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Moving beyond direct mail

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Direct mail has been a mainstay for business media companies looking to get the word out about trade shows. While it still remains an important component, publishing companies are increasingly using other strategies to attract sponsors, exhibitors and attendees.

Galen Poss, president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions, a division of Hanley Wood, said the company uses direct mail to promote its trade shows to attendees, but it also employs other media to supplement that effort.

"The more you can touch the customer, the better off you are," Poss said. Hanley Wood partners with associations and publications in particular sectors to gain access to subscriber lists and membership rosters to augment its in-house database.

E-mail is becoming an extremely popular channel, said Adam Schaffer, publisher of Tradeshow Week, a Reed Business Information publication. "We're still seeing a lot of direct mail, but we're seeing more and more e-mail. It's a lot less expensive and it can be highly trackable," Schaffer said. The downside is saturation. "We all get 400 e-mails a day, so you do have the clutter issue," he said.

Kerry Gumas, president-CEO of Questex Media, said the shift to electronic marketing is very high in some markets. While most of the company's promotions start with direct mail, those pieces direct potential attendees online, where the majority of registration occurs.

"With technology events, [online registration is] almost 100% and nontechnology is still in the high 60% to 80% range," Gumas said.

However, Gumas sees a decline in direct mail response rates. "We're trying to increasingly shift marketing dollars from print and postage to more highly personalized campaigns that rely on electronic media," he said.

Hanley Wood, whose events focus primarily on the building and construction industry, created a centralized database for all of its shows about 21/2 years ago. "Every time we have a show, we can populate [the database]," Poss said. From that wealth of information, the company can target constituents using direct mail, telemarketing and e-mail marketing, and it can cross-promote additional shows to customers. "That all rests on good data management," Poss said.

Word-of-mouth, or peer-to-peer marketing, is another means of marketing for some show producers. "[Peer-to-peer] is an important component going forward," Poss said. "We're trying to figure out ways we can establish supplier groups or peer groups to turn the event into something that is experiential."

For example, Poss said, "In [the] auto industry [you might gather] 20 dealerships from different parts of the country. They'd talk about business practices and things they're dealing with every day. It's a peer-to-peer group that addresses a host of opportunities and challenges for their business. We give them a chance to do that with some of our events."

Other companies have put resources behind peer-to-peer programs. Questex said it does a fair amount of peer-to-peer marketing for specific groups of attendees, putting together "a whole services package" to encourage attendance. Those services might include hotel bookings, private meeting rooms on-site at the conference dedicated to that group, favorable attendee rates and other special events and programs. "They really appreciate the fact that someone has noticed them," Gumas said.

Alan Kuritsky, CMO at the Direct Marketing Association, said the DMA's annual conference in Atlanta last month included a special invitation-only educational and networking track called "The Senior Summit." It catered to a small group of VP-level guests in order to entice them to attend the show. The executives discussed strategy and trends, rather than tactical and practitioner-geared issues.

The DMA, not surprisingly, used direct mail to invite VP-level executives to the summit, as well as e-mail. The campaign attracted about 150 attendees. 

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