Popcorn, soda and reclining seats are probably not the first things you’d associate with a corporate event. Perhaps coffee, networking and PowerPoints come to mind.
But imagine attending a corporate event where you grab some free popcorn and your favorite soda – maybe even a cocktail – and take your seat in a comfortable recliner. The president of the hosting company makes some remarks at the front of the room while a 72-foot widescreen on the wall behind him vividly displays graphics and information. When the presentation concludes, the lights dim and “Incredibles 2” is projected on the screen for you to enjoy for the next two hours.
This scenario describes a typical corporate function put on by Marcus Theatres, an arm of Milwaukee-based The Marcus Corp. Marcus Theatres owns or manages 68 locations in eight states. Its 11 Milwaukee-area theaters host about 200 corporate events each year, the company said, ranging from annual meetings, product pitches and daylong seminars to company-wide holiday parties and client appreciation events.
Equipped with large seating capacities, high-quality audiovisual capabilities, large-screen digital projectors, and food and beverage services, a movie theater is physically just as equipped – or arguably more so – as a traditional event venue.
But movie theaters offer something that hotels and conference centers don’t: the cinema experience.
“There are some real ‘wow’ moments we’re able to provide that are just natural to us as movie theaters, and that no one else can provide,” said Clint Wisialowski, vice president of sales at Marcus Theatres.
As part of his role, Wisialowski oversees the company’s group sales department, a team of five regional account managers and six event coordinators who are responsible for selling and executing Marcus Theatres’ corporate events and other private events, such as birthday parties, school outings and the like.
Corporate groups – both locally-based small businesses and national corporations – in recent years have become a growing portion of Marcus Theatres’ clientele. The company in 2015 transitioned its group sales and event planning operation from its individual theater locations and placed it in the hands of the newly created group sales department. In the three years since that transition, group sales have quadrupled, Wisialowski said.
Marcus Theatres books events for a variety of companies, including real estate firms, pharmaceutical companies, doctors’ offices, banks, tech companies and nonprofit organizations.
Milwaukee-based Branigan Communications Inc. over the past 10 years has held several events for its clients and their families at Marcus’ Majestic Cinema of Brookfield. Its first event in 2008 featured a screening of “The Dark Knight.” The company has since hosted events built around a variety of highly anticipated films, like “Iron Man” and the recent “Star Wars” films, attracting as many as 450 attendees.
“It reminds our clients of what the company’s values are – that we value togetherness and Midwestern values, and that we’re down-to-earth and have a sense of humor,” said Tom Branigan, chief executive officer. “It kind of fortifies your brand in the minds of people who attend these events.”
He said the next client appreciation event will be held next year in time for the release of “Star Wars: Episode IX.”
Not all corporate events held at Marcus Theatres include a screening experience. Some companies utilize the theaters simply for their accessibility, amenities and features, which are especially geared toward presentation-based events, Wisialowski said.
But most companies that work with Marcus do take advantage of the theaters’ innate purpose, and in that case, the movie is the draw, he said.
“There’s a very high value proposition,” Wisialowski said. “A movie, a soda and a popcorn – people feel that they’ve really gotten something special and I think it’s a great way, both from a customer appreciation and an employee appreciation standpoint, of telling these people they’re important and they mean something to the company.”
While the holiday party season during November and December is consistently the busiest and highest grossing time of year for Marcus Theatres’ group sales, many corporate events are also scheduled based on the dates of movie premieres. And as motion picture companies have noticed the trend, Wisialowski said, they have started to allow theaters to offer early screenings exclusively for corporate groups.
“I can bring your group in, give you a designated auditorium and show you a film that no one has seen yet,” he said. “Companies are starting to realize that this is what we do, so as films come in, we start booking up really early.”
Such an event allows accommodations only for about 40 to 250 attendees, Wisialowski said, but for all other functions, Marcus can accommodate as many people as the theater can seat, which in the case of its Majestic Cinema is well over 1,000.
As one of the largest Marcus theaters in the Milwaukee area, housing 20 auditoriums, approximately 1,700 seats and a large kitchen, the Majestic is well equipped for corporate events with high attendance. Its kitchen can produce a wide variety of food and beverage options, which also makes it a prime location for the many groups that value the dining aspect of an event, Wisialowski said.
With five different catering menus available, the event coordinator curates a custom menu for an event based on the location’s kitchen capabilities and the host’s preference. And the sky’s the limit when it comes to food and beverage range – daylong functions often start with breakfast and end with cocktails, Wisialowski said.
Marcus’ new BistroPlex concept, which opened last June at Southridge Mall in Greendale, has become a popular event location, especially for cocktail hours or networking opportunities, as its spacious lobby features a swanky full bar and lounge area. Since opening its doors, the BistroPlex has hosted almost 50 corporate events and about six nonprofit fundraisers.
“We have many different groups looking for a way to treat their employees to a different experience,” said Adam Levetzow, general manager of BistroPlex.
With a total seating capacity of 860, the 40,000-square-foot venue may not be the largest space Marcus operates, but unlike other theaters, it doubles as a full-service restaurant, featuring an expanded food and drink menu, as well as in-seat dining service for its eight auditoriums.
From a logistical standpoint, the tray tables attached to each DreamLounger seat could provide a place to set a laptop or notebook during presentations, Levetzow said.
“It’s about the convenience of everything being here and our being able to do, realistically, anything for our guests,” Levetzow said. “With the added technology factor, audiovisual and the presentations, it’s going to be the biggest screen you can get your PowerPoint on, it’s going to be the best quality sound, and it’s going to be the best picture. That would be the best way to ever show a boring PowerPoint.”