Novinite is republishing an interview with its founder Maxim Behar, CEO of M3 Communications Group and ICCO President, originally done for Vagabond Magazine:
Maxim Behar is a globally recognized Public Relations and media expert, diplomat and entrepreneur. He is a founder, the CEO and the chairman of the board of M3 Communications Group Inc., the leading Bulgarian PR company and a part of the largest public communications corporation in the world, Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Maxim is also the president of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation. He is the honorary consul general of the Republic of Seychelles in Bulgaria, the vice president of the Atlantic Club in Bulgaria, the chairman of the Board of Trustees of For Our Children Foundation, a member of the board of the World's PR Museum in New York City and a lecturer in many universities and forums all over the world. Maxim Behar is the chairman of the board of the World Communications Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But Maxim's life is not only PR. In-between he is a parachute jumper, plays drums and golf, listens to rock music and adores The Cranberries, The Killers, Muse and especially Canadian Arcade Fire.
Where does Bulgaria stand at the moment? West or East? What are the main international challenges facing Bulgaria?
Let me explain – I never divide Europe and the world as a whole into East and West, but rather into North and South... But even that perspective now is not actual anymore, especially when talking about Bulgaria. It is a strange country, indeed. More like a pomegranate – sometimes not very luxury and beautiful outside, but extremely tasty and healthy inside... It is just a metaphor of course, but the reality is that not so many people in the world know how beautiful this country is, how educated, intelligent and ambitions its people are, and also what a bright future they will have if the state machine worked properly. And in fact these are the main challenges for Bulgaria now: much better promotion of the country globally and adjusting the administration and the political system to work for the people and for the establishment of much, much better business environment. More successful international investment case studies will mean not only more places that Bulgarian young people can work successfully, but also more good case studies experience and fresh market "air" in the country. This cannot happen without an intelligent, massive and modern campaign to promote Bulgaria – not as a tourist destination, but as a country with million of business opportunities, full with nice people, having European mentality and relations long before the country was accepted as an EU member exactly 10 years ago. If we manage to provide this campaign immediately, with no delay, then the country will be put on the global investment map and will benefit a lot.
What are the main challenges inside Bulgaria?
Not a big difference than any other mid-sized country in the world. The political system does not function well, but this is a global issue. Corruption is often mentioned in the media as a big issue, but I am in deep doubt whether it is higher than any other country in South Europe, South America, Africa or Asia... All internal challenges and issues in fact will be solved with a good functioning market and developing investments in good fields. All we know that Bulgaria has now one of the lowest, if not the lowest at all, taxes in Europe. Business pays just 10 percent corporate tax and this is all. Same index for individuals, and dividend tax for the business is just 5 percent. It puts Bulgaria in a very advantageous position compared to any other country in Europe, but not so many people understand this . It is true that the living standard is also quite low, for sure the lowest in Europe. However, the main reason for this is not the sometimes not very well functioning market, but the lack of motivation among the big local businesses to look much more modern and invest in their employees' education and careers.
What could have Bulgarians done differently in the past 25 years?
It is easy to judge after quarter of a century and to point the wrong or right steps. Especially looking from the outside. But there are many obvious things which could have been done differently and the most important of them is the huge delay with the country's promotion abroad as attractive investment destination. This is the most crucial mistake, which I hope might be really corrected not in the next 25 years, but we need to do this in the next 2.5 years.
You have been a pioneer of both PR and the advertising use of social media – not only in Bulgaria, but also internationally. What is the current state of affairs in the PR business? What has changed since the advent of social media and what in your opinion is the way ahead?
The public relations business had changed beyond recognition in just 10 years. The most important change is that for the first time in history PR experts have direct access to the media. They own social media, can post articles on behalf of their clients, or simply opinions, can influence directly and indirectly, and can approach audiences without the help of traditional media. The situation requires completely new qualities, education and tools. This really made our business totally different. Significantly, the three main elements of public communications business – advertising, public relations and digital – have already merged. And the big "fight" is not only how those businesses will cooperate successfully to benefit our clients, but also over who will be the leader of the new merged business. My definite opinion is that public relations will be the leader. Just one of my arguments is that the modern communications business is driven by content – and who else than PR experts are masters of content and influential messages?
How has traditional journalism changed? Can you trust the social media networks for the sort of news and opinion they bring?
There is no journalism anymore, journalism as we remember it 10 or 15 years ago has died. Now everyone is a journalist, everyone owns media and everyone takes the personal responsibility of his or her words. The biggest advantage of the new media is that they are interactive – if you disagree with an article or statement, you do not need to write a letter to the editor, you just click and post you opinion. Then – it is up to all of us, the readers and consumers of new media, to judge whether we can trust it or not. The media may be much freer, much more informative and much more interesting. However, there are risks involved as well, the main being how whoever posts stories can be held accountable for his or her words.
What is your client base in Bulgaria and who do you aim to reach?
In M3 Communications Group Inc. we love our clients. In social media the hash tag we put every day is #m3dreamteam, but the reality is that we always include our clients into this Dream Team and work with them in very deep chemistry. We also never divide the clients into big or small, local and international, rich and poor. Just do our job responsibly and we know that "good work generates more work" and this is the only way we can approach the clients. The formula is very simple, I call it the Three S's – Speed, Simplicity and Self-Confidence. In the modern world the speed of making decisions, of responding and also of solving crises is extremely important, an so is the ability to make sophisticated things simple and to prioritise. And finally, I do not know any successful entrepreneur who has made it without self-confidence.
What can and what can't a good PR expert do at the present time in Bulgaria?
In fact Bulgarian market is like any other in the world from the standpoint of the Public Relations business. We need a lot of creativity, transparency, responsibility, good ideas and of course our full dedication to the business. A good PR expert in Bulgaria can be as successful as any good PR expert in the United States or France, for example. And this is one of the great achievements of Bulgaria for the past 25 years. It has given a chance to all to succeed and be satisfied with what they do.