“We are navigating a new world,” veteran events producer Debbie Durkin tells TheWrap.
As the Emmys have risen to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic, so too have the events surrounding the annual awards show.
Gifting suites — where talent interact with and receive products in exchange for potential photo placements and mentions — have been a staple of awards season for decades, a chance for brands to get valuable exposure via A-list talent.
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With no in-person awards show this year, the organizers behind the official Emmys gifting suite for the last seven years told TheWrap they did not want to hold one this year out of an abundance of caution for the talent, vendors and workers associated with such an event. They hope to return next year, circumstances permitting.
While not an official event, events producer Debbie Durkin has held her end-of-summer EcoLuxe lounge for the last 14 years during Emmys week. In the last few years, the event has been held at the Beverly Hilton, which on other years would be a hub for awards activity. (The Golden Globes are held at the Hilton annually.)
“I called the Hilton and I said what if we did a drive-through on the rooftop of your parking lot,” Durkin told TheWrap. “And the GM called me back and said, ‘Debbie, it’s not glamorous enough for you and what you do. Why don’t we give you the whole front entrance of the Beverly Hilton?'”
Durkin worked with the Hilton and partner Lysol to create the experience.
The hotel’s infamous horseshoe driveway was cordoned off to control the flow of traffic. As talent drove up, they were assigned a masked guide to walk them direct them to each of the brands.
There were about a half-dozen stations, starting with a traditional step-and-repeat with a distanced photographer. Each of the brands had masked representatives who stood six feet away from guests.
The interactions at each station were altered: Sunglasses company Mo gifted frames, but it was “you touch it, you take it;” clothier Meraki Allure had its lookbooks pre-opened and offered fabric masks; and KOZ Water and John Paul Pet Products had self-serve gift bags. Instead of the lavish spread from years past, the final station featured Beverly Hilton Hotel Celebrity Brunch-in-a-box — filled with charcuterie items and pastries — which a gloved attendant dropped in guest’s cars as they departed.
“This is our first time, we’re winging it,” Durkin explained. “We are navigating a new world.”
Normally, her event would have two- to three-times as many brands. But it wasn’t just the ongoing coronavirus that scaled things down.
“Seven days ago I lost two sponsors to the California fires. The following day I lost two sponsors to the Oregon fires. And the following day I lost a vendor to COVID — his daughter got COVID,” Durkin explained. And then, there’s the general downturn in the economy as a result of pandemic shutdowns. (Her event supported California firefighters.)
“Brands are afraid, they’re very afraid,” Durkin explained. Not only that but they’ve been six months out of business. They don’t have marketing budgets left. And most of them don’t have product; if they did have a budget, their products are stuck in China.”
Still, Durkin remains hopeful for the future, although the events she has producing for two decades may look very different.
“COVID to me has been a lens that has forced all of us, as a human race, to look at our lives differently. I’ve always been a purposeful producer. We’re uplifting small business, black-owned businesses.”
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