Suppliers, Marketing Execs Set Sail

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It's time again for suppliers to mix and mingle with senior marketing executives at the annual Marketing Forum, a conference on the Norwegian Dawn as the luxury liner sails the Atlantic from New York.


The May 9-12 event features 110 suppliers -- agencies, database firms, interactive shops and media -- pitching their craft to 200 marketing decision makers from the automotive, packaged goods, electronics, telecom, media, food and beverage, entertainment and banking worlds.


It's up from 98 suppliers and 160 delegates last year, a sign that marketing budgets are being restored. Run by British-owned Richmond Events, the forum is one in a portfolio of shows for corporate lawyers, recruiters, logistics executives and IT personnel.


"Judging by our numbers, we're up 12 percent year-over-year across all events," said Caroline Hunt, chief executive of the U.S. arm of Richmond in New York.


The forum's model is unique among its peers. Each supplier gets an average of 26 25-minute briefing sessions with marketers, or clients, as they are called, to promote their product or service. Clients attend for free, but must sit through the mutually preferred briefings.


Suppliers also pitch other clients in five-minute "speed dating" sessions. An innovation this year is client-to-client "speed dating" to encourage the exchange of views. And suppliers get to pitch clients yet again at breakfast, lunch and in black tie and long dress at dinner in assigned restaurants and tables.


Perhaps the only major expense for clients besides their travel to the ship is the rented dinner jacket, if they don't have one. They attend the forum for free. The suppliers pay the average $30,000 tab for the privilege to hobnob with executives otherwise typically hard to reach.


The Marketing Forum shares the ship with Richmond Events' Human Resources Forum that is designed along the same lines. The executives even mingle at certain common receptions, though their meeting venues are distinct.


"Meeting new people and expanding your network is a big part of the experience," said David Heimlich, Richmond's project manager for the Marketing Forum. "If the introductions we've facilitated result in opportunities for professional advancement for our participants, then we see that as an unexpected add-on."


Attending this year from the client side are vice president-level marketing executives from Coors Brewing Co., DaimlerChrysler Corp., ING Americas, Nextel, palmOne, Sprint Picture Mail, Unilever and Procter & Gamble Co.


Suppliers include AKQA, Bloomberg L.P., Bulldog Drummond, Claria Corp., EMI Music Marketing, Formula PR, Javelin Direct, Latin Sports Marketing, The Marketing Store, Moxie Interactive, Pohly & Partners, Range Online Media, Reprise Media, Univision, Yahoo and Time Inc. Custom Communications. Blockbuster and Loews Cineplex Entertainment are new to the supplier list.


Experience has shown the initial contact onboard ship leads to more dialogue on land. Many firms walk away with leads, and some even snare contracts a year or so into the process.


That's what a new supplier this year expects.


"Thirty new clients!" said Denise M. Soltys, president of the S3 agency in Boonton, NJ, and Irvine, CA. "OK, at least one to two so it pays for the trip, my time and serves as a true investment."


The conference's theme this year is, "Marketing: The Force Behind U.S. Regeneration and Growth." Forum seminars focus on brand commoditization issues and the failed meshing of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. There are workshops on emerging media and personal and corporate branding as well as clinics on stress management and "Forget insight -- You need foresight." Sessions are repeated.


Former MIT professor Michael Treacy opens the event May 9 with a keynote on strategies for helping companies achieve double-digit growth. British consultant Ken Robinson wraps the forum with a May 11 keynote on marketing's role in creativity.


"What I'm hearing is that clients are more and more looking for marketing service organizations that can handle project work -- get in, get out very quickly -- firms that are small, nimble in size and that are represented by creative, entrepreneurial-minded executives," Heimlich said.


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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