Name: Steve Hargis
Title: Director, Film & Video Production
Company: Bass Pro Shops
If you are a professional integrator for digital signage, you may have considered expanding your business to include providing creative content for these systems. Are you willing to invest in equipment, software, and most importantly, the creative staff, to examine the marketing and/or communication needs of your clients?
Is there an opportunity here? Yes, I believe so; however, one must consider every aspect of this decision or you lead your clients, and yourself, along the bumpy road of failure.
Digital signage means having the ability to create graphics, animation, and video. This requires powerful workstations built for this purpose. While not the most expensive part, ongoing costs for upgrades, maintenance plans, etc., do add up. And remember, if you only have one unit, you have no backup plan, so use a company that provides overnight support for any hardware failure, or prepare to make excuses to your clients for inevitable delays due to a breakdown. For budgeting purposes in a basic one-person shop, plan on $3,000 to $5,000 investment in good hardware as a starting point.
This has never been easier, but it has also never been harder. Services like Adobe’s Creative Cloud provide nearly anything you need at a relatively low cost of $50 per month per user; however; check out all the software one must master to be effective at content creation. The very basic programs one must know include Photoshop for 2D graphics, After Effects for 2D and some 3D animation, and a video-editing program like Premiere, Avid, or others.
Anyone with some cash can buy the software and hardware, but not just anyone can make it work effectively. The aforementioned tools are powerful, but in the hands of someone untrained in the basics of content creation—especially with digital signage—results will be disappointing.
Anyone you hire to handle your creative will need experience and training. Just because someone has experience in say, print creative, doesn’t mean they’re ready for primetime in digital signage. While good design rules clearly apply, creating for motion and digital signage means a thorough understanding of basic to advanced concepts of using this particular electronic medium.
Many people just get it wrong. They simply assume if it fits on the screen it works, and this will kill effectiveness almost as fast as cutting the electricity of the DS system.
Here’s a little help: A “Wanted” poster for your ad when you’re looking to hire. Think I’m crazy? Well think about every task mentioned on this poster because that’s what you’ll need for effective content creation, and just like any other service you offer, your client is expecting perfection for their dollars spent.
Understanding Your Client
Do you really understand your clients’ marketing and communication goals, and how to articulate that information through their digital signage system? Hopefully you’ve thought about this as part of an overall digital content strategy, regardless of whether you help provide content or not. You see, without a content strategy that meets business objectives, how would you or your client know the answers to questions like:
- Do you have an objective? Can you say “why” you’re installing a DS system?
- Who is the audience that sees the signs? Are you talking to employees or customers? Perhaps both? Do you know the audience, their needs, desires, or hot buttons?
- What about scheduling, day parting, frequency, and dwell time of audience? How long is the content loop? (You may be surprised at just how short it is!)
- Do you know how to test content? What’s your measurement?
- Who will manage the DS system? Does he or she already have a full-time job? Has anyone budgeted for his or her time?
You must, I repeat MUST, invest in the time to create a digital content strategy or the entire system risks failure. If your clients already have a strategy, have them share it with you, so you’ll understand what type of creative content they’ll need.
In short, there are many aspects to consider when deciding whether you should expand into providing creative content for your clients, but hopefully this brief introduction will provide a good beginning. With proper investment in equipment, software, and people, it can be a successful addition to your growing business.
Steve Hargis is director of film and video production for Bass Pro Shops in Springfield, MO, a department he has led for 30 years. Steve is a past member of the advisory board to Digital Signage Expo (DSE), and a current board member for the Digital Signage Federation (DSF). He also founded JRT Web Design in 1998 and specializes in consulting, and creative solutions for digital signage, web, print, photography, and video production.