The Oscars can be high pressure, whether backstage or for those who don't want to be known for announcing the wrong winner. But when the awards are given Sunday night, there will be one other group sweating.

They are the companies whose products or services appear in the "Everyone Wins" gift bag (produced by marketing company Distinctive Assets and not officially part of the Oscars) that goes out to the nominees in the top categories: Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress, and Best Director. Entrepreneurs pay to take part, hoping that a close brush with celebrity will deliver driving success.

But results aren't guaranteed. Businesses sometimes learn that the harsh phrase, "Don't call us, we'll call you," isn't just for people unsuccessfully auditioning for a part. Here are some insights from companies that landed in the swag bag.

Serious costs for a small company.

Jan Lewis of Jan Lewis Designs was in the bag three times and recalled the cost as $2,500. That's a start, but not the final figure. Lewis said that there is a broader range of expenses, "from paying to be in the gift bag to then providing free product for nominees, hosts, and media."

Bianca Schlesiger, marketing manager at portable vaporizer company Haze Technologies, said, "I cannot divulge the exact amount since I am sure each company negotiates differently, but it is certainly was not cheap for us. But we justified the expense to help brand our Haze Dual Vaporizer as a celebrity vaporizer and also to be the first vaporizer included in the gift bags."

Notice the word "negotiates." Never assume the price on the rate card is the only choice.

Amount of actual promotion is uncertain.

Companies take part in the package because they expect to get attention. All the participants get listed in the Distinctive Assets materials, but that doesn't guarantee how much actual press any one product or service receives.

"[W]e did not receive nearly as many mentions as we would have hoped but we also understand air time is limited," Schlesiger said. "[In each] of the product boxes that were given to the press/nominated celebrities, we included a small flyer to contact our marketing department for endorsements in hopes to create a relationship and form a brand ambassador. We never received a response, which is disappointing, but we also understand the nominees are bombarded with promo items and gifts."

Lewis said, "The gift bag as a whole got a lot of press and certain higher-ticket items did as well, but only one year was Jan Lewis Designs picked up by numerous online media." She did hire a PR firm, "and they got me a good number of interviews (TV, radio, print), as well, so I got visibility."

Having written about the gift bags before for major media, I can give you a clue as to what publications look for: whatever catches public attention. That usually means a high-ticket price -- the more zeros in the number, the better -- although it can also extend to something considered unusual or even bizarre. But big money is the draw. If you have something worth $25 or $50, you'll likely receive far less coverage.

Some payoffs work better than others.

Whether the promotion pays off depends on what the entrepreneur wants and some amount of luck. Lewis found that the results were a bust. For the money she had spent, on PR as well as participation in the bag, "none of it resulted in any financial gain."

That's not an unreasonable experience because immediate sales aren't necessarily the intention for a promotion like this. The focus should be on branding, and that's a tricky thing, both to achieve and to know if you got anything from it. Personal-care products company Lizora took part in 2016. "Our website visits jumped 1400 percent," with visitors from 58 countries, said founder Cathy Xian. "But the Oscar PR season lasts about a week, so it's up to the startups to keep the story alive after the seven-day period."

For author Laura Schroff, participation made sense. "I'm a strong believer that if you can get your book into the hands of someone in Hollywood, they can become your champion and it can be a really big deal," she said. "It's not as much as selling books as building brand awareness. As far as a brand awareness campaign, I think it's amazing. All you have to do his hit one celebrity who takes a liking to it and it can make a difference." For Schroff and her co-author Alex Tresniowski, that could help land a development deal for their book, An Invisible Thread. "It was ultimately optioned," she said. "I don't know if one had anything to do with the other. You just don't know. If all things are equal and you have the money and the opportunity to be in it, why wouldn't you?"

Published on: Mar 3, 2018