Editorial: The Show Must Go On

If there is one must-attend event in the DM world, it is the Direct Marketing Association's annual fall conference. In light of last month's terrorist attacks, we're hearing that several marketers may skip the show because they're afraid to fly. Yes, it's an understandable fear right now, one that's apparent across the country. Despite a reduced schedule, Delta Airlines filled only one-third of its seats last week. Other airlines are in similar shape, and not even drastically discounting seats is getting passengers back on board. Tourism is way down — it's particularly evident on the empty streets of New York City. Terrorists want us to hide in our homes and be afraid to do our normal activities … to walk down the street, to go to the mall, to get on an airplane.

The DMA is taking unprecedented steps to get people to attend the fall show, including a money-back guarantee on any marketer's registration fee if it doesn't “improve your bottom line by at least 10 times the cost of the registration fee.” It's also offering free airfare, with a few restrictions, and is getting lower rates at the participating hotels in Chicago. This leaves just one thing: attendees. Where Venture Direct Worldwide representatives “normally clamor to go to these events, they're not,” president Richard Baumer said. Venture had already cut its travel budget and is reducing it even more because of the Sept. 11 attacks, from a high of 12-14 attendees down to six to eight. “Enough to cover the booth and have core meetings,” he said. However, other companies are saying that they'll send a full contingent, undeterred by the economy or the attacks. That's good news.

If flying is the problem, there are alternatives, albeit ones that take more time. Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, is taking a 22-hour train ride from Massachusetts. Others who are closer say they'll drive. “There is business to be had. You just have to go out and get it,” said Russell Kern, president of Kern Direct. So, kudos to DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen and his team. Do what you have to do to get people to the Windy City. It'll be worth it for those who show up.

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