DSE’s Sandberg And Drain Lay Out Prospects And Plans For Next Month’s DSE Reboot

October 12, 2022 by Dave Haynes

Digital Signage Experience is coming up in four weeks and I suspect a lot of people are very curious about how the long-running show will be rebooted by its new owners Questex.

I certainly am, as I had long thought the old DSE was a dead trade show walking, and that something different was needed.

Is this it? I dunno, and I guess the industry will find out in a few weeks in Las Vegas.

I asked Marian Sandberg, who runs several shows for Questex, and David Drain, who was brought on by Questex to build the programming side of the event, to join me for a chat about what people can expect from a new and different DSE.

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Hello, thank you for joining me. Maybe the first thing to do is: Marian and David, explain what your roles are at Questex and DSE. 

Marian Sandberg: Sure. Thanks so much for having us, Dave. It’s really an honor to be with you and your audience and to have an opportunity to talk about this. 

I’m Marian. I am the Vice President and market leader for Questex. I oversee the DSE show, which we acquired last year, and we have not presented yet. It’ll be presented in November, which is what we’re gonna talk about, and I also oversee a show called LDI, which I know you’ll have questions about.

And market leaders tend at Questex tend to have two or three or whatever number of shows that they have under their portfolio? 

Marian Sandberg: Sure, yeah, that’s exactly right, and tend to be in verticals that make sense together, if you will. So I oversee a couple of brands that have to do in some way with technology. We have verticals in hospitality, bars and restaurants so they’re clumped together. 

Okay, and David? 

David Drain: David Drain. I’m the director of event programs for DSE. So DSE is my sole focus at Questex. 

And a lot of industry people would know you from your dark past with Net World Alliance and The Digital Signage Association?

David Drain: Yeah, it changed the name to Digital Screen Media Association for a while.

So you’ve been around the industry forever? 

David Drain: Yeah, I have. I attended the first DSE in 2007. 

Yeah, that’s early. I think the first one was in 2005 or something like that or maybe in 2004.

David Drain: 2004, but I wasn’t there. 

Yeah. I started in 2005, so I’ve been going even longer than you. 

David Drain: Yeah, you win!

Marian Sandberg: I can beat you both, but not in the digital signage area with our LDI show. I’ve been with that brand since 2004, so a little one-upsmanship there. 

There you go. You must be so proud. Alright. So how is planning going? As we’re speaking, it’s about four and a half weeks out. 

Marian Sandberg: It’s going great. We’re super excited and when we get to this part of the year, frankly, because this has been more than a year in the making we’re just ready to get out there and produce the show. We definitely have in the weeks rolling up still sales to do, and still registrations to bring in. But in terms of producing the show and the things that we know we’re gonna offer that’s mostly set, right? So we have all these great networking experiences we’re excited to put forth, and as we’re right across the hall from our LDI show, we’re really excited to see the synergies there.

When we acquired this brand, we did a lot of due diligence. We spoke to tons of customers and tons of attendees, so those customers as well, to see what we should keep from the old show and what we should bring back, and I think the number one thing that we heard from people was maintaining the sense of community for the digital signage industry, that it’s a dedicated show and that people still wanna come together in that community that maybe isn’t addressed by other events. So that’s been our number one focus, and we’re in the home stretch now. 

Yeah, I’d certainly got that impression as well when DSE went down. I thought that it was a show that for many years was in trouble. You could see it in the diminishing numbers and diminishing enthusiasm in a lot of ways. But the overarching thing I heard after it went down was a disappointment because there needed to be some sort of an annual event, at least in North America that really pulled together the industry, so to speak, and was the only thing people were talking about that week versus like an Infocomm or ISE or those kinds of shows, which certainly have digital signage as a component, but it’s one component among many endings.

You could bump into people in elevators and see they were going to the same show and realize we have nothing in common other than we’re both generally in AV. 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, and I think that was obviously one of our main focuses from the beginning in acquiring the brand is we immediately saw the value we knew of the show and of the market, although no one on our team back then had worked directly in it, and then bringing professionals on who were very much veterans of the market, like Brad Gleeson, who joined us very early on, and David, of course, who has been running a curating and will be running a fantastic education and content program.

