Benevolent is a grand word. I like it. It’s a word that fits ubiquitous publicist Howard Bragman to a T. In any given week he is on national television two or three times. His carefully crafted campaign to bring football player Michael Sam out of the closet was without challenge the biggest PR announcement in NFL history, all beautifully conceived and orchestrated by Bragman.
Bragman’s regular gigs include an ABC network deal with perpetual appearances on Good Morning America and ABC World News, plus bits on MSNBC, Entertainment Tonight, Extra and CNN. He always delivers his take on celebrity crisis and controversy with a large chunk of care and kindness. He is not beyond calling an idiot to task, yet more times than not he delivers compassion in his explanation of famous foibles.
I’ve known Bragman for a long time. He once got me on the cover of the L.A Times Business section and helped me navigate a total on-camera ambush in my own living room by Josh Mankiewicz from Dateline NBC. I was chair of the APLA board, and we were suing a pretty spotty event producer who was writing a bad, fairly unscrupulous book on fundraising. As the whiney reporter asked me crud like how much palm trees cost to rent or how much Marky Mark gets paid to drop his pants onstage to show his Calvin’s, Bragman was there to help the putz fashion questions that really mattered to those of us raising money amid a daunting war on AIDS.
Howard Bragman trained with old-school publicists and has marvelously married that solid foundation with new media. No one has done a better job at innovating a tired business model with fresh ideas—it’s no longer about writing releases and stuffing press packets. Today it is fluid, immediate and constant. Bragman is always thinking about his client’s plan.
A vet of Bragman, Nyman and Cafarelli, he sold that firm and founded both 15 Minutes Public Relations and online PR powerhouse Reputation.com.
Bragman’s connection to sensible and caring protection of the often-gay underdog is really quite marvelous. Tom Villard was a funny sitcom star. In 1994 he was dying of AIDS and asked Bragman for help. He needed just four days of work to sustain his SAG medical insurance. Bragman booked him on Entertainment Tonight, where 13 million people learned this talented gent was both gay and living with AIDS. Christian Slater’s mom, casting director Mary Jo Slater, saw the piece and found Villard the work he needed. He passed away soon after.
Bragman was front and center masterminding coming out pieces to an uneducated and often prejudiced press for Bewitched star Dick Sargent, child actor-turned-politico Sheila Khuel and expelled U.S. Naval Academy hero Joe Steffan, who was quite publicly tossed to the skids for admitting he was gay.
As long as I have known him, Bragman has been on a mission: Do the work, stay on-topic and, whenever possible, use the media for the betterment of not only clients but also the community.
Bragman is a proud, out Jewish guy who wears his emotions on his sleeve. It so wonderfully helps define who and what he is. One day we were sitting in a contentious AIDS Project Los Angeles board of directors meeting and I made some snarky comment to him. It was flippant and banal, and yet the dagger drew passion. Afterwards, pulling me aside, he asked if I thought he was a “good board member.” My take was important to a guy who understood image and perspicacity better than most.
Howard Bragman was indeed a great board member and has continued to represent and deliver for a community in perilously changing times. We owe him admiration and thanks as his not-so-quiet ways and actions have improved quality of life for a ton of us. In the uncharted tour of our past 40 years it has been said that benevolence is often peremptory. I believe we’re lucky Bragman has been with us—and for us—during these times.