In his blog Experiate, Paul Flanigan posted a poll asking readers whether they think that digital signage is an actual industry or not.  As a glass half-full kind of person, I entered a “yes” vote. While the results to-date are statistically indicative of nothing, they tend to skew in the “not so much” direction, which surprised me.  What I thought was interesting was Paul’s definition of an industry: “It’s a unique and individual enterprise with its own organizations, rules, and regulations.”  Probably something right out of Webster, but it made me think about things. Digital signage does have its own organizations, probably too many.  We certainly have something that qualifies as a community.  We have a trade press, a distinct blogosphere (hey, thanks for being here) and a very active Twittersphere.  We have trade shows and conferences that are clearly focused on digital signage.  And we have competition, perhaps more than some would want, across all facets of the space (even the trade shows). Competition is good, as it spawns innovation which drives industries.  All of these factors make me feel good about my vote on the survey.  But then there are those tricky rules and regulations.  I think it is fair to say that the Wild West is alive and well in digital signage.  For all the progress we make in getting DOOH into the mainstream consciousness, we take steps backward all the time through infighting, strange behavior and mixed messages.  Maybe that is one of the rules.  Here is a recent example.

Last week, I received an email from a recognizable digital signage expert.  I seldom hear from this person, so I opened the email right away, eager to see what might be on his mind.  The email turned out to be an introduction to the Manager of Exhibit Sales at the International Sign Association, which represents “manufacturers, users and suppliers of on-premise signs and other visual communications products”, according to their web site.  ISA further defines on-premise signs as “neon signs hanging in shop windows or storefronts; fiber-optic systems; pole signs in front of fast-food restaurants or gas stations; electronic message boards; rotating time and temperature displays at banks; awnings; canopies; banners; indoor and outdoor wayfinding/ directional signs; and projecting signs painted on or carved out of wood.”  In short, pretty much the world of static signs.  Here is the salient part of the email:

“…this is to introduce you and <name withheld> at the International Sign Association (ISA), which looks to moving its static sign and digital graphics providers, project and facilities management community into the application of Dynamic Digital Signage with a show floor pavilion, show floor theatre presentations and a conference program at its ISA Expo, April 27-30, 2011 in Las Vegas. The ISA is a very credible association, (with 2300 members, founded 1944, professional education programs, etc.) which gets about 18,000 delegates to its annual Expo.

This ISA action opens a significant new channel for digital signage since ISA members and Expo delegates are the primary providers and end users of static signs, offering rapid introduction and leverage for  Digital Signage growth, through market champions, new reseller and business referral relationships... I hope you will look to participating at the ISA EXPO.”

The buggy whip manufacturers are starting to feel some pressure, and ISA is now ready to create what amounts to a digital signage pavilion at its annual conference in April.  My initial reaction was thanks, but no thanks, and I clicked on to Sally Wee’s daily, filter-busting email offer of offshore printing services.  The LAST thing we need is another trade show, in Las Vegas no less. Then something clicked in my head, and I checked the calendar.  The ISA show runs at the same time as CETW’s newly relocated Spring conference in San Francisco.  Hmmm.  This seems strange… a digital signage stalwart promoting a very marginal event that conflicts with an established venue for the industry.  A bit of research makes it more troubling.  It turns out that the writer of the email has enjoyed nice treatment from the folks at CETW, and is scheduled to present at the San Francisco event while the ISA event is going on!  Holy conflict, Batman!  I went from mildly disinterested to moderately disappointed.  I’d love to understand what would motivate someone to actively recruit exhibitors away from a show that he is presumably supporting.  What’s more, we don’t need another trade show, and if the ISA “needs” digital signage, here’s some free advice: make a deal to provide members with reduced fee registration at CETW or DSE, both of whom would presumably jump at the opportunity to add new attendees. That way, their interested members would learn much more than they might at a sparsely populated pavilion among the printed, neon and wood signs.  That would have been a service to a couple of organizations that support our industry, as well as to ISA.

I’m not even sure why I got worked up about this, but I did.  Maybe because if we are an industry in formation, we need to strengthen what we have, rather than dilute it with fringe efforts. Perhaps it is because even casual diligence would have revealed that we are already exhibiting at CETW, which suggests that what I received was part of an email carpet bombing run, and that there was probably some kind of quid pro quo involved in the effort, or maybe just the quid.  No one should be surprised or offended by that concept, because that is the way the world works sometimes. Ugh.  I feel better: I have vented, I have shrugged, and I am moving on. So it shouldn’t be a total loss, I was inspired to commission a new sign for my office.