Maxim Behar and John Saunders, London, 2015

PR is the business of truth...

The Irishman John Saunders, who runs one of the world's largest PR corporations, knows that only honesty in communications can produce results

Stockholm is a lovely city in summer and not so welcoming in late autumn, mainly because there is a slight cold wind from the coast, and the spaces between the buildings are pretty open to give it a free path… I’ve chosen a small, cozy hotel in the ancient center of Stockholm and prefer to spend my evening in its bar with my laptop and a long Bloody Mary with lots of lime, drops of Tabasco, and coarsely ground black pepper, probably the best I’ve ever had…

I have to get ready — this will be my first time attending an ICCO World PR Organization board member meeting, and I wanted to hear as much as possible about it and the people on the board.

Next to me at the bar

a blond-haired large man, obviously a businessman, with a strict suit but rather unusually loose hair and a curious gaze darting to all sides. He looks at my drink and orders the same without asking if it’s good. However, he glances, probably without even prying at my laptop screen, sees the ICCO logo with peripheral vision, and exclaims:

“Ah, we are colleagues, and I am here for this meeting.”

I don’t ask who he is, but since he immediately says he’s from Ireland, I hasten to tell him…

“I recently had dinner with one of your former Prime Ministers, Gareth Fitzgerald, and I told him that I had a dream — to get an autograph from Dolores of the “Cranberries,” a favorite band, a favorite music…”

He looked at me almost disbelievingly that anyone in Bulgaria could have heard of them and shook his head approvingly…

So began our great friendship

with John Saunders, who was then running the European office of Fleishman-Hillard, a global PR chain with an impeccable reputation and very high professionalism, and a few years later became global president.

Over the years, various global forums and summits have repeatedly introduced us to John and his Irish accent, stern look, and determination when something needed to be done. Leaving aside that only a month after our meeting in Stockholm, I received an envelope with a special magazine on which Dolores from The Cranberries had written “To Maxim” with a heart for a signature…

Far more important was that

John’s voice was everywhere,

wherever he could reach on ethical business, honest relationships, and professionalism with clients and teams. And I guarantee it was too easy for him to be heard — clearly and accurately.

A year or two later, we both had a change of status. I was now elected President of ICCO, the first ever from Eastern Europe, and John became Global President of Fleishman-Hillard and moved to New York.

We bumped into each other by chance in London, and when he found out I was going to be there, he immediately offered to see me in his office early in the morning while he was formally welcoming me, just as a president is held, he said to me:

“Max, so proud of you,

from little Bulgaria to becoming a president

of a global organization and in the most dynamic business in the world… Public Relations!”

And we started talking about how important it is right now, when the world is overwhelmed by social media, when billions of people worldwide can create and share content, that we PR professionals should be role models for how people use media. “Who, if not us, is best at influencing? That’s why if one person is honorable and honest, we should be all of that but multiplied by a hundred…”

These are also the topics John talked about fiercely in endless conversations — professionalism and integrity.

I couldn’t disagree with him, but it wasn’t enough. I soaked up more than just his words every time I met him,

but also the enthusiasm, emotion, and everything that made him think our business was innovative and leading the way for all other companies worldwide.

“Listen, Max; we were consultants before; now we are the decision-makers. If this isn’t a historic change for our business, cheers…”

He immediately responded to my invitation to contribute with an opinion piece to my now worldwide bestseller written just before the pandemic, “The Global PR Revolution.” While we were still discussing how and in which part he would contribute, he said to me quite clearly: “So that you know,

I’m not quite sure these changes are revolutionary,

I’d instead call them an evolution, but no doubt the world has changed, and our business has changed. Any manager can’t decide without our advice, given as quickly as possible…”

Then he looked at me and, expectantly, added: “Especially when everyone knows that we work for the truth — the truth and the truth alone. It’s also the only way anyone can truly succeed in our business… No matter where they are in the world.

In the picture: Maxim Behar and John Saunders, London, 2015

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