Four Seasons' Queen of Press Junkets Toasts 30 Years at Hotel, Talks Retirement

Carol Watkins cautions others not to follow in her foosteps, however, by staying in the same job for three decades: "Keep moving, keep reinventing yourself and following your passion."
Randall Michelson
Carol Watkins

There's a reason people call Carol Watkins the "queen of press junkets." 

As the director of entertainment sales for Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles on Doheny Drive, Watkins has been involved in more than 4,000 press junkets during a long tenure at the hotel. In fact, Watkins celebrates an impressive 30 years this summer as a Four Seasons employee, one who is credited with building up the business from scratch to its current standing as the dominant leader in the junket business. 

Though Watkins estimates that Four Seasons' stronghold on the market has dipped to about 60 percent of all press junkets (down from 80 percent a few years ago), a just-debuted Screening Room could help bolster bookings. The 38-seat space was officially unveiled on Tuesday night during a cocktail party at the hotel, where Watkins was feted for her special anniversary. 

Days ahead of the big day, Watkins sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to share highlights of 30 years in the hotel-meets-movie business, including her favorite film (it's a recent one), her favorite actor (she's a star of the big and small screens), how many more years she has left in her (more than a few) and her advice on company loyalty (don't stay anywhere for 30 years). 

People sometimes stay at a job five years and they think they've had enough. How do you put into words what staying here for 30 years means to you?

This job, everyday is different. If this job were one where I was doing types of hotel sales where it was selling to a, no offense, to insurance or regular corporate meetings or associations, I would not be able to do that job for 30 years. But everyday is different here with what I'm working on. It makes you stay young because you have to know what the upcoming movies are, you have to figure out how to fit things in, how to work with three studios and be the quiet person and not give away too much information.

And this environment of being in this hotel is what kept me here for 30 years. The support. I mean, the overwhelming support. And then as Four Seasons has grown, being able to grow this market all over the world, to introduce the studios to other Four Seasons and ... I mean look at the flowers, look at the environment, I mean what could you ask for, for 30 years?

What was your title when you started?

Senior sales manager. We thought the hotel was going to open in November 1986. It ended up opening because of delays in April 1987. In the days when we opened, it was still the '80s with its poshness. We didn't know that we had the perfect space to do press junkets until about 1988, so that's when we started to really get into the market. This hotel has 106 suites, and in order to be able to do a press junket very well, you have to have suites.

How many suites are you using at one particular time?

We could use approximately 35, 40 suites at a time if you're doing more than one junket, because you buy a whole floor and that has suites on it with the taping suites and the day suites. If you're doing three studios, you could have 25 talent that you are trying to take care of from continental breakfasts, shopping for rider items, lunches. It's a lot to manage. But this staff embraces press junkets. In the beginning they were a little reluctant and they grew to love it. Housekeeping, the banquet servers — they all embrace it now.

Can you estimate how many junkets you've done in 30 years?

I would have to guess over 4,000.

Can you estimate what the revenue is from 4,000 junkets?

I don't even know ... millions.

How much does it cost to have one press junket for a studio film?

One press junket could be anywhere from $75,000 to $250,000. It all depends on how big the junket is, how many talent there are attending. I can tell you, if you want to know a trend, there are far fewer press coming to press junkets. When I started there used to be on an average of 40 television press coming in and maybe 30 print press. Since everything is digital, the amount of television press now is tops, 20. And print, radio, online, about 10.

And you've grown close to studio publicists working so closely with them all these years?

The become part of your family. There are so many of them that started as interns or junior publicists that are now vp level and above. Michael Agulnek, I started with him at Miramax as an intern, and then he went to Warner Bros. then Paramount for several years as senior vp and now he is at Pixar. It's like a circle of life. They can do other things, but they still stay in a relationship with us.

It's amazing your dominance in this field. I think I read you handle about 80 percent of the junket business?

I would say it's probably down to about 60 percent now. We were the first hotel to wire for press junkets, but over time more hotels have wired in to get in the business. 

It's a competitive business.

It's such a competitive business. Here it's more like one-stop shopping though. They only have to say a few things to me and I can figure it out. ... You have to be able to deliver what their talent's needs are. Our job is to take care of the talent. The studio's job is to ensure the success of the movie with the press and also of course to take care of the talent, but we take care of them for whatever they need when they're here.

I have to ask you this question. What's your favorite movie?

Wow, that's a tough one. I loved the Jesse Owens movie [Race] that just came out in February. Did you see that? You really should go see that because it's so relevant to what's going on now in the world. I really, really enjoyed that film.

Do you have a favorite actor or actress or somebody that you know well or have dealt with all these number of years?

You caught me off guard, but I'm thinking of Sarah Paulson. She is an extraordinary woman — extraordinary. She is very gracious. I'll tell you another person who was the most gracious to us — there have been a few — is Kathy Bates. We always send talent notes wishing them enormous success ... and Kathy Bates wrote a handwritten note back saying thank you from the bottom of her heart. Bill Paxton was the same way. It's fun.

The obvious question when you speak to someone who has worked at the same place for 30 years is this: How many more years will you stay?

I take one day at a time. I hope it's 10 years. I don't know. It really depends on how long I can be relevant and make a difference. If you ask me, you have to be resilient as well to sustain 30 years. I've been through general managers and trying to convince them about how we need to keep the junket market, so you're constantly reinventing yourself. You have to sell to internal people that you work with and to the studios.

In 30 years, have you zeroed in on a favorite vacation spot?

Yes. I love the Four Seasons Hualalai on the Big Island. I go there prior to Thanksgiving every year. It is the most peaceful, disconnecting resort. I love that hotel. For a city hotel, I love the [Four Seasons Hotel George V] in Paris. I love Four Seasons Punta Mita as well. Oh, my God, you have to go there. Two and a half hours, you're on the beach. You should go.

If you could pass on any advice to the younger generation or somebody who's starting out in their career of how to be as resilient as you have been and perhaps carve their own 30-year career in the same company, what would you say?

I would say that they shouldn't stay anywhere for 30 years (laughs). Keep moving, keep reinventing yourself and following your passion. If there is no passion, don't stay for 30 years. If you get value added every single day like I do, then enjoy the ride.

Carol Watkins poses inside Four Seasons Los Angeles' new Screening Room at an intimate celebration in her honor at the hotel on June 21, 2016. (Credit: Courtesy of Four Seasons)