One Night Newsstand - Don Meets Big Media.

10/07/2017

Prelude: A few months ago I was approached by a lady from a "paper of record." Offer my sage advice to Irish expats (for free) in return for a quid pro quo of free advertising and general promotion. Taking the offer at face value, I wrote the 850 words requested. Here they are...

  Bulgaria. Grabbed by the Balkans!


Born to a farmer, with all the clod conceived Irishness that entails. Red haired, mid sized and ruddy. I can't escape my heritage. It's fresh grass, cowshit, the smell of rain and Ireland in the 80s. School days, memorable only for pecking pigeons outside the window. Yet teachers I adore to this day; Heffo, Gussy, John A, Ollie, Bubbles, Dinny Nob and Mish, our fresh faced music teacher. School was conformity. I was never too pushed. They had good intentions, but my mind was on bigger things, more conjugal than calculus.

My parents offered to pay for a law degree. I did a year of that. One time I went to see my sister in Aberdeen. Waiting by a pinboard, I saw a note for an outdoor pursuits course and thought "who fuckin wouldn't want to sail, kayak or canoe?" That thought lead to knockin on the door of an English guy, Dr. Chris Pound. He seemed amenable - I did that job for ten years, interrupted regularly by travel and the dole.

I never really left Ireland, its more like a banjo string. Like most of the rest, I was rucksack on back from Feile (an 80's 3 day rock weekend) forward. The trips to Tipp make the big world seem small. Always out and about; interrailing, sailing in Sweden, camping in Ibiza, beach-combing in Fort Lauderdale, teaching English in China, Sarajevo during the war. Never too bothered, just breezing along. I like the way the lads in the airport say; "Hi Don, welcome home."With the amount of traveling I do, Ireland feels like couchsurfing.

The pivotal moment for this story is meeting Svetlana in Tallinn. I was on Erasmus. She was too. That's the subplot. I fancied her roommate. Pinky boy wasn't terribly interesting for the roommate. Svetlana had ideas of her own. She was ten years younger than me. I thought she'd be better off with age appropriate toys. We're together now nearly nine years. Two children, one boy(4), one girl(8).

We lived in England (Preston), then Ireland (Mallow). She wanted "home." I had been to Bulgaria to meet Svetlana's parents. "The moment of "druth,"{an Irish idiom meaning"thirst"- usually alcohol} as I term it. Women there considered pastiness and red hair to be intoxicating. As Martin Hackett and Billy Connolly would say; "wind swept and interesting."In contrast the lads there do bodybuilding from the waist up, which reminds me of barnyard roosters, so, "novelty factor."

We moved to Bulgaria "full time" about five years ago. Svetlana hated the Irish weather. First job  English classes (never doubt the TEFL cert - your key to riches beyond compare). IBM were opening up a European call centre for Honda. I knew engines, people, and a bit of psychology. So, I did well. So well in fact they never promoted me, just too good. Think Keano (the original) at Cobh Ramblers; "ah sher he's a great engine on him, vice captain next season."

My colleague from IBM, Niko De Jonghe, wanted me to market his startup, BulgarianHeadhunters.com. We did well. Then it was Google Maps, marketing for them. I thought salary would be better in Dublin, better chase the cream there. Took them too long to run through the various middle-persons, so back here when wife became fed up with two children and no life. Nowadays marketing and strategy for companies, large and small.

Role currently is strategic director for www.AD360.eu. We started doing virtual reality e-commerce. Most of our customers barely have a website up, so we've backtracked a few steps to chivvy them along. We are happy to endorse BeBee.com, a 12 million person Social Network for personal branding, Chihuahua Media Projects, a top end website vendor and KanDao VR - full 360 video.

In terms of business culture, Ireland and Bulgaria are similar. Bulgaria has a lower tax rate, but filters their EU money to a smaller elite. The low man on the totem pole sees less of it, in contrast to the (now ossified) LAG model in Ireland. Bulgaria (Sofia) has the fastest internet, at the cheapest price and the lowest labour cost in Europe, so outsourcing booms. There is a big gap in customer service skills. Irish people are revered worldwide for being classy talkers. Bulgaria is "buachaill dana"(bad boy) on that subject.

Advice for those interested in moving here...don't believe the bad press. Beer is cheap. They like the Irish. You'll get a job - from there its a personal journey. Networking; I was never a "my heart is in Ireland" plastic paddy. On Paddies day we hit the embassy for free Baileys, but that's about it. If my brother comes over we'll watch a match in "da pub."

There are massive opportunities for young Irish out here. If I was twenty now, I'd pack the tent. Summer eight months of the year. Winter as good as summer. Locals are hardly mad about work, they love eating out and enjoying life.

In terms of the future, well its really about the kids and their future. I'm cool to roll into old age just about anywhere, as long as the health holds out. In terms of business I think we're (Bulgaria) the "new ryanair"- once we sort the customer service, Bulgaria has a great product. Leisure tourism is already a big thing, so once we (I) conquer digital marketing, we'll get into that too.

Postscript: The lady from "The Paper" considered my musings a little too racy for her editorial team, so it didn't get the national exposure she was dangling.

"Yesterday's news, today's fish-wrap."

C'est la vie!