Maxim Behar for MeTV: PR is Changing Every Single Day
The world-renowned PR expert Maxim Behar was interviewed for MeTV, the first Indian / South Asian TV Channel from Australia, by Sukruti Narayanan, the MeTV Director of Public Relations and Business Growth.
Host: A big ‘Hi’ to all the lovely viewers watching this program. This is your host Sukruti Narayanan from Sydney, presenting your favorite program “Success stories” with me Sukruti. Today we have a very interesting guest with us. He is a leading public relations expert with huge experience, having strong presence in many countries all over the world. He travels a lot and often speaks in front of world leaders, practitioners, students, and opinion-makers on the modern public relations and social media topics. He is in the board of various organizations and has been a leader in the public relations domain for over 3 decades. I take pride in welcoming Mr. Maxim Behar, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the M3 Communications Group to the show. Welcome to the show Maxim, how are you doing?
Maxim: Hello Sydney, hello Sukruti! So nice to be here in your show! It is a big honor, thank you very much for the invitation!
Host: It is our pleasure, Maxim! I will quickly jump onto my first burning question! Out of all of the professions in the world, how did you choose public relations?
Maxim: It came naturally. When I was a teenager, something like 13-14 years old, I was publishing a neighborhood newspaper on a typewriting machine. Meanwhile, I was also learning the news I was writing. And then, I became a journalist, although I studied International Business and graduated in Prague, the Czech Republic. But I was such a big fan of journalism, so I became a correspondent, travelled all over the world and met a lot of people. One day, I remembered the words of Winston Churchill “You can achieve a lot of things with journalism, but you must know when to quit”. In that moment, I decided to quit, but I did not know what to do. It was the year of 1994, the public relations were not as known in Europe as they were in the US or the UK. So, I started my small one-man show advertising agency that produced souvenirs, business cards, and calendars. One day, a big American petroleum company came, and they invited me for a pitch in public relations. I was asking what is this? They gave me a big book about advertising and public relations and said there was no other public relations company in my country, so I shall do my best to learn the business. That is how I started! Now we have thousands of international awards, a big office with many people, but my attitude towards the business is the same. You should be very precise and to the point but most importantly very proactive.
Host: I would say this has been an incredible journey, right? Next, I want to ask you because you brought that topic, how is the evolution of PR been like in those 3 decades? What are the changes you have been observing?
Maxim: It is upside down! Literally the business changed a lot. I think that this is the most dynamic business in the world these days. The reason is simple, it is changing the ownership of the media. Imagine the world 15-20 years ago, there was the traditional media, TV channels like yours, newspapers, radio stations, and that was all. We had the journalists, who had their press cards, licenses, education diplomas. The journalists were the bridge between the politicians or the businesspeople and the readers/viewers. Today, we have 4 billion editors in chief, and 4 billion journalists. Because everyone who has their own Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok has his/her own media. This is the first significant change. Secondly, in the past we had clients who were coming to public relations companies. We were going to the media, and the media was writing so we could reach the targets. The clients of our clients had two bridges in between-public relations consultants and the media. Nowadays, the media disappeared. The public relations companies who are managing the social profiles talk to the clients of their clients. That means that from consultants the public relations experts became decision makers. If we maintain a social media profile on behalf of our client, we cannot go to our client every 2 minutes to ask him or her, or the corporate advisors, or the CEO what to post on the social media and how to react to a negative opinion. Thus, we are part of the decision-making process. Thirdly, the profession is very different. Before we were consultants, we were sitting quietly, looking at the ceiling, and the clients used to come and say ‘Please advise me how to make this article’ or ‘How do I solve this crisis’. We were helping. Today, we are a mixture of publishers, editors, and reporters. This is the PR profession. Publishers because we own media, and this is what a publisher does. The social media is sometimes much more influential than any traditional media. Editors because we take care of content, and this is crucial. We must prepare good content, short and influential. Finally, reporters because this content should have some news, otherwise no one would read it. From that perspective we changed our profession entirely. It is still changing every single day. The ones who do not understand this, I think, either they are out of business already or they will be very soon. It is a beautiful change though, Sukruti. Because these days I have much more fun than 20 years ago.
Host: That is a very interesting perspective! I would like to talk about the book that you authored, Maxim. You authored “The Global PR Revolution” which is ranked by book authorities among the top 5 new books on PR in the world. So, what made you write this book?
