DM Looking Up in Chicago

CHICAGO — They could have been outside enjoying the spate of spring weather. Instead, Chicago-area direct marketers chose to spend their time inside Navy Pier discussing industry issues.

If the weather was an improvement this year over last, so was attendance at the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing’s 49th Annual Direct Marketing Days & Expo. Around 1,800 people registered and 80 exhibitors bought space at the Midwest’s largest DM show.

“We want to pump for business, [and] this is what we have to do,” said Sue Herman, vice president of corporate marketing at Segerdahl Corp. “I guess my attitude is, if you can afford it, you should be marketing in the worst economic times when your competition can’t.”

Segerdahl is among the 30 percent of new exhibitors at this year’s show. The Schaumburg, IL, company offers graphics and digital photography, pre-media and pre-press, lettershop and bindery, and mailing services. It recently reorganized its corporate structure and, for branding purposes, decided to exhibit.

Herman, however, is a veteran of CADM shows, attending many in her 12 years as a senior advertising and print production executive at Sears, Roebuck and Co.’s direct marketing division. Even she noticed a difference in the air.

“I went to the DMA [annual] show in San Francisco last year, and it was far superior from the previous year, far more people, far more energy,” she said. “And I thought it would be a good forecaster of what we might see at this year’s CADM.”

Carol White, who runs her own CL Associates marketing consultancy in Chicago, also noticed the upswing.

“New clients are coming in. Existing clients are bringing in some more business,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Holly Harle, president of CADM and account executive at Mid-America Mailers Inc., Hammond, IL, agreed.

“I’ve noticed, as a salesperson in the marketplace, the agencies seem to be picking up,” Harle said. “There’s much more activity. I’m quoting more, people are asking for price bids for mailing services and certainly, from a production standpoint, we’ve gotten a lot of business in the past few weeks.”

That said, the area did have its share of layoffs and cutbacks. Words like “resume” occasionally were overheard in conversations at the show.

“There are certainly a lot of people looking for work,” Harle admitted. “Unfortunately, it’s a big issue. There were a lot of people walking down the hall. I’d say that’s the frustrating thing — the hiring hasn’t started back yet. People are still very conservative.”

Of course, there also are those who feel nostalgic about CADM’s old days.

“It’s a shame that it’s gotten so small,” said Mark Weinstein, a longtime attendee and president of Chicago direct marketing agency Weinstein Organization. “The number of exhibitors is half to a third of what it used to be five years ago. The membership is down. I don’t know if it’s a sign of the times or if it’s the CADM.”

The conference had its light moments, too. Al Franken, liberal satirist, comedian and author, was keynote speaker at yesterday’s luncheon. He entertained the audience with his irreverent views on politics. This writer asked his thoughts on direct marketing.

“I’m a victim of it,” he replied.

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