Time For Industry To Find Its Voice

Guest Contributor, Ken Goldberg

Last week, in a post titled Getting The Message Ken Goldberg, CEO Real Digital Media, discussed how three forces appear to be engaged in a battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of the digital signage marketplace.

Here he writes a special guest contribution for us exploring that further…

The unstated thesis of the (original) post was that marketing dollars are likely to have a greater influence on buyer and investor perception of our still-young industry than unbiased analysis or hard-earned lessons from insiders. That was not a gripe: after all, you get what you pay for in this world. In any event, the post closed with a call for industry leadership and standards, without which we risk allowing the marketing machines of giant technology companies and advertorial publishers to define the industry and its priorities. In my mind, allowing that to happen would be a disaster.

The post, and in particular the call for leadership, opened a discussion regarding the Digital Signage Association (DSA), its work, organizational status and future.

When writing the post, I had contacted David Drain, Executive Director of the DSA, and asked if DSA was a 501(c)(6) tax exempt, non-profit association. I knew that in fact it was not, which David confirmed. I chose not to open that can of worms in the post, because it deserves its own post, and a more detailed discussion with David out of courtesy. At this point, the discussion has been had, and this is the post.

Before entering the digital signage industry in 2004, I spent most of my professional career as a retail IT consultant, first with a Big 6 firm, then my own firm and subsequently with a public entity. In the course of those years, I was exposed to many industry associations: The National Retail Federation, the Direct Marketing Association, the Food Marketing Institute, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Association of Convenience Stores, and the International Mass Retail Association (renamed RILA in 2004). I was engaged on projects by both DMA and IMRA, have attended more conferences than I can remember, and presented at many. I came to appreciate that these associations are examples of effective voices and leaders of their industries. They have wide and deep support of suppliers, users and constituent companies. They provide advocacy, education, leadership on standards, and many member services.

They have their own conferencesmy bold because this is important I feel, Ed, which provide a venue for all of their agendas and supplemental revenue to make them possible. Some have their own magazines that provide monthly or quarterly touch points with their members.

Visit the links of those associations previously mentioned and get flavor for how those associations operate and serve their industry.

Digital signage as an industry needs that kind of organization to take its next important steps forward. And to their credit, I think it is fair to say that DSA’s own leadership knows this. Getting there is the challenge.

DSA, established in 2007, is a part of NetWorld Alliance, a for-profit media company focused on B2B communications. To be fair, in 2007 and probably until now, a standalone non-profit association was probably not feasible in our young industry.

NetWorld took the initiative to get the ball rolling and has underwritten (and presumably benefited from) the growth of the DSA.

Under NetWorld’s auspices, DSA has accomplished many positive things. However, the call to separate DSA from its for-profit roots is out there, and it seems to be the correct call at this point in time.

Here’s why: A true advocate must be independent. A true neutral advocate cannot have a web site plastered with advertising, or share resources with a sister industry web portal business (Digital Signage Today) that only allows external hyperlinks to paid advertisers in its content.

To be clear, DST can and should have whatever editorial and advertising policies it wants (even bad ones like the link policy), but DSA’s relationship to it undercuts their desired position as a neutral advocate and leader.

There are over 400 members of DSA today, and room for aggressive recruitment of many more. Part of the recruitment drive should be fueled by a new vision of what the DSA is going to be.

Until DSA is split from NetWorld legally and organizationally, it will not achieve the type of presence and leadership that other industry associations have achieved. If getting to that level is not their goal, it will open the door for another entity to step through and make it happen.

In 3 weeks, most of the people reading this post will converge upon Las Vegas for the largest trade show in our industry, the Digital Signage Expo. Six weeks later, back in Las Vegas, and again in November in New York,

The Digital Signage Show will also offer great venues for education, selling and networking. DSE and TDDS are run by terrific companies with great people and both provide important services to the industry.

That being said, if a non-profit association is to emerge as the linchpin of the industry, it will be absolutely vital for it be in the conference business. Its conference(s) would be a hub of association meetings, the key event from an educational perspective, and an important source of revenue to advance the goals of the association and the industry.

Again, look at the other associations mentioned above. Doing so seems to make it clear that a precursor to an independent association would be development of a plan for owning and driving an industry conference schedule. This would not preclude the existence of non-association conferences, but like anything else, supply and demand will find their balance. In my opinion, an independent association (whether it is DSA or a new entity) would be a non-starter without this vital piece.

Digital signage is experiencing explosive growth, consolidation at many levels, the entry of very large corporations, and the scrutiny of people who don’t necessarily get it or share our enthusiasm for this emerging media channel. We need and deserve a neutral, non-profit industry association to drive education, advocacy, standards and industry presence. The DSA currently has the best shot of becoming that voice of digital signage. If they don’t seize the day, another entity will surely fill the void.

Let the discussion begin.

