Maxim Behar for NOVA TV: Toward Effective Government Communication Strategies

The PR expert Maxim Behar took part in the morning block on the Bulgarian prime time NOVA TV with Laura Indzhova hosting the show. He expressed his opinion about the former government's approach to their PR strategy, as well as their shortcomings in their communication with the Bulgarian citizens.

Host: Mr. Behar, I read a very interesting article of yours in the newspaper "24 Chasa" about the lost battles in terms of PR and the executive power's communication with the people during the past 6-7 months of the Kiril Petkov’s government. Let's start there.

Maxim: This is neither the first nor the last government to lose battles in the field of communications, its presentation, and the work it has done. Probably both the governments of Boyko Borisov and Sergei Stanishev (both former Prime Ministers of Bulgaria) and before that the government of Tsar Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha had many lost battles. Here I took the liberty of writing this opinion, which has nothing to do with politics, although public communications always intertwine with politics very organically, because the time was very short, and the hopes for these young and intelligent people, whom I know, respect, and consider, that they have potential, were very high. But I wanted to show that more and more attention should be paid to the behavior of politicians. It's not just about clothing, it's not just about putting on the latest suit and shining your shoes. And it's really a matter of charisma and simple words to explain everything you want to say.

Host: What is the reason that these battles were lost? Lack of experience? Lack of good enough experts or something else?

Maxim: In my opinion, the somewhat chaotic way in which the whole coming into power happened and, probably, the many things that they had to fix or manage.

Host: Let's give examples, because you gave specific examples in this article about lost battles, 10 battles, if I'm not mistaken.

Maxim: They are 10, but they could be 5 or 15 or 25 for sure. Rather, that number just came to me, but there are many examples, and the specific examples are described. One of them is the gas problem. What's going on exactly? To this day, nothing is clear. This case should have been explained simply, with names, with numbers, with specifics, that is not so complicated. The price of petrol and the price of gas is known internationally every minute. If it had been explained clearly, accurately, and precisely, this problem would probably have been solved long ago. All these stories that revolved around that trip to Thessaloniki, on that empty plane - was it necessary to travel or not. Ultimately, the Prime Minister or any minister who makes decisions, is accountable to the people. And not only because of the populist phrase "They spend our money, the taxpayers’ money", but also because they are there to make decisions and communicate with the people, who elected them, what they have done.

Host: Something else I want to add. Should a politician respond to such defamatory attacks? Purely strategic. And the media certainly plays a role in speculation.

Maxim: However, I would like to clarify what is a defamatory document. Defamatory is something that is not true. That should be the definition. We live in a totally transparent world, we live in the world of social media, we have talked about it dozens of times in different studios with you. Everything is known, everything is transparent. If someone goes somewhere, sleeps, or dines or does whatever, it is not compromising. Now everything is transparent. Every politician, businessman or person who cares about their reputation, should think twice about what they do and how, with whom and where they do it. These things must be known. It is compromising when someone lies.

Host: I am very curious to put you in a situation where we can relate the storylines, that have played out in the last 7 months in our country, to a Western European country, to a politician who has played his cards right in terms of communication and explanation to people about the storyline in question. Is it a trip somewhere at state expense, is it a made-up story of a love affair?

Maxim: There is almost no such case. Boris Johnson. Boris Johnson struggled for 8 months with the so-called "party gate" and finally failed to overcome it. You can't fight it when, in the middle of a pandemic, you gather 100 people on Downing Street to drink wine and dance, none of them wearing a mask. There is no way.

Host: If we have to wrap up the conversation, what do you expect, will there be any lessons learned from the former representatives, but also from those who have been in the politics for many years before that and are much more experienced than "We continue the change" - "Gerb", “The Movement for Rights and Freedoms”, BSP? They also probably have a lot to learn about the failures and losses in PR strategy and in terms of communications with the voters.

Maxim: If someone should learn lessons, they are in two directions. First, to be careful where and with whom they meet and what they say. And the second lesson, which is super important for politicians, is to use social media smart and as much as possible so they can communicate during the election campaign. However, when I say often, I mean every hour or every few hours. To communicate what they think, what they want to do. And then, if they must, to report every day what they have done.

Host: Thank you very much for being here. However, I had an idea while listening to you. We should have a conversation on a separate topic for politicians on social media. It strikes me that small formations are very quick with their appearances on social media and have many followers. The other parties, the larger ones, however, seem to have troubles with the communication in social networks.

Maxim: One of those 10 failures, that I wrote about, is precisely the presentation on social media and how in these groups there are only people who generally praise x-, y- or z-character.

Host: This is a conversation should continue. Expect our invitation for sure. I will be glad to see you again.

Maxim: I'm looking forward to it.

Watch the full video here.

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