Last Friday, I received a call from the folks at Exponation, asking me if I was interested in an “unprecedented and historic opportunity” to serve as an interim Board member for the nascent Digital Signage Federation (DSF). Hyperbole aside, I was not terribly surprised by he invitation for two reasons. First, I had written a couple of fairly widely-read blog posts that called for renewed industry leadership and an independent industry association. Second, in forming an interim Board, DSF’s search for representative vendor types was realistically limited in that many were already paying for the privilege of advising the Digital Signage Association (DSA). Although RDM is a dues paying DSA member and supporter, we are not on the Advisory Board. i felt flattered, but filled with mixed emotions. I told Exponation that I needed the weekend to think about their offer.
The choice to accept or decline the offer was not a simple one, or one taken lightly. During the initial call, my inclination was to pass. We do support DSA, and enjoy a good relationship with their full time staff. DSA has been generous in providing me with a second distribution channel for many of my blog posts, including the ones about the Association itself. We believe that DSA has done and can do many positive things for the industry. At the same time, having been quite vocal in pointing out the issues with an association owned by a for-profit media company, it seemed wrong and even cowardly to sit by idly and wait for the chips to fall wherever they may. So on Monday I accepted the offer to join the DSF interim Board.
Accepting the position is neither a “vote” for DSF nor one against the soon-to-be-independent DSA. Rather, it is an attempt to add an even-handed voice to the resolution of what has quickly become a somewhat political battle. Some people may be upset with me for breaking rank, but those people have assumed an end game that is not readily apparent to me. I have said it privately and I will say it here: I do not care which entity emerges in the coming weeks and months to represent and advance the industry. I only care that we come together and deal with the pressing issues of an emerging industry in a unified manner, and soon. The interim DSF Board is will exist only for a couple of months, after which there are expected to be enough members to elect a permanent Board, as dictated by laws governing non-profit entities. During that time, it is my hope that I can play a small role in bringing all interested parties to the table to figure out where we want to go as an industry.
Many people have questioned Exponation’s motives in forming the DSF. As a businessman, I respect and appreciate their right to preserve their conference business, in which they have invested millions of dollars and many years of hard work. I asked some tough questions about their thought process and plans and received satisfactory answers that influenced my decision to serve. Rest assured, if Exponation does not follow up on their promises or if they act in a self-serving manner, I’ll let people know it. My assessment at this time is that they are sincere about their intent.
I don’t pretend to know how all this will end. I do know that the process, while potentially contentious, will be good for all involved. If some people want to throw rocks at me, I’ll laugh it off. If others want to provide their thoughts, either publicly or privately, I hope to be an active listener. Lee Iacocca remade Chrysler’s image with the catch phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way!”. Getting out of the way or blindly following rings hollow with me, so I will try to do my part to lead.
At this point, the situation requires that egos and agendas be put aside and common ground be established. True industry advocates will recognize that, as well as the fact that divisiveness is counter-productive. Everyone is watching, and as a group we have more important work that awaits.