SAN DIEGO - From foot massages to stuffed lions to temporary tattoos, there was a lot going on in the exhibition hall at this year's Mortgage Bankers Association of America annual conference.

While all the more than 250 companies were creatively trying to stimulate interest in their products and services, consensus was difficult to reach among exhibitors on the amount of activity at the booths.

The MBA said attendance was down 15% from last year, and some people reported that foot traffic was well below previous years. But others said that those who did stop by the exhibit hall seemed to be serious shoppers, not passers-by.

Some booths drew people because of eye-catching give-aways. Essex Home Mortgage Servicing, whose corporate logo is a lion, gave away stuffed lions. Three women picked up lions in just a 90-second span, but none asked about Essex's subservicing business.

Even though many visited the booth for the stuffed lions, they also remembered the company's name, said Kevin Quinn, who was monitoring Essex's booth. If one out of 10 remembers its name and services, the promotion is considered a success, he said.

One exhibitor had several promotions going on at the same time. Servantis Systems Inc., Norcross, Ga., sent out temporary tattoos to preregistered participants, offering a gift to anyone wearing the tattoos to the company's large booth near the rear of the exhibition hall. Not many people wore the tattoos, said Diane Williams, who was manning the booth along with a few others.

But Richard Eller, regional sales manager for Servantis, said many people who had stopped by inquired about doing business rather than just picking up a pamphlet with information as was common at past conferences.

Servantis also was giving away tickets to the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta - a promotion that brought many people to the booth. Staff members wore eye-catching golf shirts adorned with American flags, which many people admired, Ms. Williams said.

Ruth Thompson, president of Desert Document Services, Tempe, Ariz., said the four foot-massage machines she had set up at the booth in the front of the hall brought many people and potential customers to the booth, even if they were not initially drawn by the closing-document services the company offers.

"The foot massage relaxes them and then we can talk to them," Ms. Thompson said. She said it was easy to get people to listen to a sales pitch once they were sitting down and relaxed. While she said there has been less foot traffic at the booth than in the past, she found the quieter atmosphere more conducive to doing business and talking to potential and current customers.

The Bank of Boston booth drew a small crowd with a hired magician doing card tricks. David Williamson, who told passers-by he could make fees disappear, did a card trick that made the words "Bank of Boston" appear and disappear from the edges of the cards.

Lawrence H. Aldrick, assistant vice president at the bank, said he noticed a drop in traffic at the exhibition this year, but he reported that the magician draws people to the booth.

Countrywide Credit had a large booth that shared its theme with the reception it sponsored Monday night at the Stephen Birch Aquarium-Museum. Bright yellow and black striped fish adorned the large booth, where beach towels and bottled water with yellow and black straps to hold the bottle were offered to those who stopped by.

One of the most popular booths was the Data Link booth. Anyone who stopped by could have their picture taken and put on the front of a mock-up of Mortgage Technology magazine.

The promotion tied in with the new Windows-driven program Data Link was promoting, said Joe Dombrowski, product specialist. Data Link has had similar promotions in the past, putting peoples' pictures on baseball cards or on other industry publications.

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