Maxim Behar: PR and emotion are synonyms*
Social media have changed the world for the better: people are more informed and more critical, while business and politics are more transparent, says the founder of M3 Communications Group, Inc.
Q: In my memories you are a journalist, one of the brightest ones. Why did you leave this profession?
A: I still continue to think as journalist. Contrary to many views that those involved in the communication business go to the other side of the barricade, this is not correct. In the modern world everybody is a media outlet, everyone can express one's position through a Facebook profile, for example. Journalism helped me a lot. When I was starting about 20 years ago, I did not have any clue of management, but I had a grasp of media. I knew how one thought and how to influence a media outlet or a journalist in a respectable way with creative approach. This gave me a very successful start. But to this very day, I like keeping myself occupied with writing. I was 25 years old when my father presented me with my first typewriter “Maritsa”. It is still standing in my conference room along with the vice, which I had used for five years while working in a mechanical engineering factory before starting my studies. There I also have my first computer with which I started my business. What I haven’t given up is voicing my opinion, so that someone with stronger arguments could disprove me. In fact, this is what modern journalism is all about.
The best side of the PR profession is that it is a strange amalgam of creativity and business, richly garnished with excitements. This is not a suitable profession for someone wanting to work between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. The synonym of PR is emotion.
Q: What have social media changed in your work?
A: First, every person has become a public figure now. Until 5-6-7 years ago, the only public figures used to be show stars, actors, politicians, sports people and some journalists. Now every taxi driver with a second-hand laptop in his garage, who has something to say and knows how to do it, can become popular. Now, there are far more popular bloggers than MPs. Second, if there are 1.2 billion Facebook users, there are as many journalists, because modern journalism means to have something to say and have where to say it. And the third big change is that every social media user wants to do what I’m doing as one is there to promote oneself, one's business, one's family, one's friends. This creates competition on gigantic scale and makes us more creative. The more users are participating in this competition, the more beneficial this is to our business. Of course, PR is a serious profession, it can't be simply compared to a post on Facebook or Twitter, but this is the way to manage the publicity of a person.
Q: Isn’t this mass access to social media devaluing the information worth?
A: Not at all, because now the users of this information have the opportunity to choose more carefully from the vast sea of news. All of us, who are active users of the knowledge on social media, cultivate in ourselves a totally different set of qualities – to be able to read fast, to choose what is of interest to us, to share our opinion, to be critical.
Q: Traditional journalism has, however, become a shameful profession in our region?
A: This is not the case. The journalistic profession now requires much more knowledge, greater mastery, persuasiveness and arguments. This is the case exactly because of increased competition. When 12 years ago I wrote an article saying that print media is headed for demise, I received phone calls from many people, including my best friend Valeri Zapryanov, who all told me that I was so wrong. But this is the reply I gave to them: journalists sell information, viewpoints, analyses, but they do not sell paper. You have to be happy that nowadays a piece of news can be shared with readers in seconds instead of having to wait for it to be printed. Nostalgia for paper editions is a thing of the past. More than hundred years ago, when Henry Ford presented his automobile, called “petrol carriage”, a lot of people forecasted that its use will lead to incredible risks and it is not good for mankind. In the same way, social media changed a whole generation. I called it Generation F.
Q: Where does the F come from?
A: It comes from three traits that characterise our entire society today, not just a certain generation. F like Facebook, F like fear as those same people have great fears. They are afraid of being harmed, rejected, betrayed. And lastly, F like f*ck because many people of this generation say that they don’t care about anything and they swear at the whole world.
Q: There have been many allegations that online communication creates sociopaths.
A: I don’t agree. The amount of communication that we can fit into just a few hours’ time today took years 15 years ago. We know more than ever before. We work more than ever before. These are three totally beneficial differences. Apart from that, the most uncertain thing in the world right now is human relations. Swift communication and the substantial information load often lead to quarrels between friends. This is why it makes a huge difference how we talk to people. The words, the language we use, this is of great importance.
Q: You say that we know more than ever before but this is trivial information. Books have gone out of fashion, movie trailers are in.
A: Unfortunately, people nowadays listen only in order to respond without any true comprehension of the interlocutor’s words. We fail to let information sink in because of the information overload. These are all changes related to the times we’re living in and they are not necessarily for the worse.
Q: A shift from an analogue world to a digital world.
A: Yes, and the best thing about this change is transparency. I have always said that transparent business means ethical business. When I was promoting the first business ethics standard created by me and a group of friends, with everyone around me wondering what this is about, I came up with a definition which I believe is still valid today, namely: “Make profit in a transparent way.” Social scrutiny is a strong motivator for paying attention to what you are saying and doing. When somebody parks their car the wrong way, they risk having a picture of this spread like wildfire. Society is capable of exercising total control over politicians and business people. By the way, I believe that our political system is totally outdated and out of step with the changes of our time. I cannot imagine how it would last. Political parties will be a thing of the past in 10-15 years, to be replaced by MPs who gain the support of their electorate on the basis of concrete ideas, many of them related to business rather than ideologies. Ideologies are nowhere to be found today, that is for sure. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates are people who can unite through projects. How is it possible that intelligent, capable, knowledgeable people vote for someone one-tenth of their own worth, someone who has no opinion, can’t make a decision, doesn’t read and doesn’t care?! At the same time, society is much more educated. This type of political system is already standing in the way of society and its progress. It is small countries like Bulgaria that can make a breakthrough and initiate a change. We are not that conservative as a nation. Moreover, we’ve been through so many jolts over the past 25 years which other nations hadn’t seen in centuries. Small nations can be more resilient. If there are several people in our country who can present good business project in an intelligent way, society may look at them very positively and they will be the creators of a new political system.
