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Harriet Weintraub: Maven of Elite Benefits

The celebrated planner talks about mixing nonprofit and corporate clients with style.

By Jane L. Levere February 15, 2006, 1:32 PM EST

Photo: Anna Persson for BiZBash

Harriet Weintraub, president of Harriet Weintraub Public Relations (HWPR), is the event planner of choice for a number of elite New York institutions--like the Whitney and Guggenheim museums--and her events are frequented by luminaries ranging from Bernard Arnault to Aerin Lauder Zinterhofer.

The secret of her success? Her hands-on attention to detail. As guests entered the Whitney's lobby for last year's fall gala, they found themselves surrounded by red velvet draping, facing a tableau of models dressed to fit the event's 40's-inspired “Club Whitney” theme. Meanwhile, Weintraub--then president of public relations agency Loving & Weintraub, before starting her new firm this year--was upstairs putting finishing touches on the dining area (all red velvet and zebra print, a la El Morocco), inspecting place cards and deciding at the last minute to kill the use of a smoke machine effect.

Weintraub is just as picky with her clients, working only with those she knows and socializes with. “Most of our clients are our friends,” explains Virginia Coleman, HWPR's director of special events.

Weintraub says she often tries to find “a nonprofit link to a profitsituation.” One example: When she planned the opening of the Brooks Brothers store on Fifth Avenue, Weintraub made the evening a benefit for Naked Angels, a hip theater group, to attract the younger customers the store was targeting. She also planned a small benefit for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center at the new Bruno Maglistore, another nonprofit-profit link. “It only works when there'ssomething for both sides,” she says. “You have to think, whatcorporation could benefit from an affiliation with the Whitney Museum,for example?”

Weintraub and her colleagues also keep a hand-crafted database of NewYork's movers and shakers, created from their social and professionalcontacts. Consisting of some 9,000 people from the New Yorkmetropolitan area, the database is divided into categories including a“young social” list of individuals aged 18 to 30, a celebrity list andseparate breakdowns of people interested in visual art, the performingarts, interior design, antiques, fashion and business. Weintraubupdates the database daily, adding names of people she and her staffread about or meet. The agency uses the database to draw up targetedguest lists for its events.

For a benefit, Weintraub--the former head of public relations and special events for the now-defunct Bonwit Tellerdepartment stores--oversees the selection of a chairperson, the pricingstructure, the invitation and the event's decor, food and music. Thenshe hires outside suppliers to execute her ideas. Among Weintraub'sfavorites? For flowers, Colin Cowie, Jerry Wilson, Robert Isabell, Bill Tansey and Avi Adler; for food, Glorious Food, Tentation, Taste and Robbins Wolfe; and for music, everyone from Peter Duchin and Mike Carney to Foxy Brown and the Ronsons.

Besides attending to all the details of an event, the agency alsohandles press coverage, something Weintraub says is relatively rareamong party planners. “That's the advantage we have over pure eventscompanies,” she says. “Most people do special events without publicity.But the client is happier when he can read about it.”

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