Maxim Behar : PR Is My Entire Life!
An interview of Maxim Behar for the series "The important thing for you" with Niki Kanchev
Niki Kanchev: Max, Hello!
Maxim Behar: Hi, Nicky!
Niki Kanchev: Recently you published your book "The Global PR Revolution", what will we find in it?
Maxim Behar: First of all, the book gives information about what is happening in the world right now. Not only in the field of PR, but in general when it comes to public communications. I am the person who wrote it, so I can’t give a clear opinion because as they say "I'm inside the forest" and I can not look at the trees from the outside. The very process of writing lasted a year and then another year had to pass before the US publishers fully edited it. I believe that through the book I was able to look at many interesting and present-day issues and topics related to public communications. However, I can't hide my surprise after the "World PR Revolution" has been a bestseller for two weeks at www.amazon.com. Maybe that shows, perhaps, there is interesting information in it. The opinion of 100 people leading PR experts from all around the world, as well as 65 countries that share their views on how the Public Relations business is evolving in the world, influenced a lot the writing process of that book. There are many stories, as well as my personal ones from Bulgaria that tell much about our country. This is a book published in America by a very large publisher and it is important for Bulgaria, as it is important you and I, and many other people - everyone to tell a little bit about our beautiful country. So step-by-step, part by part, we will solve the big puzzle and people around the world will see that Bulgaria is a great country.
Niki Kanchev: What exactly is PR for you? Let’s remind our wide audience that you are a journalist.
Maxim Behar: Yes, once a journalist – a lifetime journalist. 25 years ago I started a new business, Public Relations which in Bulgaria at that time was almost unknown. That was the logical continuation of what I did while being a journalist. I created content, tried to make it interesting and understandable. So, it seems to me, we managed to make a good company, which already a quarter of a century is on the market and is among the leading companies in the industry. Most importantly, Nicky, I much enjoyed and still enjoy my work. Every morning when I drive my car to the office, I flip different thoughts through my head: how I will wish my secretary a nice day, how I will congratulate my colleagues, where I will go first, which project today should I do. That has been a fact for nearly ten thousand days – pretty much time and it still makes me bursting of joy. For me, PR is my life.
Niki Kanchev: That’s great. But are you a good manager and a good boss? Do you usually take the right decisions?
Maxim Behar: I have no idea. Now I am writing a book about modern management, a major Bulgarian publisher asked for it and there I describe different occasions and events. Sometimes I think I'm good, sometimes I don't think I'm so good.
Niki Kanchev: Have you ever fired someone because of something? Do you give a second chance?
Maxim Behar: No, I have never fired anyone, ever! That’s not my way, I'm giving up to 10 chances. This doesn’t mean I am being soft, on the contrary, it is a glimpse into the future – a vision for at least 2, 3, 4, 5 years forward. No one has ever been born educated, I have said it to my colleagues many times, especially those who are new in the company. I can make from an amateur - professional for 5-6 months, but I can’t make the lazy one - hardworking. I can’t change the schemer into a team worker. These are qualities that every person possesses and I cannot change them. However, if one wants to learn, he can learn from us. I've trained hundreds, maybe thousands of different people. From the youngest, being 15-16 years of age to the other age categories. Many are on the market right now and they write to me very often. Almost every week I get long messages on social media, mainly on Linkedin. In those messages they describe moments and situations that we have experienced together. In that sense, I think I'm a good manager. Of course, like everything in life, there are some pros and cons. In my opinion, what makes a leader is not how much he/she earns, not whether he has large market positions. A leader is great when he creates good working teams from which other people become leaders as well. This is what makes a good manager a great leader.
Niki Kanchev: I had the pleasure of attending the 25th anniversary of M3 Communications Group Inc., your company. I saw that your children - both your real children and the team, stayed until 23:00 – 00:00 o’clock. That says a lot. If you were a pro forma boss, they would have left 21:00 – 22:00 o ‘clock. That means you're successful. Many people work or want to work in large companies. Can you give three tips to the employees who want to be part of big, influential companies?
