Harnessing Star Power

It’s as though a meteor landed at your club. People are frantically texting friends, urging them to hurry to your club to see the star who just showed up. Patrons pack the place like sardines, standing on their tip-toes to peer over other club-goers to catch a glimpse of the celeb. 

You’re sitting in the office smiling.

Of course, that’s only if you’re lucky enough for a celebrity to happen to pick your venue as the place to hang for a night. For the average club owner, a celebrity sighting is about as common as that meteor. For the majority of bars and clubs, stars only show up if hired, which can be costly. Of course, the ROI is the opportunity to properly market the appearance in advance, driving traffic and that all-important buzz about your club being the “in” spot.

Trial and error  in coordinating celebrity events is one path to take, but it can involve being left hanging without the star at the last minute or not getting your money’s worth. The other is learning step-by-step from those who’ve perfected the art of the celebrity appearance.

Verne Troyer

Step 1: Budget Before

Prior to contacting any celebrity-booking agency, it’s a good idea to sit down and map out a rough budget. This helps to determine what level of celebrity you can afford, which may then alter your theme.

“We are not like L.A. and Las Vegas, with huge budgets,” says Diane Corieri, partner in Evening Entertainment Group, with venues Myst, Axis/Radius and Suede all in Scottsdale, Ariz. “We hire celebrities for special events or big nights when there is some sort of event in town, where we know there will be enough of a crowd in the club to justify the cost. We will plan the event and set up a budget anywhere from two to three months ahead.”

As with any promotion, supplier assistance can lessen the financial burden — as well as help get better name celebs.

“Our largest event was with Bud Bowl, and Snoop Dog came, P. Diddy was in for a night and so was Kid Rock,” Corieri says. “We worked with Budweiser [reps], who actually worked on getting them in here. It was very smooth and very professional and really very easy.”

Of course, when you’re paying entirely from your own till, you’ll want to consider value. “There are different levels of celebs,” Corieri says. “It is A through C. The C level you can get for $2,500 to $5,000; the higher A range are $25,000 and up. On certain holidays you are going to pay more, like New Year’s Eve. And if you fall within their tour, you can usually save some money there. We usually cover flights, hotels and their fee, plus a dinner.”

Tila Tequila

For operators without a particular star in mind at the outset, it can be helpful to start with an established budget and then shop for the right celeb through an agency.

“We research and recommend celebrities for each event or venue based on the theme and budget,” says Jeffrey Yarbrough, CEO of bigInk PR and Marketing, based in Dallas. Yarbrough has seen both sides of the fence when it comes to booking celebrities in clubs, from his current work in public relations, to his former days as an owner of several club venues in Texas, including M Bar in Houston.

One man’s C-lister is another man’s A-lister, depending on the demographic, notes Yarbrough. A NASCAR driver who would go unrecognized, perhaps, at PURE in Las Vegas might pack the house at another venue.

“With the cable programming, there seems to be a large pool of celebrities in any genre you could imagine, from fashion to fishing,” he notes. “The good thing is, this now opens up celebrity sightings at sports bars, pubs and bars, not just mega clubs and ultra lounges.”

Step 2: Be Cautious

The industry bears no shortage of aggressive event promoters, and while many are trustworthy, there’s no point in taking a chance getting burned and being left without the guest of honor — and a line of eager, star-struck, paying customers at the door — Corieri advises.

“I get tons of e-mails that say ‘I rep these people,’ and they are really just promoters and not officially repping that celebrity,” she says. “We have a promoter who has a connection with an agent in L.A. You definitely want to go through the celebrity’s actual agent wherever you can. Otherwise you have to pay twice — once to the celeb and once to the promoter.”

Before contacting a celebrity booking agency, be cautious and do your research. Not only may promoters mislead an operator about their ability to secure a star, but someone claiming to be an agent in some capacity for the celeb may be full of hot air, too.

Mark Esterman, who founded Esterman.com ten years ago and now has a roster of 230 celebrities, legitimizes his own site by featuring video clips with the celebrities using his company name on his site. Other agencies and middlemen have various ways of validating their connection with the celebrities, but when it doubt, it’s best to contact the celebrity’s manager and confirm that the agent does indeed work booking that star.

Step 3: Timelines and Contracts

Once you select a celebrity and flesh out a theme, it’s time to discuss with that celebrity what he or she will be doing, and also to set up a timeline, marketing and security. All of this falls on the club owner’s shoulders.

“Six months is not too early to book a celebrity,” Yarbrough advises. “We have pulled it off in much less time, but at a premium price. Triple-A celebs’ schedules may be booked a year in advance with filming; B stars are much easier to deal with when it comes to availability.”

In the contract, communicate clearly every specific detail of what you are asking the celebrity to do and how they will interact with the public. If you want them to make an announcement or spend time in the DJ booth, all of this should be listed out and the necessary time allotted in the contract.

“We usually schedule private time with a small, intimate group of key influencers prior to or immediately after the event,” Yarbrough explains. “These are people who will pass the word around about their interaction with the celebrity. We also assign a handler to walk the star through the crowd at different times to meet and greet the public.”

Blocking out times during the event for a meet-and-greet and using a handler ensures you aren’t paying for wasted time. That handler should be a person who can physically move people aside easily, and it’s also wise to have one person in front of the celebrity and one behind to encircle him or her in a crowd.

“Later in the evening,” Yarbrough continues, “we will do another set of impromptu paparazzi-style shots with guests and allow them to take cell phone shots of the celebrity.”

Step 4: Look Beyond the Night

“I think having a celebrity in your venue is a great promotion,” says Yarbrough. “But, I don’t know if it is necessarily profitable right now, because the talent can be so expensive.”

That said, the economic recession has affected celebrity fees, he notes. “It was somewhat different in early 2008. Celebs now seem to be more willing to promote their own records, movies, shows, etc. by going out -- it shows the big wigs they are team players and willing to do work for the greater good of the projects. Showing up in public stimulates sales at retail, be it records stores or movie houses, and that is good for the economy and job security.”

Short-term profit is not always the goal when booking a celebrity, however. The cost may be considered an investment in raising a venue’s visibility and buzz factor in the local market. It’s a reputation builder, but not usually a moneymaker for a single event. Take the time to network with the celebrity guest and then follow-up by writing personal thank-you notes to both the celebrity and the management team. It could mean making a very valuable friend. NCB

Suggested Articles

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the order earlier this afternoon.

General Counsel, Jessica Shraybman, shares her advice for clients looking to negotiate terms with their landlords.

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.