Brady Haag On How Project Content Simplifies Messaging For Roadside And Building LED Screens
January 12, 2022 by Dave Haynes
In the last two or three years, I’ve sensed a big shift in the understanding and execution of big LED displays – with way more focus on content than in the past. For a long time, most of these big jobs were so focused on the size and pitch of the screens they kind of forgot about what was really important – what was on the screens.
That’s changed a lot with big dollar projects, but not so much – at all – with the 10s of 1,000s of smaller, lower resolution LED displays that are resting on pylons along roadsides or mounted on the sides of buildings. They’re just straight marketing and messaging centers for everyone from auto dealers and grocers to churches and community theatres. In most of those cases, the sign operator is working with very basic play-out software and has little or no creative capabilities or resources.
So what’s on those signs often doesn’t look very good. Doesn’t have an impact. And rarely gets changed.
That’s why’s Brady Haag started a little company in Wichita, Kansas that is expressly in the business of making the production of creative for these kinds of screens fast, easy and inexpensive. Project Content is a cloud platform populated with a ton of pre-designed templates that subscribers can easily use and output as finished files.
Templates are not at all new to digital signage, and a whole bunch of CMS software companies have template libraries. There’s also third-party services that have these libraries. But those are for HD screens, what you’d maybe call everyday digital signage. The big difference here is how Project Content is solely focused on these low-res LED screens, with all the quirks and the special thinking and design needed to make them look good and have an impact.
Brady, thank you for joining me. Where are you today?
Brady Haag: Hey, thanks for having me, Dave. We are located in Wichita, Kansas. So in the center of the US.
Brady Haag: Exactly. We’re actually the air capital of the world, but I don’t know if we can even consider us that anymore with all the aircrafts leaving us.
So what is Project Content all about?
Brady Haag: So Project Content is an effort by my team and I to elevate the outdoor EMC content game. I noticed when I joined the industry about seven years ago that there was a really big problem, especially with the EMC side of things, and I drove around the country with some colleagues and realized that 85%ish of the content wasn’t driving revenue, it was just sitting up there not producing anything and sign owners love the idea of having an EMC, but they don’t think of all the work and all the thought and time that needs to go into that EMC that they purchased.
I was on your site, and I know what EMC is, but can you explain that to other people? Because my community just calls them digital signs.
Brady Haag: I actually like LED displays better than EMC but EMC is an electronic media center or message center. They’re outdoor billboards or digital commercial boards that can promote marketing messages based on whatever the client wants to put up there, so driving down the highway, you can see that a lot of car dealerships have them and like to promote their car specials on the road.
Yeah, so EMC is the same thing as a LED display.
Okay. So you’re less focused on internal digital signage and much more so on the kind of the roadside stuff and the LED stuff on pylons and so on?
Brady Haag: Exactly. We’re working our way into the indoor digital space, but it’s so oversaturated right now, and we’re just trying to focus on a solution for the outdoors first.
Yeah, as you mentioned, a lot of these are small businesses and they just have no idea about what to do for content or what it should look like or anything else, right?
Brady Haag: So we call it, in-house, the black box debacle because it came to me one day when I was giving a seminar at a place in Missouri. When these people buy the LED display, they’re basically buying a black box and it’s a highly technical black box and probably $30,000 plus, but it’s a black box at the end of the day and it’s only going to perform as good as the content that’s on there.
We did a quick estimate and we think that there’s more than a hundred thousand EMCs or black box installations nationwide. And, they invest in these EMCs or LED displays for their marketing power and the ability for them to be able to inform people driving by and the reality is most of these aren’t performing the way that they should.
And a lot of these outdoor displays are quasi low resolution, what I would consider low resolution compared to LCDs and so on, and are meant to be seen from a distance? So do you have to design content with that in mind?
Brady Haag: Oh yeah. Coming from college, when I’m working in the LCD world and HD world, it’s hard to dumb everything down. There’s so many rules that go into LED display content that are way different, and actually on our website ProjectContent.com, we developed a best practices book, which we call the Project Content playbook.
It’s 50 pages long. We went really in depth discussing the best practices and how to get the best or the most out of your LED screen. Everything’s gotta be blown up. Everything’s gotta be bigger and the words gotta be less verbiage.
