. 

My overall experience at QMU has been extremely positive, enjoyable and rewarding. Going back to higher education was one of the best decisions I have ever made, and I feel a lot of that has to do with QMU. The experience has been so entirely different from my earlier attempts at studying that I now regret not doing this sooner – QMU has, at least for me and given my background, provided an opportunity I didn’t think I would ever get. 

[Published December 2020]