AV & Digital Signage Trends for 2021

EPISODE 52 | Guest: Brian Galante, president and owner of Dimension PR 

At the end of 2020, we’re looking at future AV and digital signage trends in the new work-from-home and hybrid culture. As large corporations work to integrate with the home office, AV and IT technologies are adapting at an unprecedented rate.

In this episode, Brian Galante of Dimension PR gives us his predictions based on his work with top vendors in the broadcast and professional AV industries. We also explore how PR fits into a comprehensive marketing and digital signage strategy:

  • Understand public safety messaging for 2021 and beyond
  • Learn about the convergence of DS and security solutions
  • Hear how AV and IT are bridging in-office & at-home meetings
  • Explore infrastructure and equipment for effective collaboration
  • Get tips on how to work PR into your onscreen messaging

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Learn more about Brian Galante and Dimension PR at www.dimensionpronline.com


Transcript

Derek DeWitt: One way to be successful in business is to look at what’s been happening, and try and forecast what’s going to happen in the future. While nobody has a crystal ball, some people do this for a living, such as my guest today, Brian Galante, president and owner of Dimension PR. Hi Brian.

Brian Galante: Hi Derek. How are you today?

Derek DeWitt: Excellent. Thank you for talking to me.

Brian Galante: Thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

Derek DeWitt: We’re going to talk to Brian about trends in the foreseeable future in internal communications, how COVID may or may not change the communication space and much, much more. I’d like to thank Brian for talking to me today, and I’d like to thank all of you for listening.

So Brian, Dimension PR. You’re a PR firm for what? Mainly internal communications or?

Brian Galante: Mainly I handle PR for external media communications, and mostly focused on the broadcast and professional industries, which includes digital signage.

Derek DeWitt: So, what are some of the, what are some of the trends or patterns you’ve seen in digital communications? Because most of our communications these days are digital. Let’s face it. What are some of the things you’ve seen been happening?

Brian Galante: If I’m speaking about digital signage from the consumer point of view, the clear trend that I’ve seen lately has been toward the public safety element. Digital signage has always been an ideal platform for communicating a clear message, say, inside a business, a school, or maybe a public setting.

And I do think that visual creativity remains important for engagement, but in some ways digital signage has returned to its roots and that’s as an informational source. So I’m noticing that businesses are giving strong priority to visitor guidelines and seeking messages. That’s not a surprise to me in the COVID era, but it’s certainly a trend I’ve noticed.

Now from the innovation point of view, the convergence between digital signage and security solutions is clearly a trend. I do think this is important for both internal and external communications. We’re seeing access control technologies and security camera systems becoming part of the digital signage ecosystem, especially when it has to do with occupancy and traffic monitoring.

We’re also seeing a shift toward touch-free surfaces and voice interaction, and I think this extends beyond digital signage and into the broader AV universe, including control. All of this is very important to both internal communications and external.

Derek DeWitt: Right? So when you say cameras, what do you mean? Like security cameras or cameras attached to digital signs? Because I know that that’s been something they’ve been talking about for a long time is that eventually digital signs will be looking at you and face recognition and figure out demographic information about you, and then try and serve up personalized content to you based on what the AI thinks you are and things like that. Is that what we’re talking about or we’re talking about something different?

Brian Galante: I think absolutely from an analytics point of view – in terms of measuring your audience and their behaviors, and their shopping patterns – I do think that camera integration in digital signage is an important element of that ecosystem. If we’re talking security specifically, that’s where I think it shifts more into occupancy monitoring, traffic patterns, control at the entry and exit of the venue or the store or even the university campus. In the COVID era, we need to understand our limits in terms of occupancy and how we manage our traffic moving in and out of the property of the building.

Derek DeWitt: Sure, I guess that makes a certain sense. Plus, you know, I mean, something we’ve often mentioned here on this podcast is watch what your people do and see where they go. Are they looking at the messages on the signs and things like that? Obviously a camera does that all the time.

Brian Galante: Absolutely. I agree.

Derek DeWitt: Obviously the COVID-19 stuff is affecting a lot of different elements of how we use physical spaces. We need to stay six feet apart, as you said occupancy, maybe this meeting room normally has 12 people, but now it only can fit five, things like that. What do you think are some of the short term effects on not just internal, both internal communications and communications with say the general public, with all of this in mind?

Brian Galante: Well, if we’re looking internally, I think in some ways the corporate communications world is forever changed. There’ll be less of an urgency to always be in the same room. The meeting space will still exist, but the hybrid approach will be considered less of a secondary accommodation and more of a primary function.

Derek DeWitt: Really? You think so? You think it’s going to be a lot more distance stuff, telepresence, et cetera.

