This is my 21st go-round attending ACCM, the Annual Conference for Catalog and Multichannel Merchants (did I get that whole thing right?), being held May 21-23 in Boston. For my first 18, I was part of the assorted parent companies that co-sponsored the event with the DMA. But for the past two, as a press attendee and not a part-host, I’ve picked up a different perspective on this event as well as on some other conferences.
Actually, I take that back: This year, I’m sort of a part-host again on the other side of the partnership since I was recently named chairman/editor of the DMA Catalog & Multichannel Marketing Council newsletter and an OpCom member of that council. But ... whatever. What matters is that I see things differently, especially since now I feel like I have a similar mission to catalogers in mind when I attend these things than when I did in the past as a catalog “newshound.” Catalog Success tries to take in these events more like you do: Hunting down those ideas that you, our readers, can turn into profits.
Naturally, I’m still something of an outsider, an editorial observer. I focus most of my attention on seminars for marketable tips, the hallways surrounding them and all those vendors’ receptions, so I can schmooze with you folks and see what new things you’re doing (and are willing to talk about). I do roam the exhibit hall of ACCM and other conferences, looking for possible case study articles involving vendors’ catalog/multichannel clients, but not as much time as I spend on the other matters.
As with most catalog/multichannel-related conferences, there’s certainly a much greater emphasis — and interest among attendees — on all things e-commerce. Even the recent NCOF event had plenty of sessions focusing on fulfilling e-commerce orders. But then again, e-commerce-related conferences almost are becoming a dime a dozen. I believe there are now three E-tail conferences held per year: the Internet Retailer conference next month, the Shop.org conference, and the recent search engine marketing conference in New York. And the list goes on and on.
So, my sense is that you should best spend your time at the ACCM as well as at other catalog/multichannel-related, non-e-commerce conferences by exploring new ways to do not-so-new things. Many of these topics — such as catalog circulation, marketing, merchandising, creative, etc. — obviously do have an e-commerce element or influence on them. But think about learning new-school tricks for old-school practices. Consider these three:
* Circulation. If you think you know all there is to know about catalog circulation, think again. Postal rate increases, maturation of the co-op database “industry,” the proliferation of online ordering, and other key factors are forcing you to re-learn circulation and revamp your strategies.
* Creative. There’s also plenty new to learn in creative. Take how you pose your models, as a rather off-the-beaten-path example. Many catalogers aren’t going for the quick sell in print books anymore. You want your customers to jump over to the Web, find all your inventory and buy more. This means that your models just might need to strike slightly different poses with that in mind.
* Merchandising. Beyond the obvious (“Make your merchandise unique!” — no kidding!), you’d be wise to attend sessions that focus on how to choose products for your print catalog vs. your Web site vs. your stores, if you operate any. Merchandisers are editors more so than ever before, editing down their company’s product line so the right products are offered in the catalog vs. the Web vs. retail.
That’s not to say you should completely turn yourself off to e-commerce-related sessions at these conferences. I’d strongly recommend your attendance at any multichannel integration sessions you can find. Although sessions that focus on key issues to catalogers, such as matchbacks, branding and contact strategies, certainly have a heavy e-commerce element to them, they’re just as much about catalog marketing as anything else. So, don’t miss out on them, either.
When it comes to conferences, there’s an old school of thought at play. If you can come away with one really good idea or one sure-thing lead, the trip will pay for itself. My twist on that is, if you attend the right sessions for you (as opposed to sessions you feel like you’re supposed to be at), you’ll come away with plenty more ideas than just one.
That all said, perhaps you’re getting more of your ideas these days from publications or e-newsletters like ours or the tons of free webinars being offered, considering that 70 percent of those who responded to our weekly poll question the week of April 30 said you were sending fewer people to catalog/multichannel-related conferences this year.
Or perhaps you’re relying on coverage from Catalog Success or other publications to pick up your conference tips. I can’t promise that it’ll be “just like being there,” but I can guarantee you that our May 22 and May 29 Idea Factory e-newsletters will be full of tips picked up at the ACCM. Then, our June 11 edition will contain tips I grab from the Internet Retailer conference in San Jose, Calif.
But if you’re one of the fortunate chosen ones to attend ACCM or other catalog/multichannel-related gigs, my key takeaway tip du jour is to see what new tricks you can learn in your trade.