BG

Articles

The Transparency of Social Media in the PR Business

Sources: Interview for The Holmes Report (PRovoke podcast) with host Maja Pawinska Sims

The Echo Chamber brought to you by the Holmes Report and produced by the international podcast specialist Markettiers. Sponsored by the Bulleit Group, putting you in tomorrow’s conversations today.

 

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Hello everyone and welcome to The Echo Chamber. I am joined here in London today with Maxim Behar, the boss of M3 Communications and probably Bulgaria’s most high professional certainly as well not just PR man. Max kindly popped up into the studio on reach of the 25th Anniversary party tonight to talk about his brand new book “The Global PR Revolution”. Max, thank you for joining me.

Maxim Behar:

- Good afternoon Maja. Very nice to be here.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- It is lovely to have you here. So, Max, I would like to get to know you a little better. Can you tell us a bit about your astonishing 25-year career in communications so far? Where did that all start?

Maxim Behar:

- We have just celebrated our 25th Anniversary in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was for many years a journalist and the editor in Chief of the largest private daily newspaper in Bulgaria - “Standard” daily. One day just remembering what Winston Churchill said - “You can archive a lot of things with the journalism, but you must know when to quit“. I just decided to start my own business, of course, 25 years back in Bulgaria, I don’t think anybody knew what is PR, so we were calling this advertising. Started in a small kitchen, with a small corridor, and then the secretary was in the corridor, I was in the kitchen. Then the first clients started coming and that is how it started. Maybe 3 or 4 years later I received an email saying - “Mr. Behar, I have heard about your operation in Bulgaria and we will be very happy if we can cooperate together – Sir Martin Sorrell”. So, I did not know who he was.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- You did not know who he was?

Maxim Behar:

- I didn’t know, indeed. So, I called the lady who is the Young & Rubicam representative in Sofia. I said - “Listen, who is this Sir Martin Sorrell?”. Then she was silent for about a minute and then said - “Max, how come Sir Martin knows who are you and you do not know who is he?”. I said - “You know, I do not know, but...”. So, that is how it happened and then I met late Howard Paster and then late Terrence Billing. This is how almost 20 years I am with Hill & Knowlton Strategies. I think we are largest partners operation having more than 60 people in the office and a lot of international clients very, very happy with the business. After 25 years driving in the morning, to the office from my house, and I am full of excitement and full of expectations and creative ideas in my head. I had also these two very productive years as a President of ICCO and a couple of years before that as Vice President and Treasurer. I loved to travel, to learn, to read. Every day I read at least two or three articles on Public Relations, social media, and modern marketing. I love Paul Holmes, who is not only one of my best friends, but also a mentor and guru in the Public Relations business. The way he behaves, the way he speaks, we have been with Paul thousands of different events from PRovoke and different summits, up to Davos and many other places.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Yes, we all love Paul. He is a great guy, he is a great boss as well.

Maxim Behar:

- He is a great personality, that is why I like him.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- On the bases we grew up in the PR industry, the global industry together. You tell us a great story in your book about your slight and accidental evolution from an advertising agency to PR agency via your first account from an oil company. Can you tell us about that?

Maxim Behar:

- It was Amoko Petroleum. At that time Amoko was later bought by British Petroleum. At that time it was the largest retail oil company in the US. So, they wanted to invest in Poland, Bulgaria, and Russia and when they came to my office, it was the already mentioned kitchen, and I felt very depressed and I was absolutely sure that they would not work with me, but at the end of the day, they came back and said - “We want to work with you.” and I said - “Why? How come? I have this small kitchen and nothing, no secretary, nobody.” Then the guy – James Shields, who was the country manager at that time, said - “Listen, we are looking for such a man who will not spend our money on luxury offices and luxury cars and will advise us properly and professionally” That is how it started and then, of course, Hill & Knowlton cooperation and many other clients, Microsoft, Cisco. I made the soft landing of Microsoft for Bulgaria at that time - a country number one of pirate software. It was a big fight and a lot of crisis management steal. So, that was the logical development from doing Public Relations business in a country where nobody knew what is Public Relations.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Well, you involved PR in Bulgaria that is for sure and the rest is history. Your book is “The Global PR Revolution”. What was the thinking behind this? What did you want to achieve?

