Gain or Lose Image World Leaders during the Coronavirus Crisis according to Maxim Behar
*Sources: Interview for Svetoslava Rudolf’s broadcast “On the Network” on Bulgaria 24 TV
Svetoslava Rudolf: This is the broadcast “On the Network”, your show. I'm Svetoslava Rudolf, hello! Today we will discuss a curious question - How does the corona crisis affect the political rating of world leaders? How do they use this crisis? Who succeeds and who does not to make a successful PR in order to win the next election? Today I invited Maxim Behar, an international PR specialist to be our virtual guest. He recently published a unique book, “The Global PR Revolution", and I read it in half underlining. An extremely interesting book that contains the opinion of international experts. In fact, this book was first published in the United States, where it was sold out very successfully, and then he released it in Bulgaria. Now on our Skype line is Maxim Behar. Hello!
Maxim Behar: Hello, Svetoslava! I am very happy to talk to you and your audience. A great apology that I am not in the studio in person today, but there will come a time when we will see each other in person in the studio.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Let's start with this - Which of the world leaders is successfully using the corona crisis? Of course, the word "use" I do not want to sound cynical but it is necessary to. Simultaneously, leaders as politicians speak out and strive to rise their image and rating. How do you think the most famous and interesting presidents - Trump, Macron, Chancellor Merkel, Erdogan, Putin, Borissov, President Rumen Radev - are managing? We will go through all.
Maxim Behar: If the word "use" may sound a little cynical, perhaps the word "successfully" would sound a little cynical too because it is very difficult now to say to what extent, who and how has taken the lead or has lagged behind in its popularity because this is a process. This is a process all over the world. Maybe in 3-4 months, hopefully, everything will pass, we will be able to make an assessment and the politicians will be able to make an assessment too. What I see, however, is that in every country, without exception, each of the leaders is trying to be as visible as possible, as public as possible, on television, radio, with interviews, everywhere. To have a rating, to be concerned, probably with a single purpose - to increase its popularity as this is a unique case. Almost everywhere there is a state of emergency in which any leader can be as online as he can when he can as he wants. It seems to me that in Bulgaria, as mentioned by Boyko Borissov, the government is doing quite well from a communication point of view. We will judge again in 1, 2, 3 months to whom the rating has risen and to whom it has fallen.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Now, if you want, let's take a look at the Bulgarian politicians. Then we will move onto the international ones. From the very beginning, some charts came out about Boyko Borissov, that his rating rose a lot, and he started appearing in the morning and evening, but at one point it seemed people started to get annoyed. There is a danger, this actually applies to all the other leaders who appear very often such as President Trump. There was a statistic a few days ago that he was on the air for 28 hours almost every day. At one point, his rating rises, but then this show begins to carry negatives. Isn't there such danger with Boyko Borissov especially with the night briefings that irritate people?
Maxim Behar: Any overdose, of course, is contraindicated. This is one of the basic principles especially in times of crisis. In any case, it should be overdone, however, the lack of information is a bigger problem and a much greater danger than the overdose of politicians and people who talk about coronavirus and how we will deal with the crisis. This applies not only to Boyko Borissov, but it also applies to the so-called headquarters, it also applies to all doctors, some specialists, some not. I even think it's far more nonproductive and far more dangerous - doctors who, one dentist, another specialist in internal disease, not to mention abdominal surgeons, and everyone suddenly become a specialist in infectious diseases, which is terribly dangerous. However, from the point of view of the conversation about politicians, it seems to me that enough information is a better option than the opposite. The great danger is not even from politicians even but rather from fake news and the fact that everyone has begun to understand virology, infectious diseases and, in fact, the entire Internet space is filled with opinions that should be credible, but in the end, not all of them are professional and created by specialists.
