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Tuesday: Big biz crashes the bashes

Companies shell out to sponsor, host exclusive events

It started out as one night. Then it became a weekend. And now the whole week belongs to Oscar and parties celebrating Oscar — with corporations picking up a large share of the tab.

Advertisers on Sunday’s telecast have the clear-cut goal of exposing their brands to millions of viewers worldwide. But what about the companies who underwrite the week’s high-priced soirees attended only by the industry’s elite? Why do they pony up hundreds of thousands of dollars to sponsor or host these exclusive events?

“The obvious reason is it’s a chance for them to bring their clients to a great party (and) entertain them and to promote their corporate brand,” explains Ken Scherer, CEO of the Motion Picture & Television Fund Foundation, the non-profit behind the Night Before party. And since the money supports charity, “they get a sense of doing good.”

And while the sponsors are doing good, the MPTF is doing well itself: Sponsorship fees accounted for almost half of the $6 million raised at last year’s party.

While these events have a high pricetag, ICM’s Laurie Sale says “it’s actually an efficient use of ad budget dollars. When you look at how much it costs to create and run one TV spot, sponsoring a party isn’t so much.”

You get what you pay for, so depending on the amount of their contribution, sponsors receive varying degrees of publicity. Low-level sponsors might get a polite nod in press releases, while bigger donors get featured in magazine ads.

Some sponsors aim for even more exposure. As part of Elle’s sponsorship deal with the Independent Spirit Awards, the magazine was able to run a coming attractions trailer for an Elle-produced film at Film Independent’s voter screenings.

The goal of many sponsors, of course, is to have their brands share the spotlight with the Hollywood stars. They pay to have their names decorating the red carpet step-and-repeat logo wall that will be featured in celebrity photos around the world.

“The coverage of these events is huge, so these red carpet moments have lots of value,” said Sale.

But savvy CEOs realize the need for more than just pictures. They want to meet the celebrities and introduce them to their products.

This is one of the benefits of sponsoring the right party.

General Motors regional manager Susan Docherty said after being in Ten, the automaker’s annual fashion/auto show, “stars have called us and ordered cars that they saw on the runway.” When celebrities roll up in a GM ride, “it affirms in the public eye that the product is good.”

Scherer says an added benefit for Night Before sponsors is they’re treated to an exclusive dinner Friday and a pre-party sponsor-only reception Saturday. These private functions provide them with the chance to rub elbows in an intimate setting with influential players like Jeffrey Katzenberg.

The sponsors can also invite guests to the exclusive, star-studded Night Before party, a great way to impress clients. At the party, poolside cabanas are converted to sponsor areas where they can get their products into the hands of Hollywood tastemakers “and create relationships,” Scherer says.

At the ISA, Elle will host a backstage green room. “We can bring our advertisers into the green room as well as to our table at the ceremony,” says Elle marketing VP Barbara Friedmann. “It will be fun and memorable for them, and it helps them forge relationships with the talent.”

However, in these situations, fund-raiser organizer Judy Levy cautions CEOs to manage expectations. “No one can guarantee attendance at a party, or promise that a celebrity is going to take a picture with your product. It’s not a free commercial. If you want an endorsement, pay them.”

PR veteran Howard Bragman says a good way to look at the events is as “a great vacation for executives from the Midwest. … L.A. is warm and sunny. They get to come party with the stars and take home great stories.”

BIG WEEK BLOWOUTS

GM Ten
Where: Paramount Studios
When: 9 p.m.
Who: Saturns and stars, musical performance by Beck
Backstory: The theory: Match Detroit steel with L.A. glamour to sell more cars. Show Chevys and Cadillacs in a fashion-showlike venue where cars and celebs meld into one big ball of hipness.
At first, it’s a bit strange to see celebs followed down a fashion runway by cars (it resembles a benign form of Spielberg’s “Duel”), but it’s a worthy start to Oscar week. Surreal, but still worthy.

— Bill Higgins

Barack Obama fund-raiser
Where: Reception at Beverly Hilton, followed by private dinner at home of David Geffen for high-quantity ticket-sellers
When: 5:30 p.m.
Who: DreamWorks co-founders Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Geffen are the inviters.
Backstory: Among the hosts of the $2,300-per-head event, only Katzenberg has publicly endorsed Obama.

Faith & Values Gala
Where: Beverly Wilshire Hotel
When: 7 p.m.
Who: John Ratzenberger (“Cheers”) will host. Past attendees include Dakota Fanning, whose “Charlotte’s Web” (but not “Hounddog”) is nominated for top family movie.
Backstory: Self-described “ministry” Movieguide.org honors family-friendly fare.

— Jon Weisman

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