DMA 2016: Recap & Takeaways

Last week, the direct marketing industry gathered together in Los Angeles, California for the annual &THEN conference, hosted by the DMA. With around 2,000 attendees, over 150 hours of panels and educational sessions and five inspirational keynotes, &THEN delivered on its promise of inspiring and educating the marketing community.

Wilen has attended and exhibited at the DMA’s annual conference almost every year since its inception, and watched it transform to what it is today. While attendance has shrunk in recent years, the show and the organization behind it continue to evolve in an effort to appeal to a wider audience and deliver higher value to attendees and exhibitors.

Last year, the conference debuted under its new name, &THEN. This year saw another major shift, as the DMA kind of announced its intent to be known as the ‘Data and Marketing Association’ moving forward. We’ll cover this, and other highlights from the event in this post.

The Echo Awards

The ECHO Awards has always been a big draw for the conference, and it’s now recognized with its very own ECHO Day. For anyone new to the &THEN conference, let’s start with what an ECHO award is. The ECHO awards “are a celebration of marketing art, science and achievement,” The DMA has a “commitment to seeking out and showcasing digital, data-driven, direct marketing that makes waves,” and so they “recognize creativity, innovation, relevance and fearlessness,” (DMA). There are a total of 21 categories of ECHO awards: ten representing business segments, five channel categories, and then three craft categories and special awards. Aside from the craft category, each is judged on strategy, creativity, and results.

This year, ECHO Day consisted of four panels featuring previous winners from years prior. They started the day discussing the importance of having a well-written creative brief. Then they went on to the science of creativity within ECHO award-winning campaigns. Following this, they focused on the role of emotions that it takes to have an award-winning campaign. The final session discussed how technology plays a role in win-worthy campaigns.

The main event is of course the ECHO Gala, which this year took the ‘Gala’ theme very literally in consideration of the setting of the conference. From the extravagant red-carpet setup to the Joan Rivers impersonator (too soon?), attendees were treated to a long night of entertainment in recognition of the award winners. More on that here.

The Hot Zone

Another noteworthy segment of the &THEN conference is the Hot Zone competition for startups. This competition is for martech and adtech startup companies to present their industry ideas and hopefully get picked up by “marketers, agencies, and publishers, who are seeking innovative solutions to their data-driven media and marketing challenges,” (DMA).

This year, the competition was judged by Alan Izenman, CEO of iNvolved Media; Allison Metcalfe, Vice President of Customer Success at Live Ramp; Cory Treffiletti, Vice President of Marketing and Partner Solutions at Oracle; and Melissa Young, who handles Global Data and Audience Partnerships for Facebook.

A total of 56 applications were submitted and then narrowed down to just 15, based on the judge’s understanding, opinion, and research of the applicants. The 15 left were then brought to the conference where only six would go to pitch their ideas directly to the judges and audience at &THEN. The six that you may have heard include:

  • Circulate helps publishers, networks, and SDK providers maximize their first party data monetization strategies.
  • Enplug which turns digital displays into a web-driven, interactive display.
  • Faraday combines CRM data with a national database of household-level attributes to deliver visualizations, analytics, and micro-targeting.
  • Rockerbox builds brand awareness and gains customers by looking at user’s recent behavior.
  • Stanza shares upcoming dates and events by targeting on users’ calendars.
  • Wrapify pays everyday consumer drivers to advertise on their car which allows for data analytics like first impression and geographic research to be calculated. (DMA)


Perhaps one of the biggest reasons marketers continue to attend the conference is to gain insights from industry leaders who share their thoughts, views and advice at keynote sessions. As we had mentioned, there were an array of speakers set to discuss noteworthy topics at the conference this year, and each sprinkled the crowd with some gracious insights. Here are five insights we walked away with from this year's sessions:


Former Vice Chair of GE, Beth Comstock, discussed that when change occurs it is barely perceptible when it first shows up. However, if you learn how to embrace a change, you can start monitoring a change and then adapt to it. Being able to adapt is extremely important when running a big business or housing a big brand.

2. Do Not Focus Solely On Technology

Author Simon Sinek was another speaker at the conference, and he spoke about technology and the impact it’s having on us. Sinek stated that “use of social media releases dopamine, the same chemical created by alcohol, nicotine and other substances. He warned this should be used in moderation, balanced with real-world connections,” (DMA).

3. Use both sides of your brain

Panelists decided that a good campaign consists of inspiration and creativity alongside data and science-based insights. In agreement with this was Wunderman CMO, Jamie Gutfreund who said “The challenge is helping clients connect the left and right brain, in order to create new experiences,” (DMA).

4. The more genuine your message, the better THE results

Tyler Oakley, YouTube and Podcast Personality, discussed the importance of understanding that content must be creative, must read well, and most importantly, must be real. Oakley goes on to continue that if the audience doesn’t feel like the message was authentic, you’re not going to see any results.

5. The idea is the foundation of a great brand and company

Kobe Bryant, who just launched a $100 million data, tech, and media venture capital, talked about the fundamentals about investment opportunities. Bryant explains that it doesn’t matter how many people you know, or how much money you think you have—if you don’t have the idea, no one is ever going to take you seriously.

&THEN 2017

Once you’re done letting all your new ideas from an insane amount of inspiration settle in, be sure to get your ticket for next year’s DMA &THEN 2017 Conference. The conference will be held in New Orleans, Louisiana from October 8th – 11th. Wilen will again be in attendance and we look forward to sharing new developments in the industry and our services.

Special thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth at the conference!

Published on October 25, 2016