How Karen Wood Made a Business Out of Celebrity Gifting

By Published on .

Who: Karen Wood, president of Backstage Creations

Why you need to know her: Ms. Wood has taken product placement to a new level, having developed the concept of the gift retreat, held backstage at award shows and special events where celebrities are invited to receive gifts from brands, retailers and designers, and mingle with company representatives, as a thank you from event producers.
Karen Wood, president of Santa Monica, Calif.-based Backstage Creations


Credentials: Before founding Santa Monica, Calif.-based Backstage Creations in 2000, Ms. Wood served as a talent coordinator on award shows such as the Grammy’s, MTV Awards, Emmy Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Billboard Awards. Before that, the Pennsylvania native was a makeup artist working on mostly CD covers. She also worked for CNN’s Larry King Live.

Who are your clients? “We have all types of clients, from large corporate clients like Nokia, Guess, XM Satellite Radio, Sears and Sunbeam to smaller companies and cutting edge designers like Visconti, Romero Britto, Ziamond and R Line.”

You created the concept of the backstage celebrity retreat. What was the idea behind that? “I wish I could say I am a marketing genius, but really it happened as a fluke. As a talent coordinator, I needed to get celebrities to rehearsal on time and since there was so much downtime backstage, it made sense to have designers bring their eyewear and other goodies to showcase to the stars while they waited to rehearse. Once word spread that I had this exclusive backstage access, my phone rang off the hook with companies wanting to get their products into the top celebrities' hands. I added the media element and a new industry was born!”

What types of retreats have you set up and at what events? “We create retreats mainly at award shows like the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Billboard, Kids Choice and Teen Choice as well as at the Sundance Film Festival. We are the official gifting company at these events, so unless a producer asks us to be part of it we won't get involved. Every retreat is unique in that we try to build the decor element around the show theme. So for Teen Choice we have .sr design and Wall Kandy creating a young theme. At SAG we had Sliding Door Design and e bella create a sophisticated ambiance.”

What kind of value can that provide a brand beyond the traditional gift bag? “Gift bags are great but the retreat offers a personal interaction with the celebrities where our clients can get feedback from the stars and form a relationship with them and with the media we bring in to cover the retreat.”

Can you give examples of how brands benefited from being part of a retreat? “We've had stars walk from our retreat to the stage wearing or using products such as LG/Sprint cell phones, Stefano Ricci cufflinks, Fendi eyewear and Durango boots. Our retreat was on the actual broadcast of the Teen Choice Awards two years in a row, as well as the Billboard Awards. We introduced The Margarita King to E! Entertainment and he was invited to host the E! post-party coverage for both the Golden Globes and the Oscars. We also had Ludacris write our client Maurice Lacroix into a song after they formed a relationship in our retreat at the American Music Awards.”

Your retreats often feature multiple brands and products -- sometimes up to 10 companies. Is there ever a fear that one or more might be overshadowed by another? How do you guarantee a brand that won't happen? “There is no way to know in advance which celebrity is going to connect with which brand. It's an organic process as it's really all about chemistry and serendipity. I am often surprised at which brands get the most attention. We had Mr. Coffee become a huge hit at Sundance this year and they were competing with Siemens cell phones, Overland scarves and Michael Kors eyewear. While those products may seem sexier, Mr. Coffee held their own by showcasing a new design of a product that people use every day.”

How do you measure success? “Success to me is not about your bank account, it's about having respect and serving your clients in the best possible way.”

What are companies charged to be present at a retreat? “Our fees range from $1,000 to $5,000 for gift baskets and $8,000 to $12,000 for retreat placement.”

This type of product placement has evolved from the gift bag to the retreat. What might we see in the future? “Companies are getting more savvy about branding and I think it's really about getting your product out there in new and unique ways. We have some ideas in the works that are going to bring new ways for placement even beyond the celebrity realm. We will be launching some opportunities later in the fall so stay tuned.”

What types of products or brand categories work best at retreats? “Really anything that makes a great gift. We go beyond the typical jewelry, watches and apparel to services like dog sitting companies or auto detailing.”

What's on your TiVo? “I watch Entertainment Tonight and E! News religiously to see not only what's going on but if any of our clients made it on air!”

What do you do for fun? “I've been trying to get healthier so yoga and Pilates. I love to go to the movies every weekend. And travel is my passion.” She just returned from Mendocino County and has plans to visit Aspen in the fall.
Most Popular