Maxim Behar for 24 Hours Daily: Ten Lost PR Battles in the Last Seven Months

The Former Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov's government completely changed the idea of leadership, but failed to take advantage of the unique chance that the voters and fate gave him.

Why did Kiril Petkov's government actually fail?

Because of the mafia, according to his definition, because of the suspended public work contracts, because of the immeasurably large ego of the participants in the coalition, or simply because of their poor public and internal communication.

More because of all these things together. But for many years I have been concentrated only on the last part of this chaos, and therefore I will try to focus my analysis. As a very personal, very positive opinion.

We looked at the young Harvard students (I say this without irony, but with pride, and I also recently went through the incredible experience of this remarkable university) as a hope, as a gift from fate. Young and well-educated businessmen to lead Bulgaria to something better, to fight corruption and show that it is possible to do politics in another way...

The experience was definitely worth it, I hope we - all of us - learned precious lessons from it.

For quite some time I have shared my thesis (especially in the recently published American book “The Global PR Revolution”) that sooner or later

the so-called democracy will "RIP"

and countries will be governed like huge business organizations with boards of directors and with the strong involvement of digital control. The appearance of young businessmen in politics gave us hope that in Bulgaria this could happen much faster and more successfully than in other rather conservative countries. Just as many other things happened in our country with the so-called "big leap" over obstacles.

However, this whole enthusiastic, emotional and often quite messy concept of management was accompanied by daily communication fails.

They probably had good intentions or wishful thinking, but in business there is one golden rule: the final result is important. And the result – elections again and again and a lot of promises without fulfillment.

Or as the wonderful climber Boyan Petrov, who died ridiculously, used to say: “You're only at the top when you've climbed the top.”

All four parties lost and there is no winner in this situation.

And there won't be. Not to mention that Bulgaria also lost and was left without a government (a caretaker government practically means no government) in the most difficult period for at least 30 years...

It is clear that four mutually exclusive political, intellectual and historical forces wanted to do something good... But it unfortunately did not happen and now we can only feel the bitterness of lost time.

We have been playing this meaningless game for over 30 years now…

So, we have new elections, new bargaining, new coalitions, quotas for ministers... apparently an endless situation.

But let's stop for a moment to look back and realize where we stand now.

Kiril Petkov's government, rapidly born from this really bizarre and atypical coalition - for one reason or another, actually lost at least ten communication - or as we call them - PR battles.

Each of these PR battles is naturally intertwined with politics. Each could have been overcome or partially resolved. Not every battle was lost because of the coalition. But each one of them is a fact.

The leading ministers were young, very well-educated people with the supposedly so-called western vision and – again assumed – skills to communicate calmly and explain everything in an accessible way.

I don't know if they had PR consultants at all, or if they did - who they were. I don't care, but they messed up on the first day in power and continued like that until the end.

I am listing only the most important things in order from which all of us, as well as all future and former governments, could learn something.

The first lost battle was undoubtedly the image of the Prime Minister himself. I was willing to bet during the previous elections less than a year ago, that if his party won the election, he could remain prime minister for more than 12 years (the record of his predecessor, Boyko Borisov). I've been blown away and confused ever since his first days as Prime Minister when he walked ten minutes around Brussels with security and a few empty cars behind him and it was presented as "fantastic news" all over social media. Then he flew in a huge empty government plane to Thessaloniki with the explanation that he didn’t want to wait at the border. During all his public appearances he was closely surrounded by too visible security, as neither Boris Johnson, nor Angela Merkel, nor anyone else, would allow themselves to appear. Not to mention the Coral beach for example. There is no protocol that dictates an artificial distance of a prime minister from the citizens or debaters. There is no modern security that flaunts its presence, not to mention that no politician would allow this at all.

All this could have been managed really professionally and seriously.

All the time Kiril Petkov seemed to justify himself

and surprisingly he was left out of the events. Asen Vassilev and Daniel Laurer had quite good hits, but they remained in the shadow of the general empty talk... In my opinion, Grozdan Karadjov was also a good communicator, and he was the only one in this government who was little bit more experienced. Either way, the government's voice remained unheard, although I wouldn't say that the media was against them, especially the national media.

And... to be quite precise, Petkov's best performance was his last address as Prime Minister. Either he or his advisors had finally learned their lesson the hard way, unfortunately. And even if that was a small success as a finale, it was quickly overshadowed by the saga of holding hands with his chief of staff. And especially by her clumsy and absurd announcement minutes later.

The second lost battle is for the Euro and the extremely poor and uncertain public communication. This is one of the most important battles for Bulgaria and it should have been discussed and explained thoroughly by recognized experts without adding political nuances. And if from January 2023 our currency fails to transform into the single European one, we will taste the bitterness of wasted time for years. A first-year economic student will bring up a hundred arguments why

Bulgaria must enter the Eurozone immediately and name at least one thousand and one hundred more damages if that doesn't happen.

There were quite strong expectations that the government would do the same.

The third lost battle is the battle for the southern border. Which is actually a battle for our entry into Schengen. Until we get our external European border in order, that will not be possible. That was clear from day one. Not only about the notorious sanitary inspections in Kapitan Andreevo, but in general about security along the entire border. Hardly anyone actually understood what is happening.

The fourth battle was for Bulgaria's image abroad. Our tourism advertising, if there was any at all, was plain, naive, boring and inert. People were waving on ski slopes, in spas and jacuzzies, on water skis – nothing unique for Europe. We forgot the faces of Bulgaria, the people, the young people, their activities, smiles, intellect, the happy tourists, hotel or business managers...

