For Show, Nowhere to Go But Up

It's a safe bet that the upcoming DMA/AIM conference at the New York Hilton and Towers can't be worse than last year's show.

Those who attended the spring 2001 event in Seattle remember it too well. The cavernous Washington State Convention & Trade Center emphasized the event's low attendance. Unrelated rioting marred some downtown evening activities. Finally, a major earthquake in which no one was seriously hurt cut the conference short. The quake was considered a blessing by many who used it as an excuse to leave.

The Direct Marketing Association is not saying how many are expected to attend the conference, set for May 6-8. Sources close to the DMA say attendance is expected to equal Seattle's show, which the DMA put at 1,659, including paid attendees and exhibitors. However, the number also included Seattle-area residents who saw an ad in The Seattle Times for a job fair — reportedly an attempt to boost floor traffic when it became clear the numbers would fall significantly from the 2000 show, which the DMA claimed drew 2,000. The Seattle show had 136 exhibitors.

The New York Hilton is a smaller venue, which will give the impression of better attendance, no matter what the numbers are. Also, though marketing budgets have been slashed, New York is easier for more attendees to reach.

The show originally was to be in Las Vegas, but in December the DMA moved it to New York, the site of the first show in 1997. The shift has already shown signs of success. Late last month, the DMA said that it was moving the pre-conference workshop from the association's seminar center to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square because of overbooking.

“It was smart of them to move it to New York because that gives it the best chance of success,” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president of Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL. “Without a doubt, New York is the capital of both new media and traditional companies that are moving into new media.”

Schwedelson was presenting a session on e-mail marketing when last year's quake hit in Seattle.

Like most Internet-related events, this show probably also will have more gray-haired attendees in suits than those of the late '90s. Also, integrated marketing will be a major theme.

“The focus of the show is more multichannel this year,” DMA spokeswoman Christina Duffney said. “Instead of focusing on just Web technology, it's more about how to integrate it with traditional direct marketing methods.”

Duffney said the shift reflects a trend among the DMA's members.

Another telling sign is that the U.S. Postal Service is exhibiting.

Consensus among exhibitors is that the show will draw a small but concentrated crowd of senior marketers.

“I expect low attendance but high-quality leads,” said Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, Framingham, MA.

Ironically, though the conference may be small, it comes as many marketers are pushing to integrate more e-mail into their efforts and, therefore, could use the information that has to offer, Goldstein said.

“The tough part is that the budgets aren't there,” she said. “[The Internet] is starting to come to fruition [as a mature marketing vehicle] at a time when marketing departments are just being decimated. The show is still vital. There's still a tremendous amount of information to be shared. It's really unfortunate that marketing budgets can't be increased to take advantage of lessons learned.”

This week's show is the culmination of a series of consolidations of Internet conferences by the DMA and its interactive subsidiary, the Association for Interactive Marketing. In December, the DMA said it was merging its AIM shows and its show into one entity, dubbed the DMA/AIM Conference & Exhibition. In August, the DMA canceled its fall show, scheduled for Sept. 23-25 in Denver, because of a lack of attendance.

The DMA has wrestled with its spring event for years. Until 1997, it was simply the spring show. Then the Internet boom presented a chance to rebrand the conference as That worked so well that the DMA debuted a second conference in October 2000 in Boston with plans to stage the event twice yearly. The Boston show, by all accounts, was slow and was the DMA's last attempt at a fall show.

The DMA reportedly plans to stick with the brand for its spring show, however.

“Now that the Web has matured and marketers are using it to complement their other marketing methods, the focus will alter, but it will still be net-dot and have its roots in interactive marketing,” Duffney said.

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