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From Journalism to PR with Maxim Behar

Sources: Interview for the podcast "Who is who" with host Petya Zungorlieva on BNR

 

Petya Zungorlieva:

- Hello, the "Who is who" program is starting. Today we will make an exciting walk through the life of one of the most successful PR experts, not only in our country but all over the world. Maxim Behar is a professional with huge experience and a strong presence in countries in all continents. He travels extensively and often speaks to a wide audience of world leaders, professionals, students and opinion leaders on topics related to modern PR and social media. These meetings are the basis of his new book, "The Global PR Revolution", which just for a week became the best-selling book not only in Bulgaria but also in America.

Maxim Behar:

- Good morning to radio "Sofia" and the Sofia citizens! I am very pleased to be here with you. My book is called "The Global PR Revolution" and it was published in October last year in America. I wrote it because the American publishing house "Allworth" and "Simon & Schuster", which is one of the largest publishers in America ordered the book. I was genuinely surprised when it came out in America in October and was for a few weeks a best-selling new book. Friends from all over the world wrote to me - from New Zealand to Canada, to Korea, Japan, Brazil, from everywhere. They told me they bought it and have started promoting the book to their colleagues. This is a book about what was our PR business years ago, what it is now, and an attempt for a brief vision of the future ahead. I think the biggest advantage of the book is that I was able to gather views from 100 people from 65 countries, and these are 100 very serious PR leaders in their countries. Some of them are chairmen or presidents of PR associations or they run large international companies. I asked them 3 questions - What do they think is changing in our business now?, - Do they think it is a revolution?, - And what is changing in their offices? From the practical point of view, if my colleagues, who are going to read the book or who are reading it, are having all these ideas of 100 leading PR professionals, leaders - what they do and how they change their offices, that will help them. Of course, it is full of interesting stories. Maybe one day I will write a book with stories only. I thought my book was specialized, but the other day one of my lawyers, Itso Trandev, texted me and told me - "I drinking my coffee and reading the book it seems it is very plausible". I was surprised that even for a lawyer this book is accessible. I am satisfied!

Petya Zungorlieva:

- You can write exceptionally well and I say this to refer you back in the time when you take the path of journalism. How did it happen? Did your profession choose you, or rather, did you choose the profession? How did it happen?

Maxim Behar:

- It seems to me that I chose the profession. I have always wanted to be able to express what I think and, if possible, make it more public. I was 13 and a half year-old when my father sent me to work, with the permission of the government of that time, for a half-hour's working day. I forged crates in the carpentry shop when I was 13 and a half year-old. The director hired me to help him with the coffee, and there was a free typewriter on which I started typing a quarterly newspaper whose editions I have, my friends brought them to me 10 years ago. Who knows why "Daily News" is called, it is from 1969. Since then, I have always wanted to be able to express myself. I had no idea if I would write, use a microphone or a camera. That is how I got into journalism. When I graduated from high school, I had a 5-year stint as a locksmith in a machine-building plant, in those wonderful years, which I remember not every day, but every minute, because of my vice, if you even know what vice is. This is one tool to which are attached the work pieces, which you worked with. The man who bought this machine-building plant - a businessman, owner of the Development Fund, Alexander Alexandrov - gave it to me my favorite vice because he had searched it for me. It turned out that there was a man who had worked with me there in the youth crew of the engineering plant. He had shown him my vice and then gave it to me. Now the vice is in my small room, in my office, there is my vice. These  were wonderful years. After then I started to study and from the first day, I started to write as a journalist. I think I still do that. Several people influenced me a lot - my cousin Yosif Davidov, a wonderful journalist who works in Madrid as a BTA correspondent. For many years he was the head of the international department of newspaper "Trud" and an international editor. Vesela Tabakova - a wonderful journalist-analyzer, unfortunately no longer alive. These were the people I contacted. Konstantin Ivanov, he is still alive, a wonderful journalist and many other people, people from whom I studied and somehow I became involved in journalism. Of course, I was a correspondent in my hometown of Shumen, I was a correspondent in Poland in the most interesting years in which communism fell and I could see such super intellectuals as Lech Walesa. Not only to see them but also to be with them all the time. Adam Michnik, Kiyatse Kuron, Adeus Nozawietski, Bronisław Keramiki - a lot of people I can list with whom I interacted with or interviewed them every day, I was super fascinated by what they wrote and when I returned to Bulgaria in 1991, back from Poland, I was already fully prepared and I knew how, I knew what was going to happen in Bulgaria, the thing that happened.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- In "Who is who" today we meet the PR expert Maxim Behar. He holds a degree in International Economic Relations from the University of Economics in Prague. In 1981, as a student, he began his career as a journalist in Bulgaria. He practiced in the Czech Republic and Poland. There he was witness of events that changed the world history.

