Maxim Behar: Better put yourself in others’ shoes and then judge

PR expert Maxim Behar discusses communication on the Bulgarian National Television podcast "The Truth About..." hosted by Nadya Obretenova.

Host (Nadya Obretenova): Hello! You are with the Bulgarian National Television podcast "The Truth About…". My name is Nadya Obretenova. How small is the world, and how big are we? The speed of events often confuses us; the fleeting meetings and quick conversations give us a false sense of completeness. How do we communicate, what do we say, and what do we understand? And why do we often not hear the other person, and vice versa? We only understand what we are experiencing after we step back and remain silent. Knowing what to say at the right moment and how to create the moment – that's what we'll talk about today with a master of words, a skilled communicator, and a person who can build a world in which we feel good. Maxim Behar is here with us. Hello and welcome!

Maxim Behar: Good day! I am very pleased to be here.

Host: I am also very glad we are meeting on this platform. Is there a formula for successful communication?

Maxim: There is no universal formula. There are many rules and ways to guide your gestures, tone, and eye contact. But there is no universal formula because people are different. What is very important is to put yourself in the shoes of your conversation partner when the communication is live. When it is written or even from the television screen when they look at the camera, the host should try to see their viewer – the person who is listening and should understand them. These are rules through which you can identify and align with the person you want to say something to. Nowadays, in 2024, millions of people through social media tell us all sorts of things, and sometimes we – the readers, viewers, and listeners – are totally confused because, in a span of 5-10 minutes, you can read three mutually exclusive stories. Therefore, we need to have a quick reflex to know what and how to check if we are in doubt. We need to be able to judge for ourselves what is important or not – these are qualities that the modern person, who is no longer Homo sapiens but Homo socialicus, did not possess 10-20 years ago. Twenty to twenty-five years ago, you turned on the TV and listened to something or opened the newspaper and read it, but you had no feedback and couldn't say if something wasn't true. Now, two things make our lives completely different. First, the media are interactive. You go into any social media, and you can tell someone that they are wrong, lie, or argue. Or you have a drink or two, which is very common, and immediately start insulting or arguing for no reason. That is, the media are super interactive. The second feature is that for the first time in the entire history of media existence – since the Gutenberg era – media are measurable, and you can measure with great accuracy how many people have seen your post, how many have liked it, shared it, hated it, or commented on it. And this makes us completely different people in terms of communication. Therefore, I return to your question – there is no universal formula. Still, each person must have a formula for how to communicate and in what way because they can very much embarrass themselves nowadays.

Host: It's very kind that you remembered my question because many hear the question, forget about it, and say what they want to say. That's what politicians do, right?

Maxim: That's because, in modern times, we all listen more to respond than to understand what we are being told. This is one of the features of the contemporary person. We are surrounded by know-it-alls. When you talk to a person, they do not listen to you because they know they would have to respond to you with something or have already thought of their answer. Therefore, we must be careful, precise, and sincere with our conversation partners and try to hear and understand them. Returning to my favorite topic of social media – besides all the positive things, they also brought and put on the table entirely different dishes that we have yet to master. There are 4 billion opinions, and when you write something on social media, potentially 4 billion people worldwide can read it, regardless of the language, because it can be translated in a second. Sometimes, our opinions are exposed to merciless criticism, and many are outraged by the hate they receive. I do not participate in that on Facebook, Instagram, or anywhere else, but in the end, hate is part of our lives, and we cannot prevent it. Fake news is also part of our lives. We need to have internal receptors to check this news when we doubt any of it, how to confirm if it is true or not, or if the person we are talking to on social media is a real person. I like Facebook because it is the most personalized media. After all, you can see a photo and that person's history, how long they have been on that social media, whether they are real or have three friends and a picture of a dog, a squirrel, or something like that. On Twitter or Instagram, it is a bit harder to recognize the people you are writing to; there are ways. But careful listening, understanding, and exposure to 4 billion people, or at least to your 5000 friends you have on any social media, should make us much more serious, responsible, and communicative.

Host: To understand, we need to be able to listen. That is, to remain silent. Speaking, then remaining quiet, and listening to understand the other person seem very difficult nowadays.

Maxim: Yes, because social media has sent the message to Bulgarians and people around the world that we know everything. You see what happens – a topic arises about politics, sports, women, social media, or finance. Suddenly, everyone understands the budget and wonders why Bulgaria has a 3% budget deficit.

