The distraction of the DSF/DSA standoff at last week’s Digital Signage Expo (DSE) took a bit of lustre off an otherwise very strong event. (By way of disclosure, my company, RDM, is a dues-paying member of DSA. DSA also graciously provides me with space on their web site to post blog entries. I am also an interim Board member of the DSF.) I spoke with many people on both sides of the fence last week in Las Vegas. I also spoke with many who simply don’t care. In the interest of advancing the resolution of the standoff, I present a series of facts, opinions and solutions for your consideration.
Fact: The industry can not support two trade associations. It is not completely clear that it will support one. Every day that goes by with competing association entities is a wasted day. Here is a tweet I saw from Larry Blaney (@OneElevenSystem) : “I couldn’t help thinking I don’t know another industry where there is so much hype. The digital signage market is under delivering.” He continues, “vendors are keeping others from the show, new associations are forming because of distrust… in the end, the industry suffers.” I don’t know Larry, but his thoughts reflect what many people are thinking. Come together, solve common problems and move ahead.
Fact: Only a fraction of the potential members of a digital signage industry association have chosen to align themselves with either DSA or DSF. There is a great deal of apathy as demonstrated by people sitting on their wallets. DSF recruited 150 members at the DSE show with a 6-month free membership. DSA was of course equally aggressive. The missing point is that unless there is real perceived value in membership, people and companies will not join or renew.
Fact: All interested parties agree that an entity that represents the industry should be independent and nonprofit, e.g. organized as a 501c (6). Today, technically, neither DSA nor DSF has been granted that status with the IRS.
Opinion: A DSF with any ExpoNation executive on its Board is not independent.
Fact: The DSA voted to become independent and nonprofit at the recent DSE conference. It is not necessarily a slam dunk that the IRS will grant them non-profit status given their history and Board composition. The application form is complex, and our government works in strange ways.
Opinion: A DSA with any NetWorld Alliance executive on its Board is not independent. The DSA Executive Committee followed their very rational vote to become independent by fundamentally re-electing themselves, including Dick Good of NetWorld as Chairman. That, my friends, is a mixed message where I come from.
Fact: There is general consensus on the idea that in order for an industry association to thrive and meet its objectives, it must augment membership dues with revenue from events, especially trade show(s). This is borne out by observing the tactics and history of successful industry associations.
Fact: The industry currently has three primary trade shows that garner attention and exhibit hall participants. One is DSE, the other two are the Kioskcom/The Digital Signage Show (TDDS) events. Both are run by respected trade show management companies. DSE is typically in late February, while the TDDS shows are typically in April (Las Vegas) and November (New York). DSE is clearly the largest of the three events.
Fact: The DSA has recently focused its energy on finding a trade show management company to partner with “on management of an industry trade show”.
Opinion: The industry will not support an additional (fourth) trade show. As it stands, DSE has established itself on the calendar as the place to be in February. It is not going away, despite the bluff and bluster of a few software vendors with large booths who did not sign up for DSE 2011 last week. And if it wasn’t a bluff, they won’t be missed. Their apparent belief that attendees come only to see them, or that they should control industry direction can only be viewed as arrogance. Read Pat Hellberg’s piece here to understand why technology should not be the focal point of the industry. The power is on the other side of the screen. Those who think otherwise have their head in the sand, or some place even less pleasant.
Opinion: There are other entities that serve and represent pieces of the digital signage industry that need to be embraced, or at least considered by the eventual single association. Among those are POPAI, OVAB, Platt Retail Institute, and to a lesser extent, the Strategy Institute. International entities should also be considered. Related industry trade shows that create a digital signage interest area should do so with the blessing and support of the single association, perhaps even under its banner. This would include the NRF Big Show and Globalshop in retail and InfoComm in the Professional AV industry. These entities need to be approached after the standoff is resolved.
Solution: It seems very clear to me that there needs to be a meeting of the minds, and very soon. DSA has 430+ members and no trade show. DSF has 150 members and brings the largest trade show event in the industry to the table, its owners willing to negotiate financial support with a truly independent association. All parties want an independent trade association with the financial wherewithal to carry out an aggressive agenda of education and advocacy. Is it that hard to connect the dots? Here is what I think good faith steps toward resolution would be:
1. DSA suspends its “RFP” for a new trade show for four weeks and opens up negotiations with ExpoNation for its support of an independent entity. It should have parallel discussions with JD Events, the organizers of TDDS. The negotiations with both should be around an acceptable formula or scheme for revenue sharing with the association.
2. All parties agree publicly that the discussion does not revolve around “the” trade show, but around a calendar of industry events sanctioned by the association.
3. To protect event organizers that agree to an acceptable revenue sharing opportunity with the single association, I propose a calendar that has two major events (trade shows) and two minor events (focused conferences/seminars) during the year. Sanctioned events would be permitted to use the association logo, receive co-marketing support, and get programming support from the association. No two sanctioned events would be permitted in the same calendar quarter, or within eight weeks of each other. This would not preclude any non-sanctioned events from being scheduled at the time and place of the organizers’ choosing. This would allow vendors, end users and other participants to budget the time and money for a rational industry conference schedule, and provide at least four opportunities for the single association to provide a venue for education and revenue generation.
4. DSA continues its path toward independence. This entails completing its application for 501c(6) status, the immediate resignation of all NetWorld Alliance executives from its Board, and the scheduling of a full-membership vote for a new, independent Board.
5. DSF continues its path toward 501c(6) status, as DSA’s application is not assured of acceptance. Exponation remains without a DSF Board vote.
6. The parties agree to a merger in the event that negotiations are successful and that at least one 501c(6) application is accepted by the IRS.
7. The single association then hires (or retains) permanent staff to build and execute its aggressive and important agenda, to advance membership recruitment and to reach out to other important entities.
8. We have a party and get on with the business of digital signage.
Do you agree? Disagree? Not care? Let’s hear from you.