DSF Takes Crack At Bringing Mainstream Sign Industry To Digital Dark Side

February 6, 2012 by Dave Haynes

The Digital Signage Federation is “leading a team” of people to infiltrate the big International Sign Expo trade show in Orlando next month and pour the digital sign Kool-Aid down the throats of any conventional sign people who open wide.

More accurately, the association has a booth and a few of the very usual speaking suspects have education slots in some of the meeting rooms. I checked the exhibitor list and there are exactly zero digital signage vendors at this thing.

The conventional sign people who go to this event, and the rival Specialty Graphic Imaging Association show in the fall, are there to look at digital imaging/commercial graphics technology – aka printing stuff. They know digital has or will take away some of what they do, but …

DSF Chairman Alan Brawn and his son Jonathan, Lyle Bunn and Linda Hofflander (now of Saddle Ranch) will “provide a curriculum of instruction for the attendees at the ISA show. The curriculum will consist of introductory concepts, technology overviews, and discussions about the business side of digital signage.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity the ISA has given to the DSF to help educate the traditional static sign industry about how their members can grow their own businesses by expanding their business models to incorporate digital signage. We believe that digital signage complements the traditional sign industry and offers sign companies an exciting new service opportunity to meet the growing needs of their clients,” says Brawn. “There are plenty of opportunities for traditional sign companies to engage with existing electronic digital signage providers or develop their own services.” 

I absolutely think there is business to be developed with traditional printing people. They have deep customer lists, trucks and service people and graphic design people. What they are confronted with is an oversupply of confusing options and few clear ideas on how to sell this stuff.

I remain puzzled by the absence of vendors at this kind of show, particularly those with easy, reseller-friendly options. Yes, the company would be out of place in a sea of printers and cutting tools. But it would be the only company selling something a lot of the attendees know they need to learn more about. I know some past attempts at injecting digital into print shows has been a bit of a flop, but the opportunity is just kinda sitting there for whoever gets the formula and pitch right.


  1. Very interesting post and near and dear to my experience. I think there are a number of barriers that will prevent (most) traditional printing organizations from winning in this space. At first glance, it makes perfect sense, if part of your market is eroding why not shore it up. If you are losing the print why not pick it up with digital signage. Here are a few of the obstacles that I have encountered. This is by no means all of them but would happily delve deeper is anyone is interested.

    1. Sales Cycle – traditional print sales cycles are fast. A job exists, you quote it, you win it, you print it, you ship it and often you get paid in 60 days. Digital signage – not so much. This is a hard new lesson for printers to learn.

    2. Sales Representation – let’s call it the way it is. Most printing companies have commissioned sales agents that know print but often are nowhere near versed in digital signage. Its the old dog new tricks problem. They too see the opportunity digital could provide them but with the long sales cycles it is far from low hanging fruit. If left with a choice most will sell what they know and sell what will see them get paid sooner.

    3. Leadership – Most printing companies lack visionary leadership that sees the longer term potential of digital signage and will alter the course if dollars aren’t generated quickly. Kid yourself not, printing and digital signage are two entirely different businesses and thus need to be managed differently.

    4. The Network – although printing companies have in many cases long standing and strong relationship with both retailers and brands these connections are often on the procurement and merchandising side. Again, groups that are not educated in the language of digital signage. They all know about it, they all see its potential but at the end of the day very few are in a position to approve the Cap. Ex.

    5. Support – again, although many printing companies have teams of people that can support and install signage programs, they too are very different to the services required to support digital signage. Remember most signage installs are dropped in with nothing more than a few adhesives and hardware. Digital signage installation and support is a whole different enchilada. You need technologically savvy people doing this and not just a guy who knows how to climb a ladder.

    I could keep rambling here, but again from personal experience it takes an organization who is willing to lay down a strong foundation, employ new personnel and have the financial fortitude required to last in this space.

    I would be really happy if you or your readers could share with me any printing companies that have successfully made this addition to their offering and that have been able to leverage their relationships to succeed. I’ve seen a lot of smoke but not a lot of fire.

    Great post Dave and you know how this strikes a cord with me. Look forward to continuing this discussion with anyone who finds the subject interesting.

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