Maxim Behar: "Write books only in case you have something to say.”

Artificial intelligence is not scary; the misery comes when natural intelligence stumbles," says the world-renowned PR expert.

Interview with 


Your career covers various fields – PR, entrepreneurship, and diplomacy. How do these different roles complement each other, and how do they shape your perspective on communications?

Ultimately, all my endeavors over the years gather around one single concept – a love for what I do. I started working at the age of 13 and transitioned through quite a few exciting professions – carpenter and locksmith- while simultaneously studying in Prague at two universities – the Economic University and Charles University. I worked full-time in an editorial office and swept streets on weekends. My father was a senior diplomat, but I couldn't even imagine asking him for any money. Besides, working brought me joy, and it still does to this day. Every morning, I come to the office in my small two-seater electric car, eager to see whom I will meet, what project I will start, what challenges the day will bring... You know, I truly do this every morning for the past 30 years in the same company, and I feel like it's my first day in the office. It's a unique feeling that I will never let go off. And that's how I combine all the diverse activities that fill my day, but now they can be summed up with a single word – communications.


What motivates you to share your experience and knowledge in the form of books?

This comes spontaneously and never fades. I started writing back in my high school years when I accidentally came across a typing machine. Later, my father gave me my own for my 25th birthday. Now, it sits in my small room at the M3 Communications Group, Inc. office alongside my trophy from the factory. Journalism strongly captivated me, and in 2000, ten years after the dramatic fall of communism, which found me working in revolutionary Poland at the time, I decided to collect my articles written in the years 1990-1995 in a book and to answer the question of why things in Bulgaria do not work out as they did in Poland, Czech Republic, or Hungary, for example. At the time, I had no answer, I simply gathered my publications, along with a few legendary interviews with figures like Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Felipe Gonzalez, and many others, and decided to leave it to the readers themselves to answer this question. And so began an endless love for sharing what I have experienced or what excites me in books.

Where do you draw inspiration from and how do you select the people and topics to include in your books?

Mostly I write about business because that's what I do. In 2009, amidst the Facebook euphoria and the first serious market and economic crisis the world was experiencing, I started writing one rule every day that I thought would be useful on Facebook. I would wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, and then formulate the rule under the shower. It had a great effect; the whole world was on Facebook back then, and every post would attract thousands of comments "for" and "against." I began to really enjoy it, and then Svetlo Zhelev called me, who at the time was the director of the publishing house "Ciela," and offered to publish them as a book. It seemed quite extravagant to me that something written on social media would then be published in a book, but it worked out. My only requirement was for the rules not to be 100, as Svetlo suggested, but to be 111—I liked the number, and it was symbolic for a person to be number one three times. The editions of the small, unpretentious book sold out literally within a few days and were reprinted many times. In one of the next editions, I asked my friend and namesake from Seattle, Howard Behar, to write a few words for the introduction. Howard is one of the three founders of Starbucks and the author of the legendary bestseller "It's Not About the Coffee," in which he explains the entire management concept of the fastest-growing coffee bar chain in the world. I sent him the text, and he replied, "Max, I disagree with many of these rules." I replied, "Great, then write that in the introduction," and so that’s what happened! So, I don't choose the topics; rather, they choose me to describe them.


What is your recipe for staying relevant? Does your creative process involve any research phase, and if so, what does it include?

It's just an impulse. I wake up at night, take a glass of wine, and start writing notes. Sometimes, it works out; sometimes, I decide it doesn't. It's very different. But let me tell you—my life is very dynamic; things often happen at the speed of light. Sometimes, I have breakfast with a manager of a large global company, then lunch with a president, prime minister, king, or queen, and then dinner with my ex-colleagues from the manufacturing factory. In the meantime, I discuss important projects and marketing strategies with clients, conduct interviews with candidates, and so on. I return home late, full of energy and impressions from these meetings... How can I even fall asleep? I sit down at the computer and start writing.


Do you observe any change in the way people approach the selection and reading of books?

Oh, absolutely. Well, our whole life has literally changed. Now, reading is super easy, as long as you find the time and have the interest. I have several thousand books on my Kindle and I'm constantly buying more. Unfortunately, my time is very limited, and I mainly read during flights. Unlike many others, I believe that people now read significantly more than, let’s say, twenty years ago. Access to good books is virtually unlimited, but in the end, our time is not enough to do so. But the most important thing is that each of us has an ocean of books that can always unfold, even just a page or two. My observations are that readers nowadays select pragmatic books that will give them lessons on how to live better, how to earn or develop their business, what foods to eat, and much more.


