The Story Behind ACE – Advocates for Connected Experiences – From Kim Sarubbi

There are a lot of special interest member organizations out there, all focused on the things they do as businesses, but also on the trends and market forces that affect them.

There is a hell of a lot of crossover when it comes to things like customer experience, but historically, there’s been very little crossover between these special interest organizations.

In simple terms, an issue that’s important to a digital signage network operator can be important, as well, to an advertising company and to a location-based marketer. Privacy issues is a prime example of that.

A new organization called Advocates for Connected Experiences – or ACE – has bubbled up in recent weeks with the goal of getting different organizations collaborating on these kinds of common interests. It’s not a member organization you’d join, but more of a working group.

I spoke with Kim Sarubbi, who stuck up her hand and said she’d pull ACE together. She gives the back-story, and tells me what ACE is doing, and where she could use help in what is, right now, totally a volunteer effort.

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TRANSCRIPT

16:9 –  So Kim, can you give me the backstory on what Ace is all about?

A – Absolutely. So, at New York Digital Signage Week, this past year’s 2019 Coffee and Controversy, which is put on by the Digital Signage Federation, they started … well, you were there, you moderated it! So you understand, right? There was this great discussion about privacy. We had someone from Washington, who is a lawyer, who understands some of the regulations and what lobbyists are doing. And, you know, I think it became clear to everybody in that room that we’ve been collecting as an industry, collecting data on customers to have a better customer experience for a while now. And not everybody was doing it ethically. And that could create a large issue for industry as a whole. If any, any kind of legislation comes down, that you know, would stop even for me when I’m a network operator, and I can’t gather who’s in that room. I’m not gonna have advertisers and and I’m ad-supported network. So, we started talking about “How can we start talking to other associations to see what they’re doing? How their constituents are being impacted. And that’s how ACE was born, it was really just about having a conversation with other industry associations that are all part of this customer experience. And ACE was born.

16:9 – And ACE is an acronym for … ?

A – It’s Advocates for Connected Experiences.

16:9 – This is not a new organization that you so much have to join as it’s kind of an umbrella … I don’t know what you call it … an organization or association or something or other … that other associations kind of roll up into is that

A – It’s more of just a working group. It’s a bunch of us saying, Hey, we’re making a commitment to continue to talk to other associations. Try not to get egos involved. Try not to say this is my territory. Nobody’s trying to take members from somebody else. This is just about us being advocates, where we’re going to unite together and say, Hey, we need to make sure that this customer experience … how we connect it all and how we approach, it is ethical and we’re all doing what is right. And on top of that, some of these smaller organizations just don’t have the bandwidth to really get the kind of standards and guidelines down where you have some of these other organizations that are going, “Hey, I could help you with that.” And so it’s really just about working together to come up with, you know, answers to all different kinds of problems. Privacy just happened to be the first one we’re tackling.

16:9 – And this would also get you closer to having some degree of universality in terms of things like guidelines and standards, right?

A – Exactly. Right. So we’re all like you said, we’re fragmented and what one industry or one organization or even one company might think is okay, we’re saying, okay, all it takes is one company to take down a whole bunch of us … do something wrong, have a privacy breach, and then all of a sudden legislation comes down and they say, “Hey, you know what, from now on, you guys can’t do that.” And that would be bad for everyone.

16:9 – So who all is involved?

A – So right now, and hopefully we’ll be adding some others as well. Of course, the Digital Signage Federation of which I used to be Chairwoman, helped get this started. We have Geopath, the LBMA, ICX Association, SEGD, Retail Touchpoints. We just got Outdoor Media Association. So now we’re truly global. EDPA, which is Experiential Designers Producers Association. I’m dropping a lot of acronyms on you. This is what’s great, because we have these fringe organizations that are coming along and saying, Hey, we would like to be a part of this discussion because it does touch on what we’re doing. And I had a conversation with EDPA yesterday, and they’re talking about how they’re having privacy issues from the like, a trade show is about to start. And you get spammed with tons of emails, right. So people are selling lists, and those lists from a privacy issue. Where did they get those lists? Half of them aren’t real lists and they’re selling them to these companies, companies are buying them, they don’t really know what’s going on. So it’s really great for us to be looking at this from many different angles. And I’m talking to several other associations that are also on that fringe, which I would have said were fringe, but they really do have a lot in common with what we’re discussing.

16:9 – And probably from their perspective, what digital signage is, and what some of the other things are fringe to them?

A – Exactly. Right. But now, because we’re saying really, this is really about a customer experience, so, you know, maybe digital signage isn’t the correct word for us to be using. Right. Other companies and organizations are really talking about a customer experience, but in our mind, that’s digital signage. So having these kinds of discussions help.

