Editorial: The Fall Show -- It's Money Well Spent

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A year ago, quite a bit of uncertainty surrounded the Direct Marketing Association's fall conference. Because of 9/11, people's fear of flying and anthrax, several marketers didn't want to go. The DMA, however, pulled out several gimmicks from its marketing bag -- including a money-back guarantee and free air fare or train fare to Chicago -- to get people to reconsider. Many did, and the show turned out to be better than expected. The exhibit floor was busy, and the keynote speeches and sessions were well-attended.

Some people were predicting direct mail's demise because of 9/11, anthrax and the proliferation of e-mail. That hasn't happened, though the U.S. Postal Service has seen mail volume decline. Let's blame the economy for most of this. List rentals are down. Marketers are prospecting less. However, catalogers are mailing the same number of catalogs this year -- 16.6 billion, according to USA Today -- and they rushed out their holiday books earlier than usual, hoping to make up for a lackluster back-to-school season. Unfortunately, the NPD Group forecasts more of the same for the holidays: 20 percent of the 2,363 consumers surveyed said they plan to spend less this year, while only 12 percent plan to increase their spending.

The postal service was still caught in anthrax's crosshairs a year ago. Marketers halted their mail campaigns because people weren't opening their mail. The USPS warned of a multibillion-dollar loss. Yet the threat subsided, and the postal service cut its fiscal 2002 loss to below $1 billion. Officials even project a profit of $600 million for FY 2003. Mail-wise, the USPS' annual performance plan forecasts that First-Class volume will continue to decline (thanks to electronic bill payment and e-mail) but that Standard mail will start increasing again.

This year, there is still some uncertainty surrounding the DMA's fall conference, thanks to the flailing economy. The number of exhibitors is down 15 percent, but most of those companies probably have been bought up or gone out of business. The DMA hopes to boost attendance with its restructured pre-conference weekend and a Digital Print Pavilion . For many exhibitors and attendees it will be business as usual. That would be nice to see. If you're in direct marketing, this is the show to be at. You'll find your time -- and money -- is well spent.

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