Svetoslava Rudolf: General Mutafchiiski is a very interesting phenomenon and in the very beginning, the people started to talk he would become a President. He topped the ranking of ratings in Bulgaria, but yesterday I saw on Facebook a post saying that his briefings, which opinion I do not share at all, but here's what people write that his briefings have become like the briefings at the headquarters of the book “1984” by Orwell, in which the briefings were called “2 minutes of hatred”. General Mutafchiiski said yesterday that his life was threatened. The mood already changed to such an extent that some people did not want to see him, and today I was even surprised to hear him say that the bad messenger that he had become would be killed. Can you imagine? How far can the pendulum go?
Maxim Behar: I don't know him personally but he seems to be a very calm and intelligent man. It seems to me that there was a need for such a person during a crisis and so many nervous relationships of different news and information, relationships, emotions. There was a need of someone like him to calm them down, to speak sensibly and intelligently. Of course, he will have a higher rating because many people listen to his advice reasonably. He should collect and administer all the information that comes from various sources and, together with his consultants, he will choose the best. I sympathize with him because he really looks like an intelligent and sensible person. If he has political ambitions, he could try for a President.
Svetoslava Rudolf: All is about that he has to say bad things that people don't want to hear. He is constantly talking about deaths that are terribly unpleasant for the ears. You, as a PR, could tell if that was playing a bad joke on him?
Maxim Behar: He speaks in a very sensible and very objective way, very calmly. So far, with a very few exceptions, he has shown some emotion, unlike Boyko Borissov, his Prime Minister and his boss, as the headquarters is subordinate to the government. You know, a lot of people understand these measures in a very wrong way, and that's because of people's psychology. Borissov said yesterday - "Bulgaria is one of the countries with the most liberal situation and the most liberal regime in terms of going out, walking, contacts with other people." However, it seems that people are not so aware of the gigantic danger that exists in society. See the example of Singapore, which was one of the best cases in the world, perhaps not only in Asia. For a week now, Singapore has been horrified because they do not comply with the measures because they have not closed their stores. They relied almost exclusively on culture and upbringing that God would protect the people. Not so. We must listen to what politicians say, not for anything else, but because in Bulgaria there is a very pragmatic and very simple approach - stay at home, you will not worry about anything else and you will not spread the disease. There is nothing better than that. I think that if this thing is done, if Bulgaria goes in this direction, Borissov will be a winner. I am not very fascinated by what I see in the President.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Now let’s talk about President Radev and his appearances in this situation. Tell me what do you think? He still strives, he must be admitted to run on his track and stand out as you said a while ago. That is, he can not follow the Government, you know from a PR point of view. There is perhaps something to criticize sometimes. Why not doing it?
Maxim Behar: No, I do not mean criticism or following the Government. I just don't move in this construction. However, I believe that the President must be very proactive. As a matter of fact, until a few months ago, he behaved very well and sent very meaningful and intelligent messages. Now, it seems, he has suddenly gone into a plain that is not very positive and anyone can criticize it. However, in the present time, in order to win a rating, in order to win people, in order to be even grateful to the people, this applies not only to the President, this applies to every single minister, this also applies to the Prime Minister, but you also have to prove that you really work for the people and that you think their good, and communicate it in a very good, very concise and very professional way. By the way, the French president is doing this, the Spanish prime minister is doing it, the Italian president is doing the same.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Sorry, I am interrupting you. We'll move onto Macron in a moment. However, as for President Radev, why do you think he does not speak to the people? On the contrary, he seems to be addressing the poor precisely, that the poorest should be helped, that the economy should be helped. He said such things.
Maxim Behar: This is more than clear, Svetoslava. Of course, the people who are in the most difficult situation, those who have lost their jobs, they will probably be hundreds or thousands of people. Businesses need to be supported and given special attention. If I had to advise the President or the Prime Minister, if they needed me to advise them, they would call me. I think that if the President or the presidential institution wanted to be useful and constructive, then he had to gather a group of economists around him and come up with an alternative or a real economic plan, which is very necessary for Bulgaria at the moment. It is very necessary. Yesterday I watched the debates in the parliament and there was such a question to the Prime Minister and he did not seem to answer very clearly and precisely. We need a very clear program on which businesses should be supported as a priority, which businesses are important for Bulgaria, and how they will be supported. If the Prime Minister, the President, whoever, comes out and proposes something with figures and arguments, I think that even in terms of PR, but purely pragmatically, they would win a lot, Bulgaria would also win.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Well, what do you think of the position of the BSP in this situation, which provoked yesterday's parliamentary debate?
