Commentary: Perception better than reality? That's hype!


Bragman book: As far-fetched as it seemed in 1968 when Andy Warhol predicted, "In the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes," it's become routine today.

Thanks to the growth of global media, the appetite of the 24-hour news cycle, the blossoming of blogs on the Internet and the advent of smart phones that connect us through cyberspace no matter where we are, the prospect of instant albeit momentary fame is always there. How well we manage those opportunities, of course, dictates to what extent they improve or destroy our lives and careers.

Figuring out exactly how to make the most of the access we all now have to fame and, perhaps, fortune is critically important, and as with everything else you're always better off with professional help. A good start in the right direction is possible just from reading the new book "Where's My Fifteen Minutes?" (Portfolio/Penguin Group) by Howard Bragman. One of Hollywood's best-known and smartest PR professionals, Bragman founded the giant entertainment PR firm Bragman Nyman Cafarelli. After ultimately selling it, he launched his current PR agency, the aptly named Fifteen Minutes.

There's a good clue to what the book sets out to do for readers in its subtitle -- "Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve." In 19 quick-reading chapters, Bragman outlines a wide range of information about achieving those worthy goals and while much of this is basic to people in the business it will be an eye-opener for "civilian" readers.

I caught up recently with Bragman for some insights about his book and public relations in general, especially as it pertains to the entertainment industry today. "I taught PR -- and I'm teaching again in the fall -- for many years at USC," he told me. "PR can be pretty esoteric and I had to make it tangible and understandable and that's what prompted (writing the book). I have this theory that if you're a good PR person you're an educator. You're educating the media about your clients. You're educating your clients about how the media works. You're educating your junior staff about how the whole machine works. And I'm a guy who believes in empowerment."

The 30 years that he's been practicing PR, he added, "have been 30 years of dramatic changes in the way we get news and in the delivery of content. Everything is upside down (now). I look at my own self and there are times when I have to take a breath and figure out how things work. If I'm having trouble keeping up, how does somebody else keep up? So I wanted to do something empowering and informed. PR used to be something that was reserved for Hollywood celebrities and superstar athletes and politicians and in this world we live in everybody's got a public image. When you have Google and iPhones and Facebook, public images are everybody's purview now. If you don't define yourself, it doesn't mean you're not defined. It means you're not defined as well as you can be and you haven't maximized it."

In his book Bragman notes that while we think of PR as meaning public relations it has an alternate definition that makes more sense today. "It's perception and reality," he said. "The job of a PR person is to manage that relationship between perception and reality. Most clients come to me and they say, 'I've got this really good company and I'm this really good actor and I've got this really good cause and I'm seeing other actors, companies and causes getting all the attention and I'm not and I know I'm as good if not better than they are. So most people come to me and, in fact, their reality is better than their perception. What I try and do is get their perception up so it's in line with reality.

"There's also certain people whose perception is better than their reality. And that's quite simply called 'hype.' While on the surface that might sound like a good thing, it's ultimately not a good thing and the reason it's not is that you have further to fall. When your reality and perception are aligned is the ideal situation. You have a nice balance there, if you will, and that's what we like to do."

Asked where publicity and PR fits now in the overall Hollywood marketing machine, Bragman replied, "It's always been important, but now it's that much more important. The reason (for that is) buzz is so important. Many of the members of the moviegoing audience don't use traditional media and in these times of tightened budgets in Hollywood PR is a lot more cost effective and it can be a lot more efficient for reaching the younger hipper audience who still are interested, but they're not reading the (newspaper) movie pages and they're not necessarily watching the movie ads on (television shows)."

What's happened, he pointed out, is that instead of getting the message from traditional media people are now "getting it online. They're getting it from bloggers. They're getting it from their friends. In the old days it was (coming from the) top down -- we'll create a poster, we'll create a campaign for the movie and we'll sell it to the world. Now it's got to be a movement, which is (from the) bottom up. We have to build a website and aggregate groups that might be interested and do word of mouth screenings and really show how we can get a buzz going for our movies."

