Howard Bragman Advises Media People

Question: How should journalists interface with publicists?

Howard Bragman: I’m glad I have a journalistic education, a journalism degree, and have worked with journalistic outlets. And for me, what’s most important is that I still respect the journalists. There are a lot of Hollywood publicists who like to have power over journalists and like to intimidate journalists. I’m never been that way, even if I am in a situation where I have a superstar, it doesn’t mean I can’t be courteous and nice to a journalist, because we’re all trying to achieve the same thing, okay? And I’m trying to make friends, not enemies, out there in the world. What I’ve learned is speed, integrity, kindness… And, you know, I had a client recently who was getting a divorce, and this client said to me, “Well, just lie.” And I said, “I will say I’m not going to comment on that because it’s a private matter,” but I said, “I’m not lying. My reputation is something that I’ve achieved over many years in this business, and I’m not going to take 30 years and throw it away when your husband’s living in a hotel and everybody knows it,” you know? So you really have to understand that your reputation and your integrity are what you have, and people know. Don’t think journalists don’t talk to each other. Don’t think they don’t know who the nightmares are versus the people who are smart. And it goes back to my first job in PR, why did I get into PR? People weren’t reading my magazine and I thought, “All you got to do is read the magazine.” I look at that today, I look at people in my office and I’m like, “If you want to pitch somebody in the LA Times, you don’t call the editor-in-chief of the LA Times.” You say, “Well, I want to be in the calendar section and this person writes about TV and this might be the right person because they cover this particular nuance,” you have to do your work and you can’t be a good PR person without being a good consumer of media. And from my friends who are journalists, I would say that not all PR people are [flaks]. A lot of us have a lot of respect and a lot of integrity and a lot of professionalism, and give us a break, too, and communicate with us like we communicate with you. If somebody doesn’t return my e-mail or a phone call, I get frustrated the same way they would if I didn’t return theirs, and we sort of need each other. It’s not going to work for either of us as well without each other, I promise you. Question: How would you advise newspapers as they grow digitally? Bragman: I think there’s one misunderstanding out there and that is that young people don’t care about the news. I think the opposite is true. I see the young people in my office and the young people that I know online, on the web, going to TMZ, going to Perez Hilton, almost multiple times per hour, in a way where we, our generation, would wake up, read the newspaper and go on with our day and watch the news at night. So I wouldn’t mistake it for a lack of interest. I think it’s really the vehicle, and it’s like the trains back in the early part of the last century. They made the mistake of thinking they were in the train business and not realizing they were in the transportation business, and I think newspapers have to understand they’re not in the newspaper business, they’re in the news dissemination business. And if you’re the Chicago Tribune or the New York Times, you’re losing some advertising, you’re losing readers and you have some real challenges. But at the same time, you bring some things to the table in terms of history, in terms of credibility that these bloggers can’t compare to and you have to play to your strengths, and there may be some painful times, but I don’t think they’re going away. I think they may reincarnate themselves. I think they will come out in new forms. When I’m doing a campaign, it really depends who I want to reach. If I want to reach older, more traditional people, I’m going to go for print and traditional broadcast. If I want to reach young people, I’m going to be viral there. And for most campaigns, it’s like food, you don’t just want to eat meat or you don’t want vegetables or you don’t want carbs, you want to mix it up. As I go and promote my book, I have a mix of online, I have a mix of radio, I have a mix of print, I have a mix of broadcast, I have social networking. You want a pretty balanced diet out there to reach the broadest possible audience. Question: Where do you see the New York Times in the future? Bragman: I think the New York Times is going to become something you read on your personal computer device that is your phone and your iPod and all these things at once, and I think they’re going to have to adjust to this reality. At the same time, there are people who are never going to be happy unless they get the paper on their front steps or they buy the paper at the newsstand, and that’s why we’re going through this transition. I think what [Kendall] has done for books really is the future of books. It’s too expensive to print things anymore. It’s bad for the environment to print things, other than my book, which is good for the environment, but most books, most newspapers, it’s bad for the environment. You read this thing for a half-hour, you throw it in the garbage, and you start, again, there’s a lot of waste there. And I just think, economically, we’re not going to be able to afford it. But I don’t think we’re at the place we need to be where you have a beautiful 8-1/2 X 11 reader that has everything clear and it’s thin and it’s transportable. I think we’re just a few years away from that and I think that’s when the New York Times is really going to understand what their future is, as well as the Chicago Tribune and the LA Times. Question: Do we still need mainstream media? Bragman: You know, it’s interesting and there’s a very symbiotic relationship. Sarah Palin kept complaining about the media during the presidential campaign and she said she wanted to operate without a filter. Well, Hollywood celebrities have been starting to do that. Owen Wilson had a suicide attempt last year, and his first interview when he came back was done with his director, and I think it was done on MySpace or Facebook, where he did an interview, and that way, he didn’t deal with a traditional journalist. However, traditional media outlets still got that story out there after he did the interview. And in my own PR life, I worked with Al Reynolds, who is a college professor and a financial expert. Probably well known for being married to Star Jones and we were approached by every mainstream media outlet in the world to do the first interview. And I knew they would sensationalize him. I knew they would sleaze him, so we conducted our own series of interviews, put them on YouTube, and then released him to the mainstream media. And, you know, we needed the mainstream media or we wouldn’t have gotten out there. We were very journalistic in the way we approached the questions and answers with him. We asked all the tough questions [and the outlook] would ask us, which is why we didn’t face a lot of criticism from it. So I think they work together, and you really have to understand that they work part and parcel with each other, and it’s important to understand what’s going to play with mainstream media and which you can get away with on YouTube and MySpace and some of these social networking sites.

Howard Bragman explains the mutualism that binds journalists and publicists and makes some predictions for the New York Times.

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An organism found in dirt may lead to an anxiety vaccine, say scientists

Can dirt help us fight off stress? Groundbreaking new research shows how.

University of Colorado Boulder
Surprising Science
  • New research identifies a bacterium that helps block anxiety.
  • Scientists say this can lead to drugs for first responders and soldiers, preventing PTSD and other mental issues.
  • The finding builds on the hygiene hypothesis, first proposed in 1989.

Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.