By Chad Kaydo Posted April 30, 2012, 5:39 PM EDT
The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner lured new marketers to Washington’s biggest annual party weekend, which wrapped Sunday. Google and The Hollywood Reporter joined established hosts MSNBC, Bloomberg, and Vanity Fair in the race to lure guests from the worlds of politics, media, and entertainment to the related parties.
The centerpiece of the weekend, Saturday’s dinner for more than 2,600 inside the Washington Hilton, was the focus of national media attention. Jimmy Kimmel hosted and President Obama did a generally well-received comedy bit, with both men joking about Mitt Romney, attendee Kim Kardashian, and the Secret Service and General Services Administration scandals. (Obama: “I mean, look at this party. We've got men in tuxes, women in gowns, fine wine, first-class entertainment. I was just relieved to learn this was not a G.S.A. conference.")
But it was the pre- and post-parties that got people in Washington talking. Google drew considerable attention by hosting a crowded party with The Hollywood Reporter Friday night at the W hotel. The tech giant seemed to provide the buzz (and installations from New York-based MKG embedded with video screens), and the magazine reached out to celebrity attendees like Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet of Modern Family.
“People call this the Oscars of D.C.,” said Alexandra More, The Hollywood Reporter’s L.A.-based director of integrated marketing and events, “so it seemed like a place we should be.”
On the same night, The New Yorker held its third annual party in the hotel’s rooftop bar, with a raw bar stocked with oysters, giant shrimp, and lobster tails, and a slider bar serving mini burgers, lobster rolls, and Reuben sandwiches.
Google’s food was limited to lighter fare friendly to congressional ethics guidelines that forbid plated meals. Mariam Karim, the W’s director of catering and conference services, said, “This year is definitely more exciting because it’s an election year.”
Among the other new entries on Friday were a party hosted by National Public Radio at the Gibson Guitar Showroom and a party and panel discussion hosted by Voto Latino at the Hay-Adams. Time and People returned to the St. Regis for their party the same night.
“The interest in the dinner is stronger this year than any year since I’ve been going,” said Elizabeth Baker Keffer, president of Atlantic Live, the event division of Atlantic Media. She noticed more C.E.O.s on guest lists. “People have realized this is the signature social event of Washington.”
The company’s titles hosted a slate of programming: trivia night on Thursday, dinner at owner David Bradley’s home Friday, the First Amendment party later that night (co-hosted with Funny or Die and Impact Arts & Film Fund), and one of the more decked-out receptions at the Hilton Saturday night before the dinner.
“We want to have a big footprint for our own visibility and branding,” Keffer said on Friday, standing next to a Cadillac parked in front of Bradley’s house. Those activities incorporated eight sponsors, up from two or three in past years.
This was the second year as a sponsor for Siemens Corporation. Chief marketing officer Thomas Haas said the company spent about the same amount of money, but brought twice as many people—17, including spouses—this go-round. “It’s a good way for us to make connections in government, business, and media,” Haas said.
Standing out in a weekend with so many parties is largely about inviting big-name guests. But the hosts also put an increased focus on food and decor. “Everyone wants to be the best party,” said Eric Michael, owner and creative director of Occasions Caterers, which has worked on MSNBC’s post-dinner bash for three years.
Produced by Dufour and Company Productions and generally considered the most fun after-party, MSNBC’s bash at the Italian Embassy had the vibe of a big family wedding reception, with a dance floor peopled by politicos and TV hosts, and a bar staffed by Rachel Maddow. (Watching Valerie Jarrett wave her hand in the air to a Justin Timberlake song is not unlike watching a happy mother of the bride.)
Occasions served a procession of nontraditional bites, based on “the notion of a steakhouse as passed hors d’oeuvres,” Michael said, including creamed spinach made over as a fritter. As the dancing to DJ Funkmaster Flex went past 3 a.m., breakfast bites came out, including Egg McMuffin-style sandwiches and pieces of bacon hanging from mini hooks.
Other innovative breakfast options included tiny blueberry pies on sticks at Tammy Haddad’s garden brunch on Saturday, and a station with made-to-order steak and eggs at the Politico brunch on Sunday, both catered by Design Cuisine. The Source by Wolfgang Puck shared food duties on Sunday.
“Each event has to be very different,” said Bill Homan, owner of Design Cuisine, who also worked on the Vanity Fair/Bloomberg party at the French ambassador’s residence Saturday night, which had the most famous faces and the tightest list of the weekend. “People can’t walk in and see the same thing.”