I try to use this space to offer opinions, insights and discussion points of possible interest to all participants and observers in the digital signage space. I have a point of view, but I do not consider myself the voice of anything larger than myself. That being said, lately I have found myself shaking my head in disbelief based upon the actions and behavior of others around the industry more often than usual. We work in an industry that is growing rapidly, while still struggling to define itself, its semantics, its leaders and its future. As such, there is sometimes a real Wild West mentality out there. People think they can define the rules of the road to fit their needs, since there is no sheriff in town. The behavior of the bad guys casts a pall over the industry, impeding its to advancement.
I am not talking about lesser, all too common transgressions that occur routinely: ridiculous and misleading claims related to market share and deployments by software vendors; bad mouthing of competitors in the heat of battle; rip-off pricing for services and content foisted upon unknowing clients. I am talking about questionable ethics and lack of class that begins to stain our entire industry. It is time that people get called out for such behavior, and that we try to take it up a notch in the integrity department as an industry. Here are a few examples, some of which I have observed from a distance, one of which I have experienced first hand. They touch all elements of our space.
We have a reseller partner who takes great pains to reinforce the fact that his company is “vendor agnostic” and tries to match each potential deal to the vendor/partner who is most appropriate. In reality, that means whoever brought him in, or whichever vendor provides the greatest opportunity for margin (as opposed to success) in a given deal. Not shocking at all, and rather common behavior. Recently, we had an existing customer who was preparing to launch a new network. As the good negotiators they are, the customer took the opportunity to look at all the competing offerings, and agreed to let us provide a proposal once they had all the others in hand. An unusual situation, but one that is being handled with respect and open communication. Frankly, we aren’t worried. Lo and behold, we find out that our aforementioned “partner” has proposed a solution to our customer with a competing vendor. Certainly that is their right, but where I come from, a person with integrity makes a phone call, acknowledges the situation and acts, well, like a grown-up and a partner. Not this guy. He went slinking in, trashed the incumbent (that would be us) and proposed something that makes me laugh. We found this out from our customer. With friends like this guy, who needs enemies? Digging a little deeper reveals that this is his typical M.O. His goal is not to add value, it is to skim dollars from the unsuspecting. Good luck, pal. You have one less arrow to shoot now.
This past week, the intrepid Adrian Cotterill of The DailyDOOH exposed what appear to be ethically-challenged practices at DigitalSignage.com (link omitted intentionally). The web site operates as a so-called portal for digital signage information, and supports itself (at least in part) by selling “leads” that come through its site. The issue raised is that Nate Nead, who owns the domain and operates the site, is also employed by Helius as National Accounts Manager, according to his own LinkedIn profile. This fact is not disclosed on the web site, or in sales pitches to prospective lead buyers. Helius, for the uninitiated, is a digital signage solution provider. It also appears that Mr. Nead has, or at least had a position at Deploid, another solution provider and advertiser on his site. This too, is not disclosed. Prospective lead buyers would almost certainly be interested to know of such a clear conflict. For someone who describes himself as “obsessed with knowledge”, Mr. Nead clearly does not feel the need to impart relevant information when money is at stake. Smug and off-point comments posted by Mr. Nead’s lead salesmen (sic) and Mr. Nead’s silence on the matter to-date speak volumes. Caveat emptor. Caveat lector.
I was recently speaking to a person responsible for making decisions on hardware, software and services for a potentially large network. In the course of reviewing our proposal he was open about which vendors were “in” and which were “out” at that particular point in the process. One company who was identified as “in” surprised me, and upon questioning, he revealed that he was impressed by one of their qualifications. It turns out that they claimed responsibility for one of the larger and more visible networks of another company. They told him that they “did” the network “through the other vendor”. It was easy for an industry insider to see that their claim to the network is that they currently employ one of the other vendor’s former sales engineers, who worked on the network in question. The case didn’t involve my company, but I was furious. That is just slimy. I suggested that he call one of the executives at the company that actually owned the deal and ask for a comment. That ought to be interesting. Doesn’t anyone think that people will find out when you flat out LIE? I am still shaking my head.
Finally, there is the case of the wannabe aggregator. This person has designs on aggregating networks across a certain vertical. Suffice it to say that if the ringleader was that good, he’d still be at his last job. The scheme here is to present the networks as a single buy, and to utilize his “considerable” expertise in ad sales to bowl over the advertising community. He approached network owners that I know with his pitch, his outlandish claims, and one of the funniest, semi-literate contracts I’ve ever seen. His aggregated networks included public failures, small and unattractive properties, his own network that is “still under development”, and one that claims to have hundreds of sites, yet has many fewer actually working. The best word to describe the core properties is “distressed”. He needed the network owners he approached to add actual deployments and credibility. Unfortunately, when you lead with distortion, sleight of hand and delusions of grandeur, credibility will always be a stranger. His pitch fell on deaf ears.
We all exist in a very competitive environment in a tough economy. But it would help everyone if people redoubled their efforts to act with integrity and honesty. Some people just don’t have it in them, but most do. It is time for the good citizens to stick together, even if they compete, and to acknowledge integrity when they see it. It is OK to tell a prospect that one of your competitors is honest, or a good person, or that they have a worthy offering. Customers would rather hear respectful assessment than rote bad mouthing. Let’s resolve to take the discourse and the integrity level up a notch. It will make the bad guys easier to identify for everyone. And they will get run out of town.