Howard Bragman on Personal Branding

Bragman: I’m Howard Bragman. I’m a longtime PR person and author of the book “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes?” Question: Why is it important for people to define their image? Bragman: There was a recent study by the MacArthur Foundation and it was about teens and internet usage, and it was talking about, there was really a lot of positive effects. And one of the things that they mentioned which is really interesting is it was teaching teenagers how to manage their public image. And for the first time in history, people not every person but most people who aspire to something a little greater, aspire to go to the next level, have a public image. Be you a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist, an Indian Chief, whatever you do, you may have a website; you may have a Facebook page, a MySpace page; you may be on Twitter; you may be in newsletters; you may be the president of the PTA. But it’s never been easier to have a public image. I know now if you… I teach college at the University of Southern California and I hadn’t taught for a few years. Guess what? Every college professor is written about online. Are they a good professor? Do we like their classes? Is it easy? You’re a college professor? You’re a public figure. And there are different levels of this. We’re not all Brad and Angelina, obviously, but whatever milieu we operate in, we are public figures and the rules hold the same, whether you’re a college professor or whether you’re a movie star. If you don’t define yourself, somebody else is going to define you and you’re probably not going to be happy with the way they define you, so you better do it yourself. Question: How does someone control their image? Bragman: I think controlling a public image is myth nowadays. I think my book is very prescriptive in terms of managing a public image. Ultimately, as I tell my celebrities, the best public image you’re going to have is by living a good, clean life, and people recognize it. If people, me or anyone else misbehave, it’s going to get out there in the ether, and there’s a level of transparency. As I say in my 10 commandments of PR, “The truth will come out and it will bite you in the butt, eventually.” So I think the myth that we can control anything is kind of just that it’s a myth. But the truth is, we can manage it and we can make it better, and, as you stated, if we start out early and we create our image from whole cloth early on, that’s a lot easier than creating an image… Excuse me. That’s a lot easier than modifying an image that’s already been created and having to change an image, particularly a bad image. Question: What is micro-fame? Bragman: Well, micro-fame is being known for a very specific thing within a very specific community. I think the Obama Girl had micro-fame that grew into macro-fame, she started out on YouTube. One song about one candidate, and all of a sudden, she turned into a brand. I want to do something by comparison. If you remember in the last election, JibJab, the cartoonists, the animators, they’ve turned that into a business. They have taken their concept and broadened it and really turned it into a business. I don’t think Obama Girl has turned it into a business, so they took what could have been micro-fame and turned it as something that was quite macro. But micro-fame really means that you may be famous within a Facebook group, you may be famous on YouTube, you may be famous in your high school, wherever it is. But that may be all you need too if you’re running for class president, you probably don’t need to be famous beyond your high school at that particular point in your life. And everybody has to start somewhere, and we all have to realize that, “What is our base?” If you’re running for president of your high school class, well, your base is your classmates, and that’s where you are going to start. And so micro-fame can grow, but it can also just lie there and that can be the endpoint. Question: What are the dangers when starting your brand? Bragman: Well, it’s not just screwing it up, it’s getting out there too soon. People want to rush their image out there without building the foundation. My own nephew is trying to launch a little shirt company and he got a story. He’s at the University of Georgia and he got a story in the University of Georgia paper, and I’m like, “Hey, genius, do you have a website up yet?” And he’s like, “No,” and I said, “How are people going to find your shirts, you moron? Don’t you think you should have gotten your ducks in a row before you started doing it?” He goes, “Well, people know us on campus.” It’s like, yeah, it’s a campus of 40,000. I think not, you know? And people are too eager to get the press without doing the work that’s required. It’s very rare that somebody can do horrible damage there unless they’re a celebrity or a true, true public figure or a politician, you know. But anybody has to learn that you have to do the preparatory steps to make it last. This is how you build a lasting image. This is how you turn publicity into sales, publicity into change, publicity into dollars, publicity into whatever it is you’re trying to do. If you say, “I want to clean up the river,” and you’ve created a website that’s called riverclean.com, you can say, “You go to my website and you see how you can help,” that’s going to motivate people. If you say, “I’m here to clean up the river and I want people to help me,” and they go, “Well, what in the hell do I do to do this?” You may not be as strong and what we really have to do is connect the dots, and that’s something the internet does really well, probably better than anything in our lifetime.

Harold Bragman teaches us personal branding 101.

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.