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Letter from Bulgaria

by Yordanka Boneva-Blagoeva

Yordanka Boneva-Blagoeva is a Bulgarian PR professional, blogger and owner of a start-up communication-consulting company in Sofia. Under the internet alias "Danybon", she has been writing about communications, PR, social media, management, business and education in her popular blog http://www.danybon.com/ for the last three years.

Previously, Yordanka worked as a PR officer at the National Revenue Agency, where she managed several of the largest communication projects at the organisation. She has begun her career as a journalist in the news section of Bulgarian National Television where she worked for seven years. Yordanka holds an MA in PR from Sofia University, Bulgaria's oldest and most prestigious institution of higher education.

Be social, green, responsible, funny and creative!

Digital PR, green PR and corporate social responsibility have been the most powerful trends in the Bulgarian PR industry in recent years. Kids, education, knowledge, success and ecology are the key words in many PR projects which have enjoyed great popularity and won many PR awards.

Over the last three years, I have been analysing various corporate communication campaigns. I found out that the most successful of them are aimed directly at society. It also appears that media relations is not as popular as it was five years ago. Instead, PR practitioners rely more on social media to reach their target audiences. In general, PR in Bulgaria is understood in a very broad sense – it involves sophisticated information campaigns, special events, internal communication, corporate social responsibility, green PR and now digital communication.

Some key facts about Bulgaria and the PR business

Founded in 681, Bulgaria adopted Christianity in 864, and has had its own alphabet since 886. With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January, 2007, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet of the EU. Today, Bulgaria is among the countries with the fastest and cheapest internet in the world. There is free wi-fi in many parks, restaurants, shops, hotels, buses, taxies, etc.

The PR profession has become popular in Bulgaria since the mid-1990s, when the first PR agencies appeared and when PR became a university discipline. Nowadays, almost every state or municipal administration has a PR department. There is hardly a company without a communication team and even small businesses realise the need for and the role of professionally-managed communications.

Social media

Social media and digital communications are crucial for Bulgarians. Due to a widespread distrust of politicians, traditional media and society often come together to support various causes through social media. For example, shortly after mass protests swept the country in the winter of 2013, Facebook became the launching ground for the Caffè sospeso (suspended coffee) initiative in Bulgaria - a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. From the initial post on Facebook telling Bulgarians about Caffè sospeso in Naples (Italy), the idea caught fire as a very strong PR campaign spreading the message that "Bulgarians can rely on each other in difficult times".

In the run-up to the parliamentary elections in Bulgaria in April and May 2013, I analysed with great interest the political communication strategies of different candidates. Politicians were active everywhere in the social media – on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and in blogs. In previous elections this trend was significantly weaker.

All PR campaigns now include social media. Many PR agencies and corporate communication departments have hired digital experts. Most companies have their fan pages on Facebook. How to communicate with fans? This skill is becoming increasingly important for business.

Going green

Green PR is probably the latest trend in the country's communication trade. Green PR campaigns are widely publicised, very popular and extremely well accepted. Something interesting: in April 2013 there were several very strong green PR campaigns. For example, on 20 April, 2013, a large media company organised the campaign "Clean Bulgaria in one day", supported by many Bulgarian celebrities, including the football star Dimitar Berbatov. They were joined by hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians who collected a total of 24,045 tons of waste. The campaign was followed by another day of activity when residents of Sofia collected over five tons of recyclable plastic waste.

CSR

Corporate social responsibility has become increasingly popular in the last two years. The best examples come from the IT industry, where the emphasis of CSR is mainly on education and support of talented children. I'll give you an example which is very popular in Bulgaria as a good CSR practice.

In 2011, Telerik, a Bulgarian software company, whose corporate slogan is "deliver more than expected", founded a children's academy for very young software engineers. The academy employs the best teachers in Bulgaria and provides training for free. Young developers have already won Olympiads in Informatics. As a result, the "Telerik" brand has become extremely popular among parents, students and educators. The success of this CSR initiative was such that other companies are now following this best practice of free education. The dream is for Bulgaria to become the Silicon Valley of Europe.

Internal communication

Internal communication is a growing field of the Bulgarian PR industry. The PR department of Vivacom, a large telecom in Bulgaria, has recently delivered a very successful internal communication campaign. Under the title "Viva Star and the Big 5", the initiative invited staff to vote via text messages for the colleague who best epitomised any of Vivacom's five corporate values. 2,200 employees participated, who sent 30,000 short message nominating 600 people.

Employee-focused campaigns are also funny and creative. For example, on April Fool's Day in 2013, the office of the software company Telerik was invaded by ninjas. The initiative was connected to the Telerik Academy where young developers are called ninjas.

In a nutshell: what do you have to do if you want to become a successful communicator in Bulgaria? You must focus on social media, the environment and CSR, but also be funny and very creative. It's easy.