It’s a classic line, the final line from a classic film. Harry Callahan, the maverick cop played by the great Clint Eastwood, shows a slight smile and caps “Magnum Force” saying, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” What do Harry Callahan and Bill Gerba have in common (besides everything)? Harry and Bill both come to mind as we touch upon a touchy digital signage subject: the do-it-yourselfer.
Bill recently published the results from a survey, asking network operators (or those contemplating DS networks) if they handle essential digital signage services in-house or outsource the execution of those services. For the record, the list of services (generally accepted as necessary, if not flat-out required, for successful DS network operation) included logistics management, strategy consulting, project planning, content strategy consulting, content production, content management, network/operations management, initial project management, ongoing project management, and installation services. And the winner, by a landslide, was:
“We do it in-house.”
In only one of the ten categories (installation services) did the majority of operators say they outsource the work. Every other service, the majority of respondents said, is handled in house. Maintaining his objectivity, Bill did not pound the table on this subject. That doesn’t mean other digital signage pros can’t. “In other parts of our lives, we make rational decisions,” says Tom Percich, vice president in charge of business development for Diversified Media Group, a leading integration firm that has planned, installed and maintained dozens of networks. “But when it comes to digital signage, people go a little crazy and think they can do it on their own.”
Why? You know why. And you know who you are. You’re trying to cut corners and save money. How’s that working out, if you don’t mind us asking?
Tom notes the example of a client who bought cheaper off-the-shelf monitors at a department store, rather than going with a slightly more expensive pro-recommended industrial model. Sure enough, 7 months later the consumer-grade screens started dying. There was no warranty (it was voided by industrial use), and the client had to replace the consumer clunkers with industrial models at their own cost. The client thus paid for about twice as many screens, without the benefit of actually having more screens in the field. The installation fees were also doubled, of course.
As Tom says, “You don’t know what you don’t know… there’s information everywhere. You can learn how to do open-heart surgery online. But if I needed open heart surgery, I would tend to go to a doctor.” Similarly, he notes that any reputable pro will stand behind his or her work. “We have to eat our own dog food — if we manage the network, we have to live with our recommendations. But that’s fine. Those recommendations are based on years of experience. Our expertise combined with that experience usually results in cost savings. We’ll live with that.”
Another result of the survey, which is borderline stunning, is the percentage of respondents who say they “don’t bother with” some of the essential services. Like network management. And project management. And content production. Really? How do you even have a network without those things? But we know that plenty of people will try. “Content is the last thing discussed, which drives me mad,” says Stephen Ghigliotty, who for the past two years handled content creative and strategy for Artisan. But a quick survey of many of the screens you run into on a day-to-day basis emphasizes his point: people just aren’t thinking about it.
Coming up with a workable strategic operating plan is another service that, when delivered by a knowledgeable professional, is worth its weight in gold. But all too often, the dialogue at the client planning meeting goes something like this:
The deliverable is a long-term plan, a strategy. The goal is good content on budget and on time. We’ve got a lot of sharp people on staff. They can knock out this strategy thing before lunch.
Stephen tells the story about one sharp client, with no digital signage experience but ample experience paying broadcast-spot production rates, who commissioned a single (read: one) broadcast-quality piece for their digital signage network. The piece was visually gorgeous, but the client burned their entire content budget on that one spot. Consequently, they played it over and over and over again, leading to burn out, tune out and flame out.
Brian Ardinger is the marketing director for Nanonation, a veteran digital signage software provider with years of expertise and experience. By keeping the big picture in mind, pros like Brian can help novice clients navigate the minefield. “We have a good understanding of all the parts, the good, the bad and the ugly,” he says. “For example, we don’t hang the screens but because we’ve been involved in so many networks, we know who to call to hang the screens.” Brian and the others share a common insight: there are many links to the digital signage chain. One link breaks, and there goes the chain.
But enough already. By now, you’ve figured us out. We’re just self-serving vendors who want to charge crazy rates for work you can handle yourself, right? Well, that’s partly true. We do like to get paid. But anyone charging crazy rates in this business does not last long. The true digital signage pro wants your network to thrive. Every blue screen of death, terrible piece of content and blurry display hung 12 feet off the floor where no one can see it drags down our entire industry. We cringe, grind our teeth and lose sleep over these things, whether we had anything to do with the offending network or not. Our goal is most definitely not to gouge. Our goal is to lift digital signage to a new level.
Still, plenty of do-it-yourselfers will continue to get started on a shoestring budget, doing whatever it takes to get their screens out at the lowest cost possible. And when they have problems, we’ll still be around,
ready and willing to lend them a hand. Some will be fortunate enough to get everything right and wind up with networks that function well for years. Others will quickly hit the wall of frustration, and will ultimately wind up spending more for repairs and replacements than they would have had they enlisted the right help from the start. It’s just the luck of the draw. So as Detective Callahan in “Dirty Harry” might have said, “You have to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’”
Well, do you?