Swag bags the spotlight

Celebs ready for Emmys Gift lounges

Despite this week’s Dow drops and economic frets, the rich can get richer this week thanks to the revved-up world of swag.

The buildup to Sunday’s Emmy Awards includes the usual “gifting lounges,” most of which open their doors on Friday and run through the weekend. But swag mavens say the energy is especially high among marketers who canceled their Golden Globe- and Oscar-related lounges earlier this year amid the strike-disrupted awards season.

“People are starving for these awards shows to start,” said Nathalie Dubois, whose DPA marketing company is doing a gifting lounge at the Four Seasons hotel. “The RSVPs from nominees are phenomenal this year — more than I’ve seen for any event.”

But this year’s RSVPs prove that the phenomenon is slowly evolving: As in the past few years, celebs and industryites are getting plenty of free stuff, but the emphasis is on philanthropy rather than greed.

While the Oscars and Golden Globes tend to draw more high-profile stars, the Emmys have long been a favorite event of swag distributors because there are so many more nominees to shower with stuff.

“For gift lounges, the Emmys are always one of the more successful events,” said Brit Johnson of Media Placement, which produces the HBO Luxury Lounge. “There’s more access to talent here. With the Oscars you’re talking 10 actors.”

Of late there’s been a big push to add a charitable component to all this largesse. Philanthropy is one way of making gifting lounges more acceptable to celebrities. Part of this trend is the result of the IRS decision a few years ago that kudos swag will be considered taxable income — but not taxable if the swag is given to charity.

Everyone likes freebies, but amid an ailing economy, even the most pampered stars may feel a twinge of guilt that they’re being rewarded for doing nothing but being famous.

The concept works this way: The swag-givers set up a booth in a lounge; celebs pass by, and if they’re interested, they get a gift and are usually photographed receiving it. The photo goes on the product’s website and in trade publications. If the gift receiver walks away with something worth more than $600, then a 1099 form has to be completed on the spot and the swag reported to the IRS.

Also in the lounge are charitable orgs with booths. This gives the swag-laden celeb the opportunity to learn about the charity and donate a portion of their loot (often with an autograph), which the org can then auction on eBay.

“So some of the swag that would otherwise go to the maid now goes to the charity,” said Howard Bragman, who’s doing PR for GBK gifting lounges.

It’s hard to put an exact dollar figure on the value of all the free stuff that changes hands in the days leading up to big awards events. But one company, the Kari Feinstein Style Lounge, held at a private estate in BevHills, declared in a recent press release that “the estimated retail value of gifts for an A-list attendee is more than $7,500.” (A-list in this case would be defined as an Emmy nominee or a presenter.)

Besides charities, there are also suites in a lounge that are more about lending than giving.

“Sometimes in the suite scenarios there may be a jeweler, and the item will be a loan to wear down the red carpet,” said Karine Joret, prexy of HL Group marketing, which reps various luxury brands. “The majority of the giveaways are from emerging or new products introductions.”

In addition to the Four Seasons, venues hosting lounges include the Luxe, Renaissance and Sofitel hotels, plus the Harry Warner estate. Arguably the best location is the Emmy venue itself, where there’s a gifting lounge beneath the stage at the Nokia Theater.

“These other lounges are just hoping a celebrity shows up,” said Emmycast producer Ron Basile, who notes that those lounges sell space to vendors for anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 and then try to spread the word through celeb PR reps and others.

“The nominees and presenters are already coming to us,” Basile boasted. “In our room we’re not letting in any of the lower-end items. I don’t want the lotions; I don’t want the chocolate roses. I don’t want all the fluff stuff. I want the talent to walk away with something that’s substantial,” said Basile.

The “substantial” booty available at the Emmy-site lounge includes the new Palm Centro “smartphone,” items from D’Annunzio Fine Jewelry, Aquaswiss watches, an unlimited one-year pass to AMC theaters, a yearlong membership at Crunch Fitness and Koolaburra sheepskin boots for women.

And so if Sunday night doesn’t include a trip up onstage for Emmy-goers, they can console themselves with a few luxury goodies to be found just underneath the winner’s spotlight.