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Jelena Djelic, eKapija interviews Maxim Behar, President of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) In the past decade, the public relations industry has changed much more than any other business industry. A drastic shift in the ownership of media throughout the world has contributed the most to the process. It was certain during the 1990s that it would happen, but many of us ignored the fact that both us and our clients already had strong ties to the media and the we needed to learn quickly and carefully in order to use the relations as well as possible. This is how Maxim Behar, the president of the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO) begins his interview for eKapija. The Public Relations Society of Serbia has become a member of this organization this year. We also talked with Behar about the upcoming Global ICCO PR Summit, the largest gathering of PR experts, to be held in Oxford on September 29-30. eKapija: How do you see future PR trends, where is PR headed and what should, in your opinion, PR professionals focus on in the future? – In the past, public relations mostly meant acting as a link between our clients and the media. We were making great efforts to be as creative and innovative as possible. However, there was a limit to innovativeness. The situation has changed completely and PR professionals now manage entirely different requests and tools in doing their job. We have suddenly turned from advertisers and consultants to content managers of our media and the media of our clients. There's been a clear crossing between public communication channels – public relations, advertising and e-business and the process is getting faster and faster. Nowadays, many experts express conflicting opinions on who will take the leading role in the future and it is my firm conviction that it will be us, public relations professionals. The reasons are quite simple. Firstly, we are the only ones in charge of the content, words and expressions in the whole process, and the content is currently the most important part of public communications. Secondly, and in my opinion most importantly, PR professionals are absolute leaders in the two areas of key importance to our clients and their operations – reputation management and crisis communication. We need to focus on these areas in the near future as the basis of our profession's success. eKapija: Do you believe that online PR has in a way replaced traditional PR and how do you feel about the transformation? – This has happened without a doubt and we are all aware of it. The transformation happened overnight, while we were organizing events and press conferences. We simply woke up one day and realized that press conferences and press statements no longer work, that online media are more powerful than anything before and recognized one of its greatest advantages, which we hadn't been aware previously – cost competitiveness. Finally, this is what's most attractive to our clients and we realized this many years ago, but we couldn't do anything in order to measure the effects of our work and ideas precisely.
eKapija: Based on your personal experience, are PR professionals ready to accept new challenges in the PR area and adjust to current technological trends? Are they prepared to learn and change?
– On the whole, my answer is 'yes', but the pace of changes varies from country to country. The fact is that the new media will prevail and that they are the present and the future of communications. What's expected from PR professionals is to keep track of all new trends and case studies every day, hour and minute, and of course, to create their own.
eKapija: What will be the main topic of the upcoming ICCO PR Summit?
– The most important one is, of course, how to run a successful PR company in the times of drastic changes in our profession. Global ICCO PR Summit is the most important annual event in our industry in the whole world. More than 250 top professionals from all continents will have the opportunity to discuss modern trends in our profession.
There are two main prerequisites for an event's success – good speakers and enough coffee breaks in which to meet them personally. This year, on September 29 and 30 in Oxford, these prerequisites will be fully met and I'm sure that we will share a great number of new trends, stories and case studies and discuss them to the general benefit of our line of business.
eKapija: What's your opinion on the future of media? Can content prevail over sensationalism?
– Creating good, brief, attractive, intelligent and professional content is currently the most important element of our profession. We need to be aware of that fact and work hard on it.
eKapija: What is the role of social networks in the PR world? Do you believe that social networks can endanger traditional media?
– Social networks are the most powerful tool we've ever had in our hundred-year-old profession. Above all, despite all the apprehensions and concerns, they really are an independent and genuine medium. Theoretically, you can “buy” a journalist, the media, a TV station... but you can't buy Facebook, you can't buy Twitter, nor any social network, as they show opinions from all sides.
It is precisely this that is the advantage of social networks – they are interactive and wholly independent, which currently makes them the only medium we can trust and the most important channel that we as public relations experts have at our disposal in order to provide the best service possible to our clients.