It's Thursday at twilight, prime party time in the New York cyber circuit, and Courtney J. Pulitzer is scrambling. Armed with pen, paper, and Lancome lipstick, she faces yet another night of free bubbly and fawning millionaires. But forget fun. Pulitzer, 30, has only three hours to get enough fodder from six dot-com parties to fill The Cyber Scene, a gushing online newsletter that she distributes free to more than 20,000 readers each week. Then she has to ditch the silk scarf and heels, write her report, and pack before boarding an early-morning flight to host her own Cocktails with Courtney party and gather gossip in Austin, Tex. "Friends sometimes ask to join me, but the pace is so crazy that they never want to do it again," says Pulitzer.
"KNOWS EVERYBODY." Meet a professional socialite of the Net set. While dishing out gossip and tossing parties might sound like a trivial pursuit, Pulitzer says she's serious about building a business. Along with the sugary sweet, ad-sponsored newsletter, she contributes to magazines, speaks at industry events, and teaches adult-ed courses on spotting Web trends. She says a CyberScene cable-TV show is in the works.
Then there's her signature Cocktails with Courtney parties, where hundreds of New York Netheads meet and mingle each month. "Courtney definitely knows everybody in the industry," says Kevin J. O'Connor, CEO and chairman of DoubleClick Inc. Pulitzer is expanding her turf, with recent parties in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London. She gets sponsors including Hoover's Inc., Renaissance Multimedia, and Kozmo.com to cover the cost of drinks, food, and her fee of up to $7,500 per party.
Why do people attend Pulitzer's parties and read her newsletter? The Cyber Scene makes no pretense of being anything other than a chronicler of who attended which dot-com party, but for a fragmented, rapidly evolving industry in which the players are young and the companies rich, that's enough. "The auto industry doesn't need a social commentator. We do," says Gary Hoover, founder of Hoover's, which provides financial data online. When Pulitzer giddily notes what various "curly-topped" entrepreneurs confided to her between bites of "melt-in-your-mouth hazelnut parfait," though, she insists she's not just stroking egos. "I'm going below the radar screen to put faces on what's going on," she says.
Pulitzer is not the first person to tap the party scene for profit: Everyone from the Industry Standard to hungry entrepreneurs now throws regular networking events. But she is one of the few to make glad-handing her full-time career. She owns and runs Courtney Pulitzer Creations as well as several Web sites, including www.pulitzer.com. So far she hasn't lacked for sponsors. "Everybody comes here, and her parties are fun," says an executive from Kozmo.com. "It's a great venue for us."
Her name alone carries cachet, although Pulitzer is only a distant relation to the newspaper clan. But it hardly opened doors. She moved from Skaneateles in upstate New York to Manhattan in 1989. She studied acting, but concluding she "would rather do anything other than memorize a monologue or go to auditions," she moved to freelance Net projects. Then she got her big break in April, 1997, writing a social column for atnewyork.com, a Silicon Alley news site. Late the following year, she relaunched her column alone and began hosting sponsored cocktail parties.
DRINK UP. Since then, business has picked up so much that Pulitzer dared to have a cash bar after the first hour at her most recent New York bash for almost 500 people. In such a party-steeped crowd, not everyone was thrilled. "I came here to get drunk," grumbled Matt Vailey, a 27-year-old consultant.
Still, even rivals seem impressed. "She has made a real business of it, which is what I'd like to do," says Silvia Cavallini, who recently started a networking club, Liquid Assets. But almost anyone can start a business these days. For Pulitzer, the question is: How long can she make the party last?