I am ashamed to say in written text what the logo of Bulgaria looks like

in this strangely curved half rose. Even at first sight evoking not so pleasant associations... It would take a month or two to be changed. Already for fifteen years.

Nothing was done to actively promote Bulgaria as a safe and stable tourist and investment destination... Moreover, one of the communication weaknesses of the entire government was the constant repetition in all European, and not only, institutions, of how corrupt Bulgaria is and how they are now fighting this corruption, but they still fail... Surely these messages caused enormous damage to the country, not a day went by that I did not receive an email from my partners abroad, accompanied by a quote from a minister followed by a whole line of question marks.

The fifth lost battle was with inflation and the total uncertainties of what is happening in the energy sector. While Kiril Petkov explained with a wide smile how we import cheaper gas from USA, in the last three months the price of gas has already increased once by 30 percent and immediately after that by another 50 percent... Well,
that’s not entirely poor communication,

just chaos in messages, but also – far more worryingly – in accounts and management.

The sixth lost battle was caused by the wavering and indecisive attitude towards the war in Ukraine. At one point, Kiril Petkov thought that he could please Brussels, Washington, Ninova, and Kostadinov at the same time, which Henry Kissinger probably couldn't do either. For a country that is a member of NATO and the EU, for a country striving towards the modern European democratic values,

this was absolutely unacceptable.

It was important that Assen Vassilev washed away the shame of this student like hesitation at a press conference in BTA ("Radev's position on Ukraine is disgraceful..."), but it was too late. And this is not a message against Russia as a country. It should have been a clear and precise position against any aggressor in modern Europe. And if we add to this chaotic communication the expelling of 70 Russian diplomats with no obvious reasons, the picture gets even alarming. There was no logical or humane explanation that the Bulgarian parliament didn’t allow President Zelensky to address them, the Bulgarian citizens, from his residence in Kyiv, as he did in a number of European countries. This shameful stain will also overshadow the good intentions of Bulgarian politicians for a long time, and it remained absolutely unexplained.

Lena Borislavova's claims, that the Russian embassy in Bulgaria gives 4,000 BGN to journalists to write in support of Russia, hung in the air and no actual evidence was found. Borislavova didn’t utter another word on this topic, which left the impression that she was speaking "on the top of her head" without a single proof.

The seventh rather illogically lost battle is the too inactive communication on social media. If someone takes a moment to look at the Facebook profile of the former prime minister or the group "Support for Kiril Petkov and Asen Vasilev", they will easily see that their feed is full of cheap propaganda texts and reports on all kinds of meetings, that a prime minister does anyway. At least that's his job. But no one pays attention to general and tasteless declarations anymore, even less to excessive bragging, boring official photographs and difficult to read texts.

The doomed arrest of Boyko Borisov as the eighth lost battle will be covered briefly, although it was also one of the serious communication fails of the former government. I won’t even bother to count how many likes Kiril Petkov's post "No one is above the law" has. That has been clear for as long as there have been laws. The fact is that not a single, even concocted accusation has come to light publicly. None! And all this comedy ended up giving the impression of absolute chaos, something that confused both world analysts and foreign diplomats in Sofia. I leave aside the Bulgarian citizens themselves, who never understood what happened.

I consider the ninth lost battle among the indisputable, but for some unknown reason poorly explained successes - the happy end with North Macedonia. Here again, a very narrow circle of people understood what it was all about and what the French actually did or did not do in this whole saga of multidirectional communication and misinformation. Of course, this was a big breakthrough for the Bulgarian diplomacy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t recognized because of the lack of clear messages and good communication. Both in Bulgaria and Macedonia. And at the same time, it was the subject of at least a dozen specific press conferences, interviews and intelligent analyses.

And finally - the tenth important battle: the battle for an intelligent tone in political debates has been completely lost by the young in politics. At least for now. No one could have imagined such a level of exchange of remarks, clothing, insults and profanity in the Bulgarian parliament, in the television studios, in Bulgarian politics in general. The political debates in Bulgaria during the last seven months were a competition who will lie more, how many people and media will fall for this lies and who will dress more tastelessly so that the media can discuss their t-shirts and jeans and not their lack of messages and visions. This failure was for all parties, regardless of who spoke and what they thought. This was actually the real shame for Bulgaria.

In fact, there was also a battle won, and I can't help but mention it.

Everyone in Bulgaria saw that government can be tried in a different way, with other people, with other ideas and attitudes. This will certainly be the future, as long as we remember well what happened. I've talked to a lot of people in the coalition over the last few days and I've heard dozens of "the administration failed us" explanations.

“Russian trolls and fake news,

they overthrew the government", "the opposition played unfairly" and at least a hundred more in this spirit. Well, okay, but that's part of the game called politics, and to play it, you need people with experience and the understanding that there really are bears in the woods, and if you can't deal with them, you just don't go in...

Hardly anyone can predict these days who, how, and whether they can deal with the most difficult-to-predict situation in the Bulgarian economy and politics for 30 years. For me, one thing is certain - a crisis can only be overcome with an expert government with the support of a strong and real majority concerned about Bulgaria. Strict laws and the 4 important milestones:

And they are – transparency, integrity, precision and… PR.

That is why I think the October elections will not change anything - we can only hope that the current politicians will remember the words of the Dalai Lama: “When you lose, do not lose the lessons.”

Priceless! Especially in the PR business.

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