Hollywood ‘cultural attache’ shares Zeitguide to advertising

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Brad Grossman.
Photos by Thomas Kojcsich, University Marketing

If it weren’t for George Clooney, Brad Grossman might never have had the chance to be the guest speaker at the VCU Brandcenter’s special campaign launch edition of its Friday Forum speaker series.

Grossman, founder and CEO of cultural compendium Zeitguide, delivered “The Zeitgeist of Zeitguide: It’s what you need to know” to a packed Commons Theater last week as part of a series of events kicking off the $750 million Make It Real Campaign for VCU. With information overload growing daily, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the ever-changing cultural landscape. Zeitguide compiles what’s important so business leaders know what to read, why it’s important and how it can inform decision making.

Growing up in New Jersey, Grossman assumed he’d become a doctor or lawyer. When Clooney’s television series “ER” debuted, it made his decision easy — he wanted to be a doctor. While attending Brown University he interned academically at Mount Sinai’s school of medicine where he shadowed a nephrologist. After seeing the kidney doctor’s first patient, Grossman threw up in the corner.

Medicine was out.

Not knowing what he wanted to do, Grossman started tutoring in chemistry, which turned into a boutique tutoring business. His clients ended up being the children of some of the entertainment industry’s elite. So one day when Oscar-winning film and television producer Brian Grazer called him, Grossman assumed the producer wanted a tutor for his daughter. Instead, Grazer wanted a tutor for himself.

“His creative process is exploring and going out into the world,” Grossman said. “And being a very influential, creative filmmaker and television producer, he wanted one person to do that and read everything about a particular person, what they’re doing, whether we meet with Nobel laureates. … So my job was to break down all this research and explain it to him. And it actually became a very famous job.” 

Grossman became Grazer’s “cultural attaché.”

 Brad Grossman.
Brad Grossman.

That relationship with Grazer, a topic of The New Yorker article “Beautiful Minds,” led Grossman to starting Zeitguide.

Part of sifting through the daily deluge of information includes separating fads from trends. Grossman only concerns himself with the bigger picture. For instance, the man bun? A fad, that Grossman isn’t concerned with. But the corresponding trend? The move to androgyny with the popularization of cultural touchstones such as the Amazon series “Transparent.”

Fads disguised as trends occur in all facets of society, Grossman said.

“I hope [Donald] Trump’s a fad,” he said. “But what does it mean? It shows there’s a large part of our country who are not happy. And they don’t like where the world has gone since the economic collapse. That’s the big movement. That’s not a fad, that’s the tectonic shift in things.”

Covering the zeitgeist becomes easier with practice, Grossman said.

“You start to see patterns,” he said. “Which is a really good way to stay on top of what’s going on. You have to make it a lifelong [commitment] to be curious.”


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