Maxim Behar:

- When I spent 2 years as ICCO President I traveled every months and I think I visited more than 45 countries, almost 50 countries. I met a lot of people, interesting communities, PR experts, local associations, friends, very good friends. I spoke to maybe 50 or 60 different conferences, forums, and summits, including the one in Davos for many years. So, at the end of the day, I decided that it might be good if I can share all those experience, not only what I think about the changes in Public Relations business, but also what the guys from China, from Hong Kong, from Brazil, from Australia or Canada, Baltics, Scandinavia think about that. There are a lot of similarities because all we know that our business these days has nothing to do with the business 10 years ago even. It is a very, very dynamic change. Sometimes I feel like it is changing with the speed of light. Something which was valid and very interesting, very innovative a week ago, it is old already. This is because of the fast development of social media, the way of communication, changing the languages and different approaches as instruments which companies are using these days. So, that is why I called it revolution and some of the people who are interviewed in the book agree, some of them do not agree. Of course, the majority agree that it is a revolution. I think there is one basic very important point to call it revolution – this is the change of the ownership of the media. Because 10-15 years ago it was easy. The clients were coming and knocking at our door and saying - “Mr. PR expert would you be so kind to help me to promote my products to the media? So, would you connect me to the media because you know the editors or you know how to approach them?” These days, of course, we had at that time very simple instruments and we were saying - “Of course, Mr. Client we are all yours." We organize a press conference, we have a product promotion, we do this and that. We have between 5 and 10 different instruments – media breakfast, media trip, visit the factory, interview with the CEO and that is it. These days the clients come and knock at the door and say - “Mr. PR expert, I own media. Would you be so kind to help me to manage this media?” It means that we should have completely different qualities, completely different knowledge, completely different preparation and a completely different approaches to achieve client’s needs. That is why I really believe that the PR experts these days are very complicated chemistry or mixtures between publishers, editors, and reporters. Publishers because we own a media or we operate a media on behalf of our clients. Editors because we care about the content - it is our strength. If we do not operate with the content with a good language we will be out of business.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- I know about storytelling.

Maxim Behar:

- Reporters because of the storytelling. A reporter is someone who reports, someone who finds something interesting and reports it to the audience. That is the etymology of this word in English. This mixture between publishers, editors and reporters makes our business completely different and requires from us, from our teams, from our staff in the offices, even from our client's absolutely different qualities to have. So, that is why I think it is really revolution, the changes are revolutionary.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- And how well do you think the industry globally is adapting to this revolution?

Maxim Behar:

- I do not think it is easy because, in some of the markets, I realize that changes are absolutely very slowly. I can point China, partly Russia, some of the markets do not even accept the changes and they do not realize how important are those changes and how important is the changes of the people who are the audience, they are targeting. Of course, the UK and the US, which are the mothers of the Public Relations business it is much easier and much more dynamic. One of the huge advantages of this book, I can not comment on the quality of the analysis or the speech, but without any doubt, the biggest advantage is that I managed together 100 top PR experts from 65 countries insights and from any research I made throughout the past one or two years I never ever found such publication even scientific, even in the university paper to have such a big amount – 100 people from all over the world with their expert's opinion, because these guys are really top leaders from Sir Martin Sorrell trough Paul Holmes, David Gallagher, Elise Mitchell, so many, Jack Martin from Hill & Knowlton, and many others. So many top-quality people. Also small countries like Albania, Tajikistan or Vietnam where people usually do not think that they may have a Public Relations business. This mixture can show to the readers what are the changes in different parts of the world.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Like you said you have got quotes from almost every big Chief in the global PR industry. They all responded differently and largely positively to your question about what social media constitutes a revolution in Public Relations or precise the revolution. Can you pick up some of your favorite quotes and responses to that? Are there any really that sprang to your mind?

Maxim Behar:

- I really do not have them. There are brilliant interesting people like John Saunders from Fleishman Hillard and Jack Martin from Hill & Knowlton, who are commenting at that time. Let say, Sir Martin Sorrell is emphasizing on the digital changes. He is more on the advertising side and we had a couple of discussions with Sir Martin on that. One of the most important changes in our business is that globally there is a very high-speed merge between the three main elements of Public communications which are Public Relations, Advertising and Digital. Sometimes we think they are separate businesses, but the merge is so fast that one day we will wake up, we will make our espresso coffee and then we will realize that we live in a different world and we work in a different business. There is a big dispute which one of the businesses will leave in the future this big merge in the business. Some people, Sir Martin is one of them, saying - “Of course, it is the advertising, because the money is in the advertising, also the media buying, the graphic design, the creativity, the video buying, and the video creation”. So, all those things.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- And that was because he paid in WPP, of course.