Host: You know, political scientists argued in front of me about a budget – one claimed it was good, the other said it was bad, and the conversation went downhill.

Maxim: And neither understands budgeting, for sure. However, we must control these feelings because we don't understand everything. But suddenly, when you read about everything on social media, you feel obligated to give your opinion, and that's not right. I rarely argue on social media or express my opinion unless someone provokes me. I always respond to every hate comment. And let me tell you, from the many critical notes or different opinions regarding my posts – I always read each one and see if the person who wrote it might be correct. It may be an anonymous opinion, but that person might have a point. Each of us - me, you, and other people I know are surrounded by a society that doesn't openly criticize us that much. Usually, they tell me how cool this or that is, how well it's written, what a great project I've done. And we all need more criticism to understand precisely where we stand. Of course, this criticism should be based on arguments, but if not, it's not a problem – we ignore it or respond. But I like this life now in 2024 because we have access to information, we can express our opinions, and most importantly – I view social media as a science, knowledge, and a place where you can learn many interesting things.

Host: That's on a personal level. But now, on the eve of another election we are facing, politicians are in constant crisis PR – they throw all kinds of stories, arguments, and criticisms at each other. We'll see after the elections if they will sit at the same table again. Are you able to navigate the messages of the politicians?

Maxim: I'm not very sure this is crisis PR. Rather, none of the political parties have a serious PR strategy, preparation, or something that is done purposefully. It's more like one says something, and the others respond, then a third comments, and a fourth opposes. And it becomes a mess of messages, from which, in the end, the person who first said something cannot recognize what they said. No, this is not PR. I've been in the PR business for exactly 30 years this year. Over all these years, I've developed some definitions of PR, as our business is super dynamic and changes very quickly – literally at the speed of light. In recent years, with the advent of social media, fast communications, greater transparency, and openness, I believe that the definition of the public relations business is this: to tell the truth so that people understand you. Truth is the keyword, and how you will convey it is the creative part of our profession - the skill to choose the right words and express yourself so that people can understand.

Host: If we take this definition that you say and the skill to tell the truth, why does the truth of the politicians differ so much from the truth of us, the voters?

Maxim: Because politicians do not know this definition. Or if they knew it, they wouldn't like it. Everything I say about politics may differ after a week and in 3 weeks – even more. You see how things develop in Bulgaria – like a carousel, a waterfall of all kinds of things. You know, the essence is not in the politicians, the territory of Bulgaria, or the city of Sofia. The essence, in my opinion, is that the political system, which we, for some reason, still call democracy, does not work. I say this with the greatest respect for democracy because now we breathe much more freely and have everything. I don't want to remember how we lived 30 years ago. However, now democracy doesn't work. We see this in many countries, not just Bulgaria. We will have the sixth election in the last two years, if I'm not mistaken. And we may have another six in the next two years. All of this is not a working model. If this happens in a corporation, a private company, or a business community, the manager will take measures, put everything in order, and replace whoever needs to be.

Host: They will press the "restart" button.

Maxim: It may not be a "restart," but just to replace the manager. That cannot happen in politics because every four years, and now every 9-10 months or less, we go to the polling stations and cast ballots. Then, in the evening, we come home, turn on the TV, and do not believe what is happening. And after a few months, we have elections again, which means the system does not work.

Host: "You cannot enter politics if you don't have support from Growth Private Equity." – these are Noam Chomsky's words.

Maxim: Noam Chomsky is someone I respect deeply and read with great interest. With this saying, he refers to large countries like the USA, France, and Germany. It's different in Bulgaria, and the games are much smaller. Although I don't know of any Growth Private Equity firms in Bulgaria, I'm sure they exist.

Host: But what part of our politics is business? Do you observe elements of business communication, business interaction, and business operations in our Bulgarian politics?