Q: The European Union itself is a rather cumbersome bureaucratic system.
A: We can’t expect that those 17,000 officials with glassy eyes, as George Ganchev has called them, will reform the system in which they are feeling comfortable. The greater the number of people contributing added value to society, the better for society. Conversely, the bigger the administration, the bigger the obstacle to progress. I don’t want to exaggerate the role of social media but the interactive exchange of opinions has burned out all bridges behind us. There was a humorous picture of pyramid of success with a Battery Charged building block at the bottom, Wireless Connection at the top and everything else coming later – opportunities, projects… After having used warm water to bathe once, you’ll be unwilling to return to cold water rinse.
Q: How will you explain your job to a five-year old child?
A: My definitions get simpler as time goes by. Your thought becomes clearer with the accumulation of professional skills. I would say to a five-year old child that I’m doing the following: pronouncing the truth in such a way that it gets across. That’s our business. “Truth” is the keyword in this definition. In our business, if you even think for a moment that you can transmit wrong information to the media to do a favour to someone, you are at risk of misleading millions of people. That’s why ethics and transparency have a cult status in our business. And professionalism in our business means to make information easy to comprehend.
I’m famous among my friends for presenting their very little children with tablets as a gift, most often for their first birthday. This means a five-year old child will probably already know what the truth is, having found found the needed information.
Q: Are you dealing in political PR?
A: We are not working for politicians and political parties because there is a large dose of emotion in politics all across southern Europe, including at home. That’s why, when you work for a certain political party, you are doomed to a nearly lifelong affiliation. On the other side, I’ve never been interested in political projects and I think that it is counter-productive for a businessman to deal in politics. Politics have rules that are outdated and stand outside the logic of good management.
Q: What are the basic rules of successful business?
A: Success is a relative category. I think that if you are working thoroughly, you are successful. You may be a taxi driver, you may be a postman, you may be running a big business. Everything depends on the risks you are taking and your endurance. When you have a big business, you are taking care of many people, you are paying big sums in tax and social insurance and you have to provide new rules for management. My generation who started doing business 20 years ago, have one big disadvantage, which is also an advantage: we are self-made. There was no one to teach us and show us how to do things. We’ve gone through many failures and successes, we’ve been learning from our mistakes and other people’s mistakes. However, I think that if people are doing things correctly and properly and are making profit out of this, they will be successful in their business. I also think that a successful Bulgarian abroad is a much greater success for Bulgaria compared to being here. First, such a Bulgarian is living and succeeding in a much more competitive environment. And second, when Bulgarians are successful abroad, they are promoting Bulgaria. It is those people that are making the image of Bulgaria. The money and possessions you own have nothing to do with success. A manager is successful if he has established a good team.
Q: When does a successful manager become leader?
A: You become leader without realizing it. You can’t invent being a leader. You become leader when people around you start imitating you and willing to be like you. This is the only definition.
*An interview for August/September issue of Bulgaria's Manager Magazine by Ana Klisarska
Maxim Behar is the founder and Chief Executive of M3 Communications Group, Inc., a company with more than 25 years of extensive experience in public communication. He is a creative personality influential in Bulgaria’s political and business life. In 2012, he was among the finalists of the contest Manager of the Year and won the online poll of bTV station for the most liked manager among the finalists.
Vice President of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), and Chairman of the Board of the World Communications Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a lecturer at many universities around the world, Maxim Behar is also the author of three books. The English-language edition of the latest one, Generation F, has reached #4 in terms of sales on Amazon.com and its Russian-language version recently became a bestseller on Ozon.ru.
Maxim Behar is a Honorary Consul of the Republic of Seychelles to Bulgaria as well as a honorary citizen of his home city of Shumen. He is member of the Management Board of the Bulgarian Business Leaders Forum as well as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of For Our Children Foundation.
M3 Communications Group, Inc. is one of the first PR companies established in Bulgaria. Founded in 1994, the company has invariably been among the leaders on the country’s market of public and media relations services. For more than 15 years now M3 Communications Group has been an affiliate of New York-based Hill+Knowlton Strategies, the global leader in PR business with 88 offices worldwide. M3 Communications has an extremely vast experience in the filed of crisis communication, social media, event management, media analyses and creation and management of Internet-based projects.
The company has won tens of domestic and international awards, including Best Consultancy in Eastern Europe of the influential The Holmes Report, the Best PR Agency in Europe by Stevie Awards (often dubbed Business Oscars) as well as the PR Agency of the Year award of Bright Awards contest held by the Bulgarian Association of PR Agencies. M3 Communications has implemented so far over 5,200 projects for more than 250 Bulgarian and international companies.
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