People have been really supportive of that effort and from the beginning saying, we absolutely want there to be a show in this market, specific to this market and there’s a need for it. 

Because the old show has had its hair, so to speak, there are things that people loved about it, things they didn’t like about it.

I’ve been referring to this as a DSE reboot that maybe isn’t all that fair, but it’s what I’m going with, and I’m curious what you think in terms of how would you position the show? Is this DSE 2 or should people go with the idea of don’t expect what you saw before?

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, and I think that’s a great question because I think we would be really remiss if we did not acknowledge that we are bringing DSE back in a sense, right? We’re not gonna abandon everything that DSE was and that we want it to be, and people have asked us for it to be. So we have no intention of reinventing the wheel in that case. 

However, from our experience, and again from a lot of the outreach that we did, I think our intention is to put a new spin on it. Now, when you say, reboot, I absolutely agree, and I think that’s gonna be maybe a little bit of a challenge for people to get their heads around.

David has said it quite eloquently, we wanna really hold onto the things that people liked and maybe not the things that they didn’t. So some of the new things, for example, which I guess we consider new. We know that networking opportunities have always been super important. So now that we’re right across the hall from the LDI show, we are really trying to leverage those two audiences without cannibalizing, and I don’t think there’s a lot of potential to cannibalize those two audiences anyway. We hope to bring in some new people and some new buyers, and we’re tracking our registrations very closely, of course, and the kind of demographics that we have. And to date, I checked them just yesterday in preparation for this, of course, half of our registrations have never been to DSE before. Now I’m not talking about LDI people, I’m talking about people registered directly for DSE and as event people, as event producers. That number is super encouraging to us.

Now it could be in the last three years that we’ve just gotten more people in the industry. We all know that during the pandemic, on both sides of our business, people have left the industry, and people have come into the industry. It’s just a natural ebb and flow when you haven’t had a show in three years. But that number, even if you expect a lot of new people it is a great statistic for us that there are that many new faces. So we really hope that people coming to the network are gonna meet new people, but like-minded people like your reference before about having that sense of community and people who do similar things. But also that, of course, we want our exhibitors to meet new customers. So that’s a really important thing for us.

For the people who don’t know LDI, can you explain what it is? I’ve never actually been myself, even though I’ve certainly heard of it.

Marian Sandberg: LDI is a 30+ year organization and brand. It is a trade and show conference that addresses what we affectionately refer to as entertainment technology. So that would be basically everything in and around a stage except the performance. So concerts, touring, theatre, even clubs, venues, lighting, sound, staging all that kind of technology that goes around a performance or in a venue, and so a typical exhibitor at LDI would be moving light company, intelligent lighting as it’s referred to in that in that sector or consoles. if you were at a concert and you wanna go up to the console guy or gal, ask for the set list, that stuff that’s behind that in that pit is stuff that you would see at LDI.

So there’s technology and creativity factor there that I think sits well along DSE so maybe there are people who do similar, are somewhat like-minded, but do different things. So I think it’ll be interesting to see, who crosses over and comes together, 

Yeah, I guess the crossover as you say, more than anything would probably be the backdrop displays that you increasingly see with touring acts and the technology that drives those displays like LED backdrops and transparent or semi-transparent, LED backdrops, all that sort of thing.

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, absolutely, and the sort of persona who would attend LDI could be anything from very creative type, Let’s say a creative director for a show, a lighting designer, and then, someone those folks usually tend to be creative and technical, and then we’ll have very technical people who are like tech technical directors at a theatre or production manager for a concert tour.

And just like the way that AV and IT are worlds that are converging. The live events world and digital signage are converging to some degree because I spoke on a podcast a few months ago with the guy who does the wow factor stuff at the new arena in Seattle for the NHL team there and he was talking about programming at building not just what you see at the pre-show. It’s the whole darn building that’s coming together. I suspect that plays into how live events will increasingly be done. 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, it’s interesting, we use the term, experiential, right? And immersive experiences and the thing that I think is so interesting, having come from that LDI world and that entertainment technology world is that, if you go to a theatre it, okay maybe immersive isn’t the word, that kind of means something different. But experiential is what entertainment already is, right? You go to the theatre to experience something, you go to a musical or a concert tour, to be in this experience, and over the last few years, the way people are buying materials left and wanting to relish experiences. It’s interesting how areas like retail and venue design and even museums are taking a cue from entertainment and that’s what experiential really is, right? It’s about being entertained more. 

