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The DMA’s Price

What did it take to get the Direct Marketing Association to agree to bring its fall conference back to Unfriendly Orlando, FL, where Mickey and Minnie greet you with a slap across the face instead of a smile? A payoff of $199,544.47. Ah, yes, who can forget the Orlando Sentinel’s front-page story on the last day of last year’s show? The headline was bad enough: “Spammers, Telemarketers Share Secrets in Orlando.” It went on to say that companies like SnoreFix, The Money Maker Plan and “their marketing brethren are making way too much money to stop the suppertime phone calls and endless e-mails. … Think of it as a war council, where they gather to plan better ways to separate you from your money. One marketer bills itself as Hypnosis 360.”

The company’s name is Hyphos, and it should have sued for what the Sentinel was implying. However stereotypical the story was, though, it shows that the industry is in dire need of an extreme makeover. I guess that will be up to the DMA’s new CEO. Still, why is the association returning to Orlando after members made it clear that they never wanted to set foot there again (unless it’s on vacation with their families, of course)? We won’t know because the DMA – as usual – has refused to comment. In fact, we aren’t really sure that the DMA has signed a contract to bring the show back in 2007, though a convention bureau spokesman said the show is booked. The DMA’s silence just doesn’t make sense. To make matters worse, it’s having the catalog show in Orlando next year, though at a smaller venue. Is this an effort to get us to like the city again?

Besides the Sentinel’s lopsided coverage, another mark against Orlando was the cab rides that always seemed to cost $40-$50 and drivers who had no idea where anything was but the Disney and Universal properties. Even Orange County Commission chairman Richard Crotty tried to do something about the cabs but failed. So the DMA – which refuses to talk about anything but Ben Franklin and Operation Slam Spam – is dragging members back to Orlando, not once, but twice in the next three years. It makes quite a statement about standing up for one’s convictions.

Did the Sentinel correct its error from last fall? Barely, and it took eight days. It also never acknowledged that it owns a direct marketing agency, Sentinel Direct. Did it apologize to Hyphos or the industry? Of course not. In fact, in reporting this latest news, the newspaper quoted one of its vice presidents as saying: “It was a balanced account of the way in which DMA members share business strategies and market their products and services in a convention setting.” Sentinel Editor Charlotte Hall reiterated that response to DM News.

Bull crap. That story was everything but balanced. Don’t believe me? Let’s check how the Sentinel treats other trade shows. Last week, it wrote about the International Builders’ Show, which is making its first appearance at the convention center next year. Boy, they really went after it, too, saying, “in the home-building industry, it’s known as ‘the big one.’ ” Or last month’s verbal assault on the coverings expo, which “allows professionals such as architects, designers, builders, retailers, distributors and others to get a close-up look at the latest equipment, products and services for the flooring business and related industries.”

Huh, I guess they really did let the direct marketing industry off easy. And I’m sure those conferences aren’t showing their attendees how to do awful things like separate any unsuspecting consumers from their money, either. They just have them so attendees can gather to marvel at Orlando’s $1 billion convention center. Seeing $21 million – what Orange County estimates the DMA show adds to the local economy each time – about to go up in smoke, Crotty apologized on “behalf of the county” and offered to refund the $200,000 it cost the DMA to rent the convention center last year. I’m surprised he didn’t offer up any unborn children.

So there you have it. A county commissioner basically bribing the DMA to force its members to go back to Orlando. Will that money be passed on to the thousands of offended attendees and exhibitors? Ha. Here are three suggestions, though, on what the DMA should do with the money: One, rent Disney or Universal Studios on opening night and let us party at Orlando’s expense. I’m sure the Sentinel would love to write about that. Two, use the money for an ad campaign to boost the industry’s image. Obviously, there’s a problem here. Or, three, create a scholarship fund and call it the Slantinel Fund. Then justice would truly be served.

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