ART MEETS COMMERCE?: On Monday, the Web site The Daily Front Row ran a column by a young publicist for Swarovski Elements chronicling a weekend out in Fire Island.
Called “Fire Island Share House Tales!” the column covers “sponsor swag, fashion trends, the scene at infamous local hot spot Tea…and, of course, twerking.”
This story first appeared in the June 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The brains behind the column is Corey Tuttle, and his housemates include publicists and marketing managers for brands Calvin Klein, Gant and Nike, as well as Ryan Young, a fashion associate at Vanity Fair — he is assistant to fashion and style director Jessica Diehl — and Michael Russo, a sittings assistant at GQ.
The first column explains how the guys covered the costs for their first weekend out in the Pines, three weeks ago.
“We launched a full-on press strategy and secured some sponsors to ensure our summer was fully stocked,” Tuttle wrote. “Lucky for us, Puma, AquaHydrate, Red Bull, Ciroc, ResQWater, Alacran Tequila and Peligroso Tequila had all of our hydration and footwear needs covered.”
Tuttle’s diary is unusual because while this sort of free exchange of gifts for endorsements is commonplace in fashion media — luxury companies routinely throw lavish junkets, or shower reporters with gifts whenever they have a new product to pitch — it mostly happens behind closed doors. Most legacy publications, Vanity Fair and GQ among them, have rules in place that bar editorial staffers from accepting corporate gifts because they compromise editorial integrity. “Condé Nast has long-standing policies in place that ensure editorial integrity. We take this matter seriously and are looking into the situation,” said a spokeswoman.
Tuttle, a Nebraska native who’s been in New York for five years, the last 10 months working at Swarovski, told WWD early Tuesday the free swag started out as a conversation with other publicist friends who work for the sponsors. The housemates had already paid for the house.
“For a brand like AquaHydrate that wants to be associated with a hip place in New York, it was a natural marriage,” he said. “It was a very short conversation. They were aware we had a certain amount of social media following.”
Tuttle is promoting the column with a jaunty, conveniently viral hashtag, MisterMansion.
Originally, Tuttle and his housemates were only supposed to Instagram and tweet their experiences with the products. “Nothing out of the ordinary we wouldn’t do anyway,” Tuttle said. But when The Daily offered to run the diary, “it became a sweeter deal for the sponsors,” he said.
The sponsors provided boxes of water, drinks “and of course gift bags,” according to the column.
On their first day, “we pushed our recently purchased grandma cart full of sponsored swag down the narrow boardwalk to our five-bedroom, four-bath beautiful bayside estate,” Tuttle wrote.
Tuttle said AquaHydrate, for instance, gave the guys “probably more than we needed.”
His favorite gift? “A Lady Gaga singing toothbrush that plays two songs when you brush your teeth,” he said. The songs were “Teeth” and, probably, “Born This Way,” though Tuttle can’t recall the exact song title.
A photo gallery accompanying the column displays the various goodies the sponsors sent to the house. “Vanity Fair’s Ryan Young is excited about Mister Mansion’s gift bags,” reads a caption of one slide.
Among the housemates, there were also “a few editors who will remain nameless to protect the innocent.” Tuttle explained that the housemates had to get approvals from their employers for their names to appear in the column, and some of the employers were not OK with the self-promotion.
“Some companies don’t allow employees necessarily to get press of their own,” he said.
After answering questions early Tuesday, Tuttle later explained that the column was an exaggeration of the facts and that sponsors would not be taking care of all of the house-mates’ recreational summer needs.
He said the house has not received more swag after the initial weekend and he won’t have product placement in future columns.
“The whole article was meant to be somewhat satirical about ourselves,” he said. “The case of water, the Red Bull — they said they’d be happy to send out that stuff. They saw it as a chance to place a product with a young crowd in a popular destination that was somewhat influential in what they did.”
Tuttle did not know for how long the column would last.