Maxim Behar: It is incomprehensible to me. Again, I do not want to go into political criticism or evaluation. You also can't stand there and ask questions. If someone has a clear economic program, if someone has a clear political message, how to get out of this crisis. But no one knows, of course, because no one has been through it, or at least we are not. I don't know, neither the BSP, nor anyone else in politics, except Boyko Borissov, I do not see how he could gain influence at the moment if of course there is no clear program and clear message.
Svetoslava Rudolf: How do you see the IMRO's proposal to deal with some of these economic measures that they proposed as well?
Maxim Behar: IMRO is an interesting political phenomenon, even because their leader Krassimir Karakachanov manages to get out of any situation quite well and quite intelligently and has never crossed borders before. It seems to me that this is a party of pragmatic people. He and his partners have the most accurate and clear messages today. The fact is that they, excluding IMRO who have little participation in the vote, the fact is that they do not carry a large burden at the moment, but still have a very sober voice and that they manage to survive in this coalition is also not a small achievement. Borissov is a very powerful man who seems not to agree with compromises easily, and I think it is a success for the IMRO that they continue to be in the Government with him.
Svetoslava Rudolf: There was a very interesting incident at one of the briefings, however, Boyko Borissov has a sense of humor which comes out from any situations, in which they sat with General Mutafchiiski at the table for the briefing and then Boyko Borissov told General Mutafchiiski - "Don't sit on my place, because with this rating…“
Maxim Behar: No, it was a different situation. They were getting up after the briefing when Boyko Borissov told General Mutafchiiski - "If you want to come onto my place, if you want to continue", then he said - "Well, you better not do that with this rating…”
Svetoslava Rudolf: Yes, it was that way.
Maxim Behar: I think he seriously thinks that. It's not so much a sense of humor.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Absolutely! Where there is a joke, there is the truth, as they say.
Maxim Behar: Well, he has lived with the highest rating in Bulgaria for the past 10 years and suddenly a General appears from nowhere, who on top of everything, is in a military uniform. There is a study that shows that this General, who has been on television for 1 month or less, suddenly has a higher rating than the Prime Minister. No wonder, this is human after all, and it's normal that he was worried then. He made a joke, however, if someone has a higher rating than a person who has held it for 10 years, or even more, even as Secretary-General there was a rating far higher than the rating of the former Prime Minister, who was King Simeon.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Well, does Boyko Borissov play the role of the father of the nation well with these endless in terms of hours conversations, messages, messages, messages? It is noticeable that the journalists ask him something, but he answers what he knows, very often he does not answer the questions, but answers what he thinks. Somehow he's trying to play the role of Batman. By the way, thinking about this comparison to Batman is a bit funny, because the coronavirus comes from a bat. Right? Boyko Borissov in the role of Batman saves people.
Maxim Behar: You know, my friends and I talk about companies, we are together in Zoom from morning till night. There are many people who are dissatisfied with his excessive presence on the screen, including in the evenings. However, it is true that many people in Bulgaria, due to his high rating, want to hear things from people who have power and make decisions, who know how to use words, who speak their language and as much as to hear dissatisfaction and to say to ourselves - “Get rid of him, he has such a language" and everything else. The majority, this is a definite statement for years, the mass of people in Bulgaria identify with him and his language. He thus gained popularity. Otherwise, if there is something extraordinary when we have returned to our homes and we are afraid to show up outside so to not become infected. When, thank God, the economy is still working well, but there are still difficulties and the crisis is still to come. The fact that someone appears on TV one night to say funny things is not a big drama. It seems to me that he earns good points with this. He may be a little more temperate, but he is Boyko Borissov. There is no way anyone can advise him to be different. He kicked his PR, the chief of public relations department, out of the press conference. What's about if someone tries to advise him to be more temperate. He is as he is. We have to take this into consideration. He was elected by the people, he is the Prime Minister and so far I think that he has been doing quite well in terms of communication.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Now let's move to other presidents. For example, let's talk again about President Trump. He is known to be at war with most media, with the exception of one or two conservative media that took part in his political campaign. You are very familiar with American PR territory. What is happening to Trump now? In the beginning, his rating was really high, but now President Trump has started to stop his press conferences by himself, as he wrote on Twitter that they are out of use.
