Maxim Behar: The most important thing is to understand the changes
Mr. Behar, you are one of the most recognizable and successful persons in the world of PR communications. What are your secrets of success?
I'm not sure that success, any success could have secrets. I've been working since I was 14, it makes my life meaningful and worthwhile. I try to always be dissatisfied with myself, to discover more and more interesting new activities and to constantly overcome obstacles. And there are too many of those, thank God. I start new businesses, I check how they impact my main one - public relations, I skydive, take singing lessons, a couple of months ago I walked the historic Camino de Santiago...
And so, I strive as much as I can to become better and better. However, the most important thing is to be able to feel the changes around you and think - even for five minutes a day - about how they impact your life. And the business. And the truth is, my business changed entirely, the world we live in is no longer the one we remember from ten years ago, and it will never be the same again.
In fact, success is maybe precisely this - knowing when and how the business is changing and being in tune with those changes. And now - in 2023 - that often happens in days, literally even hours.
You are the founder of M3 Communications Group, Inc.. Why, in your opinion, has your company managed to earn the lead position in the field of public communications and media contacts?
I started the Public Relations business coming from journalism and at a time when it was absolutely unknown in Bulgaria. Almost 30 years ago, when I founded my company, and from the very beginning for us the business of Public Relations meant very good, honest, and respectable contacts with the media, because they were the only channel to the audiences of our clients. But then we wanted to reach those audiences to explain what the benefits of our clients' products or services were.
I really insisted on honesty and integrity, especially in our relations with the media. For many years in my company, it was simply forbidden to make a phone call to a media outlet or to a particular journalist, so that there would be no suggestion that we were trying to influence the freedom of the media. To this day, I am convinced that it is at the heart of democracy, of overall freedom in a society.
And yes... we tried to influence, however not with calls or with personal contacts, but rather with creativity, with innovation, interesting texts, and good writing. Now... it's completely different. We have some 6-7 million Bulgarians who have media, social media in their hands and all the creativity has been exported there.
Communication is on an entirely different level and in addition to professionalism, a new factor is very important here - time.
You must get on social media immediately, respond quickly and professionally, and that often means organizing your company so that you are "up to date" with what's being written about your clients literally around the clock.
Your book "The Global PR Revolution" has become a worldwide bestseller. What are the most important messages in it?
When I was writing it in 2019, I really wasn’t expecting such a "killer" success. "The Global PR Revolution" is now #3 in BookAuthority's global ranking of the best PR book of all time. The books on this list are voted for by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and a whole constellation of great names in business. Third place!
I'm certain that neither my American publishers AllWorth Press, nor the exclusive distributors Simon & Schuster Barnes & Nobles were expecting this - a boy from Bulgaria publishing his first book in America to get this far. In my opinion, there are two unique moments in the book. One is that for the first time, someone is calling these changes in business, in media, in communications a "revolution."
Everyone owns a medium, everyone can reach billions of readers in literally minutes, everyone can immediately translate what is written into all languages, communication is interactive, and advertising is easily targeted and measured to absolute accuracy.
Never in history have these elements of communication existed. The book has another unique aspect - it brings together the views of 100 leaders in the PR business from 65 countries for the first time in a publication of this kind. Which means that the reader of these nearly 400 pages gets a glimpse of the changes around the world, not just my opinion, but the opinion of a huge palette of people in the business and can get the best idea of what and where is happening in our business nowadays.
It's hard for me to talk about the book, I think the readers are the ones who can appreciate it best. One thing is certain, though - this "revolution" has changed the world forever and will remain in our everyday lives, in our businesses, and in our minds. There is no turning back.
How is your project M3 College developing, which is the only private, fully licensed college for PR and Marketing in Bulgaria?
M3 College is now entirely online, and this has given a new life to the project. Years ago, we used to fill the halls with young people thirsty for knowledge in our beautiful building in the center of Sofia. We have had lectures and presentations by world-famous gurus in our business and we have filled halls accommodating over 500 people... Now it is different.
We have gone completely online, we have many interesting lectures by professionals and this method is extremely useful and works well - it saves time, allows our students to watch a lecture almost ad infinitum, as well as take their exams online, however this time graded by the lecturers themselves. The fact that we are licensed by the Ministry of Education and Science, in turn, gives our students the assurance that we are fully within the legal frameworks of this business, we issue valid certificates, and our partnership with the Manhattan Institute of Management gives us a very good example of how a modern education business should be run.
What drives the college strongly forward is the huge competition from all kinds of courses, presentations, and whatnot that the online space is full of these days. Professional, and not-so-professional speakers, practitioners and amateurs alike practice speaking to young people about something they often don't understand all that well. This is why we are succeeding, and I am convinced that the college has a wonderful present and a tremendous future.
As an award-winning influencer in the PR field, what advice would you give to young colleagues who want to pursue a career in this field?
