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Improving the DM Days floor

The Direct Marketing Association must do something about the DM Days Conference & Expo New York. To hold it at the cavernous Jacob K. Javits Center, especially around the same time as the glamorous licensing show, is simply not fair to direct marketers. They deserve better.

It’s been an old staple complaint: The Javits exhibition hall lacks the intimacy of a hotel like, say, the Hilton where shows used to be held. So no matter how many thousands of people show up, there’s a sense of empty aisles and acres of red carpet waiting for sensible shoes to tread.

The theme of last week’s conference was “What’s Next? Uncover Tomorrow’s Opportunities.” Like it has done with shows past, the DMA’s 70-session agenda focused on best practices for helping direct marketers build long-term relationships with customers, donors and prospects. To its credit, the DMA managed to invite speaker participation from marketers such as IBM Corp., Xerox Corp., Eastman Kodak Co., Capital One Financial, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, British Airways, GE Money, Citibank and Visa Prepaid. And they covered the whole gamut of customer acquisition and retention strategies and tactics using direct and interactive marketing.

We’ll admit: It’s fashionable to beat up on the DMA for its failings or shortcomings. So let’s limit it to a few grouses heard on the show floor this time, while thanking the association for its wonderful hospitality.

For instance, there was grumbling about the booth selection process. Smaller list firms resent the larger, more endowed ones for getting first dibs on prime locations. So sometimes the duration of exhibiting at DMA shows doesn’t matter as much as money spent, it would seem. That’s unfortunate, but the situation is not unique to this industry. Perhaps the DMA might want to listen to its smaller members and address this issue.

Another complaint was that exhibitors didn’t benefit from pass-through traffic. It would be ideal to hold sessions in rooms that need delegates to walk through the exhibition hall, across aisles and past booths. The DMA has done this before. Many years ago, Forrester Research shows were known for their product placement. Booths were placed in the dining area. Delegates had no option but to walk past exhibitors en route to the food trays and tables.

And, of course, this being direct marketing there was the usual sound-bite:

not enough traffic this year. DM Days this year did seem busier than last year. Traffic on the first and second days was good. But there is no reason for extending a regional show to a third day.

DM Days does suffer from a preponderance of traditional direct marketing companies exhibiting. The DMA is trying its level best to convince interactive marketers that their discipline is part and parcel of direct marketing. The association is getting there. Each year it attracts more interactive companies renting booths. But it still needs to lean harder on those interactive sorts. There’s no reason why a Google or Yahoo or Omniture should not be exhibiting at a show like DM Days in this era of multichannel marketing.

That said, the DMA indeed does a decent job of making sure its session agenda is reflective of the marketing issues of the day. What it needs to do is take DM Days New York a level higher with more marketer-side attendance on the show floor. At times it feels that the show is by vendors for vendors. Advertisers want prospects as much as they want partners.

Exhibitors, for their part, can certainly spruce up those tired-looking booths. Poor lighting, hard-to-read callouts and awkward placement of marketing literature are a major cause for hall visitors to avoid eye contact and move on. And sometimes, even if you address these booth cosmetics, you still are asked the same old question: “What do you do?” It’s not a direct marketing show otherwise.

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