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Ted: Rules For Magazine Award Shows...

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By Ted Kruckel

Every season is award season for the magazine industry, and last week was no exception. People magazine called for Monday noon arrivals up the front steps of the New York Public Library for its Heroes Among Us awards. (There were grumblers, of course, but the room was full and as everyone knows it is the only day you can get the library.) The Women of the Year converged again for Glamour, at a new location this year. The In Touch awards weren't really awards as best as I can tell, but people showed up anyway. And finally W wisely avoided the word "awards" in its showcase of artists to benefit AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (Acria).

Both the Glamour and People events are long on sincerity, with heart-rending stories, tear-inducing videos, calls to action from our state of somnolence, and, of course, celebrity presenters.

It's what I call corporate church. You arrive on time, try not to squirm or sleep, pay attention and let the tales of achievement and woe wash away your jadedness. At the end, if it works, you leave promising something, either a donation or advertising (which can feel like a donation with some struggling publications).

At People's austere event (I should disclose that I used to help organize functions for the magazine), the library's Astor Hall provided just the right sense of shhh-and-pay-attention. The awardees were superb and deserving, so your commitment was rewarded, while the presenters were well-matched with their recipients. Liz Smith traded University of Texas Longhorn talk with her winner, a Texan teacher. John Stamos had the guy's guy, an aw-shucks type who organized an international effort to save a severely burned Iraqi girl.

My favorite was Alice Coles of Bayview, Virginia, a woman possessed of limited education and serious eloquence, who responded to a neighborhood eviction threat by organizing and buying the whole town. Here is when a winner and presenter melded perfectly, with the counterintuitive pairing of Coles and Bebe Neuwirth. Bebe takes these things seriously, and her diction and poise are both formal and involving. But the comedian in her is in the eyes, and her physical body language showed that her brief bonding with Alice was casual and sisterly. When Coles, who had never been to New York, worked a quote from Thoroughly Modern Millie, the show People had treated her to the night before, she and Neuwirth exchanged a wink. (Alice, my check is on the way, I promise, but feel free to nag.)

One People winner thanked the magazine and its parent company, Time Inc., for organizing the event, but then said—ungratefully, to this ear—"You need to do more." Whether or not you choose to edit your winners' political thoughts (obviously, People went the freedom-of-speech/open-mic way) is your choice, but don't you want to know what they're going to say? Which brings to mind:

Award Event Reminder #1: Demand to see recipients' planned remarks.

I didn't make Glamour's event this year, which I've attended numerous times before, but I watched carefully in the press for the results. Their formula is a lot like People's, with tons of production value thrown in. (Read more about the Glamour event...)

After several years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this year they moved to the American Museum of Natural History, which admittedly has a hard-to-beat rotunda. But for serious events, the choice of locale, the "co-branding" if you will, has to work on some gut level, I think, like People's choice of the library did. That doesn't mean it can't be a great event and achieve on all the levels described above. And sometimes the venue's attributes outweigh the rightness of choice, but remember that at least 60 percent of the invitees don't attend, so they think, "Glamour...whales...?"

This disconnect, combined with everywhere photos of a feather-capped Britney Spears (wasn't she Cosmo's honoree just a short while back?) next to Jessica Lynch inspired the next helpful hint.

Award Event Reminder #2: Ask recipients if they have ever posed topless, and if so, when they think pictures might be surfacing.

The prospect of going to the new nightclub Deep has loomed for weeks now. I am on the owners' list and a few invitations were of the "we paid for embossing on Lucite, please pay attention" variety. So the opportunity to "Celebrate the Stars of 2003...at the first annual In Touch Weekly awards...with Special Guest DJ Tommy Lee" presented via email was hard to resist (and hard to print). (It also got me wondering, did In Touch pick up the "weekly" non-necessary reminder that People dropped last year? And is the year-old magazine really ready to commit to "annual"? So many questions.)

This event was not aimed at me, methinks. The "Stars of 2003" theme, as best I can tell, was tied to a feature in the magazine that ranked the celebrities who "mattered most" in the current year, ranked in descending order-you know, a basic stock photo with a paragraph of info you would have to be dead not to know. Bennifer was third and Beyonce first, but they didn't show up. Tommy Lee was in the house, for what was really a love fest for media planners, with lots of free booze and food. Just no awards, which was fine by me.

Award Event Reminder #3: Have at least one winner in house. (But more would be better.)

But it was well done. Gyrating go-go boys and girls, including that ubiquitous near-naked cowboy, a kinetic video presentation and food professionally passed made up for the lack of content, I suppose. And the GSS Security team (doing double duty that night with the Dennis Basso opening) kept the washed and unwashed masses moving in and out.

I go to almost anything that Acria is involved with. It's a serious AIDS cause that has a glamorous front of artists, fashion types and magazine folk, but if you get its newsletter you know it is about serious funding of programs you don't know about but are glad someone is initiating.

But on first glance I thought this might be a loser. W sponsored this exhibit of artists who donated works for sale on behalf of advertiser David Yurman. The tinted, but stiff, invite (always pay attention to a stiffie) with a watch visual implied to this dum-dum that the artists had to paint a picture that made the client happy. Imagine how idiotic I felt when I asked contributor Ross Bleckner, "Did you have to paint a watch?" The answer was no. A classy, gimmick-free exhibit/sale of real art was proceeding, and I tried to get out of the way of the real money types.

All involved should be proud.

Other event notes from all over:

SOHO HOUSE: I was finally invited in, and my resentment of being the last-to-look has to be taken into account. But what is with those cut-glass lighting fixtures? And carpet runners? Finish it off with a sofa copy of my friend Antonio Da Motta's design and you get a B , at best, in my book. The screening room looked comfy.

TOO CROWDED: The Dennis Basso (he's a big fur guy) opening was a big draw, but the tension at the front of the house ruined it for me. Host Pamela Fiori, editor in chief of Town & Country, made up for it as best she could with her calming presence.

Posted 11.19.03

Columnist Ted Kruckel is an experienced and opinionated former event and PR pro who ran events for 20 years for high-profile clients like Vanity Fair, Elle Decor, Christian Dior and Carolina Herrera. He shuttered his firm, Ted Inc., earlier this year. You can email him at [email protected].

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