Publicist Rockstars: “Think like a journalist vs. a PR person.”

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Medium | 0 comments

I had the pleasure of interviewing Howard Bragman. Howard has become one of America’s best-known PR and crisis experts because of his experience, wisdom, calmness and straightforward yet empathetic manner. He has worked with some of the most recognized people in the world and managed some of the highest profile press moments of this millennium and last.

LaBrea.Media is the distillation of 35+ years of Bragman’s media and marketing experience into a responsive, nimble and world-class consultancy. Bragman manages a small team of some of the best and brightest PR talent around, yet is personally and intimately involved when the situation warrants it.

LaBrea.Media represents talent, entertainment companies, brands, causes and digital entities.

Bragman was an award-winning adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communications and is the author of the best-selling book, “Where’s My Fifteen Minutes? (Penguin/Portfolio). He has received numerous awards for his work as an activist for those with HIV/AIDS, LGBT civil rights and Jewish causes. He lives in Los Angeles with his husband, a nationally-respected horse trainer.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had originally thought I would go into advertising in college. I moved from Michigan to Chicago to begin my career. I couldn’t find a job in advertising, but I had a journalism degree, and landed a job as an editor as a small magazine publisher. I spent a year there working on “Chicago Elite,” an alleged society magazine.

Over that time I received hundreds of PR pitches. When one day my boss came in to tell me he was shutting down the magazine, he asked me what I was going to do professionally. I told him I was going to go into PR, I have seen some of the industry and thought I had something better to offer. A few weeks later I landed a job at a small agency as an assistant account executive. I loved it from day one. I knew I had found my passion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Honestly, I can’t because there have been so many extraordinary moments. I have dined with Royalty, Presidents, heroes, villains, I have been in a race car with Mario Andretti; I have been the only person in the room with Stevie Wonder rehearsing, listening to what was in fact, a private concert. I have smoked a joint with Timothy Leary. I have been at my clients’ sides for the best times in their lives, and the worst. And it has all been interesting and made me grow into a better, more compassionate human being.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I was on the phone, pitching a story to the late, beloved Chicago Tribune gossip columnist Aaron Gold. He took pity on the poor kid and told me to come to his office in the Tribune Tower. He helped me understand how to work with him, craft an item, and be successful. I have never forgotten the kind and gentle mentoring I received from Aaron and so many others. And I try to pay it forward.

How did you scale your business to profitability? How long did it take? Please share the steps you took.

That’s the $200,000 question, isn’t it? First of all, I learned that if you’re not making a profit, it’s not sustainable. Period. So that is job one. Understand there are different levels where you see profitability. Really small and really big usually both work, but one has to have a deep understanding of the fundamentals and risks of each factor in that equation. Pay your own bills; question every unnecessary expense; get rid of people who are not serving the greater good and who aren’t profitable. Make profitability a mantra and share the wealth in terms of bonuses, benefits and perks, as appropriate and prudent. When my partners and I sold Bragman Nyman Cafarelli in 2000, we were given a chance to be more profitable and we fine-tuned the business, with much credit going to Michael Nyman and Chris Robichaud for that. And right now it’s me in a WeWork with one assistant and a couple of freelancers and I am doing fine.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have the honor of representing conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, by far the most interesting figure in classical music today. I love watching this young man grow into greatness and take the classical world and cross over into the mainstream. He’s truly becoming the Leonard Bernstein of our generation. And I love helping people through tough times. I call myself Publicist, Rabbi, Shrink. I try to make lives better and ease anxiety and it’s humbling to be given this trust.

Based on your personal experience, what advice would you give to young people considering a career in PR?

1)Be smart and engaged in pop culture, news, politics and a heavy consumer of all types of media
2) Write, edit well, quickly and journalistically.
3) Be as computer literate as you can. There are so many ways to be efficient.
4) Understand digital/social media. Engage. Enjoy.
5) Enhance your intuition. It’s a huge part of our industry and learn ways to develop your own skills.
6) Don’t look at the clock; remember every client is a chance to learn; think 3 steps ahead.

You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?

If you are going to be a good PR person you need to engage. Join boards, attend events, do pro bono PR for a charity. Networking should be organic, not forced.

Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?

I think the combination of things I listen to and absorb are more important than any one source. I do say, The NY Times for news, Howard Stern, probably the best interviewer in the business, and things of Jewish and LGBT interest — -a real pastiche. My social media, particularly my old school, Facebook, reflect me well.

Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Education is the key. We have made education so expensive and yet derided it at the same time. We are taught to hate, we can learn to love.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

  1. Think like a journalist vs. a PR person.
  2. Competence. People always asked me what my niche was, I said, “Competence.” Write well, respect deadlines,honor your word, keep your integrity.
  3. Be compassionate, we are all humans and that means by definition we are flawed.
  4. Get into your clients’ heads — what moves them, what makes them happy?
  5. Stress and anxiety are a given. Learn to deal with it.