Mood at DMA06: Energy, optimism, hope

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SAN FRANCISCO - All said and done, the Direct Marketing Association's DMA06 turned out like no other direct marketing conference in recent years: alive with optimism, positive energy, business-ready bustle and good karma from host city San Francisco.

No doubt there were a few disappointments - the utter isolation of the interactive pavilion in another wing of the Moscone Convention Center or some lackluster booth displays - but the overall tenor reiterated direct marketing's upward trajectory.

"It seems very well organized, very impressive booths," said Russ Ferreira, vice president of sales at DataLode Inc., San Rafael, CA. "I got to meet a lot of people who I'd communicated with via e-mail or phone. It's definitely worth the time for me to come down from my office. And I don't do that very often."

A veteran direct marketer, Mr. Ferreira noticed a lot more interactive approaches playing into his company's business offerings.

"I see the companies more focused on that this year at the show," he said. "I'm impressed with the magnitude and the scale of it. There's a lot of money put behind these booths and the positioning. I'm impressed. It's nice to see a good-sized show in my backyard."

Take an exhibitor like DHL GlobalMail.

The shipper had a Porsche RS Spyder race car on the show floor that was soon to be shipped to Laguna Seca, CA, venue of the American Le Mans race Oct. 21. The company is sponsoring the car. Two of the four drivers, Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas, were at hand signing autographs.

Jane Bergos, director of communications at the Weston, FL, company said more than 250 photos of attendees were taken. Visitors got autographs on Porsche hats and mini race cars, both giveaways for DMA06.

"Everybody that came through the line we took their information and everybody that came back for their photo we took the opportunity to learn more about their business and how DHL GlobalMail can help them," Ms. Bergos said.

"Basically, we're just talking about our domestic and international mail and parcel services," she said.

Bryn Scott is director of marketing at ParadyszMatera, a New York and Minneapolis firm specializing in list services as well as interactive agency offerings via its PM Digital unit. She is a veteran of many DMA shows, including annuals like DMA06.

"I would say that the show traffic has been steady," Ms. Scott said. "Everyone's definitely talking about multichannel. It's no surprise. They want to plan in an integrated way. They're looking for the reporting and the tools and the metrics to be able to plan integrated campaigns across channels. We've developed reporting tools behind multichannel marketing.

"I actually am excited that next year the interactive exhibit is going to be part of the main hall," she said, referring to DMA07 planned for Oct. 13-18, 2007 in Chicago.

Direct marketing services provider Harte-Hanks decided to overcome the two-hall issue by taking booths on both sides of the Moscone Convention Center - one in the main area housing multi-offering DM companies and the other focused on interactive services.

"Of the three days of the exhibition, we did our best traffic on Monday [Oct. 16] in the multichannel hall, and on late Monday and Tuesday [Oct. 17] in the interactive hall, perhaps an indication that it took some time for delegates to cover one hall completely and then get to the other," said Chet Dalzell, New York-based spokesman for Harte-Hanks.

"The ROI of any show is what takes place long after everyone's gone home, but thus far, we're pleased at the energy level here and the conversations we've had with delegates and hall visitors," he said.

DMA06 attracted more than 10,000 visitors and 550-plus exhibiting companies. While the show floor closed Oct. 17 after a two-day run, sessions continue through tomorrow.

Some executives, like Dave Lewis, vice president of alliances and market development at StrongMail Systems, may leave slightly disappointed by the experience.

StrongMail used the occasion to launch its StrongMail Transactional Email Server for retailers whose use of service-based e-mail is heavy. The new product changes generic, plain-text messages into branded, personalized missives. But where was the traffic in the interactive hall where StrongMail took a booth?

"Many of us who are exhibiting in the interactive marketing hall are not pleased with this show to date," Mr. Lewis said Oct. 17. "Segregating us to the proverbial 'North 40' certainly didn't contribute to the spirit of integrated marketing.

"Traffic has been extraordinarily slow, so slow that exhibitors were mainly talking to each other and by 6 p.m. yesterday many of the booths had already been shuttered - something I've never seen at a DMA show."

So yes, while this show was a "very successful show for us," that success can't be attributed to much that happened in the exhibit hall, Mr. Lewis said.

"We'll see … whether the DMA takes the action that's been suggested," Mr. Lewis said. "If not, I'm concerned about how this may impact where interactive marketers spend their exhibitor dollars in the future.

"There's been a lot of talk about the digital divide," he said. "We've got our own. You've got all the high-tech companies who are going to take direct marketing into the new era. You had them segregated in that hall."

Larry Becker, vice president of marketing and business development at the Rimm-Kaufman Group, a search-focused Charlottesville, NC, firm, echoed the same thoughts.

"It was interested to see the interactive exhibitors set off from the multichannel exhibits," Mr. Becker said. "I think it's better to keep them together because customers don't segregate their responses. Marketers are interested in understanding how an order that's been seeded in print is consummated online."

That digital divide will disappear with next year's show, which is eagerly anticipated by Ray Butkus. He is the new CEO of argi, a subscriptions, fulfillment and database marketing company. He previously was the head of infoUSA Inc.'s Donnelley Group and a veteran DMA annual show attendee and exhibitor.

"From my perspective, [DMA president/CEO] John Greco has been a tremendous advocate and zealot in promoting the direct marketing community and I think this manifested itself in this show in San Francisco.

"We're looking forward to the Chicago show and it'll all be in one exposition place," he said. "I believe any person who aspires to be excellent in marketing must attend the DMA show. You just can't afford not to attend this show."

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