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For Oscar Party Vendors, a Paycheck Is Just One of the Payoffs

Vanity Fair's annual viewing party is among Oscar week's hottest tickets.

Photo: Christopher Polk/VF11/WireImage.com

It's hardly a stretch to say that Oscar parties in Los Angeles are among the world's most high-profile, glittering bashes. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're among the most expensive parties. Asked about the cost of Vanity Fair's annual, A-list soiree, editor Graydon Carter told Bloomberg, “Not as much as it looks.” That's in part because vendors may be willing to get on board at a discount for hosts who know they're dealing with hot commodities.

For vendors, working on the season's biggest events can mean calculated cost cutting in the interest of a variety of other benefits. The companies that work on the lavish affairs say they do take home a profit, but the array of other bonuses is what makes the projects worthwhile. Beyond revenue, vendors describe a faceted combination of motivations including marketing value, relationship building with clients and other vendors, name recognition, and—of course—the reflected glory of the Academy Awards themselves.

For the 19th year, Mark Held of Mark’s Garden will do the flowers for the Governors Ball following the Academy Awards ceremony February 26. He said the association with the town’s highest-profile projects is important. “When you're in Los Angeles, you want to do the big events that everybody's talking about, the important events,” he said. “There’s nothing bigger than the Oscars, so, of course, we want to be a part of it.”

While he wouldn’t discuss profit margins for this event versus other jobs, Held said he’s not losing money on the project. Further, he said, he’s glad for the creative stretch such an annual opportunity provides. “When you’re a creative person, you want these new challenges. The Governors Ball has a different look every year, and that’s fun for us.”

Magnolia, which will provide cupcakes for the Vanity Fair party, describes the donation of goods as a brand-building mission. The company is included in the party’s press materials, does some of its own marketing around the event, and uses the association as a talking point. “It's a marvelous and fun opportunity for brand building,” said owner and C.E.O. Steve Abrams. “We are more than happy to donate products to this event and to participate in the excitement of the Oscars.”

About Town Public Relations president Lisa Summers, who is working on two Oscar events this year, said, “It’s a bit of both [profit making and glory]. For the vendor, you hope to drive sales and make some profit. You also hope that the PR team involved gets it and promotes the product so the vendor also gets the glory.” But she said it doesn’t always pan out that way, even for high-profile projects: “I recently worked an event with Rom Toulon, a three-Michelin-star sommelier who supplied a high-end red and white wine from a boutique winery in Napa. The bottles retailed for $150 each. The event host received $20,000 in free wine and promised PR but dropped the ball, didn't do outreach, and, therefore, the winery lost the profit and glory, but the host got the rewards.”

Trace Goodman, whose company Goodman Audio handles the sound for both the Governors Ball and Elton John’s benefit, said he doesn’t do any work just for the portfolio boost—and these events are no exception. However, he’s among the vendors who describe putting in more time—both labor and a commitment of gear over a long period—than they might otherwise. Events like the Governors Ball, for instance, require weeks.

“It's nice to have the name recognition that goes along with it, but I charge for what it is. For the Governors Ball, my margins are about the same as on any other job I do. For Elton John, it's a little more discounted, because of the longstanding relationship and because [it is a] fund-raiser. [However] I definitely give these jobs much more attention to detail than most jobs. It does demand a lot of time that sometimes it's hard to charge for, because it's really intense work, and so many things change.”

Virgina Fout of V Productions, who produces the big Elton John AIDS Foundation fund-raising viewing dinner, added, “For any vendor to have an event that has [this] much prestige is important for anybody. From a profit standpoint, vendors don't make more than they do on any other event. Nobody's losing money on it, but they're not making as much of a margin as they [might for another event].”

She further described a working situation based on relationships. “I have vendors calling me all year wanting to get in, [but] I'm very loyal to all my vendors if they're loyal to me and if they're good. Everyone tries to be fair and give us discounts where they can. Some vendors try to keep their prices constant just to be kind, even though I know their costs have gone up.”

Essence event marketing director Candace Purdie Montgomery, who works on the magazine's annual A-list “Black Women in Hollywood” luncheon, sees the other side, too—that it’s a premium time of year for vendors who might be inclined to mark up their prices—but that it’s the relationships that keep the harmony during the big week. “I think during Oscar time, people are looking to get more from you. You're dealing with a finite amount of vendors, and [they’re in] high demand, so it's an opportunity. They know that you need them. I look at it in terms of, ‘We are a returning client, returning program, is there a discount you can apply?’”