The year was 1983 and "globalization" had not yet become a buzzword, but "export promotion" and "international marketing" were very much on the minds of the tiny cadre of executives who made up the leadership of the Dental Manufacturers of America (DMA), based in Philadelphia. The DMA's members were becoming aware of the international sales potential of their products, and a means of penetrating overseas markets was high on the association's agenda.

The DMA Template The association consequently decided that it would become a participant in the American pavilion at the International Dental Show, a major industry event held in Germany. The DMA then hired a company (my firm) to provide trade-fair marketing consulting. It was agreed that my firm would handle all the logistical elements, while the DMA staff in Philadelphia would inform the membership of the new arrangement, disseminate all the pre-show material, and take on the recruiting of exhibitors into the program.

Before that could take place, DMA executive director, Edward Shils, and his associate, Kathy La Mar, met with me to settle several vital points: the design of the stands (booths), their furnishings, and, most important, the pricing of the package for exhibitors. Amenities such as an exhibitors' lounge, shared interpreter service, a pavilion catalog/mailing piece, and consolidated shipping were included in the exhibitor package.

That first year, 1983, more than 25 companies took part in the DMA's IDS program. Fifteen years later, 45 companies will participate in the DMA program at IDS '99, now held in Cologne, Germany. And five more are on a waiting list to participate. This growth is especially remarkable since many firms that first exhibited under the aegis of DMA left the nest, so to speak, after gaining exhibiting experience at one or two pavilion programs. Others signed up European agents or distributors, and subsequently displayed with them. And other companies have continued with the DMA program, realizing the cachet that an "American" pavilion creates both for high-tech equipment such as laser surgery devices, and low-tech products such as paper disposables, syringes, and hand instruments.

Looking at the cost of joining the DMA pavilion raises the old "apples and oranges" comparison. Dollar for dollar, the pavilion comes out a bit more costly than going it alone as an individual exhibitor. However, the exhibitors' lounge, with complimentary soft drinks and coffee; the hostess/translators on hand; the pavilion catalog; and the support of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the region are all amenities unavailable to the solo exhibitor.

Applying the Formula The DMA formula is not confined to the huge IDS show, which is held every two years. The other major international gathering outside of the United States, is the World Dental Federation Annual Congress. DMA members have participated in pavilion arrangements at federation's meetings in Hong Kong and Barcelona, and next year will participate as the event moves to Mexico City.

Besides the all-important exhibitor-recruiting function, DMA's Shils and La Mar work closely with my company in allocating individual stand locations for the various pavilions, assuring that competing firms do not wind up adjacent to one another. Small, new-to-market companies are encouraged to share a larger (and therefore more attractive) stand with a compatible business.

The DMA also organizes two table-top exhibitions, one in November in New York City and the other in February in Chicago. Both are heavily promoted to foreign buyers, agents, and distributors around the world who are eager to represent American dental products and equipment in their home countries or regions. These undertakings have enabled DMA to create a major database on this global target audience. Prior to the overseas shows, the DMA puts out a mass mailing, inviting those prime prospects to seek out the American pavilion and to strike up new business relationships with its members.

The DMA is a relatively small association with limited staff and resources, but it has nonetheless found a way to open new markets for its members--with virtually no financial involvement by the association. Any aggressive association can successfully adapt and fine tune the DMA approach, similarly boosting members' overseas marketing potential.