Is there a future for gifting suites?

Hollywood tradition struggles to attract big stars

Like the red carpet, gifting suites have become a staple of the awards-show experience. This year, with the Golden Globes and other events occurring in the midst of a severe economic downturn, they’re more in the spotlight than ever. With more suites competing for face time and fewer stars willing to attend, are they really useful — or even relevant? It depends on whom you ask.

“Slowly, each year, the suites are dying down and losing their appeal,” says Elissa Kravetz, founder of Kravetz PR. “I don’t want one of my brands to pay a hefty participation fee to be a part of a suite when there’s no guarantee of a return on their investment. There are more effective ways to raise brand awareness.”

Which is why Sabina Gault, director of publicity for RFPR, is advising her clients to avoid them. “Most have realized that gifting directly to the celebrity through personal contacts works much better,” she says. “Having a picture of a celebrity holding your product doesn’t always translate into real-life usage.”

And while some A-list people still make the rounds, it seems the majority of attendees these days are reality stars and D-list folk seeking face time.

Backstage Creations founder Karen Wood — who came up with the idea eight years ago in order to entice actors to attend awards-show rehearsals — says copycats have diluted the original concept. She notes that many of the new companies are not awards-show sanctioned.

Still, even reality stars and D-list folk make an impact on participating products. “Just because they’re not stars to New Yorkers and Angelinos doesn’t mean they’re not stars to Middle America,” says Gavin Keilly, CEO of GBK Prods., who counts Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Leonardo DiCaprio as attendees at his suites.

Yet Keilly’s suites aim mostly for participating clients offering products that cost between $100 and $300, making them easier on the general public’s pocketbooks. Wood, by contrast, focuses on top-dollar merchandise that attracts shoppers of a higher tax bracket.

“One of our clients at the Country Music Awards, McFadden Bags, said Reba McEntire called and ordered some, as did Trisha Yearwood,” Wood says. “When participants make those kinds of connections, they can then go to upscale stores like Neiman’s and get their line picked up. That’s the beauty of these suites.”

Which is why we shouldn’t expect to see them disappear anytime soon. Though Wood is unsure about doing a Globes suite, Keilly is making plans for January and the awards shows that follow.

“I definitely have my eye on the evolution of the suites,” says Keilly. “(We donate) 20% of our fee to charity while also seeking out unique vendors that celebrities will be interested in. They’ll always be around. After all, everyone loves free stuff.”