From the DMA Show

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Anybody who attended the Direct Marketing Association's annual conference and exhibition in Chicago in 2001 remembers the gloom that hung over the event. A month and a half after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, attendance was low because of cutbacks in travel budgets and the reluctance of business people to board a plane. The halls of McCormick Place seemed more cavernous than usual, and the late October weather was bleak.

If the DMA had maintained its usual four-year rotation, the show would have returned to Chicago this year. Instead, it was in Atlanta, and the mood inside the convention center was as different from four years ago as the weather outside.

Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, noted there was no troubling industry issue hanging over this year's event. "This is just a regular show," she said. "It's a show where you're supposed to network and do business. It's great."

Matt Blumberg, chairman-CEO of Return Path, said all areas of direct marketing are healthy. "Marketers are spending more money," he said. "Everyone I know is hiring. It's getting super hard to find great candidates for positions. To me that is always a bellwether."

Blumberg said e-mail has bounced back after the dampening effects of CAN-SPAM. "It's working well for everyone right now," he said.

Direct mail is also enjoying a resurgence. Return Path, an e-mail marketing company, recently ran a direct mail campaign that generated an amazing 25% response rate in the first seven days, Blumberg said, adding, "You can certainly bet we'll do more of that."

While those I spoke with at the show were upbeat about the current state of the industry, they did point to challenges regarding data hygiene and security.

"It still remains a struggle to make sure you have clean data," said Carol Meyers, VP-world marketing for Unica Corp. "Until there aren't human beings involved, it's always going to be an issue."

David Gaudreau, VP-list brokerage at Direct Media, said data security is the No. 1 issue facing direct marketers. "There's not a company out there that isn't aware of their brand and the integrity of their brand," he said. "My feeling is it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. The real question is how much government intervention is going to take place and the level of that intervention."

But even on the legislative front, some sounded an optimistic note. "I think they've got their hands full with more important things," Blumberg said of Congress.

John Obrecht is managing editor of BtoB. He can be reached at [email protected]

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