Jittery DMers Assessing Fall Show Travels

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Fear of flying apparently has many marketers reassessing plans to attend the Direct Marketing Association's fall show in Chicago.


In an unprecedented move, DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen sent e-mails in the past week urging companies to attend. One that is expected to go out today offers free airfare within the continental United States and Canada on American Airlines for anyone who registers between Sept. 11 and Oct. 5.


The first e-mail, sent to 14,000 DMA members on Sept. 20, guaranteed that "from your attendance at the conference, you will improve your bottom line by at least 10 times the cost of the registration fee or we'll refund the full price of the conference." Conference attendance costs $1,245-$1,500 for members and up to $2,180 for nonmembers.


"We had a slight pause or hiccup a few days after Sept. 11," Wientzen said, "but last week we were rather surprised because we had an influx of registrations. It seemed like people started to get back to normal."


The DMA said that seven new exhibitors signed up Sept. 17-21, but two others canceled.


Wientzen's second e-mail said, "Even the president's father, former President George Bush, has personally confirmed he is looking forward to delivering his keynote address as scheduled."


But with the show just a month away, many direct marketers' plans for Chicago are still up in the air.


"If a broker's clients are not going to be at the show and are not interested in having meetings to do business, then our brokers will stay in the office," said Jerry Schillinger, CEO of Direct Media Inc., Greenwich, CT. "There may be adjustments based on what our mailers do. From what we understand, some of them are uncommitted -- and we think in the next couple of weeks they'll make a commitment and we'll adjust our plans."


Direct Media also announced yesterday that in lieu of its usual annual conference reception, it will make donations to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and the Twin Towers Fund.


Mokrynski & Associates, Hackensack, NJ, polled its clients after the attacks to see who would attend.


"The net result was that we have less than 10 percent of our clients going," said Steve Tamke, senior vice president of list brokerage at Mokrynski. That's about half the normal amount, and as such Mokrynski has scaled back the number of people it will send, though "we will have a representative sample from all departments."


Many companies, such as ad services firm DoubleClick, New York, are expected to increase their presence. Whereas usually representatives almost solely from its co-op concern Abacus attend, DoubleClick will send 100 people from three divisions: Abacus, DARTmail and its e-mail list services division. Who will be attending is not finalized, said spokeswoman Jennifer Blum. But DoubleClick has adopted a "do-what-you're-comfortable-with" policy, she said.


"If an employee's not comfortable we'd never force them to get on a plane," Blum said.


Employees from Epsilon, Burlington, MA, "are going, absolutely," said Michael Penney, executive vice president of market development. "We are sending more people this year than last year." Epsilon also is proceeding with plans to host its party Oct. 29 at the Chicago Hilton.


KnowledgeBase, Houston, also is sending more people this year, spokeswoman Becky Nordquist said, as well as gearing up for its party Oct. 28 at the Hudson Club.


On the whole, major direct marketing agencies are sending their usual numbers. Several executives applauded Wientzen's efforts, saying he's using sound DM principles to rally attendance. Free airfare might boost attendance, but many shops already had registered their executives way ahead of time.


"It is a nice demonstration of his confidence in the value of the event," said Larry Kimmel, CEO of Grey Direct, New York.


Executives at cataloger Lillian Vernon, Rye, NY, aren't yet sure how many people -- if any -- they'll send.


"We had planned to send four people," said David Hochberg, vice president of public affairs. "We are presently re-evaluating if anyone should go because we have heard from our contacts and sources in the industry that many people will not be attending and, therefore, the networking and meeting opportunities will be limited. We definitely will not be sending four people."


Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, Framingham, MA, said IDG will send its usual contingent. She, however, will take a train.


"Yeah, I'm going to schlep for 22 hours and see America," she said. "But I'm going to get there. I have to go."


Goldstein expects that attendance will likely be hit hardest by folks for whom the conference is more of a discretionary expense to begin with.


"I think there will be a very strong sense to go among exhibitors," she said, "but I don't believe it will be as critical for attendees who go mainly for education."


Plans at DialAmerica, Mahwah, NJ, have not changed. The teleservices firm, which is a regular exhibitor at the conference, will send its "full complement" of delegates, said Rich Simms, developmental manager.


"I personally will be speaking," Simms said. "There have been no plans by anyone to cancel." With the conference still a month away, travel plans could change, Simms said.


Officials at Oetting & Co., New York, a teleservices consultancy, also are ready to attend. Senior partners Rudy Oetting and Geri Gantman plan to fly, while another three associates who are based in Milwaukee will make the two-hour drive by car.


Gantman and Oetting expressed disappointment with the International Customer Service Association for canceling its annual conference, which had been scheduled for Sept. 23-26 in Orlando. Industry leaders cannot allow terrorism to disrupt normal business, Gantman said.


"Even if attendance is going to be down, you have it," Gantman said.


Kern Direct, Woodland Hills, CA, expects to send four or five people, up from two last year. "There is business to be had. You just have to go out and get it," said president Russell Kern. He also commended Wientzen's efforts.


"It is a great marketing move and very appropriate at this time. People need their confidence re-installed, and this is a way to do it."


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