Maxim Behar:

- Exactly. That was what he did at WPP. I am the one that definitely say that it will be Public Relations. There are 2 main reasons which I think are beating all those messages about the media buying, about the influence on the media, whatever. You can have millions to buy a media, to buy space in the media, but Public Relations is the business responsible for the content and we are the masters of the content. We can buy thousands of minutes on the TV, you can buy thousands of hundreds of square centimetres in the media or you can buy places on Facebook without content. This is an empty space. In Public Relations we are the ones responsible for the content. Reason number 2 is that we deal with crisis management. This is crucial importance these days because a couple of years ago we had something like between 8 and 10 hours to solve a crisis. You wake up, you read the newspaper, a nasty article about one of your clients. Then you call the client and you have a coffee with him, then you have lunch with him and then you make a press release, then you invite journalists, you make a press conference. All those things, which usually took 6 to 8 hours. Today we do not have even 6 minutes.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- You have got that 15 minutes.

Maxim Behar:

- Sometimes we have 6 seconds to react. So, from those 3 elements – Public Relations, Advertising, and Digital, I think Public Relations, having in mind the abilities to solve crises and to manage content, will be definitely the leading one, supported by the digital, supported by the media buying, maybe with the graphic design creativity. So, this trend I think is very loudly described in the book and the majority of the interviewed, the superstars in this business, agree with this.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Yes, it is easy to see that. There is a parallel revolution you talk about how the media has involved and the death, almost the death of the print newspaper. How has the revolution in the media landscape affected PR and how do you seen the relationships between the PR and journalism change in your time in industry?

Maxim Behar:

- If you mean the traditional media, as we know there is a strong division between the social and the traditional media, I think that this revolution devastated both – the traditional Public Relations and the traditional media in one at the same time. The end of the 90’s it was absolutely clear that the traditional media is dying, especially the printed media. I am a man coming from printed media. I was giving interviews, I was predicting that in 2020-2025 the last newspaper will disappear.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Gosh still this really scares me, the printed media. You still believe that?

Maxim Behar:

- That is reality! This is not because the newspapers are bad, but the newspapers will not survive with the lack of advertising. The daily newspaper will cost 20 pounds. Do you know why? Because they should pay salaries, they should pay the newsprint, the printing, the delivery, the distribution, everything. It was easy to predict because although we did not have social media 20 years ago, we had online media, we had the websites at that time, and forums and all those platforms to exchange opinions. At that time a lot of people called me and said - “Max, you come from the printed media and how you predict that the traditional media will die?” It is happening together with the change of our business. This is a process which is changing the journalism and they exist less and less like a real journalists. They are much more bloggers, writers on social media, people who are posting on their Facebook profiles or Twitter and something different in LinkedIn or Instagram. We became as Public Relations experts much closer to the journalists from the traditional media. It is a mixtures. I do not see any big difference between social media and what we do every day in our offices.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- The things are really shifted have a knife and fur for journalists and PR people. The jobs are different as they were a decade ago, or certainly 2 or 5 years ago. When I started in this business.

Maxim Behar:

- Exactly. We are in two parts, I mean I do not whether, sometimes depends on the countries, in some of the countries we have a Chinese wall in between. In some of the countries, we cooperate. It was different. There were 2 different parallel developing professions, businesses. These days it is the same. It is part of the revolution I think.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- You talk about a great phrase from your book which is total transparency. Tell me about that, because I would like to know about the rise of social media and the impact on brands.

Maxim Behar:

- I think that it will affect mainly the name of our business Public Relations, because the name of the business was created more than 120 years ago in the US, when maybe 5 percent of the relations of the business were public and 95 were nonpublic. So, the businessman or the industrial big bosses they were hiring journalists or former journalists to handle this 5 percent of Public Relations.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Just to talk to the media.

