At the DMA Annual: Looking on the Bright Side

Chicago–The panelists at the kickoff session of the DMA Annual Conference’s Catalog Weekend opted to accentuate the positive. The Catalog Power Forum, held Saturday afternoon at the DMA convention here in McCormick Place, featured panelists Pamelia Hutchins, president of institutional supplies manufacturer/marketer Upbeat; Martin McClanan, CEO of multichannel gifts marketer Red Envelope; Bill Dean, founder of consultancy W.A. Dean and Associates; and CATALOG AGE editorial director Sherry Chiger.

The first, and primary, topic that the panel tackled was how best to market amid a recession, a war, and continuing terrorism activity. Hutchins noted that although sales to one of her market segments, the travel and hospitality sector, were down, sales to schools, hospitals, and other institutions remained steady.

“We’re giving more and more service so that the bucks that are out there, we get,” Hutchins said. St. Louis-based Upbeat’s titles incude The Trash Canalog, Premier Site Furnishings, and The Banner Book, the last of which sells flags and banners. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Upbeat sold more than 650 flag banners in four days–significantly mroe than the company typically sells in a year. “Flags are sold out through February,” Hutchins noted. “You literally cannot get a good sewn flag.”

McClanan stressed that in tough times, perhaps even more than in a flush economy, “you’ve got to keep a sense of freshness and variety to maintain response.” For San Francisco-based Red Envelope, that includes frequently changing the items it features on its Website’s home page and varying the templates it uses in its e-mail correspondence. For instance, some marketing e-mails feature images, while others use drop-down menus. This holiday season, Red Envelope is mailing three distinct catalogs for the first time.

The toughter economy should also encourage consumer mailers in particular to implement “really good loyalty programs,” Dean suggested. “Consumer catalogers have only paid such programs lip service for the most part.”

In fact, Hutchins–who made a point of declaring that “it’s not all gloom and doom out there”–saw the current economic environment as an opportunity for reviewing and improving business practices and perhaps trying new tactics. “When everybody is rich and happy and fat, you tend to be complacent about business. This is the time to reexamine and reevaluate. What better time than now?”