Hollywood's Press Junket Wars Heat Up With Opening of Waldorf Astoria

Courtesy of Four Seasons
Terra-cotta warriors were made for the Four Seasons' press junket promoting 2008's 'The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.'

Watch out, Four Seasons: The new Beverly Hills hotel intends to lure studio marketing dollars with a brand-new media room and refreshments by Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

As the Waldorf Astoria prepares to open its doors June 1, it joins the limited ranks of Los Angeles hotels angling for a piece of the lucrative press junket pie — with Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills leading, by a wide margin, a pack that includes The London West Hollywood and Montage Beverly Hills.

Industry insiders have long relied on the all-day, jam-packed affair that is the press junket, supported by major studios' marketing budgets and almost reflexively used to promote nearly every release. Post-screening Q&As and back-to-back-to-back interviews with online and TV outlets, from Armed Forces Network to Access Hollywood, process a movie's star wattage as efficiently as a factory, with many hands on deck, from the "talent, who come with their publicists, studio executives and studio publicists, to the hotel staff, who provide breakfast and/or lunch and service the filmmakers and talent requests," says Carol Watkins, Four Seasons director of entertainment sales. Despite the complex yet quaint logistics of trafficking and feeding people over the span of several hotel floors, "a junket is still the single best way to accomplish maximum press coverage on a film in a two- to three-day period," says Paramount Pictures senior vp field publicity and targeted marketing Alicia Wyld, who first worked on junkets as an MGM publicity assistant 23 years ago.

Watkins, who began her stint at the Four Seasons in 1986, has more than 4,000 junkets under her belt to date and estimates that the hotel handles 60 percent of all press junkets that take place in Los Angeles. A busy month could mean 10 to 12 junkets involving varying degrees of production, featuring such draws as Matthew McConaughey barbecuing for the press on the front driveway to promote Paramount's 2005 thriller Sahara, and photo ops on a built-out penthouse roof ledge for Summit Entertainment's Man on a Ledge in 2012. (Hotel owners Robert and Joseph Cohen are "very committed to the press junket market," says Watson, who adds that the Four Seasons debuted a state- of-the-art screening room in 2016.) A typical junket can cost from $15,000 to $185,000, with the most expensive thus far clocking in at more than $320,000 for an undisclosed feature. Estimates Greg Velasquez, director of marketing for the Four Seasons: "We could be talking north of $30 million over the years."

Luc Delafosse, managing director of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills, says the hotel already has entered discussions with key insiders in the press junket industry. "We represent the very best in California lifestyle and luxury," he says. Several spaces have been earmarked for junkets, including a 3,000-square-foot presidential suite on the penthouse level, which boasts a 1,000-square-foot terrace, screening room and adjoining suite for technical capabilities, and three 1,500- to 2,500-square-foot villa suites on the ground floor that can be connected for optimum "flexibility." With celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten overseeing the hotel's signature restaurant as a source of refreshments, "we can offer something very, very special for the press junkets," adds Delafosse.

For studio vets, it does indeed come down to amenities and extraordinary service. The Waldorf staff are up against Watkins and her team, who "created this environment that makes you feel like you're at home," says Wyld, adding that none of her requests have been denied, from the star who required an espresso every five minutes, to moving Iron Man 2's 2010 worldwide junket from London to L.A. in two days when an Icelandic volcano eruption halted air travel over Europe. "Carol basically taught me how to do a press junket," says A24's Nicolette Aizenberg. And Michael Agulnek, now a worldwide publicity vp at Pixar Animation Studios in the Bay Area (he first worked on junkets as a Miramax Films publicity assistant) once asked Watkins if he could bring a live bear to an event. The bear didn't happen, but "the fact that she didn't hang up on me and came back with a 'yes' says everything," he says. Let the junket games begin.

This story first appeared in the May 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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