Flowers for Hillary Clinton Turn into Nighmare for Maxim Behar
The article first appeared on Standart newspaper.
PR Expert Maxim Behar gained a global recognition last month, after being included in this year's edition of the Global Power Book of the authoritative British weekly PR Week. The book is a ranking of the world's best PR experts in 2016. This is the latest recognition for Behar, who is also President of the global PR association ICCO. He is the only representative of Central and Eastern Europe within the ranking.
"When I was starting my business 22 years ago, I had many dreams, many of them came true. But I never thought I would move so swiftly and successfully in a highly competitive international environment," Behar has told Standart, a newspaper he co-founded back in the early 1990s.
"My name among the hundred most influential PR experts from around the world mostly obliges me to be even better and even more professional, more organized and most of all - an even better manager. The value added remains for Bulgaria. Whether or not my name will be heard certain circles, whether it will be that of Ralitsa Vassileva or Veni Markovski, whether that of Stoichkov, Berbatov, or Grigor Dimitrov, whether it will be Matey Kaziyski or Radostin Stoychev, whether Irina Bokova or Kristalina Georgieva... each one leaves in their own business and their own audience part of what we call "branding of Bulgaria. This is a process that will go on for decades and the most joyous thing is that there are an increasing number of participants in it."
While Behar has told Standart that journalism is still close to his heart, he admits the profession nowadays has dimensions other than the ones he knew earlier and requires totally different professional qualities.
"I put an emphasis on the word "professional. Personal qualities like honesty, integrity, moral and everything in this group will always be absolutely important. Not only for journalism of course, but for journalism in particular, because through this profession authoritative "pens" often have an impact on millions, and now, through social media - potentially billions as well. In this sense, the two professions -journalism and PR business - are very similar and quite equally responsible. In PR companies things are created that journalists often multiply through their media, we create important content and often bear equal responsibility with that of colleagues in the media. To me, the change of profession happened somewhat imperceptibly, gradually and logically. After the legendary and quite romantic years at Standart newspaper I decided to try doing a business that would help then scarce investors in Bulgaria to understand better our country, and also our media. I worked around the clock, I would read hundreds of pages every day and it is until now that I have been doing that. This business just captivated me an awful lot. There are the typical categories in business in it - profit, investment, hiring people, day-to-day management, making easy or tough decisions. But in the PR business there is also what keeps me vigilant even nowadays and pushes me to become better and better - creativity and an innovative approach to every single project and to every single client. By the hour, by the minute."
The PR business, however, is also packed with critical situations. And if up until ten years ago there would be at least eight hours to take decisions, since there would be a lot of time for the next day's newspaper to be out, today even 8 minutes are too much. "In the very second a publication is on the social media we have to reach by the speed of lightning. This is why there are two important factors which today, in 2016, are irrevocable for good crisis management - perfect preparation and constant, minute-by-minute following of social media. Without these, there is no professionalism."
For all the years of its existence M3 Communications Group, Inc. did nearly 5800 projects, his eyes having gone through each one of them. He is proud of not having had even a single failure. There are situations one could never forget, though.
"When years ago we organized the first ever visit of the first lady of the US to Bulgaria - Hillary Clinton, we worked more than a month with a young man named Bane, producer (that was what his position was called) of the visit on behalf of the White House as well as one full team of security experts. It was them, even as we were doing the first program for the opening of a women's conference with the participation of Hillary, who categorically banned flowers from the floor, as something might be hidden there. However sometime around midnight before the opening of the conference, which was supposed to be at the National Theatre, Bain showed up and turned to me astounded: "Max, where are the flowers? I cannot allow my first lady to go on stage without flowers ..." My long explanations about instructions from the Secret service, weren't helpful at all: Bane wanted his flowers later not later than 5 AM."
"I walked around several 24/7 flower shops, but none had in stock such a large quantity of flowers. I woke the then boss of marketing of "Sheraton" Iskra Ekimova imploring her to help, but she explicitly refused to deliver flowers from the hotel, Hillary already resided there after all... I thought of Kempinski Hotel [now Marinela]. Virginia Dencheva, who was Director for Bulgaria at the time, surprisingly picked up the mobile phone at 2 AM and muttered, half-asleep: "I'm doing it only for you, get them, but by noontime they should be back, otherwise the boss will kill me if he understands..." We called several taxis, loaded the flowers, Hillary opened the conference and then immediately returned the flowers to Kempinski. Since it had been exhausting, and I had not slept the previous night, I sat down to drink a coffee in the lobby. Passing by me, the boss of the hotel, an Irishman, stopped, looked me in the eyes and said: "I watched the conference with Hillary directly on TV and found that use the same company for flowers. They are really good, aren't they..."
The onset of Standart newspaper is also filled with fond memories. "Even back in 1992 when we started with my good friend Valeri Zapryanov, we introduced Bulgaria's first ever computer system for approval of print materials. Each of the editors signed their material with a signature, I naturally chose "Max", as most of friends call me even nowadays. With great surprise, however, I noticed that many of the materials I signed were not being printed and one day I rushed angrily into the computer room, where the legendary designer, Svilen, whom for some reason everyone called Goyko, explained to me innocently, but with logic: "Well, Boss. You right "Max" on articles and I remove them [in Bulgarian, "мах" is the root of a verb meaning "to remove"]. You should put "tur" [the root of the word "put"/"place"] and I will put them into the newspaper from now on."
"It is stories that make up history. This is what I love the most: to make history. It is all that remains. Nothing else."
Asked about the secret of success, Behar says:
"I have an important formula that follows me all these years. Skills x Effort x Concentration. One should undoubtedly have skills, common knowledge, quick reactions, motivation, desire - all of these I add to skills. One should also place the maximum effort to make sure the skills will turn into professional ones and also to concentrate on the important things. That's all. However, one should take into consideration that the action in this formula is multiplication. If one of the three multipliers is zero, the final result is also zero. I always try to keep good indicators in every one of the multipliers and my biggest problem has always been with the third one - concentration. I do diverse things, both in Bulgaria and in many other countries, and sometimes it is not easy for one to set their priorities quickly. When I was beginning this business in Bulgaria, there was no-one to learn from, we were among the first ones in the market. A lot of work, a lot of projects, and often chance helped me to meet with people such as Terence Billing, Sally Costerton, Martin Sorrell, David Gallagher, Lars-Eric Grontham, Jack Martin, whose names I am sure mean nothing to you but they are great professionals, big names in contemporary PR, with some of them running companies worth billions at the moment. Only Terence Billing, my mentor, friend and first teacher is not alive now. But the big conference hall in my Sofia office bears his name, so fortunately we mention him many times a day."
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