When you’re looking for help picking an event venue, turning to a creative agency might not be your first instinct. But Trademark—a global corporate event production and experiential marketing company—is seeking to change that with Trademark SiteSelect.
Through the new service, which is available as an add-on for existing clients as well as a standalone option, the Trademark team will use its first-hand knowledge of cities around the world to help companies select and secure venues. The SiteSelect team also manages the entire RFP process and contract details.
What sets the service apart, in Trademark co-CEO Jon Forst’s opinion, is that the team draws on its extensive history in film and event production to apply a “creative and technical lens” to each location, he says—meaning the team is thinking about the final production and creative possibilities throughout every step of the process.
“We have feet on the street that know the local scene in major cities around the globe,” he adds. “Our hotel and venue relationships give us access to locations that deliver the right attendee experiences from moment to moment, and provide the perfect backdrop for important brand events.”
BizBash caught up with Forst to learn more about the new offering, along with the trends he's seeing in the industry—and which city he thinks will become the hottest event destination over the next decade.
Where did the idea for Trademark SiteSelect come from?
This is something we've spent probably eight years talking about. We have an extensive history in film and TV production—Trademark’s in our 25th year, and my business partner [Elle Chan] and I came from Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic. So with that film perspective, I think our model is very different than what you might see in other procurement companies. Whenever you search for venues or sites in the film industry, there’s a location manager who will go out and look at all aspects of where you're going to film. That idea of going out into the field means we produce our events differently.
And from the production side, we see a lot of not-good contracts. We see a lot of contracts that have gotten signed without really being able to know about the full schedule or expected details, production-wise—and then you find out you don't have a loading bay, or you've got an overnight load-in, or something like that.
For us, we talk a lot about that white-glove treatment of holding our clients' hands all the way through—and even creatively thinking about their programs outside of just the main site selection. It's also thinking about where they're gonna go for their offsites and their evening events. We have local knowledge in cities that we've just built up for all the years we've been in business.
We apply a creative and technical lens to everything. Our forte is this intersection of entertainment and technology, and it’s that approach that we bring to events—but we also want to apply it to the site selection process.
And is this available globally?
Yes. You know, this is something we've been doing for a number of our clients for two decades. It's been on our arsenal of services, but we'd never leaned into it and said, "Hey, why don't we think about launching a vertical and coming at this from a different direction?"
We have a lot of deep experience in global cities, and we always talk about becoming an expert in every city. That's something that we love. We have reps in our main offices in San Francisco and New York, but we also have reps globally. Alison Jayne, our global sourcing director, has been the director of sales for so many hotels and has been in the hospitality and hotel industry for a long time.
I love this idea of applying a creative and technical approach to site selection. Can you expand on how that process works when you're sourcing event venues?
Initially, the discovery phase with new clients is a big first step. We really want to get in and discover what they're after. We're not here just to provide a hotel platform for you—everything comes with this creative approach of thinking about what [the client’s] end goal is. We're just as comfortable outside of a hotel and looking at nontraditional venues and cities, though obviously, we're in all the major hotels too. We're probably going to source very differently for an insurance company than we are for a new, disruptive technology company—so that discovery stage at the beginning is everything.
We’ve booked a lot of programs in nontraditional event venues, particularly for brands in the tech world. It fits their personality and goals. So we've produced things on, [for example], outdoor piers—where there's suddenly an opportunity to, say, build a roller rink. And suddenly you've got 1,000 people at a party, and there's a roller rink there. We've even brought in fighting robots! [laughs]
It's all about this opportunity to make a creative impression and really inspire all the people that are coming to these events. We want to bring [the client's] brand to life, and we want people to walk away saying that's the coolest program I've ever been to. And venue selection is a big part of that.
So it seems like sometimes, you start by seeing the venue and it inspires production ideas—like roller rinks! And other times, you start with the ideas and then look for a venue that could accommodate them.
Yeah. We're always thinking, how can we flip this on its head a little bit from that creative and technical lens? So we're always applying new technologies and looking at what's out there in the zeitgeist of the world, creatively. And this will feed into SiteSelect. Our producers go to multiple shows every year, like Burning Man or Art Basel, and then bring all of those ideas back. It's very collaborative.
Whenever we’re in a market—and in the next few weeks our teams are in Sydney and London, for example—we spend extra days and time there looking at new venues, looking at new hotels. So we're constantly updating our inventory and our database of all the places that we really love.
Even with hotels—every hotel has just a slightly different personality, right? A Westin is different than a Marriott, it's different than Hilton, it's different than Sheraton, it's different than a Fairmont. They're just little nuances, but they all have a personality. And so for us, it’s matching that personality with the right client.
From your big-picture view, are there any must-have amenities at venues right now? What trends are you seeing?
The industry is busy. One of the things that we've seen is the need for space where people spend more time together. There used to be two-hour welcome receptions—but people want them to be four hours now. This past February [after the Omicron wave], we did a big program at the Fairmont San Francisco, and we just couldn't separate people! We were chiming for the program, and guests were like, "We know what you're trying to do. We're not leaving."
Everyone wants to be together and catch up. We’ve talked about that with so many clients. When we're doing procurement and site sourcing, it's thinking about, how much space do they have for casual interactions? How can we change [the spaces] and make them more inviting and into places where people want to spend more time networking?
As far as locations, international travel has been down, but we're starting to see that increase somewhat significantly. I will tell you right now that in the U.S., Nashville is the place to be. They're building six new hotels there, and we've done three or four programs there this year. It's going to be really busy in the next five to 10 years.
This interview has been edited and condensed.