Yeah, certainly when people ask me about digital signage content in general, I always tell them to think of billboards, you’ve got very short attention spans, it’s a glance at the media. You’ve got to have just like a handful of words at the most, and a one key image if you even have an image.
Brady Haag: Right, and that key image can’t be detailed. It has to be zoomed in on what you’re really trying to promote ’cause you gotta, depending on the traffic area, the most you’re gonna get is probably 8 seconds worth of viewing and that’s on the high side of things.
Unless you get lucky and you’re in an intersection with stop lights, but that’s another thing that a lot of clients don’t understand is, they’ll try to put a 32s ad up there and people are only catching one slide of that ad and not understanding the full ad completely.
Yeah. This is not a medium for storytelling.
Brady Haag: Yeah, exactly.
So how does it work? How does the platform work?
Brady Haag: Yeah, so Project Content, we develop the software. It’s totally cloud-based and we house over a thousand pre-made and editable templates, and these templates that we have are professionally designed by my team using the EMC content best practices that we’ve acquired over the years.
So one of the coolest things, when you get in there is that we have every type of collection that you can think of, and we’re constantly adding more weekly. So this library that we have is ever-growing and we like to keep it fresh, like I said, every week. But when you come to our website, you go in there and you’ll build out an actual sign profile, because as you may know, each LED sign has a different pixel matrix.
So let’s say 210 pixels wide by 120 pixels tall, for example, that’s probably our typical average sign that we deal with. You would put that into your sign profile and you can name it and you can have as many signs as you would like, and then you can go into our template editor and find the template that you like, and you can change the actual words and pictures and whatever it may be to better suit your needs.
So if it’s a hamburger restaurant that you own, and you’re wanting to show a picture of your hamburger for 99 cents, I wish that was still the case. You can go in there and swap out a car if it’s a car dealership, and you can swap out that car with the hamburger picture and swap out the text for that is the price of the car to the price of the hamburger, and I know that’s confusing, but it’s all template based.
Do you need any sort of skills other than the ability to use a mouse and type?
Brady Haag: Nope. So we tried to keep it as simple as possible. We know that a lot of our clients are, they’re receptionists, they’re not graphic designers at the end of the day. So we wanted to make it as simple as possible and the least time consuming as possible for them to come in there, develop their ad. All they have to do is think of the idea, and we even help with that with some of our templates, but they just think of the idea, they plug in the text in their picture and render it out.
So chances are, if they’re doing that, they’re already in charge of updating that electronic message center in some way. So they already have to know some other software, right?
Brady Haag: Correct. Yes, but that being said, a lot of these manufacturers or sign shops sell an LED sign, the software that they give to the clients or the end user, it’s for the lowest common denominator and usually out of date, clip art style graphics with the inability to create multi-layer engaging innovations. And they typically have a solid background color with text appearing and a different color on top, and that’s as far as they get.
We took a poll across the country and we saw that about 95% of the market chooses to create the content themselves, even though a lot of them are not graphic designers at the end of the day.
And then bad things happen!
Brady Haag: And then bad things happen, and there’s two issues with that actually.
So issue number one is with the end user and the second issue is with the sign dealer or sign shop. So the end user, like I said, doesn’t have the designer marketing experience to make that sign pop for them and get a return on their investment. Or even drive business inside at that time, they don’t have the design capabilities and most of the time they just don’t have time. It’s another thing that’s just thrown onto them, and so I can’t tell you how many times I drive around town and I see the same message that’s been there for two years and over time, you’re just going to tune that out. I already know what that message is going to be. I don’t need to look at it again. So you want to keep fresh, engaging content for them to always keep looking and keep your company top of mind.
Is part of the problem with that if I’m some sort of business that doesn’t do a lot of outbound marketing, is it a case of, they wouldn’t even know who to ask to build them an ad?
Brady Haag: That definitely could be the case, and that the bigger the company, the harder that is to happen.
The smaller companies like these mom and pops shops, they have no idea who to ask and what to do with it, and they just go with whenever they see other signs doing, and a lot of the time it’s not the right way to use it, and then that goes to the issue number two, with the sign dealers and sign shops. At the end of the day, if that product or that sign out there is underperforming and looking bad, it is going to reflect on them, even though it has nothing to do with what they do.
