DMA ’09 in San Diego – A Story of Disorder in the House

“Disorder in the house
The tub runneth over
Plaster’s falling down in pieces by the couch of pain.”

Thus starts the song “Disorder in the House”, a song written and recorded by Warren Zevon on his last studio album before his death.  It may be an appropriate anthem for this year’s DMA Conference in San Diego.


The ruckus started months before the conference when Executive Committee member Gerry Pike questioned the leadership of the DMA.  He alleged that “DMA’s relevancy is fading, its membership is falling and its events failing as budget-buster dues and conference fees are sending long-time DMA members heading for the exits.”  It didn’t help that it was reported that executive director John Greco is raking in a salary of $838,500 a year…twice the industry average for national nonprofits! This news came on the heels of Greco laying off half the DMA staff over the past year …

Mr. Pike makes very valid points.  I will also add that for the price the DMA charges for the conference, it may be a good idea to change up the speaker docket every once in awhile.  I’ve been going to the DMA for 14 years and there are a good dozen headliners that are giving the same presentation over and over again!  Perhaps they should call in fresh perspectives and lively interactive presentations from new blood — guys like Grant Johnson who are well respected and are highly active within today’s diverse marketing environment.

Chapter 1 – crescendos and criminals

Grant and I walked into the San Diego conference center on a beautiful October day. It was eerie to notice that there were no lines at the registration area.  After registration we headed to the keynote address.  We entered to the sounds of a Benny Goodman swing quartet … relevant, you ask? Yes, we asked ourselves the same thing, wondering what the social media crowd of 20 and 30-somethings were thinking. Soon we were hearing Mr. Greco spout about the “great things” the DMA was doing for the industry … like fighting the “Do Not Mail” legislation and increased postage rates. Thought bubbles of “give me a break!” raced through my head.

Headlining the keynote was Martha Stewart. Doesn’t the direct marketing industry have a better representative to trot up there?  I suppose they could have brought Kenneth Cole back. They should have brought in the former CEO of AIG. I guess that wouldn’t have been a good choice either.  There was a technical glitch in Martha’s multi-media presentation.  She wasn’t too pleased about it.  I’m sure that’s the last DMA gig she will do.

Chapter 2 – quality over quantity

Talking to industry leaders, the projected attendance and the number of exhibitors were down 30% to 40% from last year.  The exhibit hall could be compared to walking through a ghost town.  I’ve never seen traffic so light.  The DMA did a good job spreading the exhibits out so it appeared like there were more exhibits than there actually were. Exhibitors put a positive spin on things saying the “quantity isn’t here but the quality is!”

Chapter 3 – the good news

The annual DMA conference is still a meeting point for direct marketers internationally.  It is a good venue to have companies showcase their products and highlight the newest trends.  Social media has bubbled to the surface in conversations as a highly effective means to reach customers.  DMers are currently exploring ways to both exploit the medium and quantify its effectiveness.  Quantifying its effectiveness is the difficult part of the equation.

Chapter 4 – a happy ending

What you get out of attending a DMA show now-a-days is really dependent on what you put into it. Grant and I had a very productive two days at the show.  With proactive pre-show planning, we had 10 really good appointments with clients and prospects.  I’m sure we will be heading to DMA 2010 in San Francisco next fall.  To save money, we guerrilla market, and just have one of our vendor partners provide us with exhibit hall passes.

Speak up!

I’d love to hear from you about whether you went to the show (why or why not) and what you thought of it. Send me a note at You can also reach me on LinkedIn.

Rob Trecek