For 2 SoCal Cos., Celebs Got The Juice To Power Brands

In the world of marketing, being in the right place at the right time can mean instant brand building. And if you match a celebrity with the right product, formerly under-the-radar items can become the season’s absolute must-haves.

That’s the goal of two Southern California independents, Backstage Creations and RPMC, that are taking different approaches to reach similar ends.

“A product has more credibility when a star uses it,” said Karen Wood, founder of Backstage Creations in Santa Monica, Calif., which specializes in getting merchandise in front of famous people.

In an effort to go beyond the standard award-show goodie bag, Backstage Creations attempts to design an atmosphere in which celebs can most effectively be introduced to products, services and events. Wood charges each client to place their products at pre- and post-event “celebrity retreats,” where the stars relax while offstage. For example, at last week’s Billboard Awards at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Hotel (Billboard parent VNU also owns Adweek), Wood clients like AquaSwiss watches, Nokia cell phones and Ugly clothing were showcased.

In addition, Backstage Creations’ publicity department alerts TV stations and magazines to each retreat, a company rep said, encouraging photographers to capture the stars with the products on film.

Backstage Creations’ fees (which Wood declined to disclose), together with the merchandise giveaways, can get expensive. But the opportunity for personal interaction with the people who make headlines and trigger fashion trends is sold as being more effective than traditional ad campaigns that can cost at least as much, Wood said.

While such initiatives bring product directly to the stars, agencies like RPMC in Los Angeles work on bringing consumers to the events. “We connect sponsors with events and with local, targeted demos,” said RPMC co-founder Murray Schwartz.

RPMC is the official travel and incentive sponsor of the Recording Academy’s 47th Annual Grammy Awards, slated to air Feb. 13. The com-pany will organize celebrity meet-and-greets, private music-studio sessions, music-history sightseeing tours and other photo-ops for salespeople, execs and sponsors gathered from selected local radio and TV affiliates, Schwartz said. “Our ties with local markets let you bypass the expense of a national media campaign and reach your target more effectively,” he noted.

Events and their sponsors need to “send one concise, clear message tailored to enhance the brand,” said Schwartz. Rather than having six sponsors create six unrelated promotions for a single event, RPMC creates one cohesive message directed toward a specific group of broadcast affiliates, sales executives and sweepstakes winners, he explained.

Backstage Creations and RPMC may be opposites when it comes to execution, but their concepts run parallel. The combo of stars and events with high-caliber gifts means media coverage for everyone involved—from the sponsors to the venues. This generates the kind of publicity “you can’t get by spending money on traditional ads,” Schwartz said.

“You can’t pay for that exposure,” said Wood. “It’s priceless.”