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Weak Show and Sell at CADM Conference

CHICAGO — A four-letter word sums up general consensus on the Chicago Association of Direct Marketing's annual show this week at Chicago's scenic Navy Pier: slow.

An estimated 1,000 people, including exhibiting firms' executives, paid attendees, walk-ins and free pass holders, are said to have registered, according to a CADM spokesman. But evidence of that was thin on the ground.

“I think everyone here was disappointed at the overall volume of the show,” said Kathleen Thompson of Colfax Envelope Corp., an offset lithography and envelope manufacturing company in Buffalo Grove, IL.

“But I also think that it's an indication of where our industry is at this point and how it's being affected by the economy,” Thompson said. “And I think that the exhibitors who are here should be applauded for keeping the faith by continuing to invest in our industry and the companies who spent the time and expense to send their employees should be applauded as well.”

Michelle Smith, marketing manager at Dakotah Direct II LLC, a teleservices firm based in Spokane, WA, was equally disappointed by the traffic.

“It's been really slow, to be honest,” Smith said. “There doesn't seem to have been a whole lot of decision makers. Their new format, with the speakers in [the exhibition hall], has been nice in one sense – it drives a little more traffic. But on the other hand, it's been a little distracting when you're talking to folks.”

And based on feedback from clients, Smith thought that the conference schedule could have more to offer. Besides, she wished that the CADM was more organized in terms of information delivery to exhibitors. Dakotah, which was recently acquired by San Antonio, TX-based telemarketing firm West Corp., got information in dribbles, she said.

Another voice of unmet expectations was Sandy Pakledinaz's. An account executive at Mundelein, IL-based Experian Marketing Solutions, she found the exhibition floor lacked foot traffic.

Asked if there was anything she would like to see added, Experian's Pakledinaz said, “Yeah, people.”

“Overall, the show has been quiet,” she said. “But I did gain a few promising leads.”

That indeed was the case with a few exhibitors. While Canada Post has noticed a decline in participants and attendees from CADM shows past, this one was not a washout for the post office.

“It hasn't been a shutout,” said Grierson Salter, manager of business marketing for the international sector at Canada Post in St. Catherines, Ontario. “We've had people come over. Their basic questions were on how to get access to the Canadian marketplace and they wanted to know the difference between marketing in the U. S. and marketing in Canada.

“We plan on continuing [exhibiting],” he said. “The tradeshows are a very effective way for us to raise awareness of the Canadian marketplace and Canada Post.”

This time, Canada Post eschewed paper collateral and displayed only a specially prepared CD-ROM as publicity material.

“[For] further information,” Salter said, “they can contact us and we further pre-qualify them. So instead of coming with all collateral that we have, we come with a condensed overview.”

About 82 exhibitors displayed at the show. Print production firms and envelope makers from the Midwest comprised a large chunk. Interspersed with their booths were samples of the winning entries from the CADM's Tempo Awards. But many thought those displays were no-shows.

For some seasoned executives, the sparse turnout was no surprise.

“I think the Chicago DM Days has been in a downward spiral probably in the last three to four years, at least in attendance,” Colfax's Thompson said. “I'm not sure what it'll take to generate the kind of enthusiasm to bring it back to previous levels.

“Even the New York DM Days has dwindled in [recent] years,” she said. “I don't know if it's an interesting thing or the local DMA associations that are struggling. This year I've gotten so many requests for free passes, which is not typical of years past. And again, that's an indication of the soft economy and companies not wanting to spend money.”

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