It could be the biggest and baddest sign in town, but if it has red monochrome text on it, it’s not going to look great. It’s an issue with the end users, right? That sign is a marketing tool for the sign shop, and if the sign looks better, they look better.
Yeah, and if it’s generating an impact for the customer then this is probably going to generate new business because customers’ competitors who are looking at it are going well, we need one of these now.
Brady Haag: Exactly! We have a Dennis down the street, actually they had purchased EMC and had a vertical pitch. So it was different and cool. So we had a reseller local sign shop in town that packages project content to the sign cell. So they automatically got us for a year and they used us as best as they could, as a result that sign shop has sold three more signs around that company.
Yeah. I was going to ask if you had some sort of a reseller program, so even the manufacturers could bundle content creation capability with the hardware and software so it just says, we have this sorted out for you.
Brady Haag: Yeah. So we actually do. We rolled this out last year and so we call them our affiliate and reseller program or dealer program. And the affiliate program, at Project Content, we market directly to the dealers and end users. So the dealer has nothing to do with it, except they refer to the customer they have and ask us to help them out. And with that, they’ll get a 10% residual income for the life of that relationship with the customer.
On the other side, we have a reseller program, which is a little bit more in depth on the dealer side. We see this more used actually. They package it into their sign sales and just make that part of the number. So they do the selling and we give them a 25% discount off MSRP so they can up-sell it, and then if we keep them on as a client after their term expires, they get that 10% residual income as well.
And you do custom creative as well, right?
Brady Haag: Correct. So on our upper tiers, we do offer custom services and we even offer complete sign management, and what I mean by that is we will actually go into the software, the scheduling platform and schedule everything for them, keep everything organized, do everything for them. All we need is an email.
We found that once we get some of our clients on here, they never want to go back. Because they don’t want to touch the software or deal with that. They just want to pass it on. We handle it a little and male it look good.
That must be a bitch though. Cause there if there are hundred different EMC vendors out there and they all have their own hack together, often Chinese software, you have to learn all those, right?
Brady Haag: Correct. Yeah, it was a lot of fun. But through that process, it actually was a good learning experience for me and my team. We got to see what we liked about different softwares, what we didn’t like about other softwares and put it towards our platform and what we continue to build. It’s been a good learning curve, but yes, it’s definitely a bitch.
Is the majority of what you do just static images, are you doing animations or are you going all the way to video?
Brady Haag: We do complete animations as well as static imagery. So we know there’s a lot of bylaws, with different counties that have hold times and that’s one of the things we discovered the hard way once we got going. But yeah, so we can do static imagery or animations
And through all this experience, did you get any sense of whether animation makes a difference for something with such a short attention time?
Brady Haag: We haven’t done any technical research, hardcore research on that. But I believe so.
I actually teach a class out at a local community college here. It’s called interactive digital signage, and in that class, we do a lot of research on different signage and how it can impact things, and in a small light poll in my classroom, we think that attention grabbing is way easier with animation and static imagery.
You see something flashing in the corner of your eye, you’re going to look up at that. With static imagery, you might just keep passing.
So how does the platform work in terms of me being an end-user? Do I buy a license? Do I subscribe to something? Are there different tiers?
Brady Haag: Yeah. We deliver three plans or three levels of service, depending on what the end user goal is with our EMC and how much content creation process they want. Our top tiers are going to be $300 a month, which is ultimate and that’s going to be that full sign management piece that I talked about and the higher the tier, the more, what we call credits you get, and those credits are technically a custom content piece or a template piece. What that ultimate plan is, you get 10 custom downloads per month, and 10 template downloads per month. And then it goes down from there to our other tiers.
In one respect, that doesn’t sound like very much. But when you think about the medium, that’s probably more content changes than an awful lot of these sign orders for whatever do, right?
Brady Haag: Correct. Yeah, and it really depends on the medium.
Car dealerships, they’re rolling out a whole bunch and they use all ten every week. But, the mom and pop shops, like I mentioned, they’re probably only gonna use two or three, and so they might be better for a smaller plan, and we don’t recommend going above 10 anyways, because you want to pound that message home.
85% of the people that see your SIGN live within five miles of it. So you want to pound that message home as much as possible until next month.