Maxim: I observe them only from the outside, as we do not engage in political marketing. I have deliberately kept my company away from politics and political marketing for years. If there is any truth to the saying that politics is business, in Bulgaria, it would be a small-scale business. Often, it's about a minor position, a business card that says you're the chairman of something or a deputy – these are small and very low targets someone is trying to achieve. For example, someone becomes a deputy minister or a minister. Recently, I asked an acquaintance on the street why he agreed to become a minister in a government that lasted 2-3 months, and he was surprised I asked. The answer was to write it in his biography. If a politician's goal is to write in their biography that they were a minister or, deputy minister or chairman of some agency for two months – this is small-scale politics and business. It's not even business, let alone politics. We need to have big goals, and every person should have them. I love this phrase, and it is one of the main driving forces in my life – "if your dreams don't scare you, it means they're not big enough." If you have them, even if you achieve something less, at least you've tried to do something big. I would often ask my colleagues in the company: if you climbed a peak, what do you see? 9 out of 10 will answer to look down because they have climbed. But it's the opposite – we should look up towards the next peak. It's not interesting to look down – you've already been there and climbed. You climb a peak of 2000 meters, for example – you need to see if there is a 2500-meter peak to climb next. This gives meaning to life, makes us better, and, most importantly, happy. People would often ask me what person is successful, or they would exclaim that I am such. Only a happy person is successful. You might be cleaning hallways, driving a taxi or a truck, or working in construction. The beginning of my career was five years in a machine-building plant. I don't know if you know what a vise is – we worked on those.

Host: I was an electrical fitter, soldering relay blades for trains at the beginning of my career. So, I fulfilled quotas and perfectly understand what it is to be on a quota for five years.

Maxim: And when you look back, you say those were good years, not just because we were young, but because we had good work. A person needs to be happy. I know many wealthy people who have everything millions dream of – money, cars, and whatnot – but are unhappy. And at some point, you wonder why. To combine success in business with personal and family happiness – that's something I wish every Bulgarian would achieve. I'm sure that nowadays more and more Bulgarians can get there because we have a free market. We have many different opinions and criticisms about how politicians manage us, how businesses behave, what thugs, cars, and so on, or how quickly they get rich. As my friend, Bulgarian theater and cinema director Alexander Morfov says: "Bulgarians want to get rich, if possible, by noon and very quickly." There may be criticism from thousands, but we have a free market that provides private business opportunities. Moreover, from all of Eastern Europe, only in Bulgaria are there still many niches where one can succeed. This is impossible in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia because all the niches there are filled.

Host: You say we need to set goals and have dreams. Isn't this tied to a much bigger picture –the Bulgarian state to have a national goal and direction in which we can flow and follow our personal goals?

Maxim: Bulgaria has a goal, which is to improve its position in the European Union, Schengen, and the Eurozone. Of course, there are opinions for and against. Such opinions were also in the UK, where opinions against materialized through a referendum. There are various opinions and concepts in every country, especially in the more civilized ones – in Europe, North and South America, and even in many African countries. People in these countries want to be happy and develop in different ways. Bulgaria is in the European Union and NATO - it is protected and part of a common market, where there is free exchange of goods and people travel. What more could you want?

Host: Somehow, I respect your point, but I can't entirely agree with it. I think these goals are not set very clearly. Even the goal of joining the Eurozone is somewhat mentioned vaguely, commented on, and criticized. We are constantly doubting and tying it to reforms that are unclear whether they are happening or not. Aren't politicians increasingly failing us, the voters?

Maxim: That's because there are different opinions. And it's good to have different opinions. I've spent half of my life in a time when people didn't have different opinions. Everyone said, "Charge!" and we did this or that. There was no criticism, no different opinions. There is an ongoing discussion in Bulgarian society about the Eurozone, and it's good that this discussion exists. There is no discussion regarding Schengen because everyone wants to travel without being checked and waiting at border checkpoints or customs. But I can't deny this is a goal for our country, Bulgaria, and for any government, no matter the political formation. Because even if the biggest critics - ultra-left or -right, as they call themselves – come to power in Bulgaria right now, they will understand that there is no going back to a centralized society without a market economy. All bridges are burned. That's why the more united we are around this idea, the better we can explain it with stronger arguments, and the more we participate in such discussions and debates in society because critics also have arguments we need to hear, the more our fellow countrymen – citizens and villagers in Bulgaria, will be convinced that our future is in the European Union. Until 1939, we were practically in the European Union and were a modern and developed country. It's true that the conditions were different because we were dominated by Germany, and Bulgaria was a monarchy. It was a completely different world. However, the world is free, and we can choose for ourselves. It doesn't always depend on us, but in no country, something solely depends on the individual. They can have great ideas and goals but not be able to achieve them. Europe cannot be anything other than the absolute goal for Bulgaria – to be a full member of the EU and stand equally to Italy, for example. In Brussels, it is precisely so – our vote counts as much as the vote of France, Germany, and many other countries we look up to, follow in their steps and want to be like. If we go back 100 years, the countries we take as an example – Germany and Austria – were at a much higher level of development than Bulgaria. Today, the difference is that they are still in the same place, but Bulgaria has developed and moved closer to them. We cannot deny that our country is more developed, that we are much more knowledgeable and capable, and that we take on challenges.

