Final Thoughts on Wembley - and About the Postal Wars

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This was my sixth - and mercifully last - visit to the British DM show at Wembley, a site that has become as familiar and as uncomfortable as a torn shoe.

Wembley, like Herald Square in New York, tends to the armpit side of the city. A former colleague, known for his spleen, once wrote a scathing account of convention life in the shadows of the Wembley soccer stadium (it is about to be torn down and rebuilt and where I always thought I would be trampled to death by a herd of 100,000 bloodthirsty British soccer fans on a rampage.)

Mostly, as I recall, Ray was out to castigate the food - ptomaine heaven Indian and Pakistani restaurants, dry sandwiches inside the conference venue, and lousy pub food at the Green Man, a pub ten minutes up a steep hill that always left me panting. He didn't much like the Hilton next door either. Friends who stayed there told me they had to shower in the evening because the hotel did not have hot water in the morning. And a single malt at the bar would not pass the muster of the most relaxed CFO.

When I first came to London in 1995 the Fair literature said Wembley was only 12 minutes from the Baker Street tube so I found a hotel two blocks away looking out on Dorset Square where the Brits had first played cricket back in the 18th or early 19th century. And you know, on the Metropolitan line it did only take 12 minutes to get to Wembley Park, a distinct plus if you had urgent business in the city.

Still, I thought I was being the ugly American about the site. After all convention centers are like airports, uniform and uniformly awful. But at the good-bye to Wembley cocktail it was the Brits who bombarded the venue with harsh sarcasm. Usually, I carry note paper at such events. This time I didn't so don't remember some of the better sallies, which is too bad. They were funny.

Next year we'll be among the docks of London's East End, which, if memory serves, some of the best Chinese restaurants outside China used to call home. It will probably take me longer than 12 minutes from Baker Street - I don't plan to give up my hotel - but if the glass palace is completed in time it will be an improvement.

Make no mistake, the London show, wherever it is held, is a place for doing serious international business, and remains the best place in Europe for tracking this rapidly changing industry. Brits have a sense of tradition so they don't plan to scupper their old International Direct Marketing Fair. Instead, they will add three high-tech exhibits covering the Internet, teleservices and IT marketing.

The Brits also made a significant move in the battle for postal markets. The new joint venture they, the Dutch and Singapore Post are launching in Brussels is a serious challenge to the surging Germans whose yellow lorries are making a determined grab for postal leadership. They'll have their hands full with Theo Jongsma, the scrappy Dutchman who has been named CEO of the new venture.

Theo knows that cross-border mail is a cent business with narrow margins. But he also knows how to run one, and when to resort to showmanship to make a point - he is probably the best on stage performer in the business - and when not to.

TNT flies orange colors, the Germans use bright yellow. But other colors are likely to join the fray. USPS isn't out of it and the French La Poste is finally beginning to move with a southern European alliance that includes Italy, Spain and Portugal. Well, you never know.

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