Maxim: The necessity of expressing myself. I am not a writer of course, but I am a PR expert, let’s put it that way! I spent many years in the Top Management of ICCO, which is the International Communications Consultancy Organization, and this is an Australian PR organization. This is the largest PR community in the world. It has around 5 thousand PR companies from each continent. I was its Treasurer, then Vice President, and then President. As a President I travelled all over the world, I visited more than 45 countries. After finishing my presidency, I said, let’s take the benefits of this. I went to China, Brazil, the Arabic states, all the countries in Europe, many countries in Africa, and I saw how the business is changing in all of them. That is how the idea of “The Global PR Revolution” came up. By the way, it is very well sold on the Australian Amazon. it was published by the American publishing house ‘Allworth’ and distributed by Simon&Schuster. It had a huge number of sales in the US, which made me very happy because I do believe that this is really a revolution. It is not an evolution. The change of ownership of media is tremendous, it had never happened before in history. And maybe the next change will be that this media will become real time media.
The biggest advantage of the book, in my opinion, is that I managed to collect the opinions of 100 top leaders of 65 countries all over the world. The book could be good or bad, I cannot judge because I am the author. Nevertheless, I am pretty sure there is no other such book in the whole public relations history that gathers 100 hundred opinions of many top PR leaders. So, when you open the book, you can see the changes in Kazakhstan, the changes in Botswana, in Sweden, Australia, Pakistan, Brazil, Canada, basically everywhere. It is like an encyclopedia of the current changes. I truly believe it may be useful years ahead.
Host: I will repeat the name of the book one more time, it is “The Global PR Revolution”. Maxim, it would be great, if you could show the cover one more time.
Maxim: Absolutely [shows cover]! You can find it very easily. The subtitle is “How Thought Leaders Succeed in the Transformed World of PR”. It is very important to know how to change the leadership and how to bring new elements. Talking about books, I think I have somewhere here my next book. It was published a month ago. It is called “The Morning After”. It is on Amazon, of course. It is quite detailed, explaining my thoughts and my visions after COVID, the ways through which the leadership and the communications are changing, the positive things about the lockdowns and the home offices. It is kind of a continuation of “The Global PR Revolution”. It is a book written for no longer than one week, it consists simply of my thoughts during the pandemic.
Host: I am excited to read that one! So, Maxim, having seen the PR industry around the globe, what do you think are characteristics needed to be a successful PR.
Maxim: I don’t really know exactly the meaning of the word successful. Because in the modern world you could be successful today and you can fail tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow you can stand up again. I would rather say the characteristics of the good-working PR. Some of them are valid for each profession in the business world. For example, to be serious, to be precise, to do your job, which is absolutely crucial. A lot of people ask me what I do to manage to run so many communities and my business. And I say that I don’t know, I just do my job. So, doing your job in the proper way seriously and precisely, I think it should be a base for the development of each serious person not only of businessmen. On the other hand, the PR business has a couple of characteristics, the first of which is to be absolutely and unconditionally proactive. We must feel what the clients need and how the consumer would react to the products or the brand of our clients. We must take care of our own brand firstly, and then the brand of our clients, which takes places every day, almost every minute. The brand is what people talk about regarding you when you are not in the room. So, you must count on this that you cannot hear what people think about your brand. You should feel it every single day. You should make research, be on social media, listen to the opinions on social media. It requires a lot of consistency in the PR business because you must be prepared all time to react to a crisis. Recall what was happening 15 years ago. A PR expert opens a newspaper and reads a bad story about a client. He calls the client, telling him that they have a crisis. We discuss it, we have coffee or lunch, and then we make a press release. Eventually, we make a press conference confirming or denying the story. We had 12 hours to solve it and now we have less than 12 minutes. This requires a very good knowledge about the products, the media, the environment, the consumers, especially the social media. A good PR person should know how to react if the client did wrong. We should immediately recognize and apologize and take measures. We could also fire someone or make a product recall. In order to do this, however, the PR expert should be prepared with a huge amount of knowledge unlike before when we had 12 hours. The so-called advance preparation must be done in a perfect way.
Host: Having mentioned the importance of being proactive, I would like to walk you down memory lane. Is there a lesson that you have learned the hard way?
