Maxim Behar on Bulgaria ONAIR - The Border Between Ethics, Morality and ScandalAugust, 2022
The PR expert Maxim Behar took part in the morning block on Bulgaria on Air TV with Maria Konstantinova hostin the show. He expressed his opinion about the former government's approach to communication strategy, as well as shared his views on the behavior of Bulgarian MPs.
Host: Why does such a photo activate so much public debate?
Maxim: On that day, a very important day, anything Mr. Petkov and Lena Borislavova do, would electrify the social media and society. You mentioned quality journalism and media here, but we often forget that there are more than 4 billion journalists in the world right now, and we all own media. We've talked a lot about this topic here in this studio, it's a really great communication revolution. We shouldn't differentiate between the newspaper, the radio, the television and the social media user who can post fake news or manipulate a photo or text or whatever. It's not a question of who manipulates what, but who reacts how. Whether they held hands or not, is of absolutely of no importance. Although a prime minister should be a little more considerate and shouldn’t be so close to his chief of staff, because someone could do some kind of forgery. The important thing is again how to get out of such a situation and how a politician reacts and behaves, and I am not referring only to Prime Minister Petkov, I am also referring to many other politicians on both the left and the right side.
Host: Is political PR coming into play or not?
Maxim: I wouldn't call it political PR, but a normal human response, a normal human behavior. It doesn't take a whole cohort of PR experts or communications consultants for someone to act normal and know that potentially 4 billion journalists are running after him. Especially when you are a public figure and can be embarrassed or praised. However, what matters is how you behave and how you respond.
Host: Mr. Behar, what should be the response in this case? You talked about it. How should they explain, and should the affected individuals even explain this?
Maxim: The special thing in this case is that it is 2022 and if we compare ourselves with France, Great Britain, Germany or any other country, it should not happen in Bulgaria either, since we have young and intelligent people. I am not referring to my beloved Harvard or education in general, but the way of upbringing, the age, the attitude to society and its values. These are young people who should not make such stupid mistakes. I read Miss Borislavova's answer and it seemed quite ridiculous. She said that they knew that there would be a lot of journalists and it was not possible to hold hands. If someone wants to say something, they should say it in one sentence of 7 to 10 words. To say “That's not true, that's a setup. Thank you for your attention!”, without long explanations. Most importantly, it should not be allowed at all. We see potential in these young people in Bulgaria - intelligent, educated, ambitious, who don’t know how to behave and how to treat each other. It's not just about whether they held hands, that's not all that important. It's about all the communication in those few months and nothing else. Neither about the way of making decisions, nor the decisions themselves, I guess they cannot make wrong decisions. It doesn't seem likely that someone wanted to scam the people through power. However, communication is super important when you are a public figure, when you are in politics or business. Over the years I have created many definitions of what PR is. My last definition from last year is that PR is basically telling the truth so that you are understood and nothing more. If Kiril Petkov, Asen Vassilev, Daniel Laurer or Grozdan Karadjov can speak briefly, precisely and clearly, tell the truth so that they are understood, that’s an A+.
Host: Even this photo was not marked with the caption that they are holding hands, when it was shared, and everything else is a matter of interpretation.
Maxim: I don’t think so. In some media the editing was obvious. I don't know much about graphic design, but I can tell that one hand was turned and was placed in the other. But again, we are in the middle of a political battle. We are in the midst of a change of governments and 3-4 elections in less than a year and a half. We can't help but expect that some of the political opponents or the media that sympathizes with the political opponents will cross the line in some way. If there is counterfeiting, it is probably a crime. Or it's not fair, it's not honorable. There can be no more boundaries in their personal life. We have social media; we have people taking pictures with their phones from morning to night of whatever they want. They can take pictures of you on the beach, in your car, wherever. The only limits are for us to set. There are 4 billion journalists worldwide and they have their own media. These media have huge influence, some of them have millions of followers. How are we going to stop a person from posting a picture of some star he saw on the beach half-naked or in some awkward position. No way. The stars, the politicians, or public figures must keep their personal life private if they really want to have it.
Host: But why do politicians fail to find this balance and quite often make such mistakes?
Maxim: When you have a toothache, you go to a dentist, when you need surgery, you go to a surgeon. When you need to consider what you are doing in your personal life, you should go to the appropriate consultant. You choose the one that suits you and you have to sit next to him and listen to him. I do not accept the thesis that everyone, who is in the public sphere, knows everything - how to behave, how to smile or frown, what to say. It's a specialty, it's a profession. Unfortunately, the last politician I know in Bulgaria who understood this very well was Tsar Simeon. With all his clumsiness in communication because he had spent 50 years abroad, because of his archaic language, he really understood that one should be very careful when communicating in front of the public. It doesn't matter if it's on TV, newspaper, and now on social media. Very often the so-called traditional media - television, radio and newspapers, actually use social media as source of information. They don't use news agencies as much as Facebook or Instagram, they scroll through their feeds and create content from that. If a politician wants to manage his social media well, I personally think they should manage it themselves, they should find half an hour a day or even 15 minutes to write something meaningful on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and especially on Twitter. If they fail to do that, they have no place in politics. If they cannot say in simple and human words what happened today, the most important things they’ve done, they better do something else, do business. People, who know how to articulate what they do, should come into politics.
Host: We have also seen a lot of criticisms regarding clothing. Harvard t-shirts, with which Toshko Yordanov appeared, we’ve also seen the leader of "GERB" Boyko Borisov with a similar t-shirt. What are these signs or rather provocations?
Maxim: No, this is absolutely rock bottom, this is not a provocation. I'm not so conservative to think that people should go there wearing bow ties, speaking artificially. However, you can't make fun of a university institution that is world-renowned, or the people who studied there. It’s a lot of studying, I say this from experience. I did quite a long course at Harvard from 2018 to 2019 and we studied 18 hours a day, but that's another topic. It's not just the t-shirts, it's the way people treated each other. In the current parliament, I heard things that people don’t even say to each other in their private lives. Such insults.
Host: What made the strongest impression on you?
Maxim: The absolutely frivolous behavior, the insults, they almost started fighting while there were students who were watching from the balcony of this parliament. We absolutely cannot afford such an attitude between people who make the laws and we all voted for them. We voted for them saying "Dear gentlemen, you must take this serious and make us some good laws, because Bulgaria is in the worst crisis for maybe 50 years. Therefore, you must be serious so that we feel good in this crisis, that prices do not increase, that we have what we should have, that we have jobs, investments in Bulgaria.”. Imagine a foreign ambassador standing there looking at them, saying, "What a savage country!" What will I invest in?". The Parliament was the biggest flaw in all these 7 months and for me it was a huge disappointment.
Host: What do you want to see in the next parliament as behavior, as attitude and as communication, and what would you advise them?
Maxim: It is too early to advise them. The pre-election battles are yet to come and by no means seems that they will be cultural and intelligent, that there will be an exchange of visions, of strategies, concepts and decisions. In my opinion, there will be more personal attacks. To me, these people in the next parliament should really understand that Bulgaria is in a very difficult situation, and not only because the war is on our border, but because the whole world is different. I'm not saying worse or better, messed up or not messed up, it's just different. These 240 representatives should understand each other regarding concepts and strategies on how to make people’s lives better. During the last 7 months, all that was heard abroad about Bulgaria, was that there is a mafia, that we are corrupt. These messages were a big surprise to me. I am sure that these young and intelligent people had so-called "wishful thinking", good intentions. But we have to create a better image of Bulgaria, because it is a wonderful country. This is the work of both the parliament and the government.
Watch the full video here.