This Show Could Have Used an Earthquake

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Count me among those who are severely skeptical of the Direct Marketing Association's claim that 1,659 people were at the trade show in Seattle last week. Folks, this show was dead. To be sure, will go down as one of the most talked-about shows in Internet marketing lore, but only as the one slammed by an earthquake.

Other than the Association for Interactive Media's party on Monday night in the Space Needle, the ground was the only thing rocking at this conference. And once it was clear that no one was seriously hurt, the quake reportedly became a welcome excuse for many to leave a poorly attended event.

"Not to be critical, but people were saying, 'Wow, at least the conference is over,' " said Scott Pannier, manager of business development at GetRelevant, San Francisco. "The attendance was really low. There was very little traffic on the floor. The sessions really had a lot of tumbleweeds."

For comparison, the DMA said roughly 2,000 people attended last year's spring show. I've attended all the DMA's shows, and unless someone slipped something into the water that allowed people to see only one out of every three people who crossed their path, there is no way attendance at last week's show was down less than 25 percent from the year before.

I did a rough head count at the opening keynote and estimated 380 people. The sessions and the exhibit floor were also dead throughout the day. Where were the other 1,000 or so people? Shopping? Sorry, but Seattle's just not that compelling a town that people would register then disappear en masse.

Maybe the show picked up on the day of the quake (after I had left), but if it came even close to the DMA's attendance claims, many of these people were the result of an ad announcing the show as a job fair, of all things. Great. Just what trade show exhibitors fresh off a round of layoffs need: job hunters.

As suggested by an attendee, the DMA should back up its claims with third-party auditing. Trade publications like this one must prove how many people they're reaching. Shouldn't conference promoters be held to the same standard?

That attendance was down is not the DMA's fault. The association should also be commended for being able to draw a decent number of exhibitors as the Internet economy implodes. But unless the DMA's estimate of 2,000 for last year's show is a gross underestimation, this year's claim of 1,659 attendees is insulting to the intelligence of anyone who attended this show without a guide dog.

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