Kerri Otto is one of the industry leaders at CORT Event Furnishings, and has been furnishing and designing live events nationwide for thirteen years.
Her passion for design started as early as she could remember. From painting custom furniture pieces as a little girl to designing women’s fashion during her career as a buyer, Kerri loves to create just about anything and everything.
After earning her MBA in Marketing at Iona College, Kerri started her career in the global events industry at CORT. She now works side by side with some of the top experiential marketing design agencies in New York City, and also works directly with several Fortune 100 companies.
Throughout her career, Kerri has been inspired each day to evolve as a designer and event professional. She has created lounge environments for luxury weddings, product launches, conferences, sporting events, fashion, and mitzvahs, which continues to strengthen her experience in virtually every design field. Through her tenure, she has received countless accolades and awards for her work in events at CORT. Kerri’s work has been published in various event and lifestyle publications as well.
Convention South listed you as a Meeting Professional to Watch in their 2020 “AWARDS Issue!” How do you approach the creative process with clients that want a fresh and innovative interpretation of their traditional brand image?
I first go back to my marketing roots and do a brand analysis. Then, I learn about the purpose of the event, who is attending, brand colors, the objective of the brand, who their consumer is, and then create an outline of where they can go from a creative perspective. I create three unique mood boards for clients to consider all of their options, and then together, we select the winning look.
While working with wedding clients, I curate full mood boards with rental items that compliment their color stories, to ensure that each couple has a unique experience.
What advice can you offer to planners, couples, and corporations that want to push the envelope when it comes to the furniture rental process?
Events, whether social or corporate, only happen once. They should be unique experiences, so go bold with your furnishing choices and décor elements. Immersive design is what’s relevant right now. It should strike a chord with your guests, capture their attention and keep them comfortable at the same time.
Also, choose a vendor that will truly be your partner when designing your event. Let them do what they do best; help you with product selection and placement. Leverage their knowledge and trust the expertise in their craft. It will only make your event experience that much better.
At CORT, we aim to be your strategic advisor, not just another vendor.
COVID has forced event professionals to reimagine floorplans and design footprints to accommodate social distancing and other safety precautions. How has CORT adapted to service these needs?
I’ve always created complimentary, to scale, renderings for my clients which have always been needed for onsite set ups, but now they have a new purpose. Layouts are now rendered on six-foot grids and are being shared with agencies that can confirm events are adhering to city/state guidelines. My plans show the capacity of the room, along with the recommended six feet of distancing between furniture placements.
CORT’s nationwide warehouses each have a manager that is certified by the Global Bio Risk Advisory Council. We sanitize our furnishings prior to any delivery and after every pickup. Not only do our pieces come cleaned, they now go through a stringent sanitizing process using CDC approved products from EcoLab that kill any viral elements, including COVID-19.
Are there certain furniture or rental pieces that are an absolute must-have for events right now? Does it vary from social to corporate events?
Corporate events are opting for individual tables per chair rather than shared surfaces. Clients have also been choosing individual looks for every attendee. Attendees now have their own “sanctuary seat” paired with their personal side or café table, should they need a larger surface area.
Of course, our new dividers are a major item too in both weddings and corporate events. We launched our safety collection in July of 2020 and all of our new dividers have been in high demand. We’re continuously adding more items to our safety collection, with more coming out this year.
On the social side, for weddings, lounges and dining seating are what we’re accustomed to, but on a scale that adheres to the state or city’s event restrictions. Wedding clients are using our safety shields for bar tops, to keep servers and guests safe, as well as our free-standing shields that add safety barriers to separate musical artists too.
I’ve also noticed that brides want to incorporate more color into their wedding furnishings. I’ve done less all white lounges and more with rich colors and various textures too!
Your background in fashion, design and marketing keeps you ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to buzz-worthy and experiential concepts. What are your predictions for the top event trends coming down the pipeline for 2021 and 2022?
The maximalist look is coming back. I think we’ll start to see less neutrals in 2021 and 2022. Design is about exploration, experimentation, and reflecting our personalities.
In 2021 and 2022, we will continue to gravitate towards more color, visual interest, and playful design. Layering with different textures and colors are already happening in the wedding market and in corporate event design. Bold looks are next, something that is visually appealing to the eye.
The all white, minimalist look is on it’s way out, and if you are not ready to let it go, you can easily add the right CORT accents and décor elements to slowly shift in that new direction.
What is the first step you take when creating a mood board for your clients? How do you translate mood boards into a formal design presentation?
Starting with a mood board is particularly important because it gets the client and vendor on same page for their event experience. You cannot price anything or start designing a floorplan if you are not on the same creative path!
Approving a mood board allows you to have the right foundation for drawings and sourcing the right product pieces, which then leads to event execution!
You’ve just completed major guides for meeting and event planners that enables them to reimagine their event environments. Can you tell us the details, and where industry professionals can access those guides?
Yes! We recently released our “Build Your Meeting Guide” which offers new concepts and best practices for events in today’s world of event design. Our “Love in Full Color” Wedding Guide was also recently released.
My team and I have been fortunate to partner on several high-profile live events throughout the pandemic. These guides pull concepts from those experiences and places it in the hands of those that have gone virtual for the past year.
It’s both a planning tool and provides design inspiration! It’s also a resource that you can turn to when you’re planning your next live event experience. If you have not received a copy of your guide yet, reach out to your account manager for a copy. You can find your rep here!
If you were to leave us with something to think about, what would it be?
We’re in this together! This past year has been unbelievable for all of us, but together we can partner on solutions and collaborate creatively to form the perfect event experiences for our clients.
Don’t think of us as just a vendor, think of us as your trusted partner and resource.
To learn more about CORT Event Furnishings, click here.
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