Howard Bragman on Advises Celebrities
Howard Bragman is Hollywood's premier public relations professional. He founded Bragman Nyman Cafarelli Public Relations and Marketing (BNC) in 1989. The Company is one of the most respected public relations agencies in the United States with billings of more than $15 million annually and a blue-chip client roster of celebrities, consumer products and events. In 2001 BNC was purchased by Interpublic, one of the world's largest holding companies for marketing companies. He founded a strategic media and public relations agency, Fifteen Minutes, in 2005.
Bragman is a nationally respected crisis counselor and has provided litigation support for a significant number of high-profile cases and individuals. These include: Joseph Steffan who was kicked out of the US Naval Academy for his sexual orientation; The Lewinsky Family; and Sharon Smith in Smith v. Knoller, a high-profile civil rights and justice trial involving a tragic dog mauling death. Bragman was also an adjunct professor of Public Relations at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communications for six years and has been honored for his teaching excellence by his students and the University. Bragman has written articles for publications including: Advertising Age, The Advocate, The Los Angeles Times and Playboy. A frequent television guest on issues involving the entertainment industry and popular culture, Bragman has appeared on local and network news programs more than 100 times. He has been a featured speaker for numerous groups including The US Conference of Mayors; The UJC Youth Congress; and many others. He is also the author of Where's My Fifteen Minutes?: Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve.
Question: How should the rich and famous deal with the press Bragman: There are a lot of times when I discourage people from doing press. I have a number of celebrities I represent and we run a risk of overexposure. The people get tired of them. And that goes back to Warhol and the way we cover celebrities now, I call the ‘reality show’ coverage of celebrities. We only have so many slots. We only have so much time in Entertainment Tonight or Showbiz Tonight, so we generally pick a number of celebrities, somewhere around 25 celebrities, and we may cover them at any given time. Over the last couple of years, it seemed to be Paris and Britney and Lindsay, but then we’re not seeing them quite as much as we did, because we get tired of them. We get burned out on them, and they get ‘kicked off the island,’ as we say, and then we say, “Well, who is coming in to take their place? Who is the new celebrity who is going to do it?” And it’s interesting because this reality culture way in which we cover celebrities works two ways and that is we have a certain limited number of celebrities we cover. The other thing is a regular person can become a celebrity, that’s what we got from reality shows. You can win and suddenly become a celebrity, i.e., Elizabeth Hasselbeck, look, she’s now famous. And the other thing that reality shows do is take celebrities and make them human. Go watch “Surreal Life.” Even an excellent show like “Dancing with the Stars” that has really helped a lot of people’s images, they show those celebrities in real moments, in rehearsal, when they hurt their foot, having a hard time with something and we like that. We like to be more like celebrities as regular people and we like our celebrities to be more like us as regular people, too. Question: What’s the most common mistake when talking to the media? Bragman: Well, the most common problem in media training or media coaching as I do it is people do an interview and they haven’t thought about it ahead of time, and as I say, they’re the goalie for the hockey team, and I go, “How did the interview go?” And they said, “I didn’t get my teeth knocked out and the puck didn’t go in the net behind me so I scored! It was a great interview.” And to use a sports analogy: if you’re doing an interview, you’re playing offense. You have a reason for doing that interview, and if you don’t have a reason for doing an interview, don’t do the interview. So if you have indeed a reason for doing the interview, we deal with the fact that the media can deal with somewhere between three and five messages in most interviews, and if you know what those messages are ahead of time, you’ve practiced them and you practiced getting them out there, you’ve practiced the tough questions, and you do the interview and I say, “Hey, how did it go?” They say, “I got my messages out, I handled the tough questions well,” then you have a real objective measure for that. So the biggest mistake people make is they don’t go in with a plan. Question: How do you doctor spin? Bragman: I have 30 years of experience on my side, so there’s very few situations I haven’t seen before. But the one truth is, you know, they call it spin doctors, right? That’s one of the terms people use, and I think it’s an apt comparison in a lot of ways, because each person is different in their DNA in terms of the media. One person can do something in the media and it plays out a certain way. Another person can do the same thing and it plays out totally different. Just like one person could be given a drug and cure a disease, another person can be given the same drug and it could kill him. And, you know, there’s a lot of grey areas, but experience helps understanding trends, [help], and there are some basic truths about how you deal with the media, how you treat people with respect about your integrity, your reputation, and my book is not a blueprint but it is a process, and it allows each person to adjust for their own foibles, their own realities of their life, and I think that’s what’s important. The first thing I tell everybody to do is take a baseline, take a pulse. If you go see a doctor, he’s going to take your pulse, check your heartbeat. He’s going to take your temperature, he’s going to take a series of tests and say, “Here’s where we stand today.” I think we all need to do that with our own public image, and you can do that online, you can do that by talking to people, but you want to get a baseline for your reputation, because you know where you’re going to start from. Question: How should celebrities approach their wardrobes? Bragman: I never think it should be “contrived,” I think it should be authentic. And the point being, if I went to anybody’s closet and was choosing a wardrobe for TV, okay? The wardrobe that they’re going to wear to a party is different from the wardrobe they’re going to wear to be interviewed on TV. I want it all to be real, I want it all to be true to them, but it’s got to be consistent. There are certain actors and actresses we think of when we go, “They are a great dresser. They always look good. They’re always in style and they always pull it together.” And there are certain people, we go, “Oh, my God, they’re a disaster! One day they’re wearing something that doesn’t flatter, the next thing something that doesn’t work on TV,” and it’s really knowing what works for you, because I’m… I’m 6’4”, 250 pounds. What works for me is not going to work for somebody who is a size 40 regular model. Hugh Jackman and I have decided not to share wardrobes for that particular reason, and you have to be really clear on what’s going to work for you and what doesn’t work for you and understanding your own rules. I don’t think we have to be contrived. I don’t want everybody living a nuanced moment. There’s something that your essence when you’re asked a question, you don’t have to think about, “What would my brand do?” You can answer honestly. If they’re wildly inconsistent, it says more about your personality than it does about your brand. Question: Can any famous person really stay out of the public spotlight? Bragman: Well, in that case, I call it the mystique, and the mystique is inaccessibility. And it goes to something I talked about in the book, which I’ll call the Coors Beers Syndrome. When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, if somebody went skiing in Colorado, they’d bring a six-pack of Coors Beer back in their ski boat and you would drink this and you go, “Oh, my God! This is the best beer I’ve ever had! It’s liquid manna from Heaven, and isn’t this amazing?” And as soon as they started selling this Coors Beer at every 7-Eleven on every corner and every liquor store, it lost its mystique. So some people have a mystique of inaccessibility, and that’s smart as long as they manage it well, because if you could become too inaccessible, then people lose interest. So it’s always a balancing act out there, and you never know. It’s like knowing when the stock market is going to go up or going to go down. If you absolutely knew that, you’d make a lot of money. But there are people who have a pretty good intuitive feel for their own self and what’s out there about them, and those are the people who have a real gift, a real skill set. Again, Brad and Angelina seem to have that gift.
Howard Bragman gives his best advice to public figures.
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