Host: We don't believe in ourselves at all. We constantly criticize and doubt that our leaders can protect our interests. You've heard rumors about how some foreign embassy decides something, and that's why the cabinet is arranged in a certain way or that decisions are made because of external directives. Somehow, we are constantly critical of what is happening to us.

Maxim: What you are talking about is a function of freedom of speech and the media.  Because of social media, everyone can express their opinion. I do not believe that there is an embassy from which someone is giving orders, and it is impossible to. Not only do I not believe it, but I know for sure. But someone told the story, and then someone else picked it up and spread it because they found it interesting that a foreigner might be dictating Bulgarian politics. Politicians are heavily criticized in every country, and those who make mistakes or fail are to leave politics immediately. I believe that politics is a profession subject to trust, complete transparency, and the absence of corruption. Politicians should be examples of ethics, honesty, and transparency, which we don't see in Bulgaria. When politicians make a mistake, they do not take it seriously; instead, they brush it off because everyone makes mistakes. No – you lose when you make a mistake, just like it is in business. Or if you create a big drama – you should immediately resign, free your political spot, and take up something non-political. But I'm not worried about the discussion, criticism, and dissatisfaction in Bulgarian society. It's impossible to satisfy all 7 million Bulgarians.

Host: We have heard that if German politicians talk like ours, they would immediately be shut down, excluded from society, or strongly criticized. Indeed, freedom is obvious here; everyone can say what they want. The question is, how do Bulgarian politicians respond to this freedom? Do they realize that freedom equals responsibility?

Maxim: This is a logical consequence of the fact that our politicians are not professional politicians, just as the PR business is self-made. We haven't had a politician whose father was a minister, his grandfather was a prime minister, his son was a minister, and his grandson was a politician or deputy. There were 45-50 years when this connection was severed entirely. And when communism fell in 1990, we all had to start from scratch and learn. Just as I've learned how to do business and PR - I traveled around America to take the best and gather money, took loans to pay my travel expenses there, and saw which PR companies are the best and how they work. Our politicians are self-made, and we can't expect that much from them. But there should be some code or law for politics. For example, my good friend and journalist Dimi Panitza founded a school for politics that still exists today.

Host: It was an outstanding school during its more active years.

Maxim: I used to lecture there and met young people who wanted to understand politics. If a person is honest and upright, they will be the same in politics, business, family, society, and everywhere else. Honesty and integrity are built on the ability to resign, admit mistakes, and come forward. My good friend Chef Andre Tokev, with whom I spent many days consulting when he had made a big mistake, went through the front door. Many people should do as he did, and many others do.

Host: Were you advising him on how to approach the difficult situation he found himself in?

Maxim: He is that kind of person. It was very easy to advise Andre Tokev because he is honest and upright. Of course, we had a long correspondence and spoke a lot. I was very happy he listened to me and admitted his mistake to the public. Indeed, anyone can make a mistake.

Host: What type of people turn to you – if they have made a mistake or found themselves in a critical situation, or on the contrary – when they want to succeed in business at all costs and are looking to make the best moves towards that?

Maxim: Both types equally reach out to us. PR's specialty, or rather my profession, is to try to solve crises in the best possible way. However, I always advise: if you've made a mistake – admit it. I've had clients who want us to think of something or call a friend in the media. For 30 years in the PR business, no one in the media can say I called them. In my company, it is forbidden to call the media. How is it possible to try to influence free media? It's organically impossible. When a potential client asks me to make such a call, I advise them to admit their mistake, and then we will figure out how to publicly communicate it. Usually, 7 out of 10 people leave dissatisfied. But the truth is that honesty is the essence of PR.

Host: Is it difficult to admit mistakes? Please share your experience.

Maxim: It's challenging and depends on the person. If they have a long-term vision of behaving in society and consider honesty, integrity, and transparency essential, then there's no problem. If someone has been used to skipping school since 7th grade and forging their notes, then in university, they lie to get a passing grade; it's hard for such a person to admit it because it's a matter of character. However, the number of honest and upright people is increasing, thanks to social media, because you can hide something for ten days, and on the eleventh day, it will become clear. Nowadays, you can't hide for too long.

