While other marketing conferences have seen declines in attendance and exhibitors, British-owned Richmond Events Inc. maintained its performance from last year with 450 client and supplier delegates generating about 3,500 meetings at its conference May 7-10.
Of course, the Marketing Forum's location — on board P&O Cruises' Adonia, a newly refurbished liner — may have had something to do with it. The Adonia had all the amenities of last year's conference location — Queen Elizabeth 2 — though it lacked some of the old-world charm.
Seldom has a captive audience enjoyed more. Earnest meetings and sessions were followed by black-tie dinners, music, dancing, gambling and late-evening strolls on the decks in the cool breeze off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ.
“Even though the economy may not be showing obvious signs of a recovery, there's a feeling nevertheless that corporations have gotten back out there to do business,” said Caroline Hunt, New York-based president of Richmond Events. The forum's Web site is www.marketingforum.com.
This year's forum drew vice president and up-level marketing executives from Agfa Corp., American Express Corp., AOL Time Warner Inc., BMW of North America Inc., Capital One Financial Corp., DaimlerChrysler, Southwest Airlines Co., Disney Consumer Products, Hewlett-Packard Co., ExxonMobil, IBM Corp., Nike Inc., Nintendo of America and Pepsi-Cola Co.
Attending for free, these marketing executives had to guarantee half-hour prearranged briefings with supplier companies that sponsored them. This year's conference boasted supplier executives from many ad agencies, focused on branding, direct, database, media, ethnic, public relations and event marketing.
Among those sponsors were Campbell Mithun, Carat North America, Critical Mass, Castells & Asociados, Direct Partners, DVC Worldwide, Fleishman Hillard, Formula PR, Kerker, Kern Direct, The Martin Agency, Mediaedge:cia, One to One interactive, Quigley-Simpson, Range Online Media, Tapestry, Unity Media Inc. and Starcom MediaVest Group.
Other non-agency suppliers included Yahoo, Redwood Custom Communications, Oxford Strategic Marketing, John Brown Publishing, Hallmark Loyalty, The Gator Corp., Ask Jeeves, Bloomberg LP and AcuPoll Research Inc.
Some suppliers were fatigued by the back-to-back meetings of non-stop hard sell. Others simply were delighted with the chance to get the undivided attention of marketing executives who normally are hard to reach. Richmond estimates an average supplier had 31 meetings.
“I would say that the bulk of my leads have been good, and the benefit is that those who we've selected really have a need for what we offer,” said Gerald A. Bagg, president of Quigley-Simpson, a Los Angeles agency making its first appearance on the Marketing Forum.
And is there a chance the meetings will pay off for suppliers?
“I think it's a good networking opportunity, and hopefully it'll provide business leads to a lot of people,” said Kathy Martinez, manager of multicultural marketing at Southwest Airlines, Dallas. “It's been very productive from a client's side because we don't pay for this.
“I think there's some leads that will result in cross-promotions or future partnerships where we have two interests that are similar.”
Her reaction was typical of many marketing executives who promised no immediate business but a continuing dialogue and a shot at being short-listed.
When not engaged in listening or pitching, forum attendees sat through sessions on developments in market research, getting more from agencies, television advertising, product placement, branding and media fragmentation.
Many sessions, however, were devoted to multicultural marketing, especially the rapidly growing Hispanic demographic. One session was named “Marketing to the New Faces of America,” and another disclosed the contents of a new multicultural market report.
Even a case study on Dodge TV commercials touched on ethnic marketing in a presentation by Julie Roehm, director of Dodge communications at DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Car & Truck division.
“It's not lost on us,” she said. “We're spending a great amount of money and time in targeting the Hispanic community, African-Americans and the Asian community. But we're especially focusing on the Hispanic community.”
Heavyweights opened and closed the conference. Sir George Martin provided recollections of his time as producer of The Beatles. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, hero of the first Persian Gulf War, began the affair with comments on leadership.
“When placed in command, take charge,” Schwarzkopf said, adding that people must do what's right and that character matters.
He often received standing ovations for his many frank statements. On Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his reforms for the Pentagon, Schwarzkopf said, “Rumsfeld isolates people. He's very aggressive. Rumsfeld is forcing something down the throat of the armed forces.”
His thoughts on Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and their ilk were no kinder.
“Forgiveness is God's business,” he said in response to a question from the audience. “My job is to arrange the meeting as soon as possible.”