Brian Galante: Absolutely. Certainly meetings and events have had virtual elements for years. Consider the simple audio conference call to the uptake of soft codec conferencing, things like Zoom and Teams that we’ve all become used to. People have always dialed in from remote locations. This isn’t something that’s completely new or novel to anyone.

But I do believe that businesses that once maybe fought against that to some degree, didn’t buy into the remote work concept. They’re learning that this is manageable and that most people continue to do their jobs. So while many businesses are returning or will return to traditional office life, I do believe that many will offer long-term options for employees to work from home. And many businesses that rent space now will let those leases expire. Why carry that overhead if it’s not necessary?

So as it relates to communication, there need to be tools to communicate those messages inside the meeting space to those audiences that are dialing in remotely. And thankfully AV technology has come such a long way that we’re making it much easier to engage in that hybrid virtual environment. And the same can be said for the classroom environment, from K-12 to higher ed.

Derek DeWitt: Sure. So the trend on people working at least some of the time from home has certainly been increasing. And there were predictions that even by the year 2030 or so, or 2035, that well over 70% of the workforce – certainly in services or industries where you don’t need to be physically present (obviously you can’t cut hair over Zoom), but office work, schools, things like this – we’re going to be more and more remote. I wonder if COVID is acting as an accelerant of this trend that already existed because the priorities have changed. I wonder if it’s going to help drive innovation towards more technologies.

For example, there’s been much talk, you know, of virtual reality or holograms and things like this. And every 3D technology stinks. They’re just not good. And I wonder if with businesses saying, “Hey, we’re going to be working remotely and we want to make as realistic a presence as possible.” I wonder if that’s going to change and help fuel those technologies.

Brian Galante: Yeah, I have to agree with both of your points there. First of all, I do believe that COVID is an accelerant to the remote work environment. I just believe it was in the mindset, especially with larger corporations that you need to be there and present to be effective and efficient and to get things done. And I think if anything, the COVID era has proven that untrue, at least to a degree. So I think that perhaps offices, smaller companies that don’t feel a need to be in that space anymore. We’re going to see them increasingly beginning to let their rents expire and go the remote work route. Why not?

As far as innovations go, I do think that the AV industry, in particular, has been driving toward that for some time. We have seen, if I think back to InfoComm two years ago, we were seeing VR demos. And I do believe that that has taken off for training and simulation environments to a degree. It’s still not what I would call common, but the technologies exist and they’re maturing.

And I think, you know, specifically for healthcare and medical, I do believe that training and simulation has proven valuable. I think it remains to be seen in corporate and education, some of the other verticals that we deal with, but I do feel that the technology is there and it will continue to evolve. And I’m interested to see what perhaps this second and third generation will unveil.

Derek DeWitt: You know, I was reading up on some of the things that they think 5G will enable. And one of the – because the latency period, the delay between when you send a signal and get it back, is so small – that they’re saying that it will enable, for example, something as precise as surgery. A doctor using telepresence will be able to remotely operate surgery robots with an almost exactly the same as the same amount of precision as if they were physically in the room. So when that technology really rolls out everywhere, that’s going to be the case. I wonder too, if we’re not going to see more of that. Sort of, people are working from home but they’re manipulating remotely things, physical things in the physical spaces.

Brian Galante: Absolutely. And that is the wonder of IP. As more of these technologies move to the IP network, and we’re all connected from our home desktops or laptops or even mobile devices, we have that increased ability to remotely control different elements of the operation, remotely monitor and all these wonderful things that we couldn’t have even really dreamed of 15, 20 years ago.

Derek DeWitt: Do you think this is going to be like a defining element of the 21st century, this move to not necessarily being in the same physical space way of interacting, communicating, pushing out messaging, talking to colleagues, etc.

Brian Galante: I do believe that there is going to be an increased adoption and understanding of the value and benefits of remote work. That said, I don’t believe that the office environment will completely disappear, but I do believe it will be changed and probably changed for the better.

Derek DeWitt: Well, I know that millennials – we talk a lot about millennials as if there’s some kind of cohesive homogenous group, which they’re not, but you know – studies and surveys and things all say that they insist on having a better work-life balance. And a lot of them are interpreting that in terms of the ability, for example, to be able to work from home because they’ve got a sick dog or they’ve got kids or, or just because it’s nice.

Brian Galante: You know, I think those are all relevant options. Um, Derek, you’re talking to a guy who’s been working from home since 1999. So it’s something I believe in and I am not clamoring to go back to an office myself. That said, I do believe that there are benefits of working in an office environment for the companies that really require that.

For example, a bigger manufacturing business that has a floor with a factory operation that’s making product on site, that’s doing research and development. Certainly there are elements of that that you can do remotely. But I do believe that there are plenty of these manufacturing operations that are going to need to continue as they were. However, some of the more business focused functions of that company may increasingly go remote.

Derek DeWitt: So, the remote thing is certainly one important feature, perhaps. And, without sounding, I don’t really want to sound like, you know, doom and gloom guy here, but COVID-19, it’s entirely possible that there will be another one like it in the next decade or two decades or three decades.

So actually creating that infrastructure and that mindset for remote work now makes a lot of business sense, I think. Because if another virus comes along that’s even worse and really requires us not to haphazardly – some places closed down some places don’t – but like, no kidding, It’s like zombie apocalypse. Nobody leaves our house. We can’t have business just grind to a standstill.

Brian Galante: Absolutely. And I’m far from an IT expert, but the importance of having that IT infrastructure and the brains that can create that infrastructure, and strengthen it and prepare it for that changing work environment, and that increased remote reliance – it’s so important.

And I can point to a friend of mine in Virginia, who’s the IT director for a very big company. And that has been the chief focus of his job since we all went into lockdown in the United States in late March. And that was a big multi-month project for him in terms of just upgrading that IT infrastructure to prepare for that changing business environment.

Derek DeWitt: And then here’s the thing, once it’s in place, I mean, it’s in place, it’s there. Why would you get rid of it?

Brian Galante: Exactly. And the beauty about IT technology is that it’s infinitely scalable. So once that infrastructure is there, you can continue to build on top of that.

Derek DeWitt: We’re going to see a very different thing. How does all of this tie into just sort of the, some of the trends you saw happening say pre COVID, because obviously we were already moving towards a certain kind of information infrastructure. COVID comes in, expands the remote work capabilities, which will probably drive that further. What other things are sort of coming together into what we might call a perfect storm?

Brian Galante: If I’m looking at the AV industry in general, I think that collaboration technologies have evolved to the point where they’re bringing benefits, both in the remote work and home office environment, as well as inside the meeting space and on the corporate campus. So for example, in the remote work environment, most of us are working on Zoom, in Teams, for these virtual meetings. And while those platforms are fine, if you’re running a meeting and you want to create a more professional appearance, PTZ cameras have come a long way. And it’s not out of the question for companies to invest in these cameras for use at the home.

So, if there are executives or sales directors or technical engineers that need to communicate an important message, whether it’s a product launch or a company-wide meeting, they can leverage this PTZ technology at home and create a more professional appearance on their Zoom and Teams calls. Many of these cameras might have dual output, so they could be connected to the computer via HDMI, connected to a monitor via USB so you can kind of keep an eye on how your presentation is coming across.

Derek DeWitt: PTZ cameras are these pan tilt zoom cameras, right? Basically you can control what they look at and how they work remotely.

Brian Galante: That’s exactly the case. So these pan tilt zoom cameras have been a mainstay in meeting spaces and lecture halls on the higher ed campuses for quite some time. Now we’re beginning to see them move into what I call the SOHO space, small office, home office, as well as K-12. So these schools that have been forced into hybrid learning environments can now leverage these cameras at the back of the classroom with some simple control, perhaps over USB that allow them to create a more engaging classroom environment for students that are at home.

Derek DeWitt: Isn’t that crazy? It’s like, it’s almost like, because of all of this, everyone is going to be a little bit of a TV or film actor in their lives. Everyone will be a little bit of a TV or film director, you know, like this just adds to the skill sets.

Brian Galante: Exactly. And that’s why sometimes the overused “ease of use” terminology actually comes in handy here. It has real meaning because there are more people who are just not used to handling AV technology that are now being forced to having to learn how to use it.

Derek DeWitt: People who are using this technology, it could be anybody. So the customers are less specialized, let’s say. I think they have to make the controls more intuitive and simpler.

Brian Galante: Absolutely. That is absolutely true. And, you know, with a system like a PTZ camera, it’s generally just the instructor at the front of the classroom who’s operating this equipment. Inside the workspace, collaboration technology is evolving toward more touchless environments.

Inside a meeting space, for example, let’s say that you have a matrix switcher that’s at the core of AV solution and handling most of the signal routing and distribution. We’re beginning to see things, added features I should say, such as automatic input switching and BYOD wireless presentation, that are creating that hands off approach. So, anything with a physical user interface or a touch panel or keypad needs to be addressed so that there are touch-free options. And there are manufacturers out there that are leading the charge, and that is quite interesting for these companies that do return to the office environment and are trying to create a safe and secure feeling for their employees.

So another example would be an AV control system, which would traditionally be operated by touchscreen. Anyone who might be setting volume control or switching inputs no longer really needs to be touching that touch panel. In a meeting space where you might have several people or multiple people operating equipment, that’s why innovations such as automