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Maxim Behar: " The PR business during the COVID crisis is now more essential than ever"

27.10.2020

Maxim Behar is a guest of the hosts Maria Andonova and Stefan Shterev in the morning talk show "100% awake" on BNT1. The PR expert comments on the issues he addresses in his new book The Morning After and shares important elements of the guide for modern leaders in times of crisis.

Host: In the crisis we are experiencing at the moment, we need to focus on our unsuspected qualities and be over-adaptive, not only our eyes, but ourselves. The most certain thing is the change, and today change is all we have. It is difficult for everyone, it’s understandable, and if you are a leader and dozens of other destinies depend on your decisions, it becomes even more difficult.
Host: Well-known communications and PR specialist Maxim Behar has written a book that is a kind of guide for modern leaders during COVID-19. Before he introduces us to the secrets of his book The Morning After, listen to his shocking personal family history from almost a century ago, when the crisis broke into our homes again.

Maxim Behar (TEDxPlovdiv): January 1929, a long time ago. Imagine Sofia, half empty, during winter. Cold, wind, snow. Probably a few carts, carriages in the center. Several cars of the richer. And on the yellow cobblestones my grandfather. My grandfather went from bank to bank to get a loan. The largest egg trader in Bulgaria at that time with offices in Frankfurt, Budapest, Vienna, Bucharest. And since the great crisis began in 1929, he had been looking for loans so that he could import his eggs, which were waiting on the border, somewhere on the train, near Vidin. And he had to take a loan, pay his taxes, transfer the eggs, sell them, and that's how this system had worked for years. The bankers had been looking for him because he was rich, in order to offer him loans so that they could earn good interest from his deals. Then, however, in January 1929, everyone refused him, making him feel desperate. He went back to his hotel, Central Hotel, which nowadays is on Hristo Botev Blvd. and Stamboliyski Blvd., and with one bullet he ended his life. This is the price my grandfather Moshe paid. And no one has the right to judge him, not even me. This is how the man decided to pay the price his dignity being violated. And this story has, in a sense, a happy ending, because it had brought together all the people to whom he owed money and who had been waiting to buy his goods. Together with my grandmother, they had been saving money, importing eggs, selling them and everything had been cleared. And since then, at least for as long as I can remember, my grandmother Matilda has always said, "Maxim, what can be managed with money doesn't need your attention.” And there is a Jewish saying that if something can be done with money, then it is not a problem, but a cost.

Host: Maxim Behar is here, hello. Your grandfather chose this way of coping with life, but you write books that teach us to choose, of course, another way. Are you angry at your grandfather in any way?

Maxim Behar: First, good morning and good luck to this wonderful show.

Host: Thank you.

Maxim Behar: I am very glad to be with you. I'm very surprised, just wow. I didn't expect it, I have never seen this presentation of mine at TEDx on TV.
No, these are stories from 1929, when time was different, the business environment was completely different, relationships were different. What is the biggest change nowadays is social media - something I talk about in my previous book The Global PR Revolution. We are informed, we know everything. Of course, this crisis is huge at the moment, unpredictable, and when I wrote this book in July-August, I have always thought that sometime in September it would be obsolete, because the coronavirus would be gone, and we would not have to worry anymore.

Host: In fact, it is more and more relevant.

Maxim Behar: ... And somehow people will read it as ... Here you are, Maria.
With a special dedication to your show so that you will be always awake. Because it is necessary now, especially in business. But the media also have to keep up with everything that is happening and be the best consultants to all those people who are quarantined in their houses and do not know how to react.

Host: And why The Morning After?

Maxim Behar: This is a symbol, of course, based on the fact that tomorrow is already coming. "Tomorrow" – these are the new communications, and I want to tell everyone who thinks that "the coronavirus will pass and life will go on again and we will travel again and have the same relationships, without worrying anymore" to tell them that nothing can ever be the same. Personally, in business the relations are completely different, there are many negative results from what has been happening in the last 7-8 months, but there are also many positive ones. We have become much more pragmatic, we have found that there is nothing scary about communicating online, instead of spending a bag of money to go to Dubai for an hour meeting or waste time somewhere else. Suddenly we found out we can also be effective on Zoom, or other platform for video connections. The truth is that nowadays leaders have a much, much, much bigger role than before. In addition, they need to be visionaries, to run their companies, their own business, to know what is happening.

Host: And they should also readjust to the situation very quickly.

Maxim Behar: These are these five minutes. They should use them to readjust to all that is ahead, and online communications is not har - in half an hour one can get used to working in Zoom. However, how to make an online team, how to hire people you have never seen, how to train them? I have always said that I can turn an amateur into a professional in 5-6 months, but now it is not so easy, because most of these people we do not know. We don't know their characters, we don't know if they are hardworking or lazy, how they react to certain things.

Host: We can really understand this in a live meeting.

Maxim Behar: Of course, much faster.

Host: Or at least we could, now it's not possible.
Host: Yes, that's why I'm trying to understand what opportunities we have and where the danger is.

Maxim Behar: We will get used to being online. We will work it out, I am already working on this, some questionnaires, some psychological models for analysing people and teams online without seeing them live. Because this is the life ahead of us.

Host: Okay, let me just ask, since your TEDx lecture ended with money, can this situation be fixed with money or is it just a cost again?
Host: The one that came at us.

Maxim Behar: Money is a secondary factor. The most important thing is to be very focused, to make quick decisions. These five minutes – that’s the time we have to make a decision. In one of my books 10-15 years ago I had written some rules, and the first rule was that even the worst decision is better than no decision. I claim it, even after all these 15 years, I believe that it is even more important - to make quick decisions without worrying to make a mistake. That’s the reason I need a lot of preparation, reading, simulations, and different scenarios that can occur in my company - something I usually think about in the morning in the shower, for example, I'm sorry for the personal moment. I’m thinking about mine and my colleague’s possible reactions in certain potential cases, which was a usual everyday simulation of events in the past.  However, now we are sitting behind our computers at home, which changes everything.  And business colleagues need to be aware of this so that they can make decisions very quickly. Business is super important. And the leadership - the people who run companies. You can either bankrupt a company or succeed a lot.

Host: I'm going to interrupt you here because I came across something interesting. Stefan and I have such a tradition - when they give us books, we just open them on any page and read a quote.

Maxim Behar: Yes, the tradition of the awake.

Host: Now, every member of a team becomes a leader. The main change caused by the pandemic is not the lack of live face-to-face communication, but rather the fact that every member of the team is already becoming a leader.

Maxim Behar: You came across one of the most important quotes in the book. Indeed, especially in times of remote management and home office, everyone is a leader in their own right. You get up in the morning, take a shower, do everything as if you were going to the office, at least that's what I do. Including perfume and all additional accessories.

Host: The same ritual you have been doing before.

Maxim Behar: Yes. And you sit behind the computer and start working. The responsibility is much greater because there is no one to control you, no one to tell you, including me, who runs a company. It is a much bigger responsibility. We need more mobilization and of course everyone is their own leader - one of the characteristics of the social media era. Like you, by the way, you are both leaders in this studio. And it depends on you how the show will be directed, whether it will be interesting, how the guest will feel and many other things. This is part of the new life; I will be very happy. As you may know, I go very often, at least before, on various forums, I gave presentations and 5-6 years ago in Davos a western television interviewed me and asked me: "What do you expect from the forum in Davos?". And I, in order to find a short and synthesized answer, which is typical for me in general, said "One sentence". And they said to me, "How come just a sentence?" Well, for example, you stand and listen for 3-4 days, as well as read a book, a sentence, which can change your life and it can make you think in a completely different direction and help you succeed. And when I wrote this book, I tried to make it full of such sentences. So, as you open randomly and read how important it is for us to understand that everyone is a leader in their workplace, but not just the manager who gives orders to his colleagues in the office. And I'm sure readers will find their sentence, and I hope it changes their business, their lives, their teams and their families.

Host: I also found such a sentence: "If your dreams don't scare you, then they aren't big enough."

Maxim Behar: Well, of course. Everyone knows how to dream "Now I wish to meet someone or have dinner." You need to have big dreams in order to achieve them. And great self-confidence, by the way.

Host: But how to make your dreams come true during such a situation, without calling it a pandemic this time?
Host: In front of your computer, in Zoom.

Maxim Behar: We should think in short terms. While I am dreaming, I have always tried to think for my achievements in 3 to 5 years – the future of my company, business environment, my projects. However, we are now thinking in the short terms. For example, what I thought on March, April that could happen until the end of the year turned out to be all wrong – everything has changed.  

Host: There is no such predictability as there was before.

Maxim Behar: Of course, everything is changing. Any of us cannot predict what will happen in March 2021. Will the pandemic grow even more, will more businesses be shut down...? Because one of the big global issues is that many businesses have totally died. The whole hotel industry, the airlines, the tourism businesses, which consists of even more businesses.

Host: How does PR feel now?

Maxim Behar: Public Relations, in my opinion, is now even more essential for our clients, the society. Firstly, because we are the ones who, when assigned to us, can explain exactly what is happening, make our clients have full transparency, which is super necessary in such periods. In this sense, I am extremely disappointed with what is happening now, and even in the past, more specifically about the World Health Organization. A complete failure worldwide.

Host: We're talking about communication, aren't we?

Maxim Behar: Yes, absolutely. Communication, transparency, explanation. This also applies to the Bulgarian government, too. However, when we examine what is happening in the Czech Republic, Poland, Italy, Spain, and other countries - everyone is so confused in their communications. On the one hand, they scare, scare, scare. On the other hand, many things are not even mentioned. There must be full transparency and we, the Public Relations specialists, the experts, are the ones who have to drive and pressure our clients, governments, societies to communicate better, because everyone already knows everything. In fact, each morning we learn tens of thousands of news, half of them are fake, the rest are accurate.

Host: Somewhat accurate.

Maxim Behar: Accurate or semi-true. We need to have these senses - to be able to separate the real news from the half-fake one, which are also fake. Therefore, in my opinion, our business is very important now, for societies, super important, much more than it was before. And I hope most people understand it the way they need to understand it. We are just communicators.

Host: Thank you very much. You are very inspiring whenever we communicate.

Maxim Behar: I thank you. And once again, really, stay awake, because our society needs awake people every day. 7 million Bulgarians need to be awake and stay put and do their job.

Host: As they say, the Day of the National Revival Leaders is coming very soon. Let's remember that these are not just holidays.

Watch the interview here.

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