What It’s Really Like to Be a Watch Brand Publicist During Awards Season

This is an edition of the newsletter Box + Papers, Cam Wolf’s weekly deep dive into the world of watches. Sign up here.

Celebrities and the coterie of people hired to make them look beautiful have never been more obsessed with watches. Suit sleeves are hemmed and arms are crooked to make sure every carefully selected timepiece receives maximum attention. In the shadows, connecting VIPs with these grails is a coffee-fueled army of watch-brand publicists, stylists, and agents who make the flexing possible.

As celebrities fall more in love with watches, award season has become an increasingly hectic period for the people making award-show pieces possible. There is also the expensive dance playing out in which brands try to tie celebrities down for deals and talent gets more proactive in seeking out short- and long-term contracts. This week, I spoke to one publicist responsible for managing talent relationships, working with ambassadors and celebrities, and loaning loads of pieces out for consideration, who asked to remain anonymous so they could give it to us straight, who believes the logistical nightmare of placing watches on wrists is all worth it in the end. “It does trigger some brand awareness,” they said. “We are in a market that is very celebrity focused. So it leaves that little mark in the brain even if it's subconscious.”

GQ: Where does awards season rank for you in terms of busyness? Is it a particularly crazy time?

PR: Yes, it is extremely busy because there is everything else you have to prepare for Watches & Wonders [the industry’s biggest trade show] and sending out those watches for people to create coverage. And with award season, we have all our watches in PR stock to send to celebrities, to stylists, to agents in hopes that we will be selected to be on the wrist. And a lot of times you send watches and you don't know whether or not it's going to happen.

So, how does it work? I assumed that stylists would come to you or some representative for the celebrity and say, we want to wear X, Y, Z watch, but it sounds like you're being more proactive.

There are different ways to do this. Sometimes the celebrity’s agent comes to us and says, “Hey, so-and-so really loves your brand and wants to wear one of your watches for this big moment.” And usually we consider it when an agent or an agency that represents the talent comes to us. It is easier because we can make sure that they wear the watch.

It’s different now but back in the day it used to be that if a celebrity wanted to wear a brand their stylist or agent would go directly to that watchmaker and say, “My client wants to wear this.” And we would share a selection of watches. We would send those out on loan and if the talent really liked that watch we'd be like, “Okay, we can gift that watch to you.” That's a possibility. But that's just one of the ways.

Then there's the other way where you actually work with stylists and send a bunch of watches out in hopes you get selected. The stylists have a very fascinating job at the end of the day. They have the clothes they like and then they have to style the watches with the outfit. But what I also found out is that stylists often just put the watches on the table and are like, “I recommend this or this, and they are introducing the brand to the talent.” A lot of times the talent doesn’t even know the watches or the brand.

The third option is that you contact the talent agent and work on a contract and sign a celebrity to wear a watch for the duration of awards season.

Like a temporary agreement?

Yeah, temporary. And they pay an outrageous amount of money to make that happen.

I have a lot of follow-ups there. When you get a request from an agent for a celebrity to wear a watch to an award show, what considerations do you make to help you decide if you want to send one or not?

We look at how relevant that person is. If there are any weird things in their past. We’re mindful of the #MeToo movement and the perception of the public. It is important not to give a watch to someone who might have been problematic in the past.

We also just get opinions from colleagues because a lot of times we have the celebrities of our generation in mind and really don't think about the younger celebrities. So talking with our colleagues really opens up our minds.

So how many do you think yeses versus nos do you send out? Is it more nos or more yeses?

I would say there are more nos. We are still very selective. For example, this award season we have been very careful of what we send out. We have to consider what will get us press coverage. And it's often a bet because we don't know if GQ is going to pick it up, right? You hope so, but you don't know if it's going to happen.That's why we say no most of the time. We also don't have an extensive stock because at the end of the day we still want to sell watches to clients.

With the stylists, you mentioned it's up to them to present these watches to their clients. So how much behind the scenes are you or your team doing speaking to stylists trying to tell the story of the brand so that they'll be able to better communicate it to the clients?

So we try our best to communicate the story, but we're still talking very much about fashion. As much as they might appreciate the piece, they don't really care about the story and that's totally normal.

Are those conversations changing at all though? I feel like stylists are getting more sophisticated when it comes to watches.

They are getting way more sophisticated. We've seen this shift happening over the last three years that they are now, yes, interested. But it’s a double-edged sword because now they want more unique stuff. They want inaccessible stuff. The requests are more particular and they don't just take whatever we send them. This has been a really big shift within the last three years.

