BRUSSELS – The FEDMA Forum, scheduled to be held here May 14-16, was postponed until late October on April 7, just before the show mailing was about to go out the door.
“We had a lot of problems last year and wanted to make sure we get it right this year,” Alastair Tempest, director general of the Federation of European Direct Marketing, said. “I don’t want to risk the future success or failure of the forum again.”
Tempest conceded that last minute cancellation would get his organization bad PR but said it made more sense to bite the bullet now than to go ahead and “find that something had seriously gone wrong and we’re sitting on the street. That would really make a story.”
FEDMA’s forum last year was held in Strasbourg and was generally regarded as a failure. Fewer people came to the French city that lies somewhat off the beaten European travel track.
In addition, the forum saw revelation of FEDMA’s financial problems that had the deficit balloon from $20,000 admitted at the forum to $60,000 later on.
Rigorous budget cutting, staff reduction and re-focusing on FEDMA’s core mission of lobbying for the industry among EU bureaucrats and keeping members informed on key issues, had seemed to put the group back on track.
The program for the May forum had been geared to e-commerce, which FEDMA regards as the key to its own as well as the industry’s future, and was to have featured a larger number of Americans than heretofore.
The forum is also the venue for FEDMA’s annual meeting and for the semi-annual conference of the International Federation of Direct Marketing Associations (IFDMA), a grouping of global DMAs.
The annual meeting, which was to have cut back on the top heavy board – it has 37 members – and elect Germany’s Holgar Albers as a vice-chairman to replace the retiring Colin Fricker, can be “held any time,” Tempest said, but the IFDMA meeting can not.
Among those expected to attend was Keith Norris of the New Zealand DMA, Canada’s John Gustavson and H. Robert Wientzen, the CEO of the American DMA. Presumably the next IFDMA meeting will take place in October at the US DMA conference in New Orleans.
Tempest declined to reveal the nature of the problems beyond saying they were “contractual.” He hinted that they had something to do with the venue – two Brussels hotels, the Conrad and the Bristol Stephanie on the Avenue Louise – but did not go into detail.
In addition, the forum was outsourced for the first time, part of the association’s cost-cutting measures. “In Belgium keeping it in house is very expensive. We need extra staff and would have had to keep them around all year long with not much to do,” Tempest said.
“We were trying to sort out the problems but they weren’t sorting themselves out and time was slipping away.” To make matters worse, FEDMA’s IT system crashed and the new server took three weeks to deliver.
Putting the best face on the situation he could, Tempest said the delay would make award of the best of Europe prizes, one of the Forum highlights, more up to date.
“In effect we’ve been awarding prizes for work done the year before, especially as far as the Spanish and Dutch associations were concerned, so now it really will be the best in Europe 2000.”