Maxim Behar:

- That is how the business came into Public Relations because the majority of the relations are public. These days 100 percent are public. The name of the business is kind of nonsense like you can say “white water” or “transparent glass”. All the relations are public. I think that total transparency is absolutely crucial for our business, because it concerns the most important part of the business we are these days is business ethics. It is crucial because we are people who are writing news, writing stories, making storytelling. If we are wrong hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions and most probably billions of times, social media can be mislead, can write the wrong stories. So, we should be absolutely on the ethical and corporate social responsible side. We should understand this because 50 years ago the journalists were the ones responsible to inform the audience – right or wrong. Then we were approaching journalists. When anything happened with the wrong information or the wrong news and we were telling the clients - “Sorry about that, but that is the media, that is the journalist”. But today is us. So, we should feel this responsibility and transparency. It is always leading to ethics. 20 years ago I wrote in Bulgaria the first ethic business-standard, ever in the country. I was running the “Standart” and I brought this to Prince Charles and he was absolutely surprised if not shocked that someone in Bulgaria wrote a business ethic standard. We had a long discussion with him and I started traveling all over the country to present the business standard to many businesses which did not have a clue what is business ethics at all. A lot of people asked me - “What is business ethics?”. Then I said - “It is so simple making process transparently.” We are in business to make profits and to pay salaries, to invest in our business, to grow up. If we make it transparently that means that it is ethical. That is why I emphasize very much in my office, at ICCO when I was a President and still in the Executive Committee, in many other communities like The World Communications Forum in Davos in which I am President in these days. Ethics and transparency – this is the absolute base of our business.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- How ethical do you think the PR industry is these days?

Maxim Behar:

- Much more ethical then decades before. I do not even want to mention the Bell Pottinger case.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- That was a game-changer, right?

Maxim Behar:

- Yes, from a certain point it was a game-changer, but I should praise about my good friend Francis Ingham. These guys were fighting a lot. They did what they should do to make a case study. It is about 15 pages in my book about Bell Pottinger, about the whole case. They showed that we are in business in which you make a mistake then you can not be anymore in this business. It is no way in this modern world.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Well, about the transparency point you can get away with anything. So, what happens next? We are going through the revolution, we have been through quite a lot of revolution in terms of the impact of the social media in the past decade, particularly the last 2 or 3 years. How do you see this evolution of the industry now progressing? What is next on Public Relations?

Maxim Behar:

- On one hand, is artificial intelligence which will help a lot our business and is helping already. I think that first of all everything in the office is changing and we should realize if we want to develop this revolution into evolution then we should have a completely different positions, completely different people with completely different knowledge in the office. I think that from one hand people who understand artificial intelligence, on the other hand, full of people in our offices who have natural intelligence, who are reading a lot and have a huge amount of education. Most probably the business will change in a way that all of us will stay 24 hours in front of our mobile phones, tablets, monitors, smartwatches or whatever and we communicate with our clients and their clients in a way that we will be the decision-makers, it will not be the clients. I think the most important change will come very soon. The clients will not decide anything and we will not wait for the approval, because if we wait for a client to approve a campaign, reaction or a posting on Facebook, it will be totally lost. So, we should be ready to take over absolutely in a very professional manner the Public Communications on behalf of our client with all the responsibilities. We will be the solo decision-makers who have never been in this business before.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Becoming truly trusted not just counsel.

Maxim Behar:

- No, not counsel. We are decision-makers. We are not any more advisers. We should be ready to become final decision-makers with the whole responsibilities.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- This is ambitious aim. Do you know how long this will take?

Maxim Behar:

- Absolutely! This will happen and it is happening now. It is very beginning and this is happening as a result of the global PR revolution, because it is a change on the base of changes of the social media, which are changing our role into the Public Relations business.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- What advice would you give to someone with all your legacy and history in the industry to a young person who has just started a career in Public Relations? How are they going to succeed now?

Maxim Behar:

- The advice I can give is absolutely valid both to the young person and to the old ones, to the old lions, to the old animals in our business. This very simple. Do not neglect your education, read every day an article, learn something new. Because I know a lot of people and they say - “Max, I am 20 years in this business I know everything.” Not at all. Every single day you should learn something new. We should analyze this and change ourselves. Otherwise, the business is developing with the speed of light and you can miss 2 or 3 weeks, or month without learning anything new without reading an interesting article, without talking and disputing or quarreling even on social media with someone else. Every minute without learning education is a lost minute. I graduated a couple of months ago from Harvard and I am very happy.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Yes, I know you did. Congratulations!

Maxim Behar:

- Thank you! After 25 years it was a good case study for my team as well. After all those years in business, you should learn and you should change.

Maja Pawinska Sims:

- Well, stay learning and stay curious kids. It is a great read that “The Global PR Revolution”, Max. Thank you so much for coming to talk about it! I totally recommend. It is full of great anecdotes. Thank you for joining me at The Echo Chamber! I see you at the party later.

Maxim Behar:

- Thank you, Maja! It was a big honor for me too.

 

Find the full podcast here



» All articles