The customer experience continues to revolutionize how marketers plan their events. Ensuring success means that each detail of the event from start to finish must be about customers’ preferences. This includes the selection of the event venue. Trademark co-founder Jon Forst shared his years of experience in event venue selection and the current status of event marketing in the San Francisco area.
What do you consider before evaluating an event venue?
“It’s really about the location,” Forst said. “Everything about it must align with our clients’ brands. Clearly, the space must have capacity for all the activities our clients want attendees to participate in, but beyond that, there has to be something that the location brings to enhance the experience.”
With the move to more unique venues, what should hotels (or traditional sites) be doing to stay relevant?
It is no secret that hotels are facing different types of competition these days with online hospitality services like Airbnb and VRBO. The same is true of hotels hosting events – an increasing number of event marketers are looking for unique venues that offer unforgettable experiences.
“Hotels can still be great places to hold events,” Forst said. “We have already seen changes that indicate hotels are listening to their customers. For example, to remain competitive on costs, they’re adding more screens to meeting rooms, and enhancing wifi packages and pricing. On the purely aesthetic side, they’re remodeling with more modern furnishings. And they’re trying to be better citizens by implementing eco-friendly practices like moving away from using linens.”
Hotels can also remain relevant to event marketers by promoting creative activities even if this means moving away from standard practices. Trademark has gained the cooperation of many hotels to accept specialty food vendors plying local craft beers and chocolates, or even popsicles, as part of a hosted event.
Imagine you have ten seconds to walk into a venue and decide whether to book it. What do you look for?
“The most important thing – assuming it’s the right size venue for the event – is a sense of discovery,” Forst said.
He and his team evaluate the setting based on possible separate areas to explore and how attendees will flow through the space. “Our goal is to transform the venue by creating multiple, distinct experiences, and reveal something new around each corner,” he said.
How does Trademark approach large empty spaces?
“Transforming space is part of Trademark’s DNA,” Forst explained. “From our Lucasfilm and ILM days of producing custom sets and fabrications to our years of experience building out raw spaces like the Baker-Hamilton Building or the Concourse, we are always looking at venues with a fresh set of eyes and thinking about what hasn’t been done there.”
“One of our favorite experiences was at the San Diego Cruise Ship Terminal,” he continued. “For VMware, we built a plexiglass arena and brought in twelve different robot teams to fight to the death with sparks, fire, and smoke. There was even an interactive pit around the arena where makers did triage on their battle-worn machines, and developers could watch and ask questions. This award-winning BattleBots activation gave our client an unforgettable experience.”
What is the biggest venue challenge Trademark has faced?
“While pre-producing an outdoor 2,000 person tailgating barbecue in Centennial Park in Atlanta, the weather was our number one concern,” Forst recalled. “Locals told us not to worry. Historically, October is the least rainy month. Well – of course, you know what happened next. The week of our event, thunderstorms loomed. We considered all our options. Getting rained out mid-party would have been tough, but potential lightning strikes were unacceptable. We had to find a new venue in two days. “
Trademark’s lead producer, Jeff Starr, and the Trademark team worked quickly to book the new location, the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot. This former train station had outdoor space for our big-rig barbecue vendors like Heirloom and Smoke Ring.
“We rebuilt the layout, got the permitting, and communicated with dozens of vendors,” Forst said. “It was an intense 48 hours, but we pulled it off. The party was a huge hit and our client was thrilled.”
What is the current state-of-the-state for San Francisco venues?
Though San Francisco is a world-class city, you can count the current list of large operational independent venues on one hand. We all know the reasons: A booming economy led to a massive real estate shortage which meant the sacrifice of our biggest spaces.
“After years of operation, venues such as the Concourse Pavilion, Pier 70, and the Herbst Pavilion are gone,” Forst said. “Others, like the Armory, will soon come off the market. Demand is so high that Pier 27, an active cruise ship terminal, books event space for large multi-day events over a year in advance.”
Forst added that the news is not all grim. Pier 29 recently came on board and that’s been very helpful for campus-style conferences.
How do you see agencies adapting to work with what is available?
At The Regency Center, a staple of the events community, we once built a New Orleans voodoo lounge, only to switch the room to a Tokyo disco halfway through, by dropping mylar banners and kicking off a laser show with hazers, dance music, and disco balls,” Forst said. “If you went downstairs to get a drink, you came back and wondered what happened, am I in the same room?!
Forst said that Trademark’s challenge is to reinvent sites that everyone is familiar with for each occasion. Producing an event at the Pier, for example, requires intensive permitting, planning, and potential tent and infrastructure builds.
When do multiple venues make sense?
Sometimes, an event comes along that is so unique that multiple venues are required. This means selecting venues in multiple cities around the world. Forst recalled planning for cloud computing company Okta. Their 10th-anniversary party required choosing venues in six cities around the world, all on the same evening.
This global event meant the teams had to take into account not only employee preferences and available venues but the weather at each location. For example, the Sydney office celebrated the anniversary during their springtime with some of the region’s finest food and fun outdoors.
Finding the right event venue
As Forst indicated earlier, selecting an event venue is far more than finding a building that has space to host your guests. It requires the help of those with the vision to see what the space is capable of so your attendees can have the ultimate experience.
Need help creating a memorable event experience? Let’s talk.