16:9 – Yeah, I can’t help but think that this is something that’s overdue. Obviously, it’s hard to put together someone’s gotta put the sweat equity in to do it. But this this notion that, “We’re a company and we do digital signage that, you know, that’s our thing.” It doesn’t really work anymore. Everything’s kind of bleeding together.

A – Yeah. And, you know, like you said, it takes someone to put it together in the sweat equity. And I’ll tell you, you know, I talked to a very large organization today, who is thinking about coming on board, and they’re like, what’s your roadmap? My roadmap?

16:9 – And your just trying to figure out dinner for this evening!

A – Exactly. My kids are yelling, I want lunch, and I’m going up still working, you know, but then they said immediately after that, “well, we could help you with that.” And I thought, “Oh, this is a amazing. Yes, yes!” So not only come on board and help us You know, with understanding what’s going on with your constituents, but it also help me figure out where does this organization go? Right? How far down? Are we hiring lobbyists down the road? Maybe? Who knows? This could all be something that, it evolves to, but it starts with just a conversation where we’re all playing nice. And we all are really there for the greater good of the industry.

16:9 – And how does it manifest itself? I know it’s incredibly early but you’re talking to people on the phone and they’re saying yeah, we have to be involved. Does it turn into meetings or conference calls? is there a get together or you know, as I guess this is all stuff you’re figuring out?

A – Well, I’ve already volunteered to go down to Australia to meet with OMA

16:9 – That was nice of you.

A – Yeah, I just need somebody to pay for that trip. Right now I tell everyone this is, you know, minimal. I try not to waste people’s time. So what I’m trying to do behind the scenes is get as much information together as different associations send me their feedback on what privacy issues they’re dealing with, I compile it and send it out. And then we have a call every other month. So I’m not trying to bog anyone down. I understand. We’re all busy. I’m kind of a clearinghouse to help get the information out to everyone right now. And who knows, maybe eventually, just like the DSF evolved into meetings, maybe we can meet up and I would imagine once some of these shows start coming back online, a lot of these people will be at the bigger trade shows and we can meet them.

16:9 – I would expect that one of the biggest challenges with this is hurting all the various cats, and getting beyond the initial enthusiasm of something and keeping people enthused, and you know this directly from chairing the DSF a few years ago that people have other shit to do and you know this, this is something they do when they have time. So how do you how do you get momentum and then sustain it?

A – That’s exactly right. So it takes a lot of time and effort on my part to make sure that that keeps going so a little bit more time.

16:9 – For all the money you are being paid for this.

A – Right, all the money I’m being paid for this. Exactly. It really falls to me, and I’ve had two women who have helped me beyond, Laura Davis-Taylor has and you know, Laura, she has been phenomenal. I lean on her a lot and Beth Warren, she stepped up to help, as well. I always feel like, you want something done you give it to a busy person … or a woman.

16:9 – They’re both Energizer bunnies.

A – These two women have helped me, like get this off the ground and their continued help is really what has kept this going. So, how I see it going is, you know, just people like that volunteering. And I’ll tell you even within some of these organizations, when I spoke to SEGD, they took on, like four initiatives, I’m going to reach out to these two organizations. I’m gonna write, you know, some privacy guidelines we’re seeing from our side. And yesterday with EDPA, he emailed me back within 10 minutes and said, “Here you go, here’s all this information.” So people are really stepping up, and hopefully it will continue like that.

16:9 – So you’re working on privacy right now, or that’s the initial thrust of ACE. Is there a next one beyond that? That’s the the obvious thing to do?

A – Well, like I said, the organization I spoke with today has offered to help with that roadmap. But I will tell you that things pop up, as you know, with COVID-19. Fiona Fitzgibbons from Diversiffi reached out. And you know, she created this amazing creative and said, “Hey, can you help get this out to as many people as you can?” And I thought, this is exactly why ACVE was created. Right? We can get this information out, very quickly, to many different organizations. And over the weekend, it popped up, Lamar had put this campaign up on all of their billboards and you’re going “That’s how this should be working, right?” One, one, somebody one person sends out says, “Hey, I need help with this.” And then it just starts going from organization to organization and who knows who and how can we help? And it’s just good stuff, people helping other people. I mean, there’s really no downside to this.

16:9 – No, certainly, when the pandemic started getting really serious, I started compiling a list of companies that were making content available. And you know, I’m at like 29 different companies that have stills and videos and everything else available to other networks to just run … no charge, no, nothing, “Here, use this, if it helps.”

A – And a lot of times, you know, organizations and smaller ones have a hard time getting that out. And the fact that you compile that and yeah, I didn’t even know I know of three organizations that put things together. So, you know, having kind of that network to just go out and say, “Hey, and then pick and choose what you want, you could use this or you could use that, it doesn’t matter.” It’s all about getting the message out as fast as we can.