So in a way that sort of LDI world has been informing a lot of other businesses in our spaces. So exactly what you’re saying is if you’re walking down the street and all of a sudden you’re seeing all this fabulous screen, that content is trying to draw you in. Cuz it’s being paid attention to, cuz you have to work harder to get people’s eyeballs these days. 

Can we talk a little bit about where you’re at in terms of numbers and how they would compare to the old DSE that we know? 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, absolutely, and I’m glad you brought up the reboot. We are thinking of it exactly the same way. So we don’t have any intentions of trying to compete with the last 2019 DSE. We’ve had shows in our portfolio that was a record year and of course, the pandemic happening, we’re cautiously optimistic about kind, trying to get back to those numbers. So especially with DSE that hasn’t happened in three years, we don’t think we’re gonna replicate that in any way, and that’s fine. Our goal for this show is to be between 4,000 and 5,000 registrations. We’re absolutely on pace to hit those numbers. We’re really pleased with the way registration has been picking up and people registering for content.

The new certification that Bron Consulting is running for us. It’s not new, we’ve newly added it let me be clear. It’s the same certification you all know and love. So yeah, the numbers are really encouraging to us and I think what we’re gonna see, I think is gonna be surprising for people in the next four weeks is how much our registration picks up, right before the show, traditionally the last six, to eight weeks of the show or when Red registration really hits, and we saw that from the numbers in 2019 also, right? So when we acquired the brand that’s just the way the show paces we’re absolutely on pace to hit that 4,000 to 5,000 number.

Is that number unique registrations or is that roll up people from LDI who have opted to come over or whatever?

Marian Sandberg: Nope, that’s absolutely DSE distinct registration. For the LDI show in 2019, we had 16,000 people registered for LDI. But like an average for LDI would be 12,000 to 13,000. So the numbers for DSE are unique. 

So Potentially you could have a couple thousand or more people drifting over from the other show hall to wandering into DSE, cuz I think you have reciprocity, you can get into one or the other. 

Marian Sandberg: Yes, your badge for DSE or LDI can get you into either one or the other as well as there are some great offers and discounts for the conference on either side, which are obviously, paid conferences. But also some of the networking events that are being offered on both sides I think is gonna be really nice benefits. Just an example. LDI has always had great after-hours nightlife offers. With your badge, you can get into a different club each night, and if you don’t know, the clubs in Vegas are very expensive, right? It’s not like your $10 cover charge to go see a band at your local club. They’re very expensive. We have great deals with LDI that we’ve been able to extend to the DSE audience to go to a club, for example. Your badge gets you into the club, for free, which can save in some cases 70 to 100 dollars a night, and then we have some networking events. There’s an on-floor party if you will, a networking reception for LDI that DSE guests will be invited to, and vice versa, LDI people will be invited to the DSE opening reception, and we were really careful, obviously, to not have them overlap or compete with each other.

Cause we want these two to come across the aisle, as it were. So I think that’s gonna be interesting to see, and the LDI community, they’re curious. They have that tech curiosity and that creative curiosity. So I think it is absolutely reasonable to think we might get a thousand or so people coming across.

So you’re at parity or maybe even ahead of, ultimately ahead of what past DSE have done in terms of headcount, and with the spillover from LDI, almost certainly, where I sense that it’s not going as swimmingly would be on the exhibitor signup side? 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, we are where we’ve expected to be. I know that you love to look at the show floor as you should, and when we were in South Hall, when the show was in Southall, before my time, obviously, the show floor looked different. But I think that our expectations for relaunching the show were exactly where we wanted to be.

We had expectations that were in line with, we have amazing exhibitors presenting, and we have over 90 varieties of exhibitor sponsors, people who are gonna be partners and presenting in some way, and I’m not talking about speakers, I’m talking about people on the show floor, and then I think probably in the next few weeks we’re gonna see that number go over a hundred. So that’s perfectly respectable, and we’re proud of those numbers. 