Maxim Behar:

- When I arrived in Poland, from the very rich and well-stocked city of Shumen in those years - it was 1988. I was in Warsaw where we used coupons for everything - for milk, for meat, for chocolate. I was there with my son, who was a year and a half or two-year-old then, and we came across a super tortured, nervous, at the end of communism, and it was already evident everywhere the centralized economy. Even I don't want to stress so much the political system that underpinned the situation in the Eastern European countries and the communist system, I would say one-party system. I just saw the end of a centralized economy and the beginning of  the market economy. The so-called shock therapy with all the adversaries and all the remarks was introduced from January 1, 1990. I saw how suddenly everything turned and the market started to work. Many people could not swing towards. When that happened in 1992, 1993, 1994 there were these kinds of people in Bulgaria too. However, it was the only way to move from a centralized to a market economy, something that no one has ever done in the whole history. I was a huge fan of everything that was going on because I saw how things were changing. In fact, under tougher laws, other people who understanded more than economics wanted to earn more money honestly. Such a transition always brings good and bad sides. The important thing is what happened. The most important is that happened in Bulgaria after that. It was a great chance for me to write about all this. Later I published it in my first book, which was called "Secondary Instinct". I published all these interviews I had with super intellectuals from Poland, from the Czech Republic, these were Vaclav Hubel, many others - Felipe Gonzalez, the Prime Minister of Spain in those years, Avramovich, who was the director of the National Bank of Yugoslavia - a great economist. These things came out in one book, all the reports, and interviews I had done. I have only one copy of it, probably nowhere could be found, but it seems that is a good picture of what happened in Poland, in the Czech Republic, in Hungary, as viewed through our Bulgarian reality.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- You have mentioned big names. What was the most important thing when you communicated with them? What did you get to know about meeting these people, which was surely a great challenge and a test for one's personality, for the behavior of a young man who was still facing a lot of new things in life?

Maxim Behar:

- The atmosphere of talking to these people was different because they have responsible positions and the names I mentioned were proven intellectuals. Throughout all these years and afterward, in the PR business, I have continued to see and interact with prime ministers and presidents, kings and queens, all kinds of people. For me, this is something regularly and quite ordinary. There are remaining things from these meetings and probably they are reflecting on my character in the way I work and the way I look at the world. One of my biggest lessons was my first meeting with King Simeon in 1992 in Madrid, at his house. At the time, I was the director of the international department of the newspaper "Duma". No one in the entire editorial board agreed with me to go to talk to the King. The newspaper "Duma" as you know is very left-wing in those red-blue years, in those years of total division of society. It was very difficult to convince the editorial team that because the King is Bulgarian and we, as journalists, would be very pleased to hear his opinion on all that was happening in Bulgaria. It was 4 years before he returned for the first time - it happened in 1996. It was super exciting. I wrote him a letter by regular mail. In those times there were no emails, no faxes, no such things. He answered me by ordinary mail and one day when I was going to the newsroom, Stoyan the doorman, who is no longer among the living - an elderly man, told me - "Behar, you have a letter." I opened it, it was a letter from the King inviting me to lunch at his house, and it was a great emotion for me because he was an extremely educated and erudite man, very intelligent. This was the first large and extensive interview that appeared in the Bulgarian press. In 1989, Yosif Davidov, who I already mentioned, had briefly interviewed him for the "Patriotic Front" newspaper. Miko Petrov, a radio journalist who co-founded "Sunday 150", interviewed him and Kevork Kevorkian had a television interview. This was the first long interview, I stayed at his house in Madrid almost all day, it was great excitement for me. My meetings with Prince Charles were quite exciting, especially we had a long lunch at his Saint James Palace in December 2002. It was also a great excitement because we stayed for a few hours and talked about all sorts of things, including the King, and Bulgaria and what was going on, but each of these people probably leave something and they are interesting. They are also interesting for readers or for the people to whom I have subsequently told stories because anyone can learn something.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- Maxim Behar's journalistic journey is extremely exciting. In 1994, however, he closed the page of this profession and opened a new one - the page of advertising. Many influential figures, not only in Bulgaria, have called him an institution and guru in communications. Undoubtedly, he is one of the leaders of public opinion in the country. In 1994, Maxim Behar made the transition from journalism to advertising and, for just over 25 years, successfully has ran a communications agency.

Maxim Behar:

- I left journalism because of all these years when together with my very good friend Valery Zapryanov we created the "Standard" newspaper in 1992. There is still one, though a weekly edition. Lovely newspaper, I love it very much. It will be almost 30 years since we did it. We made the "Standard" newspaper on that blue paper with extremely abstract and analytical opinions in it. It was a wonderful newspaper, I loved it a lot. All the time, I kept repeating Winston Churchill's words: "One can accomplish a great deal with journalism, but he must know when to give it up." In 1994 I wanted to have a try in the business. I didn't know what we were "self-made" in. There was no one to teach us, no one to tell us, no one to leave us business, as will be the case with my children and their children. We have done something already, big or small, in life anyway. The tips or lessons we will give them are not a small thing. Back then, I went a little blind, it was kind of logical to do an advertising agency. Everyone asked me, "what do you want to do?", I said, "what to do, an advertising agency." By the way, then the whole team left the "Standard" - Valery Zapryanov, Orlin Filev, Pencho Kovachev, me. The whole management team left. We just could not get along within those years and decided to go. All my colleagues stayed in journalism, and I decided to do what, in big quotes, I say an advertising agency. However, what was advertising then? We made souvenirs, pens, calendars, lighters, notebooks. We inscribed them on top with the name of the companies we did them for. At one point, after a few months, I decided that this was not the job I wanted to do, and an American company appeared - a very large investor. They said - "we need PR service". I didn't even know what PR was. I went to the library of the US Embassy on "Dencoglu" Street. I got some books for marketing, for advertising, for PR. Only a few sentences were mentioned. I read all night. I got into this business slowly. That business seemed interesting because it was very creative. I found it very interesting instead of making ads and got paid for them, being able to get to the media, so without paying them, without exerting any influence on them, you would be interested in them on a single topic, and that seemed to be a super creative process that came very close to what I was doing in journalism. I have been in this business for 25 years.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- How has it changed over the years? We know that competition is furious, and the world is changing very fast. How are the things going?

Maxim Behar:

- This is the most dynamically changing business due to the fact that social media has played a huge role in changing and developing it. 10 years ago we were one unit between our clients and the media and our clients came to our office and said - "please, we have a wonderful product" - or a service, or whatever they wanted to promote - "make it so interesting so the media would be interested in it” and we did it in that way. Nowadays, we all have the media, we have the media in our hands and our clients, in general, come and say - "we have the media, Mr. PR expert, Mr. Behar or calling one of my colleagues, tell us, advise us what to do with these media." This means that our profession is changing and is beginning to move more and closer to what journalism was years ago. I often repeat to my colleagues, I also say it in different world forums, in which I go around non-stop, that the profession of a PR expert now is something medium, chemistry, an amalgam, between the profession of the publisher, editor, and reporter. A publisher because we have media, and this is, in fact, the hallmark of a publisher - owning a media. But whether you own one Facebook profile or 5 Instagram accounts or 12 Twitter accounts, it does not matter, or even one profile. You have the media. With this medium, you can potentially reach billions of people, something that neither radio nor television can do. Not to mention the newspapers, which unfortunately go out of their way, all over the world. Having this media, this profile brings us closer to the role of publishers. Editors, because it is needed to put content and that content has to be editorially written, written in an interesting way, readable, enjoyable and at the same time is appropriate to the media - Twitter, 140 characters. Well, 140 characters, we have to say what I said in my journalistic life on two whole newspaper pages and that is possible. The third ingredient in this chemistry is that you have to be a reporter. Why? Because you have news in your content. The world has turned upside down, thanks to social media, thanks to this communication we have, the fast connection, the quick decision making. 10 years ago, I published a little book with these rules, "111 Rules on Facebook," which I first wrote on Facebook and then they were printed by the Ciela Publishing House. The first rule is "The worst decision is better than no decision". This motivates me because we have to make decisions non-stop, always, every minute, every second. Yes, we may be wrong, but again, this wrong decision will be better than saying - "tomorrow or next week I'll see it, I'll think about it." The essence of our business is making decisions and making good content.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- Maxim Behar has made important decisions. With most of them he has managed to reach leadership positions in a large number of world organizations. Maxim Behar is a globally recognized PR expert with 25 years of experience. From 2015 to 2017 he was the President of the largest and most influential PR organization in the world - ICCO. He is the only Bulgarian in the World Hall of Fame of this organization. Maxim Behar is the Chairman of the Davos World Communication Forum, a member of a number of prestigious organizations in Bulgaria and around the world and the author of several best-selling books on PR.

