Ad Track: Star wranglers are the secret behind hot parties

Whether it's a Super Bowl party for thousands or dinner for a few, a dash of star power can help make sure a marketer's event gets noticed.

A celebrity attendee — particularly on their own and not as paid endorsers — can help attract the desired crowd and, even better, result in photos that leverage event spending with free publicity, from blogs and tabloids to magazines, TV and newspapers.

The competition to get celebs to show up is fierce. Last year, marketers spent about $20 billion on nearly 900,000 events and parties, says David Adler, CEO of event marketing publishing company BizBash.

"For big marketing events, celebrities are really important, but the press world is so competitive," he says.

To corral stars, marketers increasingly are hiring specialists in so-called celebrity wrangling, such as Los Angeles companies The A List, headed by Ashlee Margolis; Feinstein/McGuiness public relations; and Flying Television in New York.

New Yorker Lori Levine started wrangling a decade ago and founded Flying Television, which had revenue of about $3 million last year. She saw opportunity when she was able to charge a PR firm a $1,200-a-month retainer for making phone calls as a side gig to her job as a talent booker for Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

"It felt like things were changing very quickly," says thirtysomething Levine as she sits in her office in Manhattan's trendy Flat Iron District. "The press kept asking what celebrities are going to be there. Within a few months the bulb became brighter and brighter, and I could see the revenue streaming in."

Says Levine, "As much money as you spend on these affairs, they only work if the celebrity quotient is there." What Levine offers brands is the access and persuasive skills to wrangle a star for their event.

"There's a lot of challenge and effort in dealing with celebrities," says Jane Mazur, director of media relations for Ogilvy, the PR unit of ad agency Ogilvy & Mather, which has used Levine's services for clients TV Guide and Gap shoe site Piperlime.com. "It's not just about agreeing to have them there. It's about matching the right celebrity to the marketing effort."

Unlike brokers, who hire celebs to appear, Levine's job is to wrangle a star for free — well mostly free. Celebs often demand such services as a driver or hair or makeup. Depending on the size of the event and number of stars, Levine's fee runs $15,000 to $25,000, plus expenses.

Levine's tools include knowledge of stars' interests, pet causes and projects they may be promoting. Such information fills a database 12,000 names deep, including stars, personal assistants and publicists.

Among tricks to successful wrangling:

•Make it work for the celeb. Besides delivering the celeb, Levine tries to deliver for them so they'll work with her again. Four years ago, BusinessWeek hosted a party at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and wanted "a politically minded, non-partisan celebrity who was also a business mogul," Levine says. The goal: a photo with American Express Chairman Ken Chenault and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"We focused on P. Diddy and told him about the event, and he loved the idea," Levine says. "The hardest part was coordinating the photo opportunity."

Diddy wanted to arrive just in time for the photo and at the same time as the mayor. "While making play-by-play calls to his office we made sure he pulled up at the exact moment that the mayor was walking up the stairs to the Met," she says. Moments later the photo was taken and Diddy's commitment was done.

•Don't forget the kids. In February, Levine helped wrangle Billy Baldwin, Jim Belushi, Abigail Breslin, Kate Beckinsale and Jenny Garth to Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, Calif., for a concert by the Jonas Brothers promoting Chevrolet's eco-friendly cars.

Added appeal to the green theme: The celebs' kids got VIP access to the hot young New Jersey singers.

"Celebrities have a vested interest in going to a party, but when their children are involved, everything changes," Levine says. "It didn't matter who had been nominated for an Oscar. It made the parents look like heroes for the day."

•Make it fun. Some products are harder to pitch than others. When Tampax wanted to host an event for its Pearl line, Levine came up with a night of free manicures, pedicures, massages and henna tattoos.

"I don't know that anyone was going to want to go to a tampon party," says Levine, who got Jamie-Lynn Sigler to attend. "It ended up being a really fun night."

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