From the Oscars to the Grammy’s, Lash Fary of Distinctive Assets has done it all. Here’s his insights and some great advice on how to manage this promotional tactic with celebrities.
We’ve all heard the stories. The gift bags given out at the Oscars worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. The gift booths at celebrity events where brands hope to catch a quick photo or celebrity endorsement. As a part of a celebrity strategy this could be an engaging and high-profile tactic. But you have to manage your expectations and maximize your exposure through many of your own efforts.
The basics and best-practices
To find out more about the process of getting into gift bags and lounges, I interviewed celebrity gifting expert Lash Fary. He’s the founder of Distinctive Assets, a company that has specialized in connecting products and services with celebrities for more than 16 years. He is a dominant presence at the top award shows from the Oscars, to the Grammy’s, the MTV Movie Awards, the Emmy’s, Tony’s, BET Awards and the list goes on.
So what’s a gift bag?
One of the biggest questions many of us have is about the ubiquitous “Gift Bag” that celebrities receive, especially at the Oscars. Lash has an interesting take on that tactic:
“A gift bag isn’t really a bag. It’s usually a piece of luggage that’s easy to pack and roll away, or a steamer trunk. The products inside are either given directly to the talent, placed in their car or limo on their way home, or shipped to their home of the production company of wherever they want.”
The products or services in the gift bag or steamer trunk range from the actual products if they are compact, to gift certificates for trips, large items like mountain bikes or other types of products and services.
“In the case of the bicycles, Julianne Moore and Steve Carrell called to get their bikes right away after the Oscars. Clients get pretty immediate gratification in that regard. “
Welcome to the gift lounge
But there’s another celebrity gifting tactic that has greater potential. It’s called the “Gift Lounge.”
“A gift lounge, at least the way we do it at Distinctive Assets, happens onsite at the actual event. It’s a dedicated area where the companies are physically present at the event or occasion. They set up their table and display with their logo prominently displayed behind them and celebrities browse the area.”
A distinctive advantage of a gift lounge presence is the ability of the company representatives to interact with the client, potentially build a relationship, and in some instances get a photo of the celebrity interacting with the product. Lash was specific about the benefits of this level of brand presence.
“The celebrity can choose the design or the style, if it’s a word necklace, the exact word that they want, the length of necklace. If it’s sunglasses, they can choose the exact pair of sunglasses that they want. “
“There’s an interactive component. If the celebrity is willing, they take a picture either with the product on if it’s wearable, with the company representative in front of the signage. They pick a little press photo that the companies can then use in their websites, their social media channels, and those sorts of things.”
Cost of Getting In Celebrity Gift Bag and Lounge
While the gift lounge allows more significant interaction with a celebrity than a gift bag, you get what you pay for. Here’s some very general pricing for both gift bags and gift lounges.
“Another big difference between a gift bag and a gift lounge is the price point which is, for some companies, [that’s] the deciding factor. A gift bag can be as little as $500 and goes up to maybe $4,000. A gift lounge starts around $5,000. It can go up to $50,000 for a sponsorship level.”
“For the Grammys, to be in the gift bag is just $1,500. To be backstage in the gift lounge starts at $25,000. There are higher sponsor levels in terms of being the presenting sponsor or featured sponsor, but it starts at $25,000.”
“This will be our 14th year of doing the Oscar nominee gift bag and that starts at $4,000. Then again, there are higher sponsor tiers like presenting sponsor or featured sponsor and that sort of thing.”
Gift bag? Gift lounge? Is one better?
This cost does not include the cost of the products or services. It’s the cost for entry to the gift bag or lounge. Typically, the number of products or services that should be made available are identified specifically or within a narrow range. The costs associated with setup, delivery and booth display is also the responsibility of the client. That makes sense because they have both the staff, signage and ideas about how they want their product represented.
If Lash had to pick between a gift bag or gift lounge he was both clear and specific:
“There doesn’t tend to be as much focus on gift bag items as gift lounge items. For example, backstage at the Grammys, most of the press that comes through are focusing on the gift lounge items because it’s visual, they can come visit and hold the product.”
“The only exception to that is what we do for the Oscars. That gift bag last year was worth $180,000. Because of the price tag, there’s so much press coverage.”
“The items that tend to get the press coverage fall in a bunch of different categories: either they’re the most expensive in the bag or the least expensive or they’re the most shocking (however you define that word) or they’re interesting in some way or another, and then we have things that fall in all those categories.”
Official vs Unofficial Lounges
There are some questions with regards to official gift lounges and pop-ups in an un-official capacity. The benefit of an official lounge is not only exclusivity, but as a destination for celebrities. Unofficial lounges get less traffic and fewer A-list celebrities that can make a significant difference for a brand.
“The bottom line is if you ever have the opportunity to do the official gift lounge, it is always no question the better choice. You’ll never get better exposure in terms of access to talent if you’re an unofficial anything. Being official is always the best access and the best-case scenario.”
“If you can’t be part of an official lounge, of course, you do what you can afford. I’d say 9 out of 10 times, being a part of an unofficial event is not going to be worth any amount of money you spend.”
Measuring Gift Bags and Lounges
A big question any client or brand would ask is related to ROI. Is this tactic worth it and how do you measure success?
“In terms of the confirmation that clients get, it could be a number of different things. One, the celebrities will tweet about the product. Last year, the day after we delivered the Mother’s Day gift bag, Jennifer Love Hewitt tweeted out about some of her favorite products in the bag. Sometimes, the celebrities will just tweet about clients that they love on their own.”
Sometimes, they send thank-you notes after the fact. Because we’re handling the delivery and we have such an amazing track record of the talent getting the bag, there’s sort of that trust factor of knowing that we’re getting it exactly to folks.
Can I really measure success with this tactic?
Official lounges also guarantee exclusivity to a large degree. But measurement of results continues to be a significant question, especially with small businesses and entry-level brands. Lash put it this way:
“Did they get some nice press hits? Did they get some nice social media contact and content? Did they get some media introductions that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise? Did they meet some talent that they can now establish a relationship with?”
“Sometimes, if it’s a lounge, they network with other vendors who are there and create really interesting cross-promotions with them. There are so many positive things that that can come out of it.”
Does this really work?
Like any marketing tactic, results may vary. But persistence, perseverance and continuity prevail. Lash had a simpler take on the subject:
“If I buy a lottery ticket, you’re not guaranteed to win but you’re guaranteed not to win if you don’t buy one. You have to be in the game and put your stuff out there and poise yourself to have success.”
Good advice from the best in the business. If you choose this tactic for your brand just remember to manage your expectations, do your best to leverage your own PR and messaging, and stick with it. Over time, this tactic has emerged as a successful way to leverage celebrity endorsement and build future relationships with celebrities and brands.