It has been a while since we have discussed what a bemused Dave Haynes calls the “tomato fight” between The Digital Signage Federation (DSF) and the Digital Screenmedia Association (DSA). In addition to taking an intentional break from a topic that some people look at with indifference, I have been on the fringes of both official and unofficial contacts between the organizations. I did not want to jeopardize any positive movement with opinions, news or an incendiary post. That apparently will not be a problem now.

Back in February at the very well attended Digital Signage Expo in Las Vegas, a couple of level headed members of DSA’s Advisory Board spoke to me and a fellow DSF Board member, suggesting that we “end the madness” and “have a lunch”. The clear message was that everyone had bought in to the concept that a single industry association could better marshal resources and galvanize support for our growing industry, which does not require MENSA-like abilities to figure out. I eagerly reported the overtures to Bob Stowe, the new Chair of the DSF, and the Executive Committee. The news was well received, albeit with guarded optimism. We discussed the topic at our next Board meeting, and agreed to reach out at the executive level to the DSA to understand their intent. We developed a clear set of principles from which we would potentially negotiate.

A couple of weeks later, the conversation was apparently had. I was not a party to the actual call, but it seems that the DSA’s old regime was operating under the impression that they were doing the DSF a favor to have the call, and that DSF was struggling financially. It was implied that they would gladly subsume the DSF, deign to allow a few folks onto the exclusive, 71-member Advisory Board, and send out invoices for dues. When that parry was not warmly received, the response was essentially a comment that unless DSF was coming on bended knee, there was no basis for further discussion. In addition to basing their arrogance upon a completely false assumption, the DSA executives betrayed the intentions of their members who made the initial overtures. The call did not last long, and there are no further calls on the schedule to my knowledge. That is too bad for the DSA and their members. The chance to unite both an industry and their own fragmented member base around a common cause was lost due to an unwarranted haughty attitude. It is a sad fact that the same attitude drove the actual formation of the DSF when the same DSA leadership tried to strong-arm Exponation, the owners of the Digital Signage Expo, some 18-plus months ago. Rather than submit to the over-the-top demands of an association funded and controlled by Networld Alliance, a for-profit media company, Exponation provided seed money for an independent DSF and subsequently signed an agreement to become the exclusive trade show sponsor of the Federation. No one from Exponation ever did or ever will have a seat on the DSF Board, or a vote on any business matter. Independent means independent. The same can not be said of DSA, unfortunately. Despite their bravado about “independence” around their 2011-2012 board elections, we still see Dick Good of Networld Alliance remaining on the Executive Board, along with Executive Director (and all around good guy) David Drain, who came to DSA as a Networld employee. I have been told in the past by people in the know that Networld isn’t going anywhere until their cumulative investment carried on the books of DSA is recovered, and it is no small amount. I suppose all of those banner ads that obscure some good editorial work on Digital Signage Today have not generated enough ROI. In any event, DSA is certainly a long way from being independent, and the seemingly permanent existence of a media company on the association board raises more questions than answers for many people.

As a result of strong and ongoing membership sign-ups, an incredible and diverse working Board and the agreement negotiated with Exponation, the DSF is healthy, vibrant and growing. There is an uncommon spirit of working for the common good and a real lack of personal/company agendas in the affairs of the Federation. I can report that it is an honor and a pleasure to work with the fine people who give unselfishly of their time there.  The only evidence of desperation is a desperate desire to achieve the goals of the industry faster. The DSF recently joined the DPAA as an associate member, in recognition of the perspective and body of work that DPAA brings to the table. We felt that playing even a small role there would be beneficial to our membership and increase awareness and communication between the associations. I encourage all industry advocates to join DSF and work with us as the only independent voice of a growing industry.

Had DSA and its masters shown genuine intention of doing the right thing for its members and the industry earlier this year, the silly tomato fight that no one understands might well be over by now. But that was not the case, and it is a pity. I sincerely hope that new DSA President and good guy Brian Ardinger can steer the Good Ship Screenmedia into calmer waters. I know members there who capture the selfless spirit that I witness every week at DSF, so nothing is impossible. If they get frustrated, that “join” link above will be working for a long time.