Expect to see some new faces at next week's Direct Marketing Association spring net.marketing conference in Seattle, as 82 exhibitors that were at last year's show will not be there this year, a turnover rate of 62 percent.
The DMA filled the floor, however, by lining up 88 new exhibitors and actually increasing the number — to 139 from 133 last year — despite the problems the Internet industry has suffered during the past 12 months. This year's show begins Monday.
“There could be a number of reasons for the high turnover rate. Companies could have merged, been bought out,” said DMA spokeswoman Christina Duffney. “Since the show is on a first-come, first-serve basis, the new exhibitors may have just jumped on the bandwagon earlier this year while some of last year's companies may have just missed out.”
Some exhibitors that did register on time, however, have backed out at the last minute, citing lower-than-expected attendance figures. Revenio, Burlington, MA, a software solutions provider, decided to skip the conference because it said the DMA had originally projected 2,000 attendees, but when it called the DMA two weeks ago, the association told Revenio that only 300 attendees were registered.
“[The DMA] thinks a lot of people are going to sign up on site, but I've heard that too many times before,” said Alex Dubois, Revenio's marketing manager. “It wasn't worth our money. The reason you go to a trade show is to get good prospects. And if you're going to spend a lot of money on a show, you want to make sure they're good.”
Dubois, who said she knew of other companies that had pulled out because of low attendance, also cited the cross-country travel expenses. But even Seattle-based Avenue A, a digital marketing and technology services provider that exhibited last year, passed on this year's show. Public relations manager Teri Franklin said Avenue A will not exhibit at any trade shows this year.
Meanwhile, the DMA said the low attendance claims are untrue. As of Feb. 14, 1,200 people were registered, the DMA said. Last year's show drew 2,000.
“It's a slight decrease, but the 2,000 number was the final number, including on-sites,” Duffney said. “And considering the dot-com environment, [1,200 is] a pretty strong number.”
Duffney also said the registered attendees for this year's show represent the dot-com companies that are doing well.
The prospect of quality attendees and speakers at this year's show is what drove AccuData America, Cape Coral, FL, a provider of mailing and telemarketing lists, to exhibit. AccuData did not exhibit last year because the show came up short in those areas, said Lara Gold, AccuData's vice president of marketing.
“We spend our trade show dollars very strategically, and very often we'll send a person to a show without exhibiting,” she said. “This year, the quality of speakers is very impressive, and we hope that will bring out quality attendees as well.”
One of those speakers, Greg Hawkins, formerly the CEO of Buy.com, was scheduled to give the keynote address. However, Duffney said, he will be replaced by S. Murray Gaylord, vice president of marketing at Yahoo, Santa Clara, CA.
Though AccuData is concerned about the possibility of low attendance, Gold said, the company still expects to generate quality leads.
Strategy.com, a provider of permission-based messaging services, also is expecting to generate quality leads at the show. A subsidiary of MicroStrategy, Vienna, VA, Strategy.com plans to use the conference to introduce itself to the direct marketing industry, said Jennifer McDonald, senior manager of corporate marketing.
Along the same lines, CheetahMail, New York, an e-mail marketing provider, shifted its business model and added a direct marketing channel to its operations. Dave Hendricks, executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the company decided to exhibit after implementing the new service.
“We believe that we can reach the folks that manage the lists and work with large catalogs and specialize in direct marketing very well at a show like net.marketing,” he said. “Our direct marketing channel just wasn't in place last year.”
On the other hand, many of last year's exhibitors decided not to exhibit this year. Some pointed to poor lead generations and cuts in trade show budgets.
“You only have X amount of dollars to spend,” said Reggie Brady, vice president of strategy and partnerships at FloNetwork, Toronto, an e-mail service provider. “Frankly, when we were there last year, we found that it wasn't that productive for us. We try to measure everything on a return-on-investment basis. The tracking mechanisms that we put in place [for last year's show], none of it turned into new business for us.”
Avenue A is not exhibiting at this year's show because it is focusing its efforts on reaching big brand-name advertisers, Franklin said. Trade shows, including last year's net.marketing show, did not produce enough of those types of leads, she said.
“It's a good audience for us,” she said. “It's just that right now we're really focused on some corporate objectives of reaching certain people, and we haven't found those people to be at trade shows.”
The DMA, meanwhile, is set to go ahead with its fall net.marketing show, regardless of whether the spring show does well, Duffney said. The show, which is not listed on the association's Web site is scheduled for Sept. 23-25 in Denver.