Maxim Behar: Everything that is happening in America is unique and there are people I talk to and no one can believe that this can happen in America. The fact is that in addition to everything else, in addition to his war with the media, in addition to all these remarks at every briefing he says to CNN representatives or some from other newspapers - the New York Times, the Washington Post, he just throws them somewhere. By the way, the attitude of Boyko Borissov towards the Bulgarian media is radically opposite. We all saw how he answer ed to awkward questions from a TV that doesn't like him so much - that of Slavi Trifonov, we saw how he answered to almost all questions forcing himself. Something that wouldn't even have crossed Trump's mind. He interrupts CNN reporters in the middle of the question. He tells him - “You are liars. You are spreading fake news. I don't want to talk to you." This, especially for America, is very difficult to bear because, in all these years that we remember, dozens of presidents have changed who have had such an attitude, neither to the people around them, nor to the journalists, nor to the media, nor to his advisers. I don't think that's a good message from Trump to the people of America, no matter what economic miracles he does, no matter how many new jobs he creates, no matter how much he expels all the Chinese from America and thus performs well. You can't treat the media in this way, you can't send such messages like injecting yourself with disinfectants, drinking bleach. You know, there are already cases of people drinking disinfectants and bleach and going to hospitals. And I say to myself, "God, what are these people like who listen to a person on a TV screen and start drinking poison?" That is, now in this stressful situation of crisis, politicians and those people who elect and listen to them are obviously confused in all the countries.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Well, I want to ask you if there is any risk in this situation, in which a leader stands for hours in front of the audience, in front of people who ask him questions, in front of journalists, in such a critical and stressful situation in which he must be ready to corresponds to absolutely everything, to answer in the best way, not to say a single word that is out of place. He can't help but say something stupid. That is how it happens.
Maxim Behar: Unfortunately, this is how it happens. Of course, there are politicians especially in Europe who behave very adequately and very intelligently - the Italian Prime Minister, we talked about Macron, the Spanish Prime Minister as well.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Let's say a few words about Macron. I have prepared a video in which he participates as a reporter in a situation with coronavirus patients.
Maxim Behar: Svetla, every politician must be prepared for any critical situation, especially the Prime Minister, especially the President, because they are in responsible positions. If necessary, they will prepare with PR experts, if necessary, they will listen to all the criticism. However, their performance during a crisis must be super productive, super-intelligent, encouraging, in any case unmeasured, and they have no right to take steps aside. That's it. We advise dozens of international companies in their critical situations nowadays especially to do just that. What about the politicians who govern an entire country? Of course, they must be prepared in the best way.
Svetoslava Rudolf: The most interesting thing happened to Chancellor Angela Merkel who was off the political scene. I even talked, we had a live connection from Germany, where they said - "She returned as the mother of the nation. Everyone loves her. What matters is what she says." How would you assess this paradoxical situation in Germany?