16:9 – This thing, this pandemic is, you know, getting beyond privacy which is absolutely important issue when, please God, things start returning to normal, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of retailers and people who operate different kinds of venues, who are going to be reconsidering their opening days and thinking, “Okay, how do we do this? How do we engage with our customers?” Because everything has kind of changed and we can’t just say, “Here use this touchscreen or here all gather over here for this demo or whatever,” I suspect there’s gonna have to be some, some leadership and some thinking around, you know, how do we do this in a in a world that’s very sensitive about touching things and being in the same room together?

A – You know what, you just helped me get our next initiative and I thank you my time here has been well spent. That’s perfect. I mean, really, it is and I think. I will give you credit for that. Mr. Haynes, I promise, but when I send this email out to everyone, I think that is an enormous issue. You’re right. People come out of this and how do we, how do we handle people not wanting to go back into stores and not wanting to touch things and not wanting to be engaged with other people. The customer experience is going to change, so I think that will be our second initiative. Thank you.

16:9 – There’s a whole it’s it touchscreens is one thing. The messages in stores are gonna have to change certainly, in the short term, just to reassure people, here’s what we’re doing and all that and then, you know, the experiential designers are going to have to think about, you know, are lineups done differently and all this stuff, man, is just like everything’s gonna be turned upside-down.

A – This is what’s so great, right? I feel like over the last week, I’ve had so many conversations. And it’s it’s kind of renewed my faith in humanity where before it was, you had these closed-off silos, and this is mine and you can’t play over here. This whole situation has helped everyone to just sit back and go, “Look, we’re all in this together. We’re all there.” It’s a it’s a level playing field, right, just as a human, and how do we go forward and really take steps to continue to help each other. And that’s for me, just how I have always done business in the first place.

16:9 – Yeah, I’d say the last four years. You know, it’s exposed and almost celebrated the ugliness in society, but when something really awful like this happens, those people tend to get washed aside because all these other people who say that “This all has to stop we need to start work start working together.”

A – Absolutely. And and so there’s really, maybe it was a perfect storm right with ACE. And people are really realizing that it’s time it’s time we work together and stop being segmented and not talking to one another. Let’s start the conversation and let’s let’s all get along.

16:9 – If I’m another acronym that you’re not familiar with, and I’m not familiar with, but they see this and they decide, “okay, we want to be part of this.” What are the questions they are asking? Are their concerns that this is a competing member organization, that there will be dues and all those sorts of things?

A – I think the number one question I’m getting is, “What’s in it for my current members, by me being part of these conversations? What is our organization or association getting out of it, that we could go back to our current member base and say, “This is a win for us. This is a plus. This is information we didn’t have before.” And then the next thing is, “How can we help other organizations?” Which I was shocked that people were saying it. “Well, you know, maybe we have information that we can help another association,” and I’m like, “Oh, my God, I want to hug you. That’s exactly what this is about!” So, you know, I think it’s really about 1 – how does it help our current members? and 2 – how can I help your members?

16:9 – Is this one of these rising tide lifts all ships things?

A – Yeah, that kind of thing. That’s exactly what it is. And, you know, I just for me just in life in general, if you’re going to do something now, if it’s not helping them, I just don’t want to be a part of it. So I think that this is great to be a part of such a great movement now to help so many associations, especially as, like you said, when we come out of this, I mean, a lot of us are going to be like, what are we doing? Where do we go from here?

16:9 – So you’re doing a lot of the sweat equity right now. You mentioned Laura and Beth have put in a lot of time and energy as well. What help do you need?

A – Well, like I said, I would love for you to have you to moderate some of our panel discussions. I am not shy about asking people, so as we get closer to more initiatives and what we’re doing, I will start reaching out to people and go “Okay, look, this is your area of expertise. This is how you can help. What can you do? What can’t you do, if you can’t do it fine, but what can you help with?” So I’ll definitely start reaching out.

16:9 – Right. Are you building a database or I know there’s modest website up, all these sorts of things …

A – I built that website in a day, come on!

16:9 – Modest is a nice word. I could have said it’s just like you barely got something going or whatever. It looks pretty nice for something done on what was it Foursquare, whatever?

A – I did it on a GoDaddy web builder.

16:9 – There you go.

A – Yeah. Making fun of me with my …

16:9 – I am not! … I’ve been reviewing some websites today from some digital signage companies and, and doing the old facepalm “Dear God!” thing.

A – Yeah, well, you know, we’ve had a lot of people reach out, because we have a Connect button where people could ask about things, and so I’ve just been fielding that. But I think eventually what I need to do is put together some sort of newsletter where everyone who’s opting in to subscribe, and I use air quotes on that, to read what we’re doing. I need to put that together. I just, right now, don’t have the bandwidth to do it. So if there’s anybody listening who would like to help, please let me know.

