Why you need to know him: A major player in the business of celebrity seeding and the seeding of products to talent, Mr. Johnson's Los Angeles company, which trademarked the term "luxury lounge," produces the HBO Luxury Lounge around the Primetime Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards, and events for the Academy Awards, and Toronto and Sundance film festivals. Last year, it created the William Morris Agency's first WMA Lodge at Sundance.
|Britt Johnson: 'I realized that if you don't have a celebrity attached to your brand, the media doesn't come out and cover it.'
Credentials: Mr. Johnson founded Mediaplacement in 1998. Before that, he worked as the head of public relations for Gendarme fragrance. He also produced events with PR firm Bragman Nyman Cafarelli for Johnny Walker, Moet and Gendarme.
What does your company do? "We originally started out as a product-placement company and did PR in support of that. Now we also do celebrity seeding and event production. We try to create programs for corporate clients in the world of entertainment. That includes product placement in a film or television show, or incidental placement where you see someone like Brad Pitt wearing Ray-Ban sunglasses. There are also product placements where the brand's integrated into the storyline, like Neutrogena in 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy' in a segment talking about how to cleanse your face or use sun block. In the world of celebrity seeding, it's all about creating relationships."
Who are your clients? "Neutrogena, Prada Beauty, Mac, Seven Jeans, Boiron, Gendarme, Safilo Eyewear, Hearts on Fire diamonds, Amalite gemstones, among others. We have over 200 clients that we've worked with over the years." Other brands include Levis, Cadillac, Brite Smile, Kenneth Cole, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, Rescue Hand and Foot Spa, L'Oreal Paris, Mystic Tan and Smartwater.
What types of branded-entertainment events have you recently produced? "We produce the HBO Luxury Lounge around the Emmys and Golden Globes. We started collaborating with HBO to create the event in 2003. We do the Toronto International Film Festival on our own and the Sundance Film Festival and Academy Awards."
The HBO Luxury Lounge was featured in "The Sopranos" in April, in an episode called "Luxury Lounge." That's a big coup. How did that come about? "It happened because we host a lot of the HBO talent. When we reach out to talent it's not just the nominees, it's also the writers and producers of all the HBO shows. The writers thought it would be hysterical if the characters stumbled onto the Luxury Lounge."
HBO is adamant that it doesn't accept money from marketers for product placement in its shows. "They still don't take money for product placement. And they don't get any money to produce [the HBO Luxury Lounge]. They're just one of the sponsors. It's kind of a nice thing for them to do. Instead of giving a gift basket it's a fun way to blend brands with celebrities."
How many brands do you typically have on hand at each event? "Anywhere from eight [to] 14."
How do you measure success? "If it's product placement, we measure it by the amount of airtime, coverage and ratings a program receives in terms of the number of viewers, just as you would with advertising. Measuring success from celebrity seeding is getting easier than it used to be. Brands keep track of sales and report back."
Do you have examples? "You've got brands like Parasuco, which got its Rock Me Baby line of jeans to Nicollete Sheridan ["Desperate Housewives"]. Not only did she wear them on Conan O'Brien, she pointed out that the name is also the title of [fiance] Michael Bolton's new CD. They were sold out within the next six months. For other brands, 80% of the celebs who showed up at launch parties were based on the relationships they made at the Luxury Lounge. We fit Brad Pitt with a pair of Burberry shield sunglasses at our Sundance event a few years ago that he decided to wear on the red carpet at the Golden Globes. Everyone wanted to know what those sunglasses were, including People magazine. Subsequently, the brand sold out every order for the next two years."
What are some items that have proved particularly popular with celebrities? "The jeans are always really popular. Sunglasses are always another huge draw."
What do brands want? "It's kinda gone a little crazy. Initially, it was about creating relationships with celebrities. It wasn't about bombarding them with these $40,000 gift baskets. It was about getting them excited about the brand and emotionally attached. It's important to have a brand like Neutrogena on site to find out what celebrities are using on a regular basis. When the big beauty story comes out, [the brand is] able to communicate the fashion trends. That's a better story than who got what for free. Many of the brands we have worked with have made contacts with the top film or television contacts through our outreach. These contacts have provided many benefits, including product integration into the film or program. When we helped 'The Sopranos' create the 'Luxury Lounge' episode, many of the actual brands from past events were prominently featured. Brands have been featured on countless shows including 'Entourage,' 'Will & Grace,' 'Desperate Housewives' and more."
Why did you get into this business? "I was working with Gendarme. It was a great fragrance, but reporters wanted to know which celebrities were using it. It was around when In Style started that I started doing the PR for [Gendarme]. That's when it started to peak in terms of celebrities and brands. I realized that if you don't have a celebrity attached to your brand, the media doesn't come out and cover it."
There are so many people hosting luxury lounges, gift suites or retreats, whatever you want to call them now. "I see 'luxury lounge' used everywhere, so we trademarked the term. It's kinda become like how tissue paper has become Kleenex. There are a lot of people I really respect and think are doing a good job. If you have success with something, you'll have an influx of people copycatting or trying to get involved with it who don't have the right background. This is a pretty big undertaking. It takes us six months to produce each event. It's so much work. A lot of planning."
Will the IRS stepping in and taxing gift bags really affect anything? "It definitely does. The IRS is just saying that it's the same for celebrities as it is for noncelebrities. If you get gifts, you have to consider it taxable income. Most celebrities know this. They know anything they get they should consider it taxable. But we don't give away $40,000 worth of gifts."
Yeah, there's this image that celebrities going to a luxury lounge like yours will leave with $100,000 or more worth of freebies. "Unfortunately, in the media, that's what's always covered. One of the things that's perpetuated is overestimation. If you have a gift lounge, especially if you're up-and-coming, it's hard to get your name in ink if you don't have an extra-big price tag attached to it. Celebs might get a couple thousand dollars worth of goods, but they're very rarely huge ticket. We're talking sunglasses, jeans and jewelry pieces that are for loan out. We've done programs where we've reached out to a celebrity's charity. Having a brand like Neutrogena that you can call on if you're doing a charity function is really valuable. We've tried to encourage more of that."
What's on your iPod? "I've been listening to Dave Matthews, the White Stripes and the newest edition of Panic at the Disco."
What's on your TiVo? "A lot of sports. 'Entourage,' Dane Cook. Football [he's partial to the Pittsburgh Steelers], baseball [Los Angeles Dodgers]."
What do you do on your downtime? "There's no such thing. I'm pretty simple. I spend time with my wife and take the dog to the park. Go to a Dodger game once in a while."