My First Celebrity Gifting Suite
In September I got an unusual e-mail from a Los Angeles- based PR company, Celebrity Connected, inviting me to “sponsor” and participate in a gifting suite for the George Jones Tribute Concert in Nashville, TN. Sponsoring meant that for a small fee I could have a 10×10 space to display my pillowcases, meet the celebrities in attendance to the event, give out pillowcases, and take as many photos/videos of the celebrities talking with me and interacting with my products as I wanted to use for future marketing. The potential payoff for this type of exposure is huge, but I knew it would require lots of work and some money so the decision wasn’t easy. At first it sounded like a too-good-to-be-true Nigerian-type of scam, so I spent a week emailing questions to Celebrity Connected and even talked to three different business owners who had been involved in their gifting suites in the past for references. (I am so glad I took the time to do that- people with experience gave me so much helpful advice about how to attract the best attention and make the most of the experience!) Ultimately I decided to take the risk (or I wouldn’t be writing this post.)
As one business owner I talked to advised me, “With an opportunity like this you need to make an impression. Go big or go home.” So in 8 weeks Ben and I created a new website (so I could use this as an opportunity to veer away from Etsy), I had decals for 3 different pillowcase sets mass produced (vastly cutting down my production time but with enough involvement that they are still considered handmade), my sister-in-law redesigned my logo which I used to create new business cards, t-shirts, and two step-and-repeat style banners, I made and packaged around 150 samples pillow case sets to give out, we made a 5-hour trip to Ikea plus many smaller shopping trips to other stores to procure essentials for my faux bedroom display, practiced setting up the faux bedroom 3 times, enlisted the help of my two sisters and a local photographer to photograph the event and help with set up and childcare, and lots of other minute preparation that our lives and my mind basically revolved around until November 23.
In the midst of our anxiety, excitement, and preparation for Nashville what I call “The Perfect Storm” hit. In a good way. Sort of. Firstly my pillow case supplier called to inform me that the pillowcase style I’ve been ordering once a week for months was being discontinued. They only had a few cases left. I have a great relationship with this small company, so they called so I could reserve the cases. This was a huge blow. After two years of using various pillow cases the ones I order from them are perfect. They are the perfect size and the quality is so great that they are compared to 1200 thread count sheets! This meant I’d need to find a replacement pillow case until they started carrying the same style again in January. Great. Not only did I need 150 extra pillow case sets to give away in Nashville, but it was the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and I was already getting twice the orders I was getting at the same time last year.
Having a lag in pillowcases meant I had a (unexpected and unrequested) break from work, so Whit and I joined Ben on a business trip to one of our favorite places- the quaint mountain town of Blowing Rock, N.C. I was grateful to have the literal and figurative breath of fresh air, until I started getting buzz after buzz of Etsy notifications of sales around 10:00 one night. I then got a buzz that my shop had been mentioned on Twitter, and mentioned to Ben how weird that was. Being the technologically-savvy MBA student and business co-manager that he is he immediately checked the Google analytics for my Etsy store and we discovered that Ali Fedotowsky, former The Bachelor contestant, Bachelorette, and current E! News correspondent, had been given a set of my pillow cases and tweeted a picture of she and her boyfriend holding them. The photo got 12,00+ likes on Twitter and Instagram and resulted in around 50 sales for me in the next 12 hours! I was literally shaking (quietly, since Whit was asleep in his port-a-crib a few feet away) from the exposure, but Ben kept calm and started our own social network campaign. My sales continued to rise dramatically after that, and, with no pillow cases to use to even make these orders I was left a bumbling puddle of nerves!
It took around 2 valuable weeks to settle on a lower quality pillow case replacement, but at least that gave me the opportunity to work on the other aspects of our Nashville display, and the Ali tweet gave me the confidence that I needed to move forward with such a risky endeavor. I mean, obviously people (and fashionable, important people) loved my product!
When we actually got the car packed and we started our 8-hour drive the morning of November 20 I was actually feeling pretty good. I don’t know how I did it, but we’d actually pulled it off- a beautiful and interactive display, all of the samples I could need, the perfect marketing materials, and extra hands to help. I had done my research and was as prepared as possible. So naturally I got a call after arriving on Wednesday that the gifting event had been altered from 6 hours on Thursday to 10 hours both Thursday and Friday! This was supposed to be a good thing- it meant that the concert was a part of history and, as such, had attracted more attention from eager musicians than expected and the concert managers were constantly changing the schedule to accommodate the growing number of celebrities involved. Well, I wasn’t prepared for that, but had to put on the professional attitude I’d been getting used to and figure it out.
Our smaller display for the Thursday gifting suite
I did enjoy the backstage experience, the freedom to wander during rehearsals and sound checks, and feeling special, but I have to admit that I was exhausted and irritable during the event. Luckily my family understood the pressure I felt and all pitched in to help. My sisters swapped watching Whit in our rental home and being with me at the event, and Ben followed all of my instructions with patience and understanding, even when I forgot to say “Thank you.” I am so grateful for the eternal love and bond of families! We did have a lot of fun, and my tongue was actually blistered from talking while smiling for so many hours on end! Our display was so impressive, our group was so fun, and our product so wonderful that the Celebrity Connected organizers even gave us the prime location for the main giveaway day, Friday- right beside the door! We were the first stop for celebrities coming in, and sometimes the only stop they made after realizing they were too hungry to stay for the full gifting suite.
The attention the pillowcases received was incredible. Person after person acted polite when shown my booth then exclaimed in surprise as soon as they actually felt the quality of the pillow cases and were shown the different designs I had. A few brought their friends or family straight back to my (and only my) booth to plead with me for extra samples, and even the security guard stationed at the door asked for a sample when it was all over because he had heard so many people talking about them outside!
I got some amazing photos of people pretending to sleep on the bed cuddled with my pillow cases or happily holding one out, a few musicians immediately tweeted or wrote to my shop on Facebook, and I exchanged tons of business cards, but the most valuable part of the experience for me was the confident that only experience can bring. I worked longer hours than I ever have, received more orders than I ever have, had more strikes of creativity than I could remember, and managed business calls with the calm professionalism I’d always admired from the big screen all during Whit’s nap times. I can truly say my product is “Celebrity endorsed” because it was fawned over sincerely by so many people. In short, no matter how it all turns out I am so proud of myself for accomplishing more than I ever thought I could and for providing a product that is truly top-notch.