Editorial: Chicago Would Be a Good Start

Talk about all things being relative: The following is the beginning of a fairly typical pitch from a company looking for ink in iMarketing News. The names have been changed, however, because the PR rep who sent it and the company she represents truly are innocent.

“Dear Ken: John Smith, Chief Marketing Officer of ServicesVendor Inc., would like to introduce himself and meet with you to discuss the challenges of being a Silicon Valley CMO during the sluggish economy. …”

Challenges? Sure, why not? There's a 20-story pile of smoldering rubble just a mile away that I can smell every time I go to lunch, but please, by all means, let's discuss the challenges of being a Silicon Valley CMO during a sluggish economy. I can't wait to be regaled with tales of marketing prowess.

Or how about this one:

“National Customer Service Week is October 1-5, 2001. Started by the International Customer Service Association in 1988, it has become a national event as proclaimed by the U.S. Congress. …”

Really?! This is National Customer Service Week and I almost missed it!? No time for CNN now. We've got to get those promotional coffee mugs printed …

Assuming most companies have moved beyond “Should we sell at all?” to “How should we sell it?” marketers nationwide are wrestling with ways to avoid eliciting reactions to their efforts similar to those above.

And, boy, have they got a tough task ahead. Granted, folks outside the New York metropolitan area are getting mentally focused faster than those of us who live and work here in Manhattan. But undoubtedly, the marketing landscape has become rockier.

A lot of things seem trivial to a lot of people these days. And when people start reassessing priorities, discretionary spending naturally drops.

What's more, everyone is moving through emotional cycles, all on different speeds. So who knows which marketing messages will resonate with whom?

Even in the case of charitable work, marketers must tread lightly. According to a poll done by Boston marketing and public relations firm Cone Inc., Americans were split nearly evenly when asked whether companies should advertise their charitable efforts. Fifty-one percent said they support such advertising, according to Cone. In the same study, 75 percent of respondents said they think it is appropriate for companies to “get back to business as usual.”

But few really mean business as usual, as in “please, call me during dinner with that rug steam-cleaning offer. I promise not to bite your head off.”

How accurate were Cone's methods? No idea, but the message for marketers is loud and clear. This ain't going to be easy. And I wouldn't dare for a second pretend to have the answers. Nor is it my place to have them. And no amount of number crunching or profiling will solve the problem, either. There's one big fat national variable floating out there, the likes of which no one who sells has ever seen.

The answers to marketing's current dilemma aren't readily apparent to anyone, and it's going to take a lot of collective brain power to figure them out.

So where better to kick ideas around than at the Direct Marketing Association's 84th Annual Conference and Exhibition in Chicago from Oct. 28 to Oct. 31? Once considered by some of our more naïve new-economy nitwits to be dinosaurs, the international group of mainly traditional direct marketers who attend that conference are some of the sharpest marketing minds in the world.

Never taken by fads (we sometimes affectionately refer to some of them as the blue eye-shadow crowd), they are beholden to one thing: results.

The DMA fall show's attendance is apparently threatened by a general fear of flying. In an unprecedented move, the DMA is offering free airfare within the continental United States and Canada on American Airlines for anyone who registers between Sept. 11 and Oct. 5. It also has made arrangements for a free Amtrak ticket for anyone afraid to fly.

The DMA is offering a money-back guarantee to marketers who don't improve their bottom line by at least 10 times the cost of the registration fee. Attendance costs $1,245 to $1,500 for members and up to $2,180 for nonmembers.

It would behoove even those who consider themselves so-called Web marketers to get to that conference. Take the train if you must, but if you can possibly swing it, get there.

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