POPAI could use a little spinach

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POPAI's bid to position itself as the authority on in-store ad metrics might eventually be a story of Icarian ambition. After all, this is a 55-year-old trade group best known for a show about cardboard displays largely attended by field marketers, not the high-powered world of CMOs and media executives.

The Washington-based group has posted a deficit for the last three years, according to IRS 990 documents and a 2005 audited financial report. To cover the deficit, POPAI has been dipping into cash reserves that remain from the lucrative 1999 sale of its namesake trade show to VNU.

In 2003, POPAI had a deficit of $796,789 on revenues of $2.5 million, mainly from member dues that start at $2,100 a year, but can run in the mid-teens for larger companies. In 2004, deficits grew to $813,558, despite revenues climbing more than a half-million dollars to $3.1 million.

Although POPAI officials claim they turned things around last year, expenses still exceeded revenue by $1.1 million in 2005, a deficit "balanced" again by dipping into cash reserves. This shift in dollars brings the group's cash balances down to $5.6 million today, according to an audited financial report provided to Advertising Age by POPAI.

Association CEO Dick Blatt, the former VP-corporate affairs for the American Advertising Federation, continued to bring in a reasonable salary. Mr. Blatt, who took the helm of the group 14 years ago, earned $235,383 in 2003. He did take a pay cut of nearly $20,000 in 2004. Last year, however, his salary went back up to $212,000 and included a bonus of $35,000 for retirement.

Mr. Blatt said that expenses have risen as POPAI expands; membership grew by 10% last year and the organization is now in 19 countries.

Executives at POPAI continue to go against the widely accepted industry term "in-store marketing," insisting instead on the jilted phrase "marketing at-retail" in an obvious attempt to distinguish itself from its fast-growing competitor in the space, the for-profit In-Store Marketing Institute, which was launched four years ago by Peter Hoyt.

Mr. Blatt said he overhauled the group's name to better reflect the group's changed focus, even though he has not dropped POPAI-arguing it has taken on a meaning beyond the acronym, "just like IBM."
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