And what’s been the response to those different tiers. Having been in this business for a very long time, $300 a month is nothing, but to an end user, particularly a new one, it probably seems like, “oh my God, 300 bucks, are you crazy?” Because they don’t understand what all is involved.
Brady Haag: So I will tell you our most popular plan is, I believe, is our ultimate plan and that the hard thing is to get them to understand that $300, like you said, is not a lot for the amount of things that you want. But once they realize, and they don’t have to touch that sign, it’s going to look good and do what they wanted to and how they pictured it in their head, they’re hooked
So once we get them on, they tend to stick around. I think the most practical is our premium, where you get eight downloads from our templates and two custom pieces and that’s for $125 a month and I feel like that sits well with most of our clients as well.
We were talking ahead of hitting the start button, and I was telling you how I have a degree of experience in what you’re doing from several years ago with something that’s more video-driven, it was an After Effects plugin, and a service built around that, low cost ads or full motion ads. But I found the biggest challenge to getting the end-user community to take this up was education and getting their heads wrapped around the idea of templates.
How have you found trying to raise awareness of this and understanding of it?
Brady Haag: Oh yeah, like you said it’s very tough and, you’re right, we do have to educate them and we don’t only have to educate the end users, but we had a really hard time and focused on educating the sign dealers and sign shops themselves, and what they really need to know is that once you sell an LED display or an EMC, it’s an ongoing relationship. It’s not, “Here’s your sign. See you later. Thank you for your business.”
It’s an ongoing relationship, and I just truly believe that once we get them educated on the importance of the content and they see the marketing ability for themselves, that is going to hit a home run for them. But yes, educating them is the tough part. We try to do things such as blogging on our websites. We do seminars and webinars throughout the year, and like I said, we have that playbook that educates, it’s a 50 page playbook that can help educate end users and sign user.
So are the sign shops your “channel”?
Brady Haag: Yes. So we started off just going one-on-one with end users and we realized that was going to take forever. So we got in touch with some great partners and resellers of our product, and we found that the best way is with them as a reseller, and they just package it into their pricing and they don’t have to touch anything else and the end-users are handled by us, and everything’s golden.
Through the years people who have experience with the traditional sign industry, the sign community have tended to say to me, and I’ve observed it myself that they don’t generally believe this sign industry is ever going to wrap their heads around the digital portion of their industry and how it’s going to somewhat transition to that, maybe not fully, but at least partly, have you seen that mindset change and more adoption now? Cause I get a sense that is happening.
Brady Haag: Yeah, I do. I think with the technology getting better and the pitch is getting closer and closer together. Pretty soon, content is going to be as good as HD.
Now the thing with that though, there’s still going to be those outdoor practices that you can’t create the outdoor billboards the same way as you can for an indoor display. Because like we talked about at the beginning, the amount of words you can get and the amount of detail that you can actually show. But as far as the digital space, I think people are finally starting to take notice and I’m excited to see where it goes.
Are there standards in terms of dimension? One of the cool things about LEDs is you’re not constrained by 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio. You can do different shapes. You can do wide ribbons on and on, but does that create a problem for you?
You mentioned earlier this idea or this process of creating, assigned profile. If you have an auto dealer group that has 20 signs and they’re not all the same size, do they have to create multiple versions of the same spot or is it responsive or anything like that?
Brady Haag: Yeah, so we have an Arby’s franchise and they have multiple different sizes. So they would build each location out with their actual pixel matrix for each sign, and maybe they can name it whatever location it is. They can go in and edit one message and then export it and render it out to all the different sizes and it’ll automatically adjust to those sizes.
Yeah. So you’re not having to create it and then back up and start over and do the same thing again for different resolution, right?
Brady Haag: Yep. That’s one of those things that we coded in there, and that’s probably my favorite thing that we decided.
And how long would it take to produce an ad? I get the sense that if you knew what you’re doing, it would take 90 seconds.
Brady Haag: Yeah. 90 seconds pretty on the ball there. We usually say, give it 30 seconds to render and by render, I mean, it’s gotta go through and create the actual video with your changes from that template and it’ll spit it out to your downloads folder. So 90 seconds is probably a good time.
And if you render it and you’re creating a spot, and you want to prove it and make sure it looks okay, like, if you spelled correctly and so on is that one rendered output, as soon as you do that or the meter only goes on when you do a final render?
