Business trumps fun in the sun

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The Direct Marketing Association took a fun-in-the-sun approach in marketing last month’s Annual Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, with promotional materials featuring pictures of the Magic Kingdom and Sea World. But while Mickey and Shamu may have been a short ride away, it was all business at the Orange County Convention Center—and that was just fine with the exhibitors and attendees.

"It’s a pretty serious crowd. They’re serious about business," said Carol Meyers, VP-marketing for Unica Corp.

Cyndi Greenglass, president-agency services for Diamond Marketing Solutions and the new chairwoman of the DMA’s Business-to-Business Council, said: "It’s very upbeat. There’s a lot of energy."

That’s quite a change from last year’s conference in San Francisco, where the mood was anything but upbeat and business anything but energetic.

"Last year I felt it was all vendors. We called it a v-to-v show," quipped Matt Blumberg, CEO of Return Path, noting the "great floor traffic" at this year’s event.

Colin Spooner, director of business development for Modern Postcard, said: "The industry seems healthier to me this year. I think there was an air of desperation at last year’s DMA show. I think things are on the uprise."

All this good cheer doesn’t mean there aren’t serious threats still out there. Most of the people I spoke with cited the California anti-spam law as a major one. And there’s no guarantee the tentative economic recovery will gather momentum.

Still, two key areas give considerable reason for optimism—hiring and budgeting.

Spooner said he’s seen peers laid off in 2000 and 2001 finally find work lately, and Greenglass said hiring in senior positions has picked up as companies start to focus more on strategy.

The surge in hiring reflects the strengthening of marketing budgets. "We’re seeing a lot of confidence among our clients in terms of the budgeting process," said Jane Johnson, VP of Fair Isaac Corp. "I think there’s a lot more optimism—in the future, in the economy. [Marketing executives] are a lot more open to going up to their budget committees and asking for more money."

In many cases they’re getting it, too. Meyers, for example, said Unica’s marketing budget for next year will be 25% to 30% higher than this year’s. "Our prospects look really good," she said.

It was a sentiment I heard often in Orlando, and that’s serious good news.


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