Marketing Forum Reaches New Heights

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AT SEA ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN DAWN -- Word-of-mouth marketing, e-mail trends and emerging technologies in online media were among the topics discussed here last week at the Marketing and eMarketing Forums 2006.

The event, the brainchild of New York- and London-based Richmond Events, is in its eighth year. But this is the first year for the eMarketing Forum.

Ninety suppliers attended the forums, many of them direct marketing related such as Roska Direct Advertising, Tacoda and Vertis. A proprietary "executive matching" service brings together qualified suppliers and senior-level attendee decision makers in scheduled one-on-one meetings.

Suppliers pay $25,000 to attend, but can get discounts if they sign up for next year's forum. Client-side decision makers are invited for free. They also can attend seminars, workshops and keynote presentations -- if they can make the time.

Speakers are from companies such as Eli Lilly, Eastman Kodak, Wells Fargo Consumer Credit, Quaero, Palm Inc. and British Airways. Client-side marketers come from businesses like Aveda Corp., Bank of America, Mattel Inc., Island Def Jam Records, Hilton Hotels Corp., Pitney Bowes Inc., Pfaltzgraff Co., March of Dimes and Careerbuilder.com.

Word-of-mouth marketing was discussed at a workshop headed by Rick Murray, executive vice president and general manager of public relations agency Edelman, and Andy Sernovitz, CEO of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.

"Word of mouth is giving people a reason to talk about your products and making it easier for that conversation to take place," Mr. Sernovitz said. "It's coming up with a cool new product, offering a remarkable experience or offering great customer service. It's a tool that rewards companies that do good stuff more than companies that do marketing better."

Will Speck, director of research and development in the U.S. region for the Financial Times, discussed emerging technologies such as wikis, open source and peer to peer. Companies like IBM and Microsoft have social computing departments to focus on how to deploy the technologies in a new way to connect with customers, he said.

This year, the program debuted "Speed Meetings." Similar to the popular speed-dating concept, suppliers can arrange five-minute meetings with clients. A regular forum meeting lasts about a half-hour.

The three-night cruise had 10,000 meetings scheduled and returned to shore May 10. The "Cruise to Nowhere" traveled the Atlantic Ocean along the New York coast.

Also new this year: Suppliers can get feedback forms from decision makers they met with, via Richmond Events. This helps suppliers to know whether to contact them after the cruise.

These forums always take place on a cruise ship, letting executives escape the office to think strategically and conduct focused meetings. There are no exhibition booths, no product demonstrations, no interruptions and no time wasted between appointments.

Attendees have a packed schedule. One marketer said she had meetings scheduled from 7:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. May 8. Though excited about the cruise, she was concerned about being "on" the whole day and wondered whether she would attend all of the meetings. But later she said she learned a lot and hoped to do the program again.

Jerry DeRosa, director of marketing services at Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, a medical publishing company in Philadelphia, has attended the forum in years past. He learns about marketing trends each year and makes contacts he speaks to throughout the year.

"I especially like the way the program is set up because I am a relatively shy person and it's not always easy for me to go up to people and start talking to them," he said. "But the way the meetings and the dinners are scheduled allows me to meet with people I otherwise wouldn't have met."

Richard Goldsmith, president of the Horah Division/PGI Companies, a direct mail production company in New York, attended as a supplier. He had 35 meetings scheduled. He looked forward to being able to sell his services in such a targeted, intimate environment to people who were interested in listening to him.

"I think this is a great forum for selling," he said. "You really can spend time with people and explain your products or services to them."

Mr. Goldsmith said he was impressed with the preparation by some clients.

"One person I had a meeting with had already done research on me and my company," he said. "Can you imagine that?"

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