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BMA hopes to bring message to members with regional shows

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The Business Marketing Association, facing low attendance at its annual conferences, is considering a plan to shorten its national conference and feature a series of smaller regional shows.

Last week, about 160 marketers gathered at the BMA National Conference in Kansas City, Mo. That number was up from an all-time low of 125 attendees at the BMA’s annual conference in Tucson last year, but it’s still low enough to cause the association to consider revamping its model, said BMA President Rick Kean.

"We’ve been doing the same kind of conference for the last 80 years," Kean said, pointing to historical attendance of 400-plus in earlier years. "It’s time to look at other things. Rather than throw a party and hope our attendees come, we’ll take it to them."

Under the new model, the BMA would shorten its existing two-and-a-half-day national conference to one and a half days, and would produce up to six regional shows. It would work with its regional chapters to host the shows in locations including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Houston, the Silicon Valley and an Eastern city such as Boston, Kean said.

The BMA board was scheduled to discuss the proposal June 8. It is still planning a national show in Chicago, where the organization is headquartered, June 4-7, 2003.

Attendance still important

John Odgers, president of the Fellers Group, a marketing agency in Oklahoma City, said last week’s show was the first BMA conference he had attended since the association’s 1988 meeting in Hilton Head, S.C., when the attendance was much larger.

"It’s harder and harder for people to take time to attend," he said. However, he added, "it’s important in these economic times to get as much input as possible."

At last week’s conference, business marketers discussed the tough business climate and strategies for survival.

"There’s no doubt about it—it has been a struggle for many of us," said Sheree Johnson, senior VP-director of media services at NKH&W Inc., Kansas City, Mo., and immediate past chairman of the BMA. She pointed to the recession, the events of Sept. 11, marketing budget cuts and other obstacles the industry has faced in the past year. "To survive and thrive in this new business climate, we must all get back to basics," she said.

Struggling to understand

Bob Goranson, the new chairman of the BMA and a partner with Mobium Creative Group, Chicago, said, "We are still struggling to understand what has changed in our companies and our industry. The real issue is whether we, as business marketers, are ready to face new challenges presented by shifting business paradigms, where the end user controls the buying process and the real relationship between buyers and sellers is based on the concept of reciprocal value."

Also at the conference, the Institute for the Study of Business Markets at Penn State University released results of its b-to-b marketing trends study, which found the top two trends are increased demand to prove marketing’s return on investment and the need to better market the business marketing process.

"The business of ROI is something we must do," said Ralph Oliva, executive director of ISBM. He said marketers need to form closer relationships with CFOs in order to prove the case for increased investment in marketing.

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