Maxim Behar: First of all, they must be very honest and loyal. That is the basis of everything for both employees and managers. If someone goes to a company and is not welcomed how it’s supposed to be or it is not respected - better not to stay there at all. Of course, each one should consider its place in the company. It seems to me that there should be a very good parity in the relationship between the manager and the employee. I hate the word employer and I think it is not important at all who owns the company, but who manages it. A good parity is important because the employee has to take a step as well as the manager, meeting somewhere in the middle. Now, in 2020 I like to take control of my company horizontally - to be one of the many, not the person standing at the top. Of course, I have my responsibility as a manager and the man who makes the decisions. However, when it comes to doing projects, we are all equal. I have a very interesting case that is related to that. 3-4 years ago, an ex-employee called me. A very nice girl. Back then she worked in one of the big women's magazines, maybe even still working, and she said:
- "Boss, I know that in the team of M3 has a lot of women, now we are looking for the woman of the year and we have to create a rating. Can you present to us one of your employees? "
There was silence for about 30 seconds:
-"Villy who, the cleaning lady?"
-"Of course the cleaning lady." That's my woman of the year. She's been working on our team for 20 years. She does her job wonderfully and most of all is a very good woman."
Now she is retired, but she comes to all of our celebrations and we maintain a great relationship. After all, Villy became a woman of the year. A lot of other women and girls have been part of M3, but I didn't hesitate for a second. It doesn't matter if you're a manager, a secretary, an assistant or a cleaning lady. The important thing is how you do your job, what attitude you have towards your life and your colleagues.
Niki Kanchev: How many salaries do you have to provide?
Maxim Behar: At that moment 40-50 people are working in our company but before the crisis of 2009 they were much more.
Niki Kanchev: This is a huge responsibility.
Maxim Behar: That’s right but even one salary is a huge responsibility. It all depends on how you consider it.
Niki Kanchev: You are one of the first people to have realized Facebook in its many dimensions. Not just for a chat, relationship or love. But mainly being a social phenomenon and you even wrote a book about it. What are the differences in traditionally making PR and using social media?
Maxim Behar: There are a lot of differences. If we go back to my book "The World PR Revolution" it will become clear that a major part of this revolution is in the change of ownership of the media. In a traditional media – Internet, TV or newspaper – there are journalists, publishers, editors-in-chief who manage this media. Viewed objectively, the user of this media – the reader or the viewer has no direct access to it. Social media is a quite different case - you, your team, we all have media in our hands. We manage them and that makes us major editors of these media. No matter how much you underestimate Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram or any other account or profile, some people have over 1 million followers, even in Bulgaria. Televisions do not have such an audience, not to mention newspapers. Social media has totally changed our lives, I'm sure - for better. They allowed each one to express itself, to be able to influence if we have something to say. Nowadays a taxi driver in his garage using a second-hand laptop, if it is intelligent and has something to say can be much more popular than any politician in Bulgaria. I am saying that with some uncertainty whether politics are a good example for comparing.
Niki Kanchev: Of course, if a person is original and has some catchy information to share, it will be interesting for the audience.
Maxim Behar: Definitely. The other huge difference is in the popularity of each one of us. Just 10-15 years ago, who were the popular people? – politicians, people from the show business and sportsmen. Now everyone who has media in their hands has something to say and shares it in an interesting way can influence and be much more popular than anyone else.
Niki Kanchev: Have you ever turned back a client or company and why?
Maxim Behar: Many times. We refuse for two reasons: 1st of all when we don’t feel chemistry with our customers. For me, this is of most importance. When we talk to a client and see what he wants and how he wants to achieve it, we know if we are playing on the same team. Of course, some have not liked us, because we thought that, let's say, are part of the grey market. We have never been and will never be part of that kind of business. We also refuse when we see that the customer is asking for things that can’t be achieved. I will tell you about such a situation:
Many years ago our office was situated in a small building, you also visited that place. One day I was sitting on my desk, doing work as usual. Suddenly the door opens with a kick and a man wearing a black T-shirt and a black jacket enters the place. He sat down holding a plastic bag in his hand and said:
- "Are you Behar, the famous one?"
- "I am Maxim Behar, yes" – I answered as I was working.
- "I was told that your price is 5000 dollars."
I didn't know exactly what I was supposed to answer and asked:
- "What's that all about?"
