‘Attorney to the stars’ on the rise of celebrity booze deals and resurgence of drive-in movie theaters
Asked why there is a recent wave of celebrity alcohol deals, Larry Waks has a simple answer: Follow the money.
The Miami-born, Texas-based lawyer has crafted a niche representing stars looking to break into booze, and then helping them cash out. His crowning achievement is helping to broker the $1 billion sale of George Clooney-backed tequila brand Casamigos to Diageo in 2017.
Waks calls it the “ultimate happy liquidity event,” adding that the deal “really kick-started the market and the interest of various different celebrities of all sorts, whether in film, television sports, etc., in hopping on that bandwagon.”
Waks—a partner with Foley & Lardner LLP, where he is known internally as “attorney to the stars”—discusses celebrity booze trends on the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Marketer’s Brief” podcast. Since the Clooney-Diageo hookup, other celebs have struck eye-catching deals with alcohol giants, including Ryan Reynolds-backed Aviation Gin and its parent company Davos Brands selling to Diageo last year for $660 million, and Travis Scott signing on to help Anheuser-Busch InBev create a new seltzer brand called Cacti.
Waks says he met Clooney a couple times before assisting with the deal, including at an industry event in which he shared a table with the actor and the powerful Creative Artists Agency. He says the Casamigos investors hired him because he had experience in the distilled spirits industry, as well as with with mergers and acquisitions—and he also spoke Spanish, which is helpful when it comes to involvement with the Mexican-made brand. “It kind of was an aggregation of a few niches of what I do and who I am,” says Waks, who grew up in a Cuban neighborhood in Miami.
Interest in celebrities from major companies often comes out of a desire to be seen as hipper or younger—a benefit that extends across their portfolios, according to Waks, who says he represented Scott in his deal with AB InBev. Celebrities, meanwhile, are creating alcohol brands in part to fill their time during the pandemic, as film shoots and other pursuits get sidetracked or delayed. “With so many traditional opportunities foreclosed because of the pandemic, more and more [celebrities] are looking for other both revenue outlets and creative outlets,” he says.
(AB InBev has referred to Scott as “co-creator, co-owner, partner,” with involvement in everything from the Cacti recipe to its branding, which features agave imagery with a cosmic ethos.)
Waks predicts the next big growth area for celebrity booze deals is with organic spirits. He also says there is room for growth in the rum and gin categories. Asked if the celebrity tequila and vodka space is saturated, he says, “I think there is room for more … if they are very, very, very, very popular, well-known, zeitgeist celebrities.”
On the podcast, Waks also discusses one of his other niches—brokering deals to bring original filmed music performances to drive-in theater venues during the pandemic as a replacement for live music concerts. He worked on a series called “Encore Drive-In Nights,” which featured showings of performances from acts including Metallica and Blake Shelton.
“It’s a throwback, it’s a retro thing. It created an audience for drive-in movies that didn’t exist before, which is part of the incentive for the operators of those. It was exclusively at drive-in theaters so there was no choice to watch it streaming,” Waks says.
“Bundle up in your car, sit on the hood, put some chairs out. It was the closest in most places one could get to going to a movie theater.”