DMA Silent as Commission OKs $200,000 Refund to Bring Fall Show Back to Orlando

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Orange County commissioners approved a refund yesterday of nearly $200,000 paid by the Direct Marketing Association last year for renting the Florida county's convention center.

However, the DMA has not confirmed that it will return its fall annual show to Orlando in 2007.

Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the refund, which the county thinks will persuade the DMA to return the show to Orlando after a rocky experience there last fall. County government spokesman Steven Triggs said the DMA is "locked in" for 2007 and tentative for years beyond that.

The DMA again declined to comment about the deal yesterday.

The refund is a peace offering from the county to appease the DMA after members expressed anger over a news story in the Orlando Sentinel at the time that many felt had a negative slant toward the industry. The newspaper published the article, headlined "Spammers, telemarketers share secrets in Orlando," while the show was under way and amid controversy surrounding the launch of the national no-call list.

But some DMA members have issues with the Orlando area that run deeper than local newspaper coverage. Many said the tourist destination is great for people with families but inconvenient for people trying to conduct business.

The city lacks a variety of unique restaurants, DMA members have complained. Chain restaurants in strip malls are common, but are not well-suited for meetings with clients and prospects, they said.

"In general, Orlando doesn't lend itself to a business environment," said Kathy Thompson, sales representative at Colfax Envelope Corp., Buffalo Grove, IL. "It's not conducive to dashing out to a quick lunch with a client."

Cab costs were another frequent source of complaints. Though most said cabs were readily available, there were complaints about high costs, in part because restaurants, hotels and venues are spread far apart, making transportation expensive.

Last year, Orange County Commission chairman Richard Crotty proposed creating rules to bring unregulated cab drivers under control because taxi regulations do not apply outside Orlando city limits. But the commission dropped the proposal after a study found the regulations to be unworkable, Triggs said.

Despite the complaints, many members appreciated the floor traffic at last year's conference.

"The traffic was good and well-qualified," said Ann Guyer Healy, president/CEO of PCS List & Information Technologies, Peabody, MA. "But that's a statement about the economy and our industry as much as it is about Orlando. I'd prefer to go to a city where there is an opportunity for entertaining clients quickly and easily."

If the show returns to Orlando, Healy said she will go because she must but the industry will let out a collective groan about the decision. She and Thompson said they preferred San Francisco and its Moscone Center as a venue for the DMA's shows.

"The weather is great, and there's lots of restaurants and activities in the city," Healy said.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel weighed in again on direct marketers yesterday, referring to them once again as "spammers" in an article by columnist Scott Maxwell.

"When Chairman Rich Crotty and the Orange County commissioners meet today, they will decide whether to apologize to telemarketers and e-mail spammers on behalf of the Orlando Sentinel -- using taxpayers' money," Maxwell wrote in his "Taking Names" column.

Ashley Allen, vice president of corporate communications and planning at the Sentinel, said she had forwarded a request for comment by DM News to editors in the paper's newsroom yesterday. Newsroom representatives did not respond by deadline.

"The direct marketing industry has many facets and our story explored several of these," Allen said in a June 12 article about the refund in the Sentinel. "It was a balanced account of the ways in which DMA members share business strategies and market their products and services in a convention setting."


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