What does it take for a book to be successful in today's world?

Quite clearly, only two criteria – it should be interesting and useful. And both are easily covered if the author of the book is skilled, in-depth, and knowledgeable. In fact, there is only one reason why a person would write books – he has to have something to say. Whether a book will be successful now depends on how it will be presented.


What are your favorite forms, channels, and platforms for communicating with your readers?

Mainly social media. Sometimes debates erupt to such an extent that by the tenth participant, you start wondering if you're the author of that book or you've written something completely different... People there can be aggressive, arrogant, and direct, but they also speak truths that are very helpful. I don't particularly enjoy meeting with readers, even though a lot of books are sold there, which is good for publishers. But at these meetings, sometimes there is so much praise that I feel like sinking into the ground from embarrassment. And you never hear a single critical word, and I seek exactly that – the other opinion, the critical opinion, the assessment of the stranger, the non-fan, the expert who is annoyed that something isn't as it should be.


In your observations, is there something related to the promotion of their books that Bulgarian authors often miss or underestimate?

Yes, of course. They take themselves very seriously and get angry at criticism. Yet, they are the most valuable. Very few dare to engage in debates about values and styles; they think they've written the best thing in the world and no one has the right to criticize it. And usually, they leave all the marketing to their publishers, and in Bulgaria, the publishers who have an idea about this are very few. They are printers, editors, and sometimes good managers, but they have no idea about marketing.


Amid the arrival of artificial intelligence, how do you think the role of writers will change?

It will change unrecognizably. We will be flooded with books of unknown origin, with fake stories, setups, and conclusions, with undetermined copyrights, quickly put together to stroke someone's ego. After a week, we'll realize we've wasted our money, and most importantly – we've completely wasted our time reading nonsense collected by unidentified software, which is certainly artificial but doubtful if it's intelligent. And this will continue for years, maybe even infinitely.


What advice would you give to aspiring talents in writing?

To write only when they have something to say. And to learn every day, every minute, how to say it. The first thing you cannot learn but the second – you can.


Can you share something that is favorite to you in each of your books?

I enjoy direct speech, quotes, and starting each chapter in an engaging and unconventional way.


According to you, have businesses, politicians, and public figures adapted to the publicity of social media, and what common weaknesses do you encounter in this regard?

I don't know of any public figure who takes their social media publicity creatively and seriously. Exactly those—so-called celebrities—think that by having a Facebook page, everyone should like and celebrate them, and anyone who doesn't should be blocked. To be public on social media sometimes requires hours of arguing, explaining, and defending oneself. It truly is the peak of public communication. Unfortunately, very few perceive it that way.


In your book "The Global PR Revolution," you discuss the evolution of public relations against the progress of digital technologies. How do you think the role of traditional PR will change in the context of the development of AI?

These relationships have already completely changed. Revolutionarily. And the reason isn't so much in artificial intelligence, but in the natural one. Long before ChatGPT appeared, the fact that 3-4 billion people got their hands on media began to drastically change our business. Until then, we were the bridge between our clients and the media, but suddenly, that bridge collapsed because our clients got their hands on media, social media, but media nonetheless. And then we, the PR experts, changed our roles; we became consultants, often people who make instant decisions on behalf of their clients. Well, if that's not a revolution! And only then did the so-called AI appear, we are yet to see how it will change our business, but it certainly won't be revolutionary. It might significantly increase the number of mistakes in our profession and make our young colleagues even lazier. In short—power still lies in natural intelligence, combined with knowledge and quick reactions.


Is there a way we can distinguish a press release written by AI from the one written by a PR professional?

Well, of course, they'll recognize the style within ten seconds maximum. Not to mention that 90 percent of the information in it won't be verified, where in a press release, this is the most crucial aspect.


In your opinion, for what type of communication tasks could business leaders trust AI, and for which ones it is essential to use the professional services of PR experts?

If we're talking about leaders, especially business leaders, for every communication task, it is essential to seek the opinion of external communication experts. Why? Well, the so-called internal PR experts are simply employees on a salary who will never say a critical word about their employer. Then, the downfall of their employers and their companies begins. An external, independent, and highly professional agency is the one that can bring order to a company's communications, and that is truly the only way a company can succeed.


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