Howard Bragman on Advises Celebrities

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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10 excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' 'Meditations' to unlock your inner Stoic

Great ideas in philosophy often come in dense packages. Then there is where the work of Marcus Aurelius.

(Getty Images)
Personal Growth
  • Meditations is a collection of the philosophical ideas of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  • Written as a series of notes to himself, the book is much more readable than the dry philosophy most people are used to.
  • The advice he gave to himself 2,000 years ago is increasingly applicable in our hectic, stressed-out lives.
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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.