Attendance Looks Grim for

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The DMA/AIM Conference & Exhibition so far has a sparse exhibitor and attendee list.

As of yesterday, the Direct Marketing Association had 12 exhibitors for the conference. Also, a source close to the DMA said there are only about 70 paid attendees registered for the show's panels, seminars and workshops.

The current floor plan for the conference, scheduled for May 5-7 at Miami's Hyatt Regency, shows space for 61 single booths. However, the DMA told one company that the exhibit hall has been moved to a smaller room.

The DMA has struggled with several of its conferences, especially the show, since the dot-com bubble burst and the economy went sour. The DMA's revenue from meetings and conferences overall dropped from $18.5 million in fiscal 2001 to $12 million in fiscal 2002, according to the most recent DMA tax returns. The DMA's fiscal year ends June 30.

As of April 8, this year's show was still on. Canceling it would be highly unusual, but not unprecedented. The DMA canceled its 2001 fall show roughly a month before the event because of a lack of paid attendees and exhibitors. Later that year, the DMA merged its Association for Interactive Marketing shows and its show into one entity.

Last year's conference showed signs of bouncing back, drawing 44 exhibitors, 350 paid attendees and 500 exhibit-hall-only visitors, according to one source.

Though the conference was small, it exceeded planners' goals, and exhibitors reported solid leads the first day. By the second day, though, traffic had all but dried up, leading exhibitors to speculate that a likely reason for the show's small success was that it was held in New York. The tri-state area of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey is loaded with executives who can take a day or half a day to attend a conference. Miami does not offer that luxury.

Deb Goldstein, president of e-mail list company IDG List Services Inc., Framingham, MA, said the DMA should inform exhibitors if reports of low attendance are true. She pegged the cost of attending the conference at $5,000.

"That's $5,000 off my bottom line -- and unless the leads are there, we can't recover it. That's a lot of list rentals," Goldstein said, referring to the amount of business she will need to make attending worthwhile.

Not surprisingly, many marketers blame the war in Iraq and the sluggish economy.

"People are nervous about traveling," Goldstein said. "Also, companies have cut their training, and shows are part of training."

One regular exhibitor absent from this year's show is CheetahMail. The e-mail service provider has seen a drop-off in's attendance and the quality of trade shows overall and has grown pickier about which ones it attends, said Ashley Johnston, director of marketing at CheetahMail, New York.

"The DMA puts on so many shows, and there's a lot of crossover of exhibitors and attendees," she said. "I don't think we're going to miss any huge opportunities. The value's just not there."

DMA officials did not return calls for comment.


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