Host: We just saw what happened with documents sent to the Registry Agency on Lena Borislavova's behalf. Something that was done a few years ago and stayed under wraps suddenly can cause a severe political crisis. Yesterday, I tried to call Lena Borislavova to ask her and hear her out, but her phone was off.

Maxim: Yes, that's a lack of reaction, which is a bad reaction in our business and public relations – not reacting to something that has happened or a crisis.

Host: Is this behavior correctable? For example, after 2 or 3 days, to decide to come out and tell your side of the story.

Maxim: If you admit your mistake, it's theoretically correctable. I hardly know a case of someone who was silent for 2-3 days or a week and then suddenly came out and apologized for their silence due to oversight or because their phone didn't work. It's a matter of the person's inner state of mind, whether they are honest, ready to speak to the media and admit their mistake. Let me take you back to 2001 when I wrote the first Standard for Business Ethics in Bulgaria. I've told this story many times. King Charles III, still a prince then, invited me to lunch at St. James's Palace, and I wanted to bring him a gift. So, our Business Leaders Forum wrote a standard for business ethics, which I presented to him. When I returned from London, I promoted the standard for business ethics in all 28 regional cities in Bulgaria and explained it to the business communities there. The two most common questions local businessmen asked me were: what is business ethics, and what is corruption? I explained that business ethics is making profits transparently, meaning we must make a profit – we pay salaries, invest, develop the business, pay rent, and other expenses. If we make these profits transparently, it means we make them ethically. Corruption also has a straightforward explanation: if someone gives you something expensive – a watch, a pen, or a holiday somewhere on the islands – and you are willing to share it with the media, then it's not corruption. If that is the case, you haven't accepted it as corruption. If you keep it a secret and don't want to admit it – that's corruption.

Host: And then, your picture with the expensive watch becomes public.

Maxim: When it happens, it's already too late. But that's why it's much easier now to be ethical and transparent: the very environment of social media forces you to be that way.

Host: But the administration, local authorities, sometimes, or institutions could make you enter through the back door to get that document faster, or you can ask for a favor because you know someone, or they will purposefully delay you or refuse some permit. Isn't this process two-way, not just from the business side?

Maxim: Generally, it is like that, although there has been a tremendous change over the last ten years. Everything happens much faster – you go to a counter, get a ticket, and know who is next in line, and you can pay by card. I think the administration needs to be completely reformed. At the same time, I have been paying taxes for the last 35-40 years and see a considerable change in the entire administration. And this total transformation will inevitably come, no matter who is in power. The very transparency that social media provides us and the new life force us to be better people. And if we take this chance to become better, to enter social media and be positive, to see one good thing out of 10 bad things. It is not just pondering the glass that is half empty or half full but also seeing one good thing. When I only see negatives in a colleague, I tell myself that it cannot be only that. There must be something good, and I have to see it. And if we apply this to the people we live with – our families, colleagues, and society – our entire country will improve.

Host: Well said.

Maxim: We are not bad people. We are good people.

Host: We need to be positive and approach things this way, but when we encounter that wall of anger, hatred, routine, and whatever else, it becomes very discouraging, Mr. Behar. Don't you think so?

Maxim: I go back to the beginning of our conversation – we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the person who cursed us in the tram in the morning or someone who showed us the middle finger from their car just because we accidentally didn't signal properly. We all see this hate and anger at road intersections and everywhere early in the morning. I look at the person and wonder what might have happened to them at 7:30 in the morning that upset them so much that it ruined their whole day. And I feel sorry for them, not for myself. I will probably not pay any attention to them at all. But this person will be angry all day, counterproductive, and destroying themselves internally. At the same time, I am convinced that our nation is becoming kinder and more positive. Any absurdity our politicians create cannot influence people because our desire to be better and to succeed is stronger than any political system or crisis.

Host: They make the big decisions. I agree with you a lot because I also go through life positively. Very recently, I read one of your articles in the "24 Hours" newspaper, and you told a story about your meetings with the eldest son of His Royal Majesty King Simeon II –Kardam. Tell us more about these meetings. What kind of person was he, and what was the main force behind this friendship? As far as I understand, you were friends.

