Bart de Vries: Crisis PR is always needed

For a third consecutive year as part of the annual PR awards BAPRA Bright Awards the Bulgarian Association of PR Agencies (BAPRA) organises the Sofia PR summit. Bart de Vries, president of the International Public Relations Association (IPRA) and managing director of Hollander van der Mey (HvdM) until January 2016, was among the lecturer speaking at the conference. In an interview for Bart de Vries talked about the creativity in the work of PR experts, the connection with journalists and the need of „crisis PR“.

What does it mean creativity in PR? What should PR experts aim for?

Bart de Vries: Creativity in PR means the difference between getting noticed and going unnoticed. The competition for attention is enormous and the noise-level in communication is deafening. The strength of creativity is providing attention-arresting messages and images. PR professionals should make sure that the culture in which they work promotes creativity. They should also make creativity a habit.

What is the connection between PR experts and journalist? Should they work together and if yes when? 

Bart de Vries: PR professionals and journalists rarely have joint interests. However, there is a mutual dependency when this relationship is professionally and ethically maintained. Whenever PR professionals fall short of maintaining this relationship, they directly and adversely affect the already existing distrust journalists harbor vis a vis PR.

When is „crisis PR“ needed?

Bart de Vries: Crisis PR is always needed when public trust in an organization is threatened by whatever incident, either self-inflicted or otherwise occurring.

How has PR developed in recent years? What are the tendencies? 

Bart de Vries: The biggest trends in PR are content – who ‘owns’ the content, public trust and engagement – primarily through storytelling.

Have the companies changed their PR budgets?

Bart de Vries: The economic crisis of 2008 and forward has hurt PR budgets less than advertising. As PR gets better at proving its values, specifically in terms business and organization leaders can understand and use themselves, PR budgets can and will increase.

To what extend do PR experts listen the customers? 

Understanding audiences remains key to everything PR professionals do and say. It’s unclear to me to what extend ‘the’ PR profession understands audiences. I do think that each time a PR professional hears someone – client or colleague – take her/his own understanding of the world as the measure of all things, she/he must sound the alarm bell. It will almost always to mediocre or bad and misguided PR campaigns.

Interview by Petya Barzilska

The interview was first published by Bulgarian online news media

Demographic problem: Turkey stands before its greatest internal challenge

Probably in the next few years Turkey will have to decide how it will deal with the 3,5-4 Million people, who will want to permanently stay in the country, Dr Nebil Ilseven, chairman of the board of Turkish think tank Progressive Thought Institute, said during a discussion conference in Sofia.

Speaking at the event, orginised by the Center for Balkan and Black Sea Studies (CBBSS), Nebil Ilseven talked about the major demographic problem in Bulgaria’s southern neighbour, driven by the crisis in Syria and the subsequent refugee and migrant influx. We have an important issue in Turkey, the movement of people insight the country, their movement through and outside the country and their return, the expert said.

In Turkey there are 2.5 Million people only from Syria, who are searching for safety and a normal life, Ilseven, also an Associate Professor of Finance and Banking at Isik University in Istanbul, emphasised. Turkey introduces temporary solutions which are not sustainable in the long term, he added, underlining the need of a long term solution in case the majority of the migrated people decide to settle permanently.

They will take part in the political and social processes as well as in the economic development, Ilseven stated. According to him, in the future this will be the big and dramatic issue to be solved by politicians in Turkey and the process will turn into „the greatest internal challenge“ for Ankara.

At the conference, whose topic were the economic and political processes in Turkey and the energy sector in East Europe, experts from Turkey discussed the country’s development, together with the geopolitical and energy issues in the region.

Turkey can’t be a major player in the region and now it suffers from its interference with the 3 Million refugees coming from abroad, Prof. Hursit Gunes argued. Gunes, a professor of economics who taught at Marmara University and University of Manchester, was a deputy in the Turkish parliament until last year.

He focused on the geopolitical processes in the Middle East and the problems Turkey had faced in the last 10-15 years. A major geopolitical player disrupted the region, the professor said, arguing that 10-15 years ago Turkey didn’t face problems with its neighbours in the Middle East, namely Syria, Iraq and Iran. Gunes claimed that the problems started at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, when the US began to step in the region.

In the opinion of the ex-deputy, Turkey’s wish in recent years to intervene in the region’s geopolitical processes like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the civil war in Syria is a problem. Ankara like others helped some military groups in Syria, he said, adding the note – „of course not ISIS, but the moderate“.