Maxim Behar:

- As you know things are super simple. There is one thing that everyone needs to own in order to deal with the things with which they want to deal with. People come to interviews and I don't listen to them at all, I don't read CVs, I don't pay attention to what they tell me. I look at only one condition that I have always tried to have and it is called glitter. What more to want, things are super simple. Having a gleam in your eyes it means motivation, desire, ambition, to succeed, to cope, to always find time for everything. Being elected President of ICCO in 2015 was a huge recognition that even in my dreams I never expected that a Bulgarian could become President of the organization. We had a million and a half members of this organization. I stayed no more than a day, two, three per month in Bulgaria. However, the Bulgarian PR Association BAPRA and I also left a good impression on this global PR movement. I still have friends in many countries. The fruit of all these trips was my book because I would not be able to get the impression from so many countries with so much experience in PR. I do not have a formula by which I succeed. It's just something I'm interested in, catching and doing, and when I think I can't do it, I just say it right away and leave it. I almost can't remember the case. Sometimes, when someone thinks, for example, they can do a better job than I do, I say, "do it," I get up and leave. It is important for me to go out through the main entrance, always and everywhere.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- Do you find time for rest? How do you rest? In Bulgaria, in Seychelles, where?

Maxim Behar:

- I always find time for resting. As I said, it doesn't matter how you work, it matters how you rest. This creates preconditions of working efficiently. I don't rest in Seychelles, because I've been Honorary Consul General for many years. Seychelles, without exaggeration, is my second homeland. I go there very often, but I can't rest there because I have many friends, I work on many media projects there. Each one of them for free, so far I have not earned a single rupee for nearly 20 years. This is the local currency, the local unit. Not a single rupee I earned. Exactly the opposite. I have invested a great deal of effort. I have made several world investment forums related to Seychelles. Thanks to one of them, we were able to dig a cable between South Africa and Seychelles at the bottom of the ocean. We found an investor to do it for having faster internet. When I came to Seychelles in 2002, there was no internet. It was just satellite and the internet was super slow and very expensive. We made a big investment forum in which I invested effort and resources. Investors came to Brussels. We presented them half of the Seychelles government and the Central Bank project, and we found funding. Then I set up a Seychelles news agency that they didn't have it 10 years ago. I developed it, I created it, I put it in a team. There were representatives at the World Summit of National News Agencies, which BTA organized last year. When I get there, I can't just rest. There is a beach and a local restaurant, called The Boat House, near the house, I am renting to live. They know there is one table on the corner where wifi is the strongest and I put my laptop on that table. From morning till evening people come there, we talk, we work. However, I like to spend my time in Sofia playing sports, climbing Cherni Vrah, playing some golf, playing some tennis, walking the dogs, going to the spa, going to some nice mineral baths, traveling somewhere. Last year, I didn't go anywhere on vacation except for the 2 weeks I went to concerts in Europe. However, I went to see Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, Eagles, Rod Stewart, King Crimson, bands I like and after every concert, I went to the hotel powered with many emotions and motivation. When I returned to Bulgaria after 2 weeks, for example, I felt much more loaded and much more relaxed than any sea or beach to go to.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- If your dreams do not scare you, then they are not big enough. This is one of the most important guiding rules of Maxim Behar. If a person has no dreams, then what to live for.

Maxim Behar:

- There are always big dreams. Last year, I had one that was accidentally born. I graduated from Harvard Kennedy School last year. It was a great pleasure to be among great people, great teachers, I was part of an amazing group. Especially in this class was relevant to learn how to make leadership decisions. I was the only European. We were at Harvard for a month. There were two Secretary of State and two Deputy Ministers of Defense, generals. That is people mainly from the military and political business who have to make decisions. I think if I'm not lying, that I was the only businessman. However, leadership and decision-making are very exciting to me because now there are fewer and fewer leaders in society, there are no leaders in politics, there are not as many prominent leaders in business, especially in Bulgaria, for many reasons. This Harvard adventure was one of my dreams. 6 or 7 years ago in Davos, during one of the forums, I was interviewed by a Russian television station and they asked me a question similar to this one. The host of the First program on Russian television had read a lot and told me - “you have achieved a lot of things. Is there anything else you want to achieve? Then, may be out of nowhere, I said, "maybe finish Harvard. Here's what I did. Now I want to see my company even more successful, even more professional, much more dynamic, and that is, after 25 years, want to see my company even better and successful. This is a good challenge. I'm not scared by this challenge. I'm not scared of this dream. However, it is a big dream for me and I know it will come true.

Petya Zungorlieva:

- I wish all the secret dreams that you did not tell us to come true. Most of all, be healthy and with much energy. Thank you for introducing us to a part of your world that is endlessly rich. It sounds like an encyclopedia. Thank you for the talk.

Maxim Behar:

- I just want to wish the listeners on Sofia Radio, Sofia citizens, Bulgarians to be optimistic. Not to be from these people, we meet them on Facebook, who are angry with themselves in the morning and the rest in the afternoon. There are good things in life. We need to see them, they may be small, but we must see them and want them to become more. If they are optimistic, they will be happy too. A good country is made only by happy people. Thank you!

Petya Zungorlieva:

- Thank you again!


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