Maxim: My friendship with Kardam happened almost by chance. When he first came to Bulgaria, we had already met in Madrid, Spain. Upon this arrival in 1998, the King knew that we were acquainted and asked me to spend ten days with Kardam, traveling around Bulgaria to introduce him to the Bulgarian nation. And somehow, this friendship happened very spontaneously. The last time I saw him conscious was on Christmas, before the accident in 2008. That day, he told me I was his best friend in Bulgaria, which I didn't expect. But that's when I saw what an amazing person he was. In the "24 Hours" newspaper, I talked about how we went to the Pamporovo ski resort near Smolyan on the first day, and people recognized him. They were happy that the Prince had come to Bulgaria and wanted an autograph or a picture with him. I noticed he didn't know a single Bulgarian word and spoke only in Spanish. The same evening, after dinner, I pointed out how absurd this was, and he couldn't go on like this. How could the son of our King meet people on the street and not know even a little Bulgarian? He explained that he had never studied it, so I wrote down 20-25 phrases in Bulgarian and English. I told him I would test what he learned the following morning at 8 o'clock during breakfast. He agreed and thanked me. He could have told me to mind my own business because he knew a lot of languages – English, Spanish, and French. But he took the sheet with the phrases, and the next morning, during breakfast, we spoke, and he started improving his Bulgarian. Many years later, we met in Madrid, and while we were having coffee and croissants, he pulled out the same sheet of paper, which I had even forgotten about. This speaks volumes about Kardam, who was a very warm person. He felt Bulgarian, even though 1998 was his first time in Bulgaria. It's different for the King because he was born here, has spent six years in Bulgaria, and has a reason to feel Bulgarian internally. Kardam was born in Spain but felt Bulgarian. We ate tripe soup together, and he said it felt like the food he had eaten all his life. We ordered Shopska salads, kebabs, and fries with cheese. I think it was a significant loss that he left us so early. But the fact that his remains returned to Bulgaria a month ago, and we buried him in the beautifully renovated Orthodox chapel at the Royal Castle of Vrana, nearby Sofia, is something that brought warmth and great comfort to the King and Queen. At the ceremony, I told them that, at least now, we could talk to him from time to time. It may sound absurd, but the people we remember are never really gone.

Host: The return of the remains became well-known – we saw pictures on social media from the ceremony. The custodian of the crown now is Prince Boris. Do you know him? Do you manage to exchange a few Bulgarian words with him?

Maxim: I have known Boris since he was a little child.

Host: He is the firstborn son of Prince Kardam.

Maxim: Yes, the son of Kardam and Miriam. Boris is a wonderful young man and an incredible artist. He is a designer and creates extraordinary modern plastic sculptures that look different from various angles. I saw a photo of his first sculpture on Facebook. He had posted it and was happy that he had finally created his first work. I immediately told him I would buy it; now it is at home. Above the piano in my living room is Boris's first sculpture. Since then, he has created many more. He is exceptionally well-educated and well-mannered, with respect and honor towards his parents, his origin, and the King. I am literally in awe of him.

Host: What is his feeling towards Bulgaria?

Maxim: He loves Bulgaria very much. When he was here recently for his father's burial at the Royal Castle of Vrana, it was the first time he, Princess Miriam, and his brother Prince Beltran visited Veliko Tarnovo. Unfortunately, I was busy that day and couldn't go with them. But they had never been to Veliko Tarnovo, and Prince Kardam is known as the Knyaz of Tarnovo, which is the title that princes and princesses hold. Kardam is a knyaz, which is the historical title. I call him a prince; the King calls him a knyaz. But he is the Prince of Tarnovo. I believe Bulgarian royals can make a good impression on Bulgaria because of how they conduct themselves. Especially Kardam, who was the Vice President of "Telefonica". "Telefonica" is a telecommunications conglomerate, the largest in Latin America and number one in Spain. I hope that every Bulgarian, not just Prince Boris and Prince Beltran, is an ambassador of our country wherever they are.

Host: Many successful Bulgarians have achieved great things – in science, sports, and business. You've reached the top positions in the PR business – you were the president of the International Communications Consultancy Organization and are involved in many other things. How can a person abroad change the business environment in Bulgaria besides being an ambassador of Bulgaria?

