PR Week

Celebrity Gift Retreat proves that the best things in life are still free

For the uninitiated, swag is the industry term for free stuff — namely those lavish gifts bags celebrities receive when attending award shows. In Tinseltown, stars are not content with critical accolades and mass adoration. Only one hand is required to pat yourself on the back, leaving the other conveniently free to hold gifts, thank you very much.

The value of swag bags has become ridiculous some to the tune of $10,000 or more, Each! But now even that’s pass√©. The new trend, the gift du jour, is something called Celebrity Gift Retreat, a veritable backstage shopping boutique where celebs can browse the wares of exclusive retailers and take what they want. For free, of course.

Designed by Karen Wood, a former talent coordinator, Celebrity Gift Retreat has set up shop at most of the major awards shows this past year, and was most conspicuous at the People’s Choice. The Retreat tent was modeled after the lobby of LA’s swank W Hotel, replete with comfy sofas and chairs. Wood gave me a brief tour of the tent, which was humming with activity. Nine companies were represented, including an upscale watchmaker. Wow, watches! (My old Timex ain’t what it used to be. It thinks it’s currently October.) There were also cell phones, hair and nutrition items, jewelry, and some candles made of soy.

“The Gift-Retreat works as a two-way marketing vehicle,” Wood explains eyeing me carefully as my own peepers locked in a little too closely on an expensive watch. “It gives corporations a wonderful way to reach potential celebrity clientele, and, in turn, offers celebrities a personalized, relaxed backstage shopping environment where they can speak directly with retailers and learn about their products.”

Indeed, some products are presented to celebrities before they’re even available on the marketplace. Such as that watch.

Why is celebrity marketing so critical? Because the public mimics trends set by the rich and famous. A recent newspaper article said New York City bars were selling Patron tequila with beer chasers like they were going out of style. That’s because they were suddenly in style, thanks to Tom Cruise ordering that exact set up in Vanilla Sky. Drink like Tom Cruise and maybe wake up feeling more like Robert Downey, Jr. Besides, anyone who chases exquisite tequila with beer deserves to be sent to the corner with cheap Ripple and a 40-ounce Pabst.

Before and after the show, I wander in and out of the gift tent, watching a string of celebs fill their bags with cool stuff. Then suddenly my 17-year-old Timex indicates it’s December, so I head off to Target to do a bit of Christmas shopping. Story by Lawrence Mitchell Garrison