Editorial: Peace of Mind for $1.54

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Among the rumbling (and grumbling) from last month's net.marketing show: How about a credit? The Direct Marketing Association cut the conference short by half a day after a 6.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the Seattle area. The quake hit during several sparsely attended morning sessions, though last-day attendance is always down. In the exhibit hall, which was scheduled to break for lunch in an hour and a half, exhibitors had only one another to talk to. The hall would have reopened at 2 p.m. and stayed open till 5 p.m. That wasn't the case, obviously. Because of the quake, exhibition hall time was reduced 25 percent for the entire course of the show, and attendees lost out on more than 20 percent of their session and floor-walking time.

No DMA show has ever been interrupted by an earthquake, so it's understandable that there's a lack of precedent here. The DMA's exhibitor service manual does not address fires, quakes or other acts of God in its liability statement. "The hall was slow, and the attendees at various talks and presentations were light at best. I'd like to know if we are going to get a credit for time lost exhibiting. Seems fair to me," says Mike Carney, president of DirectQlick.com. Yes, crediting the customer when something goes wrong, a fine DM tenet. Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, wonders instead about crediting exhibitors unhappy with the low attendance.

The DMA can solve the attendance issue by using third-party auditing. The Audit Bureau of Circulations started Expomark, a service that does just that, in 1996. "An audit in and of itself does not guarantee a show's value. It is, however, a very good tool when weighing the pros and cons of exhibiting in a particular event," Expomark says on its Web site. Among its users are several Net-related shows, including Internet World, Internet & E-Business Conference & Exposition and Broadband 2000. According to the rate card on ABC's Web site, an audit of a show with fewer than 5,000 attendees costs $2,550. If there were 1,659 people at net.marketing, isn't it worth $1.54 per attendee to support that claim?

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