Howard Bragman on His Early Days in Advertising

Bragman: I ended up moving to Chicago and I was interviewed with ad agencies and they said, “Were you the suit or are you the [creator]?” And these were the heydays, the madmen years in advertising. And I said, “Well, I can do both.” I had worked in a small ad agency in Ann Harbor and I said, “I met with clients; I wrote ads; I designed ads. I can do it all.” They’re like, “No, you can’t. Not in a big agency. You have to choose.” Well, I ended up getting a job with a magazine, this little society magazine in Chicago. It was a pretty horrible magazine, but it was a good experience, because it was a tiny magazine and I got to do everything. From lay out the magazine to write stories, assign and edit stories. And after about a year, they wanted to close the magazine. They were losing their shirts and they said, “We’re going to close the magazine. What are you going to do?” And I said, “I’m going to go into PR.” All these people pitched me stories, they’ve never read the magazine. There’s got to be some confidence out there in this world. So I got a job with a little PR [firm] in Chicago and, fortunately, they signed Anheuser-Busch or Budweiser, it’s a client right after I got there. And I spent three years really getting an MBA in PR on Anheuser-Busch’s [dime] because they’re a great company. A lot of different brands, a lot of different celebrities, and I learned how to do just about everything. And after my 3rd year at the Rice Lake Snowmobile Races, when it was 25 degrees below zero in Wisconsin, I said, “Okay, I’ve learned what I’m learning here,” and I wanted a bigger arena, and I went to work for Burson-Marsteller, the international PR firm. And I was there about three years in Chicago. And one cold November day, more than 20 years ago, they said, “Would you like to move to LA?” And I said, “Oh, yeah. I’m out of here.” And Burson-Marsteller is a great company, but LA is a very entrepreneurial market. It’s a very relationship market. It’s not like people will go, “Oh, you work for Burson-Marsteller….” For the most part, they didn’t even know who Burson-Marsteller was necessarily. So in ‘89, I started my own firm in the back of my house and I grew that to a company called Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, which today is the largest entertainment PR firm in the world. I sold the company in 2001, took some time off. And in 2005, I started my current company, Fifteen Minutes, which does a lot of things my other company does, but in a very boutique format. I have two offices, about 20 people, and we represent celebrities, corporations, the business of Hollywood, a lot of crises, a lot of media training, a very eclectic mix of clients. In that time, I taught PR for six years at USC, so I learned… everybody always said PR is too esoteric. It’s hard to teach. Well, I had to learn that discipline. I had to learn how to explain what I do this esoteric thing. And in the course of that, it really made me want to write a book, and that was the germ of “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?”

Howard Bragman was indeed capable of doing it all at a Chicago ad firm.

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