Learn why Bulgarian media rarely asks questions in press conferences, why the latest Heineken beer and Pampers campaigns used Facebook as a main communication channel and why the high acceptance of new communication channels causes problems in the use of the local language in our global PR interview series featuring Bulgarian PR expert Gergany Vassileva this week.*
* The series is based on phone or face-to-face interviews and written input, therefore please excuse language mistakes which might reflect foreign language influences.
1. What is the latest trend (change) in PR you have identified in your region?
Gergana Vassileva: First we need to mention that PR is relatively new in Bulgaria in comparison with the countries from Western Europe and the States. During the communist times there was only propaganda. When we established our public relations company some 13 years ago, it was very difficult to explain to the clients what PR was and why they needed it. At the moment the public relations discipline is like a fashion – everyone knows everything about PR and is doing PR.
PR trends in Bulgaria are no different from the other counties in Europe. Digital PR is getting bigger and bigger. Social media is booming! Interesting fact is that there are 2 million Bulgarians on Facebook! Which is almost 2 times more that the Romanians on Facebook (Note: The population of Romania is 19 million – Bulgarians are only 7 million).Cause-related PR campaigns are also increasing and more companies want to get involved in social issues. Green energy PR also has a potential.
2. How does your agency react / handle / embrace this?
GV: We have a team specialized in digital PR and we already have several successful campaigns for companies such as Heineken beer or Pampers. These new media campaigns are also often related to a social or charity topic in which a company initiates a charity project or supports initiatives by organizations such as Unicef or similar institutions as a sponsor and additional communication source.
3. Can you give a recent example from a project?
GV: One of the latest examples is our Facebook campaign for Pampers. With our Facebook page “The World of Mommy” we have been able to raise awareness for Pampers’ “1 pack = 1 vaccine” campaign which supports UNICEF with funding for the life-saving vaccine supply for less industrialized countries. Where newborn tetanus is still responsible for 5-7% of today’s infant deaths
We successfully invited mums (and dads) to in-store concerts and encouraged interaction and exchanges of tips and ideas between the members. Nearly 6.500 “fans” engaged in lively discussions and interaction with each other and the Pampers social media team.
4. Are there PR practices in which you think your region differs from PR in other part of the world?
GV: With the Social Media and e-communications you’ll find similar trends and tendencies in Bulgarian PR as in many other countries. Although the use of the new channels causes problems other countries do not experience. The Bulgarian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. Many new communication channels such as texting from a mobile phone don’t offer the Cyrillic letters. So we have to use the Latin alphabet and try to find alternative spellings for Cyrillic letters that don’t have an equivalent in the Latin alphabet.
This causes some problems as there often is no “correct” spelling form for this transit. This is not only a challenge for PR texts – due to the popularity of social media school teachers have already complained they find it harder an harder to teach correct spelling in Bulgarian to the younger generation.
Back to PR – the use of celebrities for PR is very common in our market. Every celebrity has a PR person and topics such a fashion and beauty are very popular. At the moment you’ll find billboards advertising plastic surgery everywhere in the larger cities in Bulgaria. Except for L.A. where I have once spotted a sign advertising “Botox on the beach” I haven’t seen this in any other market so far.
5. Can you describe common mistakes foreign companies make?
GV: To consider that the media are working the same everywhere. Bulgaria is a small country and people know each other. The approach when organizing campaigns should be localized – that what international PR is for.
Recently an English PR lady, who is a friend of mine, was in Bulgaria to promote a music festival. She asked me why Bulgarian journalists think PR pros in entertainment business are just “pretty faces” and accordingly not taken seriously. She had the feeling her approach that had worked perfectly well in the UK didn’t create any interest in Bulgaria.
Another common mistake many companies make is to think if they do PR in a relatively small country their communication material can be used in English. But while Bulgarian media accepts and welcomes company speakers giving presentations and interviews in English they expect the press material to be translated into Bulgarian. This way they also make sure to avoid misinterpretations and mistakes caused by the language gap.
6. What do clients from other markets need to keep in mind when they plan to do PR in your region?
GV: Companies can save lots of efforts and hardship by working with an established local partner. It’s very important to find an agency with the right market knowledge and established contacts. While this might true for most countries there are regions where it is even more essential like in a small county such as ours with very established networks and a historical background that still influences communication needs today.
Just one of many examples demonstrating this is the behavior of journalists at press conferences. Many companies are disappointed because nobody will ask a questions in meetings where several media representatives are present. So it’s very important to offer the editors an opportunity to ask questions in 1-2-1 meetings. They will be looking for an individual and unique news angle for their coverage. The fact that this need is stronger in our market than in some others might be related to the communism history when people have not been allowed to have or express an individual opinion.
Gergana Vassileva is Managing Partner of United Partners in Sofia – GlobalCom PR Network Partner in Bulgaria. Gergana has worked in the PR industry for 14 years and has a background in Marketing, Management, Communications and International economy.
United Partners was founded in 1996 and belongs to the best established PR specialist in the market which is verified by PR awards including Agency of the Year 2003, 2004 and 2006.
The agency works for clients such as Procter & Gamble, ING, Western Union, BASF, Philips, Coty, IBM, Heineken, Autodesk among many others. United Partners provides a strong expertise in social media, corporate and brand communications, public affairs, crisis communications, events management and BTL campaigns.