Brent Bolthouse on Big Budgets, Smaller Parties, and Keeping Young Hollywood Entertained

By Shilpa Gopinath May 28, 2009, 2:33 PM EDT

Brent Bolthouse recently joined forces with Vox Entertainment and Wolfgang Puck.

Photo: Randall Slavin

Brent Bolthouse has been an established name on the Los Angeles nightlife scene for years, with his own production company and its roster of corporate clients including Dior, Target, Maxim, Prada, and HBO. After a series of partnerships brokered in the past year, he now runs events as the head of full-service production company Bolthouse Vox Events, the product of relationships with some of the leading names in the L.A. event industry. Bolthouse merged his firm with Vox Entertainment and SBE, and the new company has an exclusive catering contract with Wolfgang Puck. Bolthouse took some time to speak with us about the strategies behind the alliances.

Bolthouse will also speak at the BizBash Expo June 11 at the L.A. Mart in Los Angeles. Information about the show is here.

Why did you decide to join forces with Vox Entertainment, SBE, and Wolfgang Puck?
Last year we started exploring possibilities to expand our event business and talked with Vox. They were always a nuts-and-bolts production house, and we were always on the entertainment side. We had a core warehouse of furniture, and they had [elements like] lights and barricades. Just looking at the economic climate, we decided it’s smart for us to pool our resources and create a joint venture to really strengthen our position in the marketplace. Our companies complemented each other.

Wolfgang Puck is the best caterer in the country. This year, in the spring, we all thought how great it would be to have a partnership with them as well. We wanted to take all of our resources and give that value to our customers.

What do the partnerships with Vox, SBE, and Puck mean for your clients?
We can be more flexible with our pricing on a case-by-case basis. It’s all things that we own now, between both warehouses and Wolfgang Puck. We have a big pool of things that we own, and we can pass those things along to our clients, along with the quality. For our clients, I don’t think they’ve noticed any [major changes]—just back-of-the-office stuff that can be expected with any merger.

Any other plans for new partnerships this year?
Not anything on the books.

What was the rationale behind the splashy SLS Hotel launch—for 1,000 black-tie-clad guests—during the recession?
It was the biggest hotel opening in Los Angeles in quite some time. The vision was supposed to be a black-tie event that felt old Hollywood. We really wanted to showcase the entire property—the pool, the rooms, the banquet space, restaurant spaces. If you’ve seen SLS, it’s very eclectic. Philippe Starck’s mission for our hotel was absolutely amazing. We just wanted to complement his vision with that event that evening.

That Dom Perignon-filled party would seem to suggest the economy didn't affect your decisions.
We had an agreement with Dom and they were one of our sponsors. The budgets had been put in place years prior to the opening of the hotel, way before the recession hit. We just stuck to the plan, we didn't waver. It was like a five-year project. All the way along we knew what we were going to do.

The recession is affecting all of us. I think we work harder to make the same dollar. The beginning of the year was definitely challenging—we had some events cancel last minute. It seems to feel like right now things are starting to loosen up. People are talking about having more parties. It’s starting to feel like maybe we are inching out of this recession—I hope.

What have you seen the recession do to the local event landscape?
We've had industry clients cancel award show parties because of the climate and thinking maybe it wasn't appropriate—that has definitely been a conversation. Everything's under scrutiny, and I don't think anyone's [failing to] think twice about, hey, if we're spending a few hundred thousand dollars, it better be well spent and our return on or investment [must be solid].

So you're seeing people measuring that R.O.I. more than ever?
It's media impressions [that matter to many clients], and we know they're measuring and we want to make sure the return is great and we get to do another party—like the one we did for T-Mobile at Coachella this year. I fought for years to do a party at Coachella. We're all conscious of what needs to be achieved.

What's a place people are willing to cut to save money, and where are they most reluctant to let go?
The first place people look at is the sheer number of people in attendance. People are saying, “We want to go a little smaller." I went to a movie premiere the other night and they didn't really have an after-party, but the filmmakers and some of the stars went to a hotel bar and had a little bit of a celebration. We're seeing that more and more. People are probably most reluctant to part with the open bar.

What do you see as important event trends right now?
We try not to steer people in the direction of trends, because we want to be trendsetters. I think you find trends in, say, weddings, where you see everyone wants this fabric, or this lining. Where I am seeing a trend is a lot of interaction: People like photo booths. They like games—something else going on. We did a barber shop at an event and everyone was lining up to get their hair done. People also want some sort of entertainment—at least in the young Hollywood events that we do. Everyone's so insatiable in Hollywood.

You do some work in other cities as well as L.A. What makes L.A. different?
L.A. is the heart of the entertainment world. Whenever we do an event, it’s usually a celebrity-driven project. In other cities, it’s more about catering to socialites.

What's on the horizon?
Specifically, we’re doing some work with Target for E3 [Electronic Entertainment Expo]. We’re doing the music [for an event] for Nylon magazine with the Ting Tings. We’re going to be doing something for French Connection, a summer pool party, and a Rock & Republic store opening. Apart from financial goals, I want to get the company into a big creative space, a new warehouse space to get us all under one roof.

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