Maxim: I wouldn’t say the hard way because I am learning every day. The most important lesson I have learned from the PR business in the past 10 years is one of the rules I use in my life- “the worst decision is better than no decision’. If we don’t make a decision, it is a disaster. Sometimes we make the wrong one, but we can correct it and adjust it. In certain cases, not talking to the media or not to commenting/reacting is also a decision.
In my company I also have the so-called ‘three S’s’ which has been the leading rule for many years. The three S’s stand for speed, simplicity, and self-confidence. The speed is about the speed of making decisions, as I mentioned. Also, it is about the speed of learning, the speed of communications, the speed of praising or criticizing someone in the office. We do not have time to wait. Simplicity is very important, as well. You wake up in Australia and you see thousands of different news. You have 25 tasks to finish for the day and you are worried. You should make it simple for yourself and you should set up priorities. Moreover, simplicity of expression because sometimes we come onto social media and write huge sentences. The readers start reading and by the time they have stopped, they have forgotten the beginning. It is counterproductive. Make it no more than 15 words, put the verb in the beginning, delete the unnecessary words. Simplicity is also very important in our lives, since we are lost in the ocean of news, and we get confused. And number 3 is number 1 in fact! I don’t know a single person who succeeded without any self-confidence. It is also in personal life, if you want to attract the attention of a beautiful lady or a man, or a friend, or partner you should be confident. If you fail, it is not a big deal because you learn. Do you know what Dalai Lama said? It is one of my favorite sayings- “If you lose, don’t lose lessons”. Self-confidence very often comes with learning, knowledge and mostly with experience. These days you can learn very easily, you go on Google, and in a minute, you can learn anything, you should just do it.
Host: When you talk about the three S’s maxima, especially the simplicity bit, you mentioned the many tasks one has for a day. I know you are so busy, and you are on the boards of so many organizations, so how do you manage your time and juggle things?
Maxim: I just manage my time. I wake up and I have a lot of those post-it sheets of paper. If I show you my monitor, I have hundreds of those on which I write my tasks, so I don’t forget them. The good communications and the internet give me the opportunity to be very fast and very efficient. But I also have this rule that states that it is not important how much do you work, but how you relax. I try to live the rest of my life, when I’m not in front of the computer, beautifully. I listen to music, sometimes rock, and yesterday I watched the BRIT Awards. In the evening I went to bed with a great feeling after listening to Elton John at the Awards, so I woke in the morning full of energy. You could do some sport; I like to bike and parachute jump. We know many people that work 20 hours a day and at the end of the day they are almost dead. That is not the case for us, our job is creative, and we must be very fresh and full of ideas at all times.
Host: I would say these are the words of wise and experienced people because if we look deep into your answer, you are a mentioning the personal lifestyle, as well. I would say that getting burnt out is one of the most common things we face. If you do not relax, you cannot think clearly. I just love the social media posts with you and your mom. She is fantastic and so active!
Maxim: Thank you! She is almost 90 and I love her very much! This afternoon I will go visit her and I will give her your best regards from Australia.
Host: Talking about your mom, it got me thinking about the young people in PR. What is that one thing, in your opinion, that the young people in the industry are missing?
Maxim: I have been into many universities all over the world. One thing I always tell the students is to start working as soon as possible, even during their first grade in the university. These days it is possible, especially during the lockdowns. I predict our job will be hybrid. We will stay in our houses like I am in my home right now. At the same time, we could still go to the offices or even take our phones and go to a Starbucks shop. Some people graduate from good schools and come to work at our company, and they don’t know anything. That is why it is so important to start working as soon as possible. The corporations do not expect you to spend months learning.
I wake up every single day at 7 am and make coffee. At 7:15 it is obligatory for me to read one article for PR. After all those years in business, every single day I find something new. I am subscriber of various online newspapers and in the morning if I find something interesting, I read it. This could be done by a 7-year-old child. It must come from the heart, you cannot say to your child to become a PR expert. It is like being a painter, it is creative business. If you cannot sing, you cannot become a singer, and the same goes for the PR business.
Host: That gets me to another question. What is that professional have today that you missed 30 years ago?
Maxim: First of all, the ability to communicate very fast. Secondly, the knowledge! 30 years ago, we did not have Google, we had the internet but not the opportunity to find interesting things. We were mainly using the books. The problem was that US was the motherland of the PR and the books published there arrived in Europe 3 years later. If you read a book years after its publishment, it is nonsense because the business has changed. The access to information is a driving force.