Yeah, in certain respects that’s a reboot and it’s a startup again cuz you’re having to win the confidence of vendors who have had a rough couple of years anyways and when DSE went down, I don’t know if all of ’em were left whole after that. That’s somebody else’s story in argument, but yeah it, you couldn’t, I would imagine just expect that, hey, all you guys who used to do this, come on back. 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah. There’s so much more of a story to tell there too, isn’t there?

We have to regain some trust. We have to have people, who really loved that event and kind of look at us and say, Who the heck are you guys? Which is all stuff we expected. Early on when one of the first things we did was form an advisory board, and I know that you’ve reported on that, now.

Probably everybody on our advisory board and really we wanted that input and that help, and that was just kind of part of the research we did from the beginning. What was good, what do we wanna change? And I just think that journey has also included spending a lot of time with customers and there’s absolutely our sales team talking to people, 3, 4, 5 times. It’s not a slam dunk and that’s okay. We didn’t expect it to be, We never came in here with. Some kind of ego that we’re event producers. So we could just walk into a new industry and take over a brand and do it without thinking about it with our eyes closed. 

We’re good at producing events. We have a lot of leverage across our company with other verticals that we can look at to draw other buyers that maybe didn’t come in from the acquisition, from our regular DSE lists, but we’re really excited about presenting to those people. That kind of is where those first-time attendees are coming from.

I’m also curious, you’ve mentioned the community a number of times and the appetite and aspiration for the industry to get together. If you build an event around attendees, particularly if you’re offering a lot of free passes to get into the show proper, then you really have to lean heavily on the exhibitor dollars and sponsor dollars and all that to do it. 

So does that become a challenge long term, that you’ve gotta build up that trade show side of it for this thing to work? Or can it work the way it’s positioned right now? 

Marian Sandberg: We intend to grow the show? There’s no question, and David can talk a little bit about the conference program also but, of course, we need to have a viable business here.

There’s no question, and I think also, bringing in the right people and making sure that the audience is there was absolutely paramount for us, especially the first year. If you have the right people in the room and you have the right buyers in the room, the exhibitor’s gonna be happy and they’re gonna come back.

And I think it’s a two-sided coin. You have to keep feeding both of them, right? To make everyone happy. The attendees wanna see certain exhibitors, the exhibitors wanna see more of, X, Y, and Z types of attendees. Yeah, our long-term plan is absolutely to keep growing. And we’ll see how that goes. We have some plans we won’t I won’t reveal yet for next year, but I’m sure we’ll wanna talk after the show. 

That was one other question I wanted to ask you, Marian, just before we jump over to David on programming and so on: for 2023, is it in November in Las Vegas?

Marian Sandberg: Yes, and I bet you’re gonna ask about the Formula One race.

It will be in November, we are gonna move it about a week early. Yeah, we looked at that and thank goodness, being in production, we were hearing from all kinds of production folks about that kind of thing before it was even officially announced.

We were talking to the LVCC about doing it earlier and, we could try to produce something during Formula One, which would just be crazy. But even just for our exhibitors and visitors, we don’t want to position the show to make it cost-prohibitive for people even to stay in hotels or have hotels sold out. So just moving it about a week or so earlier is just gonna be the solution. 

Yeah, that’s gonna be like a CES week or something. Just insane pricing for everything and impossible to get around. 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, exactly. 

Good move! 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, thanks. 

David, tell me, you’re somebody who has been to DSE many times, very familiar with it.

So if people are coming up to you knowing that you’re involved now and they’re asking, okay, what’s different, particularly on the programming and education side, what are you gonna tell them? 

David Drain: When I first joined Questex, really my first job was to think about the program and to focus on the conference and the education and the speakers. And so wanted to do that first, and that’s, I would say, how we built the program and ort of the exhibitors came later, right? They needed to see what it is you guys are gonna do? What’s your plan? And working with Brad and with Marian we looked at the flow of the event and so I think it’s got a slightly different flow. There used to be a lot of conference programming before the show happened, and so what you’re gonna see this year there is some programming in the morning, just before the show opens. Some, a bit of uninterrupted time during the show floor hours with some on-floor sessions and then ending the day with more sessions.

Really we have three keynotes. I don’t know if DSE has done that before. So I think that’s different. We will have one each morning. We’re very excited about those, of course, Rafiq and Jason Cothern from SoFi Stadium talking about that 5 billion mixed-use development with the stadium and the retail and all that. Having everything from wayfinding to digital menu boards to of course the huge halo infinity screen by Samsung. So I think there’s gonna be something there for everybody, and then, Nveen from Google, who you also interviewed for this podcast.

