Column: How Stupid Does the DMA Think You Are?

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The DMA/AIM Conference & Exhibition's name is longer than the attendance list for the next trade show scheduled for May 5-7 at Miami's Hyatt Regency. The DMA is clearly in last-ditch mode trying to rustle up warm bodies.

OK, so I exaggerate. The conference's name is not longer than its attendance list.

But it has 12 exhibitors. This compares to 44 last year at the New York Hilton, and that was considered a piddling affair.

The Direct Marketing Association sent an e-mail recently to exhibitors and possibly prospects attempting to allay fears. The e-mail's wording is typical of how the association communicates, or chooses not to, with constituents.

"We thought it would be appropriate to update you on the upcoming Net.Marketing Conference. In spite of some misinformation you may have seen, the conference attendance at Net.Marketing is actually ahead of last year at this point in time," the e-mail began.

The sentences mean nothing. Where was the DMA "last year at this point in time?" Who are they counting? It's impossible to tell.

As for the "misinformation," it apparently refers either to an April 9 article I filed reporting that a well-placed anonymous source pegged conference attendance at 70, or it refers to a similar article published the same day by DM News' main competitor.

While piecing my report together, I called DMA public relations representative Amy Blankenship, DMA conference department head Chris Gallagher and the Association for Interactive Marketing's executive director, Kevin Noonan. None of them responded. Nor did anyone complain or write a letter to the editor after the piece appeared.

The DMA was given ample opportunity to speak on this issue to DM News' readers, the vast majority of whom work for DMA member companies, and chose not to.

Moreover, while writing this column I called the contact name listed at the bottom of the DMA's e-mail and gave her a day to respond.


The DMA's e-mail continues:

"Our recent decision to move the exhibit hall from the conference center to the hotel (where the actual sessions are) was done to create even greater traffic for exhibitors, since it is strategically located directly between the keynote sessions and breakout sessions."

Uh, yeah, and DM News was thinner last year because we didn't want to force subscribers to read so much.

The exhibit hall was moved because the space the DMA originally reserved has room for 61 single booths, and only 12 exhibitors are signed up.

Not to worry. The DMA has a plan.

"While we have had fewer requests for exhibit hall only passes, [note: they have fewer requests for exhibit hall only passes, and only 12 exhibitors are signed up, yet they're "ahead of last year at this point in time"] an extensive marketing campaign is scheduled in newspaper and radio in Miami and the South Florida area which we expect to drive significant walk-in traffic to exhibitors," the e-mail said.

Great. The DMA's conference department is attacking this problem just as it did a similar one in Seattle for the spring 2001 show. To boost attendance at that flop, the DMA advertised the conference in the local paper as a job fair -- a friggin' job fair at an Internet-related trade show in the midst of the dot-com implosion.

With that kind of strategic thinking, imagine how this year's creative will position the conference: "Feeling lonely? So are about a dozen companies at the Hyatt. Make a bored executive feel wanted, and go to the Hyatt today. Special offer: Tell 'em you're a 'decision maker' and get a free blender drink."

Using radio and television to drive tchotchke hunters into the hall just to boost attendance figures is an insult to exhibitors. The DMA should come clean about this show, and slash pricing to break-even levels. Or if they must, let exhibitors apply all or part of the money paid for this show to another.

Why beef about the handling of such a small event? Because the behavior indicates institutional arrogance and contempt for constituents. Dues-paying members should demand more respectful treatment.


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