He put the bag on the table and pulled from it some amount of money:
- "Here’s 5000 bucks. I want an interview to be published on the front page of newspaper X next Friday.
Meanwhile, I see two guards standing outside the door, four more in front of the building, and a few cars waiting for that man. I realized that there's no way I can say no to him and just kick him out.
That's why I said:
- "It is possible but we have to do brainstorming (a technique for generating creative ideas), it will take around 6 hours."
He looked at me and said:
- "What is this?"
- "Well, just brainstorming, then we will prepare a strategy. It will take some time, about 1-2 weeks. Then we will make another appointment with my team. "
Suddenly he got up and replied:
- "I was told you were a specialist. Nonsenses, that’s not true and you're not an expert! "
He took his bag and left. That's how I refused on this guy.
Niki Kanchev: Do you change your clients' opinion or is it pointless?
Maxim Behar: Very often, even always. We are experts if a client comes to our company, it means that they need a piece of expert advice. To this day, even today I always tell the customers: "If you have an opinion, what do you need me for? Why are you coming to us? You want to give your money when you know how it works?" I often give an example of being a dentist. When you go to the dentist, do you tell him what to do? If you know what to do, go in front of the mirror and fix your teeth by yourself. You go to the dentist because you put the decisions about your health in his hands. I believe that we are professionals and we have proven that we are doing our job perfectly. We've done about 5700 projects. I stopped counting them when they were around 5200-5300. Every one of these projects has gone through my brain, my eyes, through the decisions I've made. I believe that we have enough experience to have the confidence to know what is best for our customers. I haven't had a single case when advising a client, defending my opinion and being wrong at the end.
Niki Kanchev: Will you share with us some practical advice you have given to the companies you are consulting?
Maxim Behar: What should not be underestimated at any price is the importance of reacting immediately. That is one of the most basic things I can share. Crisis management is a serious field. Ten years ago, it was very easy. You wake up in the morning and open the newspaper, there you see that someone has written something bad for a company or a person that is your client. You call the boss and say that there's a problem. You go to his/her place, drink a coffee together or have lunch. Then you come up with a press release, possibly invite journalists to a press conference. The fact is that you have 10-12 hours to solve the case. Now we don't have 10 minutes even. We must be ready to respond immediately, we must have a combination of quick reactions and super broad knowledge to be in that business. Often people who cause a crisis or have a bad opinion about our clients are right. Then we immediately advise our clients to say: "Okay, that's right, we were wrong. Of course, we will compensate you." But if they are not right, we advise reacting honestly, honorably, with the responsibility that comes when being moral because nothing can remain hidden anymore. Very often we have customers who tell us: "Let it go, it will pass." What it means "will pass", how it will pass..? Probably it will, but it will remain the memory that such a case has happened, that we have not responded to it and we haven’t come up with a professional reaction. That’s why the fastest and most accurate reaction is of great significance. Understanding our business Public Relations and what we do, as well as the importance of the way we manage social media is also a distinction, and we work very hard so that our customers know it.
Niki Kanchev: Maxim, what's important to you?
Maxim Behar: Happiness. It is very important that we are happy at work, with our families, with the people who surround us, with those who we share our most precious time. It seems to me that if a person is not happy, it can’t do anything. It cannot be useful to itself or the people around and society in general. Of course, what you leave behind is essential. I'll repeat my words: A great leader is the one who creates new leaders. When I see so many of my colleagues with whom I work taking independent and professional decisions, having in mind that with some of them we have been working for 15 years so far, it gives me great pleasure and makes me professionally happy. There's nothing more important than happiness.
Niki Kanchev: Is there one of your students who has surpassed you?
Maxim Behar: Sure. First of all, thank you for being part of the presentation of my book at Greenwich's bookstore. That event was attended by several people who used to be my colleagues. I shared my opinion on who’s a real, great leader with them as well and while signing their books, I said: "That’s about you" because I have colleagues who used to have not so attractive positions and now many of them are very well represented in large companies and are even managers. I am very proud of that fact.
Niki Kanchev: Thank you very much for this interview!
Maxim Behar: I am thankful. Be safe!
Full video you can find here.