Brady Haag: So unfortunately, as of right now, how we have it, your final image is your final image and that’s going to take your credit. However, what we have implemented is you can preview it as much as you want. We even send you an extra message right before, and we say, are you sure, have you checked the spelling, have you looked through this and as soon as you hit yes, it’s going to take the credit.
We still get quite a bit of clients that ignore that message and hit “Yes” and we’ll refund them their credits and that’s totally fine. But that’s one thing that we’re looking at improving this year with upcoming changes.
Yeah, I guess some of the other things you could over time get into, like some of the agencies have and even third-party tools where you can start to do things like approvals and markups on spots and everything else saying, this would be great, but you use this image instead, all that sort of stuff. Are you looking at that down the road?
Brady Haag: Exactly. Yeah, we are. So we’ve busted Project Content into three stages. Our first stage was to create our templates and make them editable and spit those images or videos out. The second stage, we’re going to make this an actual scheduling platform, and that’s what we’re in the works of doing now. So not only can you create your template, but you can also schedule it, and it’ll be mobile friendly, cloud-based, ready to go, and the third is going to be the AI side, and so what our end goal is, which I can’t talk about too much, but it’ll be artificial learning and artificial intelligence telling you what you talked about, “This would look better here, or, you ran the special at this time last year. Do you want to run that special today?”
Yeah, it’s interesting. I was just looking at a website yesterday for a company called Fixate, fixate.ai. I think they do AI based, machine learning based optimization of ads so they can predict where people are gonna look on an ad spot based on how it’s laid out and everything else and then make recommendations about if you make this larger change, this color and so on is going to get a higher strike rate.
Brady Haag: Oh, wow. That’s pretty cool. Yeah, I definitely have to check that out.
It’s expensive though. Getting AI engineers is expensive if you’re in a flyover country, right?
Brady Haag: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Software, I’ve learned, is very expensive.
Everything’s virtual these days. So where are you at in terms of your company and size? Is it bootstrapped? Are you a venture backed or anything like that?
Brady Haag: So we’re privately owned, and we have about eight employees, and a lot of them I’ve taken from my college classes, so I get a free little trial with them and so we’re eight strong right now and we’re continuing to grow, and last year we basically doubled. So I’m excited to see where we go this year.
Are you set up for scale? Like if all of a sudden, your business quadrupled, that’d be a good problem to have, but do you have the infrastructure to handle that kind of spike in that.
Brady Haag: Yeah, I believe we do, and a lot of that has to do with the “help themselves” feature with those templates.
I think that’s going to be what would help us drive that growth. Those templates are created. We don’t have to do anything with them nowadays, clients go in there and do it all themselves. So as long as we keep knocking out more clients and keep bettering our software on the other side of things, then I think we’ll be set and ready to go.
There are other companies out there that do similar stuff, but it tends to be a platform that didn’t start as digital signage or as electronic message centers or whatever you want to call them. They started as a printed poster material for Instagram and Facebook and so on, and they’ve said, oh, by the way, we now support 16:9 landscapes and portraits, and you could do it that way, or are they competitors for you?
Brady Haag: We have not seen them as a competitor. We’ve learned a lot from them, but like you said, are more for social media or indoor signage. I think the one thing that differentiates us is, we specialize in those smaller pixel matrices. We know how the outdoor content game is different. We’ve done the research and we’ve been in it for seven years. So I think that’s one thing that, like for instance, we mimic promo a lot. Promo is a great website. We love what they do, but a lot of their ads are not going to work for an outdoor digital display. They’re going to be too detailed.
Yeah. I find what they do interesting. I’ve reached out to him a couple of times and they did not get back to me so they could have had a podcast too, if they’d be nice.
All right. So if people want to find Project Content where do they go online?
Brady Haag: So they’ll go to www.projectcontent.com
And do you have any kind of a setup to try us for 14 days or anything like that?
Brady Haag: Yeah, we do have a free trial and it is for 14 days and you’ll get access to our template editor. So you can go around and play around and get your hands dirty with it, and please let us know what you think and if there’s any upgrades or changes that you’d like to see, we’re all ears.
All right, Brady. Thank you very much for spending some time with me.
Brady Haag: I appreciate it, Dave. Thank you.