We’ve got a great lineup and the program came together in three ways. There were things that I developed. There were things that are Association partners like DSF and DPAA and OAAA developed, and then we got session proposals from folks, so we really tried to curate the best agenda that we could and so I think that people will see an increased focus and concentration on the content and the programming, and building on what Marion said earlier, I think just the number of networking events throughout the week and then the crossover with LDI, I think that’s what’s gonna feel different.

I heard there’s a mixer on Wednesday night. 

Marian Sandberg: Mixer. I’m so pleased that you’re bringing it to our show. So we can’t wait to attend and we’re registered, so we’re showing up. 

Good. I’ll make the bouncer aware. 

One of the things as the education programming curator, person, organizer, whatever you wanna call it, is you, I suspect, have to walk a bit of a tightrope at times, because you have paying sponsors who perhaps have expectations, realistic or unrealistic around what they can say and do on the stage, and you have to balance those needs with the needs of the audience because God knows, maybe not in the most recent versions of DSE, but earlier year versions of it, one hell of a lot of the presentations were just like product pitches by sponsors, and I would sit down, listen for two minutes and I would go and leave, and that’s a tough one to manage, isn’t it? 

David Drain: Yeah, and I’ve been managing these types of events for a number of years and so I certainly know about how important it is to make sure that it’s got an education focused and so when I was building the program, really sponsorship had nothing to do with it. When I was building the conference program, what we determined as the best topics and the best speakers, and the program really came in process of building this show before the exhibitors that there really wasn’t that kind of impact. We do have the on-floor sessions, and those are sponsored. We make that clear on the program. 

Those are kinda product demos and things, right? 

David Drain: They are product demos and even encouraging those speakers, those sponsors to have an education focus so they teach rather than pitch. 

Yeah, I always tell people, look, if you just get up there and pitch, people are gonna leave. If you say smart things, you will leave the impression that this guy and or this woman and this company seem to know what they’re talking about, so maybe I should have a chat with them after. 

David Drain: Yeah, be a thought leader or present a case study, and then people will understand. You’ll have an opportunity to tell them what your company does. You don’t need to spend all that time going through the features and benefits of your product. 


Without trying to put you on the spot, are there one or two sessions that you know that aren’t keynotes but are ones that you think are gonna be particularly kick ass and ones that people should have a look at? 

Marian Sandberg: You’re asking to choose a favorite child. You’re asking him to choose a favorite child, Dave.

David Drain: Yeah. There are just a number of great sessions and if you go to our agenda, there is a way to filter by type. So if you’re into digital out of home, you can see the programming aimed at that, and I’m excited you know about the session you’re moderating and I’m really not blowing smoke here.

Denny Levine came to me and proposed that session, and of course, he put together an all-star panel and people are very interested, obviously with these Vangogh experiences, immersive experiences that have popped up and been very successful around the world. So I think that will be similar, there’s another session with Moment Factory and Dimensional Innovations on transforming lobbies into experiences, that’s pretty exciting. 

Yeah, you got some good people like Jackie Walker who was just like, when I talk to her, I just, I always hang up thinking, that’s a smart person. She knows her stuff. 

David Drain: Yes, and I listened to her podcast that she did with you and so certainly when she wanted to do a presentation, I’m like, yeah, I will just give you the room. You’re gonna do great, and people will walk away with a lot of great information.

All right, so wrapping this up. This has been a great chat. If people are undecided and are on the fence, but hearing this and think, oh, maybe I will go, what do they need to do? Where do they go to find out more about DSE? 

Marian Sandberg: Yeah, they can go to digitalsignageexperience.com. As we rebranded also, so it’s digitalsignageexperience.com, or if you have any questions, you can certainly just email me, I’d be happy to answer, and my email is msandberg@questex.com. I would love to have your feedback, 

I suspect it’s ddrain@questex.com, right? I’m smart that way, it had to be something. All right. Thank you so much for spending half an hour with me. That was terrific. 

Marian Sandberg: Thanks for having us. We’re honored. 

David Drain: Thank you, Dave.

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