7 Responses to “Time For Industry To Find Its Voice”

  1. Pierre Mirjolet Says:

    Surely the DSA being used as a pawn by DigitalSignagetoday is just one more instance of this industry being reckless with control

  2. Duncam Goodhew Says:

    It would seem logical also that an association should do its own conferences and perhaps trade shows. Make some money and invest that back into the industry

  3. Pizza Man/Funeral Director Says:

    Ken: Cheers for writing this, Adrian cheers for publishing.

    This says is all: “We need and deserve a neutral, non-profit industry association to drive education, advocacy, standards and industry presence. ”

    I would also point out that on the Networld Alliance website, you can see the other organizations/websites that Networld lumps us with: http://networldalliance.com/

    I fail to see the “Synergy” between Digital Signage, Churches and Pizza Parlors.

  4. Lionel Tepper Says:

    You’re absolutely right! I, along with other people in the industry, have been saying the same thing for some time now. I was told that the DSA was still in an “Incubation” period–That was more than a year ago. An a incubation phase should be 6 months at best — Not years!

    I think NetWorld has done a very good job with getting it started, but it’s time to grow the Association beyond its current form. I can’t take the DSA seriously until it becomes a truly independent, non-profit organization, preferably located near Washington, DC, where it can have some real influence—then I would consider joining too.

  5. Lou Giacalone, Jr. Says:

    All of the above are being actively discussed by the DSA board presently. An action plan is forthcoming. I urge all who wish to see the industry “take it to the next level”, join up now and add your voice and support to the association. I can assure you, this is “Our” industry association, and “We” can all make sure the right steps are taken to grow our industry by working together. There are DSA meetings in Las Vegas on Tuesday the 23rd of February, right before DSE starts. Come join us and be a part of it! –Lou

  6. Edward Crowley Says:

    Ken, great topic and this has long been an issue in the kiosk space since Craig sold kiosks.org years ago to Networld Alliance and the so called “.org” became a for profit business run by Networld Alliance. This is now the SSKA and sister to the newer DSA and has always been a point of contention in the kiosk market. Both the SSKA and the DSA as organizations need to seriously and openly discuss this issue and perhaps a good first step might be a industry wide (or global) survey for all to respond. Of course there are multiple organization meetings every year around the core industry events and this would certainly be a great forum for discussion. With that said, the team at Networld Alliance does deserve credit, even if “for profit” they have done a very good job organizing and promoting the industry (s) and keeping the SSKA and DSA as the staple organizations in the respective markets. Disclosure FYI, I am a member, a board member and a committee chair of the SSKA and also a member of the DSA. Looking forward to more discussions at DSA. Thanks!

  7. Lawrence Dvorchik Says:


    We agree 100% that the DSA should be independent – and have stated so publicly since its inception.

    It would be easy to list the many industry associations that run their own mega events – you even mention a handful of these associations in your comments above. However, we can’t enter into this discussion without humbly reminding those involved that the DSA event strategy should be very carefully thought through and that a closer look should be taken at those associations hosting their own events before any reasonable comparison can be made.

    Each of these associations are 50+ years old – NRF (100), DMA (93), NACDS (75), FMI (73) and NAC (50). They own their marketplaces, have been the voices of their respective industries for decades, and have no direct event competition. Despite this lack of competition, each of these industries and associations have experienced serious revenue challenges in recent years. Secondly, they all serve a specific vertical industry sector and their membership is made up predominantly of the buyers/attendees from within those sectors. They serve retailers, direct marketers, drug stores, grocery stores, etc. Their focus isn’t driven by the interests of the vendors/suppliers/exhibitors from within that sector.

    DSA has been in existence for two years, with a membership driven largely by the suppliers. There are four already established, extremely educational events currently serving Digital Signage technology. You have mentioned three (The Digital Signage Show in Las Vegas, The Digital Signage Show in NY and DSE) and I will add InfoComm to the discussion, as many suppliers participate there as well. There certainly is no market demand for another event focused on digital signage. Four events throughout the year, combined with educational offerings by The Strategy Institute, provide more than enough opportunities for buyers to learn what they need to be successful.

    With regards to your point about the DSA agenda – the DSA has had a seat on the Board of Advisors for The Digital Signage Show since the first President was elected. The DSA has input into the educational sessions in the planning stages, and many of its members are actively involved in determining other session topics and speakers. The DSA has a voice – and a strong voice – in the planning process for topics at The Digital Signage Shows in Las Vegas (April) & NY (November). Many of the buyer/deployer members of the DSA were attendees and/or Board members of The Digital Signage Show or KioskCom, prior to being involved with DSA. We happily supported the DSA from the beginning in order to help it through its incubation period, and will continue to do so.

    Does the DSA need to be independent? Absolutely. Does the DSA need to enter the event business? No. The more effective and long-term play would be to form closer alliances with the existing events and find creative ways to establish revenue opportunities to support their initiatives, without taking on the enormous risk of adding a fifth show to the event landscape. We believe strongly that the DSA should not take the position of choosing sides. We are confident that, as always, the marketplace will ultimately choose the winners and losers. If a tradeshow generates positive ROI for its exhibitors, it will survive. If it does not, then nature will take its course and exhibitors will decide the show’s fate.

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