I know that young colleagues are often approached with appeals for hard work, dedication, good education, reading, learning... This is not my advice. Or at least not among the first few. I only have one important piece of advice and criteria - just a twinkle in the eye. Nothing more. And this is the only criterion by which we select the employees in our company. A twinkle in the eye. It means desire for success, for a career even, curiosity, desire to know more, to be innovative and original. I do not believe that these are natural traits, I believe that they are created, cultivated in young people, but only one thing must be apparent at the beginning - the desire! I know how to do the rest.
I can make an amateur a professional in five or six months, a year at the most. But I can't make a lazy man into a hard worker, a schemer into a team player, a careless man into a responsible one.
When you have that twinkle in your eye, everything falls into place. It's a formula well-tested over the years.
You are the Consul General of the Republic of Seychelles in Bulgaria. Could you tell us more about your mission in this not so familiar country?
A beautiful country, a responsible mission, and at the same time a great pleasure to work for these sunny, smiling, hardworking and dedicated islanders. Seychelles has great beaches, some of the best in the world, but there are beaches in hundreds of other countries as well. There is exceptional nature, but there is also such nature in many other places. Two important things make Seychelles stand out - the people and the cuisine.
The broad smiles and open hearts of these nearly 90,000 people on 115 islands, the exceptional and very tasty cuisine are the great treasure that everyone must experience at least once in their lifetime, and why not many times.
You've had many iconic meetings with world leaders such as Hillary Clinton, Shimon Peres, King Charles III, Ban Ki-moon, and many others... What did the live contact with these people bring you?
Meeting each of them has given me something invaluable. I realize it days, months, sometimes years later. With Hillary Clinton I spent a long time talking about PR and modern communications, with King Charles III, then still a prince, I had hours of conversations about how Bulgaria can become more recognizable in the world and how British businesses can invest in successful projects in our country.
King Albert II of Belgium and I talked about the traditions of our economic relations, how we should build on them, and during my several meetings with Shimon Peres there was not a moment when we did not talk about the incredible achievement of the entire Bulgarian nation - the rescue of the Bulgarian Jews during the Second World War, with the lead singer of the metal band Manowar, Joey DeMaio, we spent hours discussing modern rock and metal music and predicted how long it would remain in the minds of the young, and not so young, with the UN Secretary-General at the time, Ban Ki-moon, we talked a lot about the need for ethical and transparent business ...
These conversations are extremely enriching, they give another insight into the lives of some extraordinary individuals, very experienced - both in life and professionally - leaders, and it is a great chance that fate led me to meeting them. But just so you know, very often I meet colleagues from the engineering plant where I worked as a sheet metal worker for five years before I started my higher education, I meet random people on the streets, shop assistants, of course taxi drivers, we discuss various topics and from them I also learn endlessly interesting things and let's face it - often more interesting than those I have discussed with the greats of the world.
You were voted "Best PR Professional in Europe" for 2022 and have won many other significant awards. Which of your awards is most valuable to you and why?
Every award has its value for the time and project for which you received it. In February this year, 2023, the President of Lithuania, Mr. Gitanas Nauseda, presented me with a special medal at a grand ceremony in his palace in Vilnius for my journalistic publications during the dramatic military events in the country in January 1991... 32 years later!
Can you imagine... For me it was the most surprising, the most unexpected and at the same time the most desired award. In January 32 years ago, the then Soviet Union did not want to part with the illusion that it was falling apart for good and sent its tanks to Lithuania in the hope of taking back this wonderful independent territory, occupied or rather annexed by Stalin after World War II. At the time I was working as a journalist in Warsaw and did not hesitate to leave immediately for Vilnius, overcoming border blockades, curfews and many, many other obstacles to get to the Lithuanian parliament, where I stayed for ten days, reporting what was happening to all possible media outlets in Bulgaria.
This has only now been appreciated, and I am very proud of this fact, especially against the background of the war in Ukraine, which at a different time, and unfortunately with different military means, is repeating what should have happened in that cold distant January in the small, wonderful Lithuania. It is rather an award for citizenship and humanity, for a brilliant understanding of which side of history you should stand on when the tanks are at your door, and then for professionalism.
I value enormously the dozens of global PR awards I've received – of course, mostly my 2017 induction in the Global PR Hall of Fame, and I know I will continue to receive them if I work hard and in an innovative way.
What are your favorite destinations for a holiday or relaxing weekend?
There are countries I adore such as Israel, Seychelles, or America, we can travel around them for weeks by car, see friends, have unforgettable moments, but there are also cities where I feel at home - London for example.
In Bulgaria - without even thinking about it - the village of Gela in the Rhodope Mountains and Madara, near my hometown in Shumen, as well as Shumen itself. I love it endlessly and am proud to be a “shumanian”! I return from there like a new person, full of energy and with wonderful thoughts and ideas... and so, until my next visit there!
The interview was published in Banker Special magazine