GBK gift lounges bridge charities and celebrities



The Oscars aren’t far off and that means those opulent gifting suites at major hotels that shower celebrities with luxurious gift bags will be in full swing.

But Gavin B. Keilly believes these high-end gift bags worth up to $50,000 and bring out many high-profile entertainment and sports personalities shouldn’t be viewed as examples of celebrity greed gone wild.

That’s because Keilly is working with various philanthropies to bring attention to their charitable causes through these gifting lounges – and the effort, he said, is proving to be a “win-win-win-win” for the nonprofits, the celebrities, the companies’ products and his own company, GBK Productions.

“Many (celebrities) say, ‘I want to get involved (in a cause) but I just don’t know what cause or how to get involved,'” Keilly told “We are giving celebrities the opportunity to learn about these causes and to get involved.”

What do the charities get in return? Keilly said they get a chance to introduce themselves to the celebrity, pose for a photograph, and reaps the resulting public and media attention.

“Never in a million years could (a company) ask celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio to come and pose with your product and not pay the fee for their appearance,” Keilly said. “If you did pay their fee, it would probably be $100,000. In this situation, all they have to pay is their product to get a photo with the celebrity.”

GBK kicks back 20% of its profits to selected charities and also gives the nonprofits a presence at the gift lounge.

This Oscar season, GBK is hosting a gifting suite March 5-6 ahead of the March 7 Academy Awards at the W Hollywood Hotel.

Keilly said the gift bags will be worth about $30,000 and include a chance for the celebrity to stay at five-star resorts in Miami, Thailand, Portugal and Montana. One resort is The Betsy in Miami Beach. Another is the Six Senses spa and resort in Thailand. The gift bags also contain electronics, watches and jewelry, he added.

The Internal Revenue Service has warned celebrities that if they accept the luxury gift bags, they may be liable for taxes.

“The law states that a celebrity will be taxed on any gift they receive worth over $600 in value,” Keilly explained. “The advantage to gift lounges is that they are not receiving a gift bag, they are receiving individual gifts from individual sponsors. Any gift they receive under $600 won’t be taxed.” In the case of the five-star resorts, he noted, the celebrity would not be taxed unless they actually stayed at the resort – and then only be responsible for paying the taxes.

Two of the charities that will benefit at the pre-Oscars gift lounge help orphans in Haiti. One is Orphans International and the other Hollywood Unites for Haiti. In addition, Keilly said, GBK will also be holding a poker tournament where the winner will receive a $10,000 donation to the charity of his or her choice.

Keilly said his company has worked with more than 100 charities over the years.

He said some celebrities will visit a gifting suite and become so enthused by hearing about a charity’s mission that they will ask to get personally involved with that charity. He said at last year’s Emmy Awards, 10 different celebrities asked the Humane Society if they could get involved in their upcoming gala.

“They had asked them right there on the spot if they could be at their event?” Keilly recalled.

Keilly said he started his company “nine or 10 years ago.”

“Originally, I asked myself the million-dollar question: What am I supposed to be doing with my life? I wanted to make a difference in the world and help others and not be a martyr in the process.”

He began doing charity events to which celebrities were invited. “In doing that, we would give out various watches and iPods as a thank you to the celebrities for being involved. The clients asked us if they could take a photo with the celebrity.”

One such event was a party hosted by Sharon Osbourne, who admired Keilly’s work at the City of Hope’s Great Women in Film event.

“Sharon started a foundation for colon cancer and we produced a big event at her home with Elton John honoring Elizabeth Taylor and Justin Timberlake,” Keilly recalled. “We had Tony Bennett perform. Sharon said to me, ‘Thank you for throwing a $100,000 party for $50,000.'” The celebrities were each gifted with watches worth $4,000 to $5,000 from high-end watchmaker Baume & Mercier. Sharon’s husband, rock star Ozzy Osbourne, even posed for a comical photo with a watch in his mouth.

At this year’s Golden Globe Awards, Keilly said, 101 celebrities dropped by the gifting lounge as well as 67 different press outlets.

This year, GBK also had a suite during Super Bowl week and plans to be at the Cannes Film Festival later this year. In August, GBK is scheduled to produce a charity event in Las Vegas for Okobos.

“They’re a shoe company and they give a large percentage of their products to various different organizations throughout the world and try to put shoes on the underprivileged,” Keilly said.

About Robert W. Welkos

Executive Editor: Robert W. Welkos is an award-winning journalist who covered the entertainment industry for 15 years as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times. During this span, he wrote extensively about the movie industry from turmoil in the executive suites, the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and box office hits and bombs to visits to movie sets as well as profiles of top stars and A-list directors, cutting edge features on the newest indie films and visits to famous film festivals like Sundance and Cannes. Prior to entertainment, Welkos worked as a reporter and assistant city editor in The Times’ Metro section where he undertook major investigations for the paper as well as covering breaking news and writing in-depth features. Before joining The Times, he worked for the Associated Press in Reno, Nevada, and City News Service in Los Angeles.

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