Leading Meeting Professionals

Professional Convention Management Association

July 2013

Direct Marketing Association

By Katie Kervin, Assistant Editor

At its Annual Conference & Exhibition, DMA has the challenge of marketing to marketing exhibitors. The solution? Great data.



Designed as half conference and half trade show, the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Annual Conference & Exhibition is “really one of the largest global marketing events out there,” said Paul McDonnough, DMAs vice president of conferences and events. That’s not hard to believe — the meeting drew about 8,000 attendees to Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas last October, 34 percent of them international attendees representing 40 different countries. Nearly 400 exhibitors, or “solution providers,” as DMA calls them, also took part, and McDonnough expects those numbers to grow when DMA convenes at McCormick Place in Chicago this Oct. 12-17.

Because DMA is an association made up of marketers, the organization’s own marketing strategies have to be top-notch. “We start our campaigns [for the show] back in December, so a full 10 months before the actual show date the next year,” McDonnough said. “We actually develop proprietary lists based on who we want to see in our hall.” DMAs marketing lists are not just based on exhibitors from past years, but rather “we try to see the trends as far as segments and verticals, or new markets, that are popping up.”

This year, DMA organizers came up with another option for solution providers on the show floor. Called Experience Lounges, the four 20-foot-by-20-foot areas will be designed by Freeman, the shows general contractor, to mimic the first-class lounges found in airports. Each one has its own theme -— email, mobile, search, and creative -— and is sponsored by a different exhibitor, who will have the opportunity to deliver practical advice on how to implement some of the strategies attendees have been learning in education sessions. “[Solution providers] will have two or three of their representatives in the space that can speak from a consultative perspective to any of the individuals seated in the lounge,” McDonnough said.

One of the major challenges for DMA is developing marketing communication that distinguishes the show from numerous other marketing conferences. “There’s so many shows popping up in the marketing and advertising space,” McDonnough said. “… Folks like South by Southwest with their interactive experience have posed a great challenge to what we’re doing. A lot of the newer shows are chipping away — we’ve been able to hold ground, but are still chipping away, from an exhibitor perspective, at the dollars they can invest in what we’re doing.” Still, he expects a 5- to 7-percent increase in the number of attendees at this year’s show, along with a 2- to 3-percent increase in exhibitors, who this year will include the likes of Google, Adobe, and even Facebook, which rarely makes an appearance at trade shows.

Marketing to exhibitors — and especially to marketing exhibitors — is a unique challenge in and of itself, requiring a specific approach. “The detail is in the demographics,” McDonnough said. “It’s all about the data you collect year over year and being able to put together a demographic book in an exhibitor-prospective piece. Having those numbers and that data on demographics of the audience, and the level of spend of that audience, is very, very critical.

“When you have all of that information and data,” he said, “you’re better able to communicate, promote, and show an exhibitor why they need to be a part of a show — what the ROI that our exhibitor community gains by being here.”

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