Mindful of Public Perception, Oscar Gift Suites Increase Charity Focus

Oscar gift and hospitality suites increased their focus on charitable giving�"easing public perception in the midst of a troubled economy, while giving back to the community or raising awareness.

By Alesandra Dubin February 20, 2009, 4:38 PM EST

Guests picked up drinks from an outdoor bar at the SLS Hotel at GBK's suite.

Photo: BizBash

It's not entirely a new thing for gift suites surrounding big award shows to align themselves with charities. But what's new this Oscar season in Los Angeles is the extent of the suites' focus on (and publicity about) their philanthropic connections—perhaps an effort to ease the perception of celebrity gluttony in the midst of the difficult economic times.

High above Beverly Hills at a private residence, Hachette Filipacchi Media's Haven suite setup began Wednesday and continues through today. By night, the venue is featuring a series of events from studio parties to fashion shows, and by day, the property features spa services like manicures and cellulite-reducing procedures, as well as product gifting. The Creative Coalition and Warren-Tricomi are joining forces with celebrities in attendance to tape public service announcements for the Creative Coalition's “It Starts with the Arts" campaign, a program supporting the arts that will appear in print and broadcast.

“We're so pleased to be a part of this, since Hachette Filipacchi has been a longtime partner,” said Robin Bronk, the New York-based executive director of the Creative Coalition. ”[With the PSA], we're using the platform of the entertainment industry and the spotlight of celebrity to promote social causes. It's a funny balance: We live in a society that is celebrity-obsessed, so we want to use that power to serve the common good. In this case, when a celebrity is being gifted, they're not just getting a great product—they're also supporting a company that's paying it forward by supporting arts causes.”

Melanie Segal claims that her “Be the Change” Oscar lounge, presented by Sensé Beautiful Science, was inspired by President Barack Obama’s service initiatives. Platinum Publicity is kicking off its “Year of Giving Back” with the lounge, which began yesterday and continues through today, where guests can pick up literature about a service program that pairs volunteers with projects in their area. Celebrities may also sign an autograph board, which they will have the opportunity to win for the charity of their choice. Donations collected at the door will be raffled off to a celebrity’s preferred charity, and guests may also regift their products back to charity as they leave the event.

Silver Spoon's suite at a private manse on February 18 and 19 benefited Chrysalis. “We are so grateful to be the beneficiary of a gifting suite for the first time,“ said Chrysalis special events manager Katherine Atkins. “We look forward to many future events." The group asked attendees for a $20 tax-deductible donation at the door, where they picked up Chrysalis-logo bags.

GBK—whose owner Gavin Keilly began integrating a charity tie-in with his suites programs three years ago—is hosting its fourth annual GBK Academy Award suite, dubbed “Circus of the Senses,” today and tomorrow at the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills. With design help from Freshwata, each room in the suite setup represents a film nominated for best picture, and the decor and drink in each space is tailored to match. SLS Hotel is providing hors d’oeuvres and sweets from chef José Andrés, including homemade bonbons topped with gold dust.

GBK will donate 20 percent of its proceeds in the name of all celebrities in attendance to the charities Fuqua Films Program, Homeless Not Toothless, Hollywood Dreamz, and the World Team Foundation. Each charity will score a GBK bag filled with more than $35,000 in goods and services with the idea that they may auction it to raise additional funds, and GBK will also give attending celebrities an opportunity to give back their goods to the charities of their choice, and will coordinate the delivery.

“I'm really glad that other gifting suites have followed in our tracks and have gotten more charities involved—the only thing I wish would happen more than hasn't happened is for them to give a percentage of their profits,” said Keilly. ”Others are just involving [the charities], giving them the opportunity to be there and talk about their cause, which is great.”

And what about the perception of all these freebies among the general public? “I don't think they really understand that at the end of the day, the vendor is really getting more out of it than the celebrity ever could,” Keilly said. ”[At GBK's suite], Milus is giving celebrities and presenters between an $8,000 and $18,000 watch, but they couldn't ever get one of these nominees to walk into their office and pose with this watch. Then they're able to use these [shots] in their marketing materials and their trade shows.”

Another case study: “RevitaLash did 10 events with us last year. [When the marketing team measured R.O.I., it estimated the brand] got $2.1 million of press from an investment of $60,000 [to be present at our events]. If companies can find creative ways to get advertising, then it makes a lot of sense.”

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