Maxim Behar: The German people are quite well-bred, organized, and united people. In my opinion, they have suddenly chosen a far more pragmatic approach - to support the person they know and trust, rather than trusting someone else who will replace her now in the middle of a crisis the world has never seen. Otherwise, I am a little surprised that Merkel is quite pessimistic. Yesterday I read her last statement that we are only at the beginning of the pandemic, that this will continue for many years, that we must be ready for the pandemic to continue with even greater force this year in the following months, which is totally contrary to that, which we hear from other politicians, including experts.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Isn't that exactly the right approach? That Merkel was different from all leaders because she said things close to the truth, whether if it was hopeless. This truth prepared the German people to take the situation realistically. While in many other countries, among which we may fit, we are listening to things and we do not know what to expect and we do not know what will happen. It is constantly said that no one knows what will happen because we have never experienced such a thing. At one point, they ask Boyko Borissov - “What will happen in the future? Do you have a plan?” And he says - "We have not seen such a thing. No one can make a concrete plan” and so on. Suddenly they decided to give us "hope". In the hope that the measures will be relaxed, this is happening when coronavirus cases are multiplied. People ask themselves the question - "Why are the measures quitted when the disease is spreading? Isn't this a contradiction from a semantic point of view?”
Maxim Behar: Absolutely logical question and there is no answer. In my opinion, this is a political game of Borissov, of the government. Probably the same thing is happening in other countries so that people do not turn against politicians so that tensions can be reduced a little. I think, again I'm not an expert, from everything I read and see, I think it's a huge mistake. We have to protect ourselves, to stay at home, not to contact anyone, because 1, 2, or 3 omissions can lead to great unhappiness among many people.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Yes, I agree.
Maxim Behar: This must be repeated constantly, people must be patient. Televisions like yours and a show like yours also play a huge role in communicating to people so they can understand. They are more responsible, everyone is more responsible than the Prime Minister today. The situation of the Prime Minister is easy. He is sitting in the car, wearing a mask, putting on gloves. There is no danger of infecting anyone or being infected. However, each of us has a huge responsibility to not infect his relatives, to not infect his friends, to not infect anybody on the street, to not be infected. If we are all aware of this responsibility but we do not hear it from politicians, we do not hear it from their PR experts, consultants. If each of us is well aware of our responsibility, it seems that we will pass much faster. As a friend of mine from America says - “When I cross the bridge, I'll call." So, we all need to want to cross the bridge. Unfortunately, no one knows how long it is. That is why we will soon cross this bridge. But we all need to have that patience, to follow all these measures so that we can continue our lives normally and we will remember, of course, those months at home.
Svetoslava Rudolf: In the last 5 minutes of the first part of the show, I would like to briefly comment on Presidents Erdogan and Putin. Why does Erdogan act differently? He does not appear often. If you look for his videos now you will see that he has only appeared 1, 2, or 3 times during all this time. In fact, there are fluctuations in his rating. We did a special show from Turkey about what's going on there. How would you comment on Erdogan's behavior in this situation?
Maxim Behar: His attitude is very similar to what Putin is doing in Moscow. These are people who are controlling the situation with political and economic inventory so much that they have no need to be on screen every day. They appear very briefly, very rarely, they say a few things, and these messages reach people through all sorts of channels that they have made over the years. This is their strategy. I believe that every politician should know his political space and his strategy, compared to what he has around him and has done over the years. I'm not surprised by that. Erdogan is not a person who stands on the screen all the time. He is a man who appears rarely but when there are very large and massive demonstrations he is there. I hope everything goes well in Turkey and there are not many upheavals, because these are big countries. You see how in the United States everything went wrong and everything turned upside down. We all thought that this was the most stable and best-paid medical health care system which suddenly, in the first few weeks, turned out to be falling apart. Hopefully, this is not happening anywhere else. I hope we see Turkey and Russia, it is also very important to cross this bridge successfully, with the least cases of infection.
Svetoslava Rudolf: Thank you very much for this conversation. It was very valuable for us. Thank you and in the future, we will consult you in other cases when there is a specific situation. Because I think people should count on learning. It is simply informationally important to learn to understand the behavior of leaders.
Maxim Behar: Thank you! Let everyone remember that he is his own leader in his house, in his place, in his kitchen. Everyone should be a leader and he should control his mood and manage his mood and actions to protect everyone else around him. Only then we will succeed quickly. Thank you. I wish success to your audience!
Svetoslava Rudolf: Thank you and I wish you success and health!
Watch the full video here.