Photography: Chris Guillen
Roll out the product: companies are spending more on launch parties such as Heineken’s at Rockit (both above).
Tyson Beckford at Rockit
DJ Z-Trip (above) spins for appreciative fans at Motorola’s bash.

It was a chilly Thursday in March, but Millennium Park was heating up as it made its transformation into Motorola Park for the launch of the Schaumburg-based company’s sleek new mobile phone, the SLVR (pronounced “sliver”). The event, produced by Gen Art-the fashion-savvy organization known for supporting emerging talent and producing must-attend nightlife happenings-drew 550 of what Motorola spokesperson Monica Rohleder calls “influential” tastemakers: arty and affluent partygoers who are highly coveted by marketers. “Motorola wanted our audience-people 21 to 40 who spend money and start trends, leaders in entertainment, the arts, and fashion,” says Gen Art’s Chicago director Kelly Ryan O’Brien, 28.

Chicago hasn’t always been the chosen city for high-end product launches and brand awareness building, but its profile has been rising. That’s why one of the most powerful entertainment PR firms in the country, PMK/HBH, opened a branch here in November. “In general, we’re seeing high-profile product launches becoming more prevalent in the industry as a whole,” explains Cindi Berger, managing director of PMK’s New York office. “Chicago is the third-largest market in the country; therefore this was a natural evolution for our company.” Although PMK acts as personal publicist for major celebs, it also represents corporate clients like Reebok, AOL, eBay, Verizon, Louis Vuitton, and Motorola. “In the past, brands have launched new products like a phone, a new bag, or a spring clothing line primarily in L.A. or New York, but Chicago is now part of that PR campaign,” explains Monique Huey-Jones, from PMK’s Chicago office. “Chicago is a huge market for the fashion industry specifically; our clients are putting more focus on the Midwest and the influence it has on the general market.”

And companies are putting more money into product launches. Motorola spent about $1 million on its SLVR launch party, according to a source. The scene inside the large, see-through tent in Millennium Park seemed plucked out of an A-list Hollywood bash. Pampered pretty people-including Sex and the City‘s David Eigenberg (he played Steve Brady) and Pink Is the New Blog scribe Trent Venegas, who garnered the most squeals-roamed amid backlit Plexiglas phone sculptures while sipping complimentary Champagne and danced to DJ Z-Trip’s mashed-up music.

But this wasn’t the only game in town that night. At nearby Rockit Bar & Grill, Maxim magazine presented a party with Heineken for the launch of Heineken Premium Light, the brewer’s first major addition in its 133-year history. Supermodel Tyson Beckford-whose washboard abs I made sure to graze accidentally-played host. Chicago was one of only five markets (along with New York, L.A., Miami, and Boston) to hold one of these launch parties. Last October, T-Mobile held a “sneak peek” for its Sidekick II phone at Reserve nightclub, where DJ AM spun and the Black Eyed Peas showed up. Captain Morgan also held a big-budget launch party at Reserve for Tattoo Rum, with Dennis Rodman as the host. “We hope to do more of these product launches in the future,” says Ryan Preuett, director of marketing for Reserve.