Host: What are the three things that you think have made you successful? Is it the three S’s or something else?
Maxim: As I said, I am very cautious with the word successful. I do not know what it is like to be successful.
Host: Okay, then, not being successful, but being you?
Maxim: Do your job every day and that’s it! The three most important things to do a good job as a PR are to be innovative, bloody innovative. Every single day you must create something new and interesting that has never been done before. Again, it can be compared to painting. Secondly, be provocative. This might surprise you but you must be very provocative, catchy or even sexy to attract the human’s attention. If you are not doing that on social media, you are not attractive. Let’s say the nature of our business today is story telling. These stories must be provocative, so that the people learn about them. Lastly, be creative. It overlaps a bit with being innovative. However, innovation is to do something never done before. Being creative is to upgrade this innovation. These are the three most important things in the PR business. To wrap it up, be consistent, understand the business, have heart and all of those are probably valid for any other business.
We were with you together in one of the forums in Davos at the WCFA (World Communications Forum Association). I was about to make a presentation but they told me late at night that there was change in plans and I should present at 9 am the next morning. I didn’t go to a dinner nor I drank wine, I sat down and did the presentation. Its title was “The PR expert never gives up”. That is another belief of mine never give up.
Host: That is brilliant! I believe that not giving up is the backbone of any business that people start. What are your top tips for start-ups?
Maxim: Knowledge is crucial. You should know more than your clients. The beginners should take everything seriously because every big company was once a small one. There is a pyramid of business. At the bottom are the plans and the experience/know-how. At the top is the profit, the most important word in business. However, in order to have this profit you should have the bottom two. I would add also ethics and honesty for our industry. Imagine that you buy tomatoes, and you go home to find out they are not good. You go back to the shop, the seller may refund you or may not but the problem is between you two. However, in the case of PR if you publish a fake story or lie on the behalf of your clients, this could damage a lot of people. Many people may believe in untrue news. Thus, honesty and ethics are necessities. According to me, being ethical is to make profit transparently. Transparency is a key word because we have influence.
One more piece of advice, we have clients and teams, People always say that the client is right but that is wrong. The team is far more important. You can have hundreds of clients but if your team is not great, you will lose them anyway. If your team is amazing, sooner or later the clients will come.
If start-ups follow these steps, they will soon become big-ups!
Host: Big-ups! I love it! Your list of clients includes globally renowned brands in various fields such as energy, finances, technology, property management and real estate, education, art, and the list actually keeps on going. How different is the communication in these sectors?
Maxim: Different sectors require very often specific knowledge. There are certain principles that apply to all field. The PR expert shall be prepared and shall know the business in detail. I am personally trying to understand my clients’ businesses better than they know them, so I can suggest the best marketing campaign. We often do simulations with our clients. We put them in the shoes of the media and make them think as journalists. The freedom of the media and expression is the most significant of all freedoms on our planet. That is the reason why the war against fake news is so major. We do these simulations to model them to think like us, and eventually they agree with us.
Host: I want to ask you one last question. As you said students shall get experience early but normally what happens is that they don’t know where to start and companies often reject them. How should they start and what did you do in your student years?
Maxim: I was working! If you buy my book The Morning After, you will see it starts with my first job. I was 14 years old and worked in a dairy factory. I also spent 5 years in a machinery factory because I was not accepted in the university. I was not the best student in high school, but this changed in my university years. Later on, when I was already in the Prague University I had two jobs. I was a journalist in magazine full-time and over the weekends I was cleaning streets. I was enjoying because I was doing it with my friends, and I made money. It is important to work something you enjoy. If you child wants to start working, let them. If they want to go to the club every night, let them. By going to the club, they might become a very good DJ. Do not push your children. Nowadays, at the age of 18 years old they are very educated. Let them explore. There are huge opportunities to succeed, so many 20-years-old boys and girls are becoming billionaires working in various fields. Just don’t give up!
Host: This has been phenomenal for me! “Worst decision is better than no decision” stuck with me. I have never heard this before. People always say to think twice, and this is a completely new perspective. I love the three S’s, as well.
Maxim: Thank you so much Sukruti! It was a great honor to be with you! Best regards to all of my friend and colleagues in Australia! I cannot wait to come and see beautiful Australia and take a selfie with a kangaroo!
Host: You have definitely set the tone for our global series going forward. Thank you so much!
Watch the whole video here.