FAMOUS FOR MORE than 50 years, Merv Griffin has built a lengthy resume as a singer, actor, talk-show host and game-show producer. From its headquarters in Beverly Hills, Calif., his Griffin Group controls three hotels, including the Beverly Hilton, and event production company Merv Griffin Productions. Here, he tells Special Events Magazine how it all works together.
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What led you to create Merv Griffin Productions?
MERV GRIFFIN: I gave a party in 1995 at my swimming pool [at the Beverly Hilton] and hired a local event producer. I was stunned by the party and the ideas that went into it. I thought, good Lord, what a business this could be! I then started putting together various event people to create a company. This venue is so incredible — it's such a large hotel with such great ballrooms and outside areas — you can give all kinds of wonderful events here. The minute I brought everybody in, they started [working in] places other than the Beverly Hilton, and suddenly it all came together.
Q: Has your event company felt the downturn in event spending?
A: After 9/11, events took on a different color. What we did, obviously, is trim down on staff. We got very lean and mean. We've been very careful about what we do. And we went right ahead. We took the business vertically to include refits of these large marketing trucks, where companies can drive to shopping malls and all over and display all of their things. We've done this for Sara Lee, Budweiser, Nike, a Hershey Kissmobile. We're doing the “ABC Family Dance Fever” tour this summer — and I know this because I own that show!
Q: Many companies are watching their spending on event elements such as entertainment and decor. Are you seeing that with your clients?
A: Yes, and that's where the imagination of the staff comes in. They have to devise all kinds of ways to work with a tight budget and devise all kinds of wonderful, attention-holding events.
Q: Turning to your hotels, you certainly have made the Beverly Hilton the spot for famous events, such as the Carousel Ball and Golden Globe awards.
A: I put in a bridge that leads from the International Ballroom to about 20 rooms that can be used as dressing rooms. The bridge also holds a lot of cabling and wiring where [TV crews] can run all their technical without having to bring in great big trucks and park all over the property. I redid the ballroom so that sightlines are absolutely perfect — no columns, nothing in the way — which made it very friendly to televise there or to hold big, highly decorated parties. One of the keys to the success of the Golden Globes is the fact that [the stars] are not sitting in a theater. The stars are sitting together, dining together — it's a camaraderie that you feel that you don't get from the stiffness of the Oscars or the Tonys.
Having Merv Griffin Productions do the parties at the Beverly Hilton makes it a one-stop shop. Throughout the year, a lot of event companies come in here; they are hired by whoever takes the ballroom for the evening. But for the Golden Globes, with hundreds of security people, to bring in outside companies would really be a terrible problem for us. By having my own company in here, it protects the hotel and guests who are staying here. And it's very cost-efficient.
Q: Does your Scottsdale (Ariz.) Hilton have special capabilities for special events?
A: We do wonderful events down at the Scottsdale Hilton. I redid the hotel so that we have a giant ballroom now. Everything goes on there — all the big social parties.
You always forget one thing in a venue — the first question [guests] ask is, “What is the parking like?” Getting in and out for the customers is so important. I've seen other hotels that surround me here in Beverly Hills, and the arrivals are just awful because they don't have the space. Because we own the street out in front of the Beverly Hilton, we can shut that down for the arrival of the limousines, and then photograph [the stars] as they arrive with all the press there. It's the same in Scottsdale — we have fabulous parking and great entrances.
Q: Is the drop in tourism affecting St. Clerans, your hotel in Galway, Ireland?
A: No, I've not met anybody who isn't going to Ireland for the summer!
Merv Griffin Productions can be reached at 310/887-6086, www.merv.com.