Howard Bragman, Fifteen Minutes founder, is one of the most recognized public relations professionals in America. He has taken his 30+ years of agency experience, in virtually every area of PR, and become the "go-to" guy on television to explain celebrity misbehavior, corporate crisis and the role of "spin" in our everyday lives. Bragman serves as ABC News Correspondent for number one national morning show, Good Morning America, and is resident public relations expert for top tv shows including Entertainment Tonight, among others. Additionally, he is quoted in scores of magazines, newspapers and online outlets. He is currently Vice Chairman of Reputation.com
How did you get into the PR industry?
I was in Chicago; I was working for a magazine. The magazine was folding and they said what are you going to do? I said ‘I’m going to get into PR – these people [here] do not read the magazines or come up with creative pitches, and I think I can come up with something better.’ I think I have! A lot of former journalists get into PR and they do well.
Tell us about Fifteen Minutes. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
I created Fifteen Minutes after I sold Bragman Nyman Cafarelli (BNC). My vision was a very similar company but with deeper focus on talent, events, brands, business of Hollywood, crisis and controversy in a more user-friendly format. I wanted more passion to go towards growing accessible clients. I wanted to be driven by passion as opposed to ‘we have to make this much money’ or ‘hit this projection for profitability.’ It was really passion that inspired Fifteen Minutes. I wanted a company where I could still practice PR and spend more time with clients.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to Fifteen Minute's success?
I think the best thing you can do for your success is to do good work. I’m clearly visible; I’m in the media literally every week. People know who I am, so I have a positive reputation and it is incumbent of me to keep that good reputation. If you don’t do good work, then people will know very quickly. I’m proud of our work and most of our clients are happy, most everyone does really great work, and word of mouth is our strongest marketing tool.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
I notice a number of things. Certainly social media and virality are huge. It means that you have to do less interviews but they have to be better prepared, [and placed] with media outlets that will make the content go viral. The metabolism, the speed of media has gone crazy and you have to know that you are operating in a fast paced world. You have to be ready to produce content creation. Sometimes you want to invest time in creating your own content, whether it be a photo, video, or even your own interview piece. Put them out there! At Fifteen Minutes, we are open to traditional media but also to whatever is going to work for the client in the specific situation.
‘When I was your age, Pluto was a planet.’ What I mean by that is I’m a little older, I’ve seen a lot and I think I have some experience that has value. There are a lot of young, talented people out there. You take their raw enthusiasm and combine it with my maturity and wisdom, and you end up with a pretty good mix.
Fifteen Minute's Motto
‘Silence is golden. Duct-tape is silver.’ I see a lot of times that people want to talk their way out of problems. I think that just because you can do PR doesn’t mean you should do PR. This is a very important concept.
You have to know when to speak and when to shut up. That is one of my jobs, particularly when I work on crisis and controversy.
Additionally, you have to know when to offer ‘out of the box’ thinking. There are two parts of PR - creativity and competence. Both important and work well together, but you have to know if this is a client where you work out side of the box or if this is a client where you work inside of the box.
I cannot tell you how many times I have seen press releases from other agencies with typos and misspellings. Sometimes I think basic competency is overlooked.
Your greatest success as Founder/CEO of Fifteen Minutes? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
My greatest success as founder is being here everyday with this amazing group of people who inspire me, who have passion, who have intelligence and who teach me something everyday. I can’t think of one thing – I can think of everything that we do.
The most difficult moments are when somebody leaves [the company] or when a mistake is made. I believe that mistakes are teachable moments and we are able to move forward in a positive way.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
Go make your mistakes for someone else first. Before you start your own PR firm or your own business, go work for someone else in the industry and see how they do it. You are going to learn two things. ONE – the things that they do well, that you’ll want to copy, and TWO the things that they do poorly that you don’t want to have in your business. It happened for me at the first PR firm I worked at in Chicago I saw a lot of great stuff but I also saw a lot of things that didn’t work for me.
Describe the ideal experience using Fifteen Minutes.
We have the most eclectic client list possibly in the industry. There is no one ideal experience, but the ideal experience has the following components. There is a lot of communication, a lot of strategic thinking and that the client gets the right results. They may not be the results that the client originally wanted, but it is the right results. Whether we are helping save someone’s reputation, helping move their product, or helping to build awareness of an event – [it is important] that we have that ability to make each experience unique and special. We don’t have a blue print for clients – we have a process that we use for clients. I think it is much more important to follow the process which is learning, coming back to the clients with your best thinking, get their thoughts on the program, adjust the program accordingly and then execute the plan. Hopefully if you do that then you come out with something that works for both of you.
How do you motivate your employees?
I think freedom is the most important part of motivating my employees. We have grown up people who run their own divisions and their own accounts – I am not a micro-manager. These people are very comfortable running business. I’m here and other senior people are here when we need to brainstorm, when we have a challenge to deal with, but at the same time you get the best people together and let them do their job.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
In-out-burger, double, animal style with fries and a Minute Maid 15 calorie lemonade and I’ll be happy.
What literature is on your bed stand?
My iPad is on my night stand and its full of everything from mysteries to biography to humor to dramatic fiction. I read just about everything. I read about 2-3 books a week. I am open to everything. I love good writing; books that make me think and teach me something.
Role model - business and personal?
I think you can learn something from everybody. If I don’t have a client, experience or friend that I’m learning something from –it’s unusual. Every engagement teaches you something, so to take one person and put them on a pedestal and say ‘They are my role model’… well I probably don’t operate like that. In the PR world, two people I truly respect are Harold Burson and Howard Rubenstein. I think they are amazing people who really set the tone for this industry in the 21st century.
Low-drama. I like my life, the pace of my life and what I do. It is not passion that I am shouting from the roof tops but rather that I am nurturing my soul.
Favorite travel destination?
NYC – I have an apartment there. I spend a quarter of my year there. I love the energy, people, restaurant, theatre and my group of friends. It is a great place to be.
What's next for Fifteen Minutes?
More of the same. I want to continue what we are doing and do it well. There are some areas where we want to grow – social media, our abilities with technological clients, and Hollywood business. We are really growing every area. Right now we have a model that’s working and we want to keep feeding and nurturing that model. That is what’s going to take us to the future.
Bragman founded Fifteen Minutes in 2005 and it has evolved into one of the most respected boutique entertainment public relations agencies in the US. His personal participation includes high-level strategy, top-tier media contacts, crisis communications, media training and agency vision and values. Prior to Fifteen Minutes, he founded BNC (now PMK*BNC), which has become the largest entertainment PR agency in the U.S. He sold the agency to IPG in 2000. Prior to that, he was a Vice President at PR giant Burson-Marsteller.