When I brought up today's 24 hour news cycle, Bragman laughed that it's now become "a 24 second news cycle. It creates new headaches (for PR people) and, conversely, it creates new opportunities. In the old days, if somebody accused your client of doing something you could take a breath and craft an answer and get the team together and hold a meeting. Well, now, literally, (TMZ creator and executive producer) Harvey Levin will call me and say, 'I'm running this story in five minutes. Do you have a comment?' And I only get five minutes (to think about it) because I'm friends with Harvey. Most people don't get that courtesy."

Another big challenge to PR people today comes from the new Internet media outlets where, he noted, "a lot of the bloggers don't have journalistic degrees and journalistic educations and journalistic standards. And speed trumps accuracy for many people. For all his stuff, Harvey's a journalist and I give him a lot of credit for being a journalist. But there's a lot of people who aren't journalists and they don't want to let the truth get in the way of a good story and it makes it frustrating. When somebody had a crisis we used to use the term 'crisis control.' Nowadays, I use the term 'crisis management' because the best you can do is manage a situation. You cannot control it. You cannot threaten certain people and say, 'If you run this story you'll never talk to one of my clients again' because they don't care. They don't talk to your clients in the first place."

What's the good news in this? "I can get stories out quickly," he said. "I use the blogs and the Internet for that. I can get a story to go virally and have incredible speed and intensity. The example I used in the book was a young woman who was a friend of mine who was doing the cover of Playboy. She was on 'The Apprentice.' I gave it to TMZ on a Friday. One TMZ paragraph (later and) by Monday she was the number one search on AOL. I mean, it went viral (and then) it went to mainstream media outlets. But that was wild."

Another example Bragman cites is that of Al Reynolds who, he explained, "was married to Star Jones and they were going through a contentious divorce and everybody pretty much wanted to talk to him. I knew what kind of story I would get and I wanted a broader story. I didn't want him to be defined in two minutes on one of the entertainment shows. I wanted a broader (and) a more accurate story. So we hired a crew and we did our own interviews. We ended up with three four-minute segments that we posted on YouTube and it went everywhere.

"We got hundreds of thousands of hits. We got millions of impressions on TV. He got interest in his book. He got interest in him as a television personality. Even five years ago I didn't have that opportunity. I know there are certain people who say, 'I won't deal with the Internet.' Well, guess what? You need to deal with the Internet. If you're not using that opportunity, you're not representing your clients to their fullest."

I brought up the recent situation in which an audio recording of Christian Bale's wild tirade against the DP on the set of "Terminator Salvation" surfaced on the Internet. "I think part of the challenge with Christian Bale is that he's had a couple 'moments' now, okay?" he observed. "We don't know a lot about Christian Bale. Most people couldn't tell you what country he's from. Most people couldn't tell you if he was married or single and if he's married, does he have kids and how many? So one of the issues that Christian Bale needs to do is to define himself to give people a picture of a fully rounded human being."

Moreover, Bragman emphasized, "Fully rounded human beings make mistakes. When you don't have a fully rounded image and you make mistakes you're defined by the mistakes as opposed to being defined as a human being who made a mistake. And there's a big difference. A lot of crises can be averted if we like somebody. You know, when Jennifer Hudson had that tragedy in her family she performed at the Super Bowl and she went to the Grammys and I don't think a person mentioned that to her other than, perhaps, to give her their sympathies because they liked her and she had a distinct and enjoyable personality and had built a good foundation. And because of that, I think, you get a break."

Not surprisingly, Bragman's making expert use of the Internet to sell his book in addition to having it in bookstores everywhere. You can read a sample chapter called "10 Commandments of Public Relations" by clicking here, and there are links on the Web site that you can click on to order copies directly from, Borders or Barnes & Noble.

By the way, of all the quotes about the book on its back cover and on its website, there's a great one from producer Steve Tisch ("Forrest Gump") that just happens to fit perfectly with the concept of that "10 Commandments" chapter: "At the end of the seventh day God realized he needed a publicist. So God made a couple of calls. Everybody recommended Howard Bragman. The rest is history."

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