News & Politics

A Look Inside the Much-Talked-About Celebrity “Gifting Suite” (Photos)

It drew the ire of the White House Correspondents’ Association.

At the Jorg Gray table, guests of the gifting suite can walk away with a so-called Secret Service watch that matches what President Obama’s security detail gave him as a gift. Photograph by Carol Ross Joynt.

After writing a few stories about the notorious “gifting suite” that landed in town
for the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, it made sense to accept the
invitation to check it out. The “suite”—really a garden variety hotel meeting room—opened
on Friday at the Loews Madison Hotel on 15th Street. With multiple table displays
it could be a small-scale trade show, save for the “step and repeat” backdrop where
celebs and others can pose for photos. Also the wares offered on the tables are available
for free to the select guests invited by cohosts the Creative Coalition and GBK Productions.
In turn the guests—including celebrities here for the WHCA dinner, and journalists—can either take the free swag home or give it to the charity of their choice.

Upon arrival we were greeted by GBK’s CEO and cofounder,
Gavin B. Keilly, in town from Los Angeles. He was still reeling from the harsh reaction to the gifting
suite in the DC media and from the WHCA, which had its lawyer make GBK remove any
reference to the media group (initially WHCA’s name had appeared on the invitations).
Keilly said he had no idea there would be so much controversy, and he felt bad about
it, but he came to Washington regardless to open the suite—a marketing venue he’s
accustomed to hosting at New York Fashion Week, the Sundance Festival, and various
other entertainment industry events. He smiled through his dismay and eagerly explained
how the suite works. He expected the celebrity rush to start around 5 on Friday and
run through Saturday, up until when the WHCA dinner begins at the Hilton.

Each invited guest was given a black bag the size of a hockey bag, and an escort,
and the idea was to walk around the suite, learn about the items, and select what
you want—ranging from watches to trips to Bora Bora. The folks from DC’s Cork Market
were there, pouring glasses of fine wines and Champagne. There were chocolates and
cookies but no other food. Alas, when we departed, our swag bag was fairly anemic,
holding no jewelry, no watches, no nonstops to Bora Bora.