According to Gunes, the US began to interfere in Iraq and Kuwait due to the oil in these countries, but in Syria the conflict happened because Damascus was under Russia’s influence, was Israel’s enemy and a transport corridor for fuel from Iraq. „Could we realistically see an united Syria or we will see a divided one“, Hursit Gunes asked, referring to the future of a country currently torn by conflicts.

„Syria as well as Iraq are in a political mess. More than 4 Million people left their homes and the majority of the refugees are in Turkey and Jordan. The whole region is affected“, Gunes stated. „Imagine how such an economic power like Germany was attacked for accepting 1 Million refugees, and now imagine an emerging country like Turkey, which is hosting more than 3 Million refugees“, the professor of economics said. „Will they go? Probably now“, he added.

Gunes defends the need of a coordinated intervention of the EU in the Middle East and Turkey. Meanwhile, Ankara has to change the structure of its export, aiming at exporting to countries from Africa, he claims. „Turkey has to solve its problems with Russia about Syria and to reduce its energy dependence on Russia“, Gunes stated.

Talking about energy dependence, Kanat Emiroglu, chairman of the board of energy company Global Enerji, argued that Europe is „addicted“ to natural gas. According to him, gas will be the largest commodity in two to three years. Europe is extremely energy dependent on Russia and the state-owned gas giant Gazprom and this is a problem, Emiroglu argued. „It’s not a diversification if your pipeline goes to the same country with its geopolitical goals“,  he added, talking about the Nord Stream, which transports gas from Russia to Germany and is a parallel pipeline to the one through Ukraine.

According to a recent analysis by credit insurance provider Coface, Turkey’s economy is expected to grow by 3.6% in 2016. Taking into consideration the refugee crisis and the geopolitical changes, the experts from Coface still anticipate that Turkey will retain relatively good economic outlook without a sustainable increase of risk.

In recent years, Turkey had modest economic growth. After growing by 4.2% in 2013, the growth slowed to 2.9% in 2014. In 2015, the economic growth is expected to be 4.2%, according to the World Bank. Turkey is the world’s 17th largest economy, taking 7.9% of the global economy and 7.9% of the global population.

English version. The article is first published by Bulgarian online media on 6 April 2016.

Bulgaria is lost in its history

In Bulgaria we love our history. Bulgarians are bewitched by the mighty tsars (something like kings but greater) of the past, by the great successful battles against the Byzantine Empire (and whoever was in our way), by the huge territories of the former Bulgarian kingdom. We are so proud of the things which happened hundred of years ago that we forget what is important now.

We forget that we have great but also sorrowful history. We forget that it might be far greater to establish a country after five centuries of no country at all (after the Ottoman rule) – and here I am not talking about the battles, but the efforts to create a country with its institutions and forces from scratch. We forget that nationalism doesn’t mean to hate everything that is outside your country or to be only proud of the great blood-stained achievements.

Still, I do think that not only Bulgarians have the problem. People from almost every east European country, experiencing life after years of Soviet influence, have the yearning to remind themselves that their country was once a great state. For example, Lithuania – did you know that Lithuania expanded to Black sea in the 14th century. Yes, this lasted only for some decades before the union with Poland, but it happened, as one Lithuanian guy told me once.

History is really important in shaping our cultural and social mindset. However, the historical event depends on the education, experience and interests of the historian as well as on the social and political setting of the present, as prof. Dr. Rainer Leng from University of Würzburg in the online Iversity course Orientierung Geschichte said. I do believe, that nationalism is really important to the people of a still vulnerable country which needs an united against outside interference or influence. However, it should be modern.

Now Bulgaria is part of the European Union and its citizens have the possibility not only to travel outside the country’s borders but also to do business, make science and engage in cultural and social activities with people from the other EU countries. But it’s hard to embrace this still new political and social environment together with the thought that Bulgaria was once a powerful country. Bulgarians are sick and tired to be the weakest and poorest member state and to be constantly reminded of that. Maybe this is the reason why we are so focused on the blood-stained achievements and the big territories we once had.

The history we learn in schools is important but it does not consider the subjectivity of the „historical truth“. We are taught to be proud but students rarely are prompted to think about the events while considering the geopolitical and social period in which they happened. We are limited by our „one and only history“ in a time when we ought to have a complex view on our history and the history of Europe.

The world is a complicated place, so looking back we should consider that.