Maxim Behar for Capital: Pandemic Have Made Us Much Better PR Experts
Leading PR expert and CEO of M3 Communications Group, Inc. Maxim Behar shared in an interview for Capital newspaper how the pandemic affected his company and team, how he managed to retain and increase its clients, what role social media play in communications today and how he defines the PR business in 2022.
"We managed to leave behind the untypical for our business activities and now we are focusing at our indisputably strong side – excellent consulting business." – says Behar.
Were you ready, were your clients ready for the crisis?
- Of course not. What happened is much more than a crisis and no one was ready for it. What helped us is that we in the company are experts in crisis management and just for a day or two we succeeded to work out a strategy how to deal with this one. Immediately afterwards we introduced our strategy to our dozens of clients who expected us to advise them. Their problems were significantly more - how to communicate with partners, with their clients, but also with their teams. We were and we continue to be in touch with our parent company, the great professionals from Hill+Knowlton Strategies, who constantly support us for about 22 years. This summer I called the manager of one of their European Offices and expressed my intention to visit for two or three days with several people from my team to see how they deal with the distance work, the pandemic and all new changes in business. He was silent for a while and answered me, "Max, are you kidding me? I was thinking to come to draw experience from you, that’s a surprise. We all in the corporation know how successful you are and innovative not only in Bulgaria but also throughout the Eastern European region."
Which of the affected by the pandemic businesses are your clients and what happened with their businesses and campaigns? Did you gain or lose any clients?
- In practice, all our clients were affected by the pandemic to a different extent and in different ways. What makes us very proud is that for these 18 months we did not lose a single client, just the opposite - we won 11 new ones, something that we have never achieved even for three years. The main reasons were our rapid reaction and clear approaches. And something else important - we did not lay off any of our colleagues, the opposite, our team was growing, especially in the Social Media Department. Among other things, we changed the concept of our working process, the system of allocating tasks and responsibilities, and the communication between us. In my opinion, we are now more effective, but we will need more time to become the very best of this new way of working and end up as winners.
Did the focus of your clients change, their demands, or the environment for communicating their messages? Did the importance of social networks in communication and the place of traditional media change?
- Yes, and this is normal. First, live events were suspended, platforms like Zoom and Teams took over the whole area, and for me that was the best thing that ever happened at M3 Communications Group, Inc. at least for a decade. We just left behind the untypical for our business activities like taking care of catering services, stages, sound systems, transport. And we got all this time to be able to focus on the most important thing in our business - consulting. This marked a slight decline in our revenues, but in practice it did not affect our business at all, as these were funds that only went through our company to go to subcontractors. The trend of social media being a priority for us and our customers continued to move with the same force, rather the traditional media changed by introducing a new policy for paid publications, and thus things became even clearer and more transparent.
What are the main differences in your way of working before March 2020 and after?
- We learned how to work remotely, something unheard of before, and I see a lot of positives in this. Now I am able to meet my main team and make direct eye contact with each of them every day, we can discuss our projects, clients... and so many other topics. This was nearly impossible in our “previous life”, to gather every day around 40 people in a room every day and to talk to them … simply not possible! Now we have a completely different relationship – better and stronger. There is just one element that I still need to handle successfully – how to create a great team online … But be sure I’ll manage to do it soon; I am on it! Many of the possible outcomes are described in my latest book The Morning After, which I published, provoked by the new living and business conditions.
What happened to your team? Have you changed your strategy for finding new staff and do you have any observation for a change in the perceptions of newcomers to your company?
- We have a very sustainable team composed of wonderful professionals. There were colleagues who just decided to change their career field, but we immediately found new awesome people who, after a long process of interviews and tests, managed to fit perfectly in the team. The team is actually the most important in a company, in a business at all. Next to me there are amazing professionals who are reliable, well-prepared, devoted and loyal. The most important thing - motivated to defend the company's great brand, which has been among the leaders on the Bulgarian market for 27 years.
What are your latest projects and what is your medium-term strategy?
- We are doing what our customers need more and more successfully. We are especially focused on strengthening our social media campaigns by developing and studying each new media channel in detail, in order to provide an even more accurate measurement of their results. With one of our subsidiaries - "Headline", we launched two new projects - weekly analysis of individual topics of interest to our customers, as well as measuring the results of PR activities of a company. We do great educational programs online at M3 College - the only fully licensed college for communication skills in Bulgaria.
What are you changing in the office environment?
- We also launched three new projects, which are not directly related to our clients, but are important for the team. We started doing the so-called Power Talks, when we meet interesting business people who present their point of view on interesting topics. Quite logically, the last month or two the meetings were dedicated to world-famous professionals in the field of vaccines and immunology. These meeting are always recorded and posted on our social media. For the first time in 27 years, we have announced our Advisory Board, part of which is the former Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Dr. Solomon Passy as chairman, indisputably amazing professionals in their fields such as the journalist Anna Tsolova, professor Lubomir Stoykov, professor Grigor Gorchev, media “gurus” Martin Zahariev, Valeri Zapryanov, Petar Punchev, Valentin Panayotov, business representatives Tsvetelina Nikolova, Maria Shishkova, Nikolay Vasilev and Stefan Ivanov, and many others. Their advices are powerful motivation to me and my team for our future development in the years to come. And last but not least, we made our office Plastic Free. That is our small step in the path of keeping the nature clean.
PR is a very personalized business. To what extent do you rely on your team, in general how do you manage your company – as a team or individually? This year you published your book The Morning After in which you predicted a total transition to a horizontal version of management.
- The days of running a company on “manual control” are long gone. As I mentioned in the book: now everyone is a leader with their own responsibilities, projects, successes and - sometimes - failures. Making quick decisions is the most important key to success for projects, but also for a manager or just an expert. The most important decisions in the company are made by the Board of M3 Communications Group, Inc., which presents the most important departments of the company - the PR department with directors Kristina Radkova and Svetoslava Nedyalkova, our Legal and Financial department with Ivanka Velkova and the Graphic Design department led by Yana Georgieva. When we are making decisions, we often ask the directors of the other two important departments - Marina Grudeva who is in charge of Social Media department, and Nikolay Gladkov, the director of Headline, who is in charge of media analysis. These are wonderful professionals that I have been working with for many years. We have done many super successful projects; we have had incredible successes and we have overcome many difficulties together. In a company, there is nothing more important than the team and the understanding that the manager manages the projects in detail, while the leader gives the right directions in the process. There is just a small difference in the wording but great difference in action. The concept of M3 Communications Group, Inc. is to be a company made up of leaders.
You are well known for your visionary mind. What is your definition of PR in 2022?
- To always tell the truth in a way that people can understand it. The key word here is truth. This statement is even more important now after the incredible wave of misinformation surrounding the pandemic and the recent Bulgarian elections for President and Parliament. In our business, the truth must be on a pedestal. And after that comes the important role of creativity - how to convey this truth in an understandable and engaging way.