16:9 – Yeah, I think that’s my point is there that you know, there’s only so much you can do on your own. There are things that you’re good at and other stuff that you’re kind of hacking away at just as we all do in our lives, and different things in different ways. And maybe there’s somebody who says, “Hey, I could do this for you. I actually I do databases and weirdly I find this fun.” Or something.

A – Yeah, that would be great. Also just, you know, anyone who knows any other organizations that might be interested in what we’re talking about or being a part of this, that would be great. I know, I get an email at least a day that goes, “Hey, why don’t you reach out to this association? Why don’t you reach out to this association? You know, it would be great if anybody wants to actually reach out to these associations for me, and start the conversation that would be great, too.

16:9 – Because you have all these different associations, do you see the time – when people are actually allowed to gather in the same room together – for a connected experiences conference or something that brings in all these disparate organizations and interests? Because we’re all trying to get at the same thing, right. And we all do it at our individual trade shows. And then we will drag somebody in from the Location-Based Marketing Association or SEGD, or something like that, for a digital signage show … or a digital signage person will go to the LBMA conference or whatever. Do you see the ability to kind of pull this into something that is like a macro conference, and I’m giving you more work to do?

A – Yeah, I mean, let’s back off a minute, Dave. I could only do so much. … I really, I don’t know where this could go. I hope that for right now it is just about collaboration. And we’re literally like, a month old.

16:9 – And this is all you’ve done?

A – This is all I’ve done in a month. So it maybe even not a month, two weeks or three weeks old? I don’t know. But we’ll see where it goes. And I think as we bring in some larger organizations that have more money, more influence, that they also might start pushing the way things go like, “hey, let’s talk about this and maybe we should do this.” So I’m open, as long as we all stay true to just helping one another. I’m open for whatever.

16:9 – So the acronym ACE is a nice simple one to remember. It’s certainly easier than what you say EDPA? Was that a conscious effort? Let’s figure out some some words that will fit into ACE?

A – Yes, actually. I was doing something, and I just wrote down ACE, because we were thinking, Okay, you know, this needed to talk about connected experiences, and I’m like, Okay, what what would go with CE, and so I said ACE. And I thought how cool because eventually we could have just a little spade with the ACE on it. Randy Dearborn, I don’t know if you remember Randy, he was also a chair of the DSF.

16:9 – Randy is unforgettable.

A – Okay, well, there you go. See, you know, Randy. Randy put it a nix on that. Because he’s with MGM (resorts). He’s like, I’m so over this whole ace thing with, you know …

16:9 – He’s retired now.

A – Right. So I asked a few other people. And then ultimately, everyone said, well, it’s just easy to remember. And then I said, well, because we’re acing it, we could Ace it together, or Ace it. Beth helped with that. And I’m like, it’s catchy. So we overrode Randy. And besides, I think Randy is stuck in Europe somewhere and hasn’t been able to get home, so he hasn’t been on the calls.

16:9 – Poor fella. Well, if you’re gonna be stuck somewhere better there than where some other people are stuck.

A – Yeah. A conscious decision to just stay in the south of France.

16:9 – Oh, poor guy. Nothing to do but eat and drink wine.

A – Right? Life is just terrible.

16:9 – So you went with “advocates” and I think there was another term that was sort of an A term that was in there as well?

A – Yeah, we talked about lots of different a terms. Some I can’t say. But really, advocates explained what we were doing, you know. We’re not an association. So, it really just made sense. What we’re doing is advocacy.

16:9 – Yeah, I guess the second you get into calling it association for connected experiences, people start thinking okay, member organization, maybe not now, but that’s where they’ll go.

A – Yeah, and you know, I think it was Brian Meszaros, he was really instrumental in pushing the whole connected experiences thing. He said, You know, this is really, because he plays in so many different industries, and a lot of these fringe associations. So he was spot-on with the connected experiences part. So I should also give a shout out to him. He’s also helped to bring in quite a few associations, as well.

16:9 – So, if people want to know more about this, if they are an organization that wants to join, or if they’re a person in our digital signage ecosystem or complementary ecosystem, how do they get involved, who they contact, where did they find the website, all that stuff?

A – It’s real simple. That’s why the, the website is just ACEittogether.com. So you go there. You can email me directly at [email protected] It goes right to my inbox.

16:9 – Wow, you got that email going on GoDaddy!

A – Yeah. You know, you can do my website, come over here and help me!

16:9 – I’m not allowed to leave my yard. Sorry.

A – All right. Well, you can do that online. You don’t need to physically come here.

16:9 – Dammit. Well, I do like Nashville.

A – Yes. It is beautiful here.

16:9 – All right, Kim, thank you very much for spending some time with me.

A – Thank you. I appreciate it.