Who you gonna call when you need to organize a press junket — or (far trickier) reschedule dates at the last minute because talent is suddenly unavailable? You go straight to Carol Watkins at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. Throughout Hollywood, she’s known as the Queen of Junkets.
Meet her in person, and it’s quickly apparent why Watkins royally deserves her title. She’s super-smart, super-nice, super-organized and super-serene. There’s no frantic texting and obsessive BlackBerrying as she surveys the day’s order of business. All is calm and surprisingly low-key in her kingdom, an attitude that’s evidently rubbed off on all her loyal staff (many of whom have been with the hotel since the early days) and permeated the entire operation.
Ever since the Connecticut-born, Sorbonne-educated marketing executive joined the hotel in 1986, Watkins has personally handled thousands of junkets and press days, juggled multiple bookings and impossible schedules, and dealt with special requests ranging from the mundane to the exotic — all with such grace under fire and military precision that the Pentagon could benefit from having her on its staff.
“It’s all I do — 24/7 — but when I first joined the hotel, we didn’t even do press junkets,” she recalls. “We catered to the big rock bands on tour — the Stones, the Who — and the junkets only began around 1989.”
But thanks to a lucky combination of factors — a lot of suites, a convenient central location and an enthusiastic management and staff — the Four Seasons quickly became the hotel of choice for the business.
“Our very first recorded junket was ‘Ghost’ for Paramount, and to date we’ve done over 2,000 junkets,” she says. “It just evolved over the years. We began with about 800 room nights a year on junkets — very small, as the average one alone now is about 150 room nights. And it grew quickly, because our upper floors have lots of suites, which you need for talent, hospitality, taping, control rooms, tape check, hair and makeup and so on. All that requires a lot of space, so if you’re a hotel with just a lot of regular rooms, it’s no good.”
Happily, the Four Seasons was blessed with the right floor plan — and no other competition when it started doing junkets.
“We were the only game in town and we also wanted weekend business — which is what press junkets are. We’re primarily a corporate entertainment hotel catering to studio, advertising and TV clients, and we’ve always been very busy in the week, but weekends were slow as we’re not a resort. So press junkets were the perfect solution.”
Now, of course, press junkets are big business, and over the years, various other hotels in town have tried to muscle into the lucrative market. But Watkins and her team still reign supreme because of several key factors that appear not to be easily duplicated, beside the space needs: You need an attentive and enthusiastic staff, and a commitment to service and detail that “is crucial,” she emphasizes. “And now technology has become a key element, with the need to be able to broadcast instantly anywhere in the world.”
By the end of its current $33 million renovation and upgrade, the hotel will be “the most connected hotel in the world,” she claims. “We’ve put in over 200,000 feet of fiber optics, so we’ve once again upped the ante.”
Above all, Watkins knows how to be discreet and protect her most demanding, temperamental clients and their star charges: When asked about the “exotic” requests of celebs, she offers no names.