Maxim: I believe that every Bulgarian is an ambassador. You can be very successful worldwide, be looked up to, and the next day, you are at the bottom again. But if you drive a taxi in Berlin or carry luggage in a hotel in London and treat people well, when someone asks where you are from, and you say you're from Bulgaria, that gives a positive first impression. Do you know that within seconds, that person could change their opinion of Bulgaria if they had a bad opinion? If they had no opinion – they would immediately have a favorable opinion because they saw a Bulgarian who behaved well. Ten years ago, I remember having dinner with my daughter in Manhattan, New York, and the waiter had an exceptional sense of humor – he joked with my daughter and made jokes. In the end, he brought the bill, and I found out he was from Albania. It made me look at Albania differently. In Bulgaria, we have a saying "Albanian heater" for some absurd reason – probably because we imported heaters from Albania that didn't heat up back in the day. Whether someone is successful in Silicon Valley or working as a laborer, if they tell you they are from Bulgaria and behave well, no one will look at whether they are successful or a president of something but will see a good Bulgarian. I recently attended a significant event in Berlin, "Bulgaria Wants You." There were 1200 Bulgarians gathered, and we spoke about Bulgaria along with former Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev, Bulgarian actor Samuel Finzi, and others. And I told them exactly that – each of them is much more significant as an ambassador than the official Ambassador of Bulgaria in Germany. And His Excellency was also there, so I am saying that with the greatest respect to him. However, ambassadors change every four years, whereas the other people stay and represent Bulgaria. And everyone who works and lives in Bulgaria is also an ambassador of the country. They are on social media, have opinions, and write, and people follow them. If they are positive, happy, and successful, many people will think of Bulgaria in a good light. And it is a good country because of its people.

Host: You speak so fascinatingly. I want to return to something I read from you in the last few days. "There are only 5 minutes left until tomorrow." – you said this in 2020, in the end, and you wrote a book – "The Morning After."

Maxim: There was a pandemic at that time.

Host: Why did you describe the post-Covid time that way? Did you feel that a stage of our life was ending, and the type of communication we had until that moment was changing?

Maxim: No, I didn't have that feeling. However, undoubtedly, a stage of our life ended. Without a doubt, we changed a lot in our personal lives, business, and understanding. I mean that after the pandemic, we came out as different people. Some of us understand it, some don't. The message in "The Morning After" was entirely different – make decisions because no one will wait for you. You have 5 minutes to decide. In 2009, I wrote a small book called "111 Rules." Rule number 1 was that even the worst decision is better than no decision. When someone tells me they are 20 or 60 years old, I say that for me, the criterion for age is the speed with which a person makes decisions and nothing more.

Host: In the book, you have 100 pieces of advice for leaders and people who make decisions and manage businesses for a living. But now, aren't we in a different time, a new chapter where artificial intelligence determines how our life, business, and communication will develop?

Maxim: Let's first see how natural intelligence will develop. Artificial intelligence is a new element in our work. Speaking purely from a communication standpoint – for people who write, read, and understand. I think it's a significant advantage, but the question is how natural intelligence can use its artificial extension.

Host: Have you tried asking AI what rules it would write for business?

Maxim: I haven't tried that, but I've tested it in hundreds of other situations.

Host: It searches the internet and will probably take your ideas.

Maxim: Yes, that's possible. From what I've tested, I see that, at least in 2024, artificial intelligence is a compilation of things that have appeared here and there on social media. That's why I look at it very cautiously. Maybe a large part of fake news can be generated by artificial intelligence, and at the same time, life is becoming more fast-paced, and we have to make quick decisions, right or wrong, if they are correct, even better. If we immediately realize they were wrong and go back to come up with the right ones – the best. However, the speed of decision-making, regardless of what kind, is most important. You might know that I had some musical experiments with my friend Misho Shamara and his son. Our first song was about the PR business and was called "PR We Are." It reached number one on the chart of the biggest rap radio in America – Hot 21. Our second song, now on all streaming platforms – Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, is called "Runaway," which we translated into Bulgarian as "escape." The message of this song is to "free yourself from your comfort zone." Don't stay where you are bored, have no development, can't jump higher. Find another comfort zone. My friends in America who heard it said it's too philosophical, and in the rap business, they operate with 50-60 words. But I wanted to send this message – where we can't develop, we shouldn't stay, and we should look for other opportunities instead. Life today gives us this enormous, unique chance to choose our destiny and seek these opportunities.

Host: Thank you very much for this conversation! It was extremely interesting to me. Surely, everyone will play your songs on Spotify to hear how they sound if they have yet to hear or replay them.

Maxim: I hope so because Misho Shamara is a symbol of Bulgarian rap music, and we continue to prepare new songs with him this year.

Host: Thank you again.

Maxim: Thank you! I wish you success!


Watch the full interview here.

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