Also, watch culture is growing among celebrities. Now, celebrities come to you more frequently looking for a deal.

A stylist I spoke with mentioned that certain celebrities now pose showing off the watch to essentially audition for these ambassadorships.

We find it hilarious and I love that, to be honest. We love those people because then for sure you're going to get an email saying they're interested in collaborating with you. So that is extremely rewarding to see that celebrities are actually pushing and working towards that goal of working with us.

How many watches over the course of award season do you think you end up gifting?

So not that much. Before I was in this business, I would've thought that all the watches were gifted. But that’s not the case at all. We might gift one to two watches to select celebrities, but this year our brand probably gifted one.

Is there a memorable example when you sent a watch to a stylist and the talent didn’t end up wearing it? Like, is there a most annoying miss?

There are a lot. And we get pissed because oftentimes stylists don't have the time to tell us that a watch was selected or not selected because it's also their busiest time. So we have to sit down in front of the TV and do some watch spotting with our laptop to see if a watch gets selected.

Are you always sending out functioning watches, or are any of these dummy prototype samples?

Always functioning. It breaks my heart when they don't set the time on them.

Is there one award show that matters the most to you? Or are they all equal in your eyes?

We love the Emmys, Golden Globes, SAG Awards, and Oscars. Those are the four most important but we care about all of them. Obviously, the Oscars and the Vanity Fair afterparty are important because everyone talks about those. The Oscars are also the time [celebs] want to wear their best dress, their best outfit, and their best watches. So it's a little easier to place during the Oscars.

Is there competition and animosity with other brands when you're trying to place a watch?

So yes, definitely competition, however, the competition is no longer fair. Obviously there is always healthy competition between brands of the same size and budget. But then you have certain brands coming in that snatch all the current celebrities and influencers. [One brand] is offering six-figure contracts just for award season.

I would say any brand in its right mind would not be using that amount of money for this. Some money makes sense—we are still here to support the livelihood of stylists and of those actors who might have their big break for a year.

How are the conversations different when you have people under contract? Are you picking the watch for them because you're pushing a certain model or line? Or is it still up to the talent?

Yes, we are pushing something. However, we still will give them the option from a small select. Let's say we want to push one collection in particular, we'll give them the option of three watches from that collection to wear because someone who does not like the watch will not show the watch.

Are you directing them on how to pose? Is that messaging you're sending to the stylist or directly to them to say, “You have to hold your arm out in such-and-such way”?

So there are two things. If we are paying the stylist for this particular placement, we would ask the stylist to be like, “Hey, we will not get paid if we don't see the watch.” They relay the message to the people they're styling and you'll see them pushing the sleeve a little bit up. Some stylists also tailor the sleeves to make sure that we can see the watch more easily without too much effort from the talent, which happens more often than you’d think.

And oftentimes there are a lot of celebrities, like the Jeremy Allen Whites, who have no idea how to pose with a watch on the red carpet. You only know they’re there because the stylist posted the piece on her Instagram.

Do you feel like putting watches on celebrities matters? Does it feel important to you? Do you feel like it helps brand awareness and/or speaks to prospective clients?

It is tricky because Switzerland [ie. headquarters] sometimes doesn’t see the point. But for us it does matter, it does trigger some brand awareness. We are in a market that is very celebrity focused. So it leaves that little mark in the brain even if it's subconscious. I don't think we get people coming into the boutiques asking for a watch a certain celebrity wore. I don't think it actually translates into sales so directly.

I think it's still a very important part of marketing. It's like we put that little seed in their head and one day they will be thinking of buying a watch and maybe think of us. But it takes years as well to build that brand awareness.

Has anyone ever ghosted with a watch either for an extended period of time or forever?

Yes, brand ambassadors actually. A few years ago, a brand ambassador said that he lost a couple of watches that were on loan.

Are there people who are considered big watch free agents?

Brad Pitt is one of those free agents now because he doesn't have a contract with Breitling anymore. He's well known as a watch guy, meaning that people would look up to him. Zac Efron also really loves watches from the looks of it.

There is a certain type of celebrity we avoid who wears a different watch brand every week. It doesn't feel genuine. We don't want that because our watches are not toys. Watches are something that are meant to cherish, to create memories with, and not just to be thrown on a wrist to show off and be done with it. Our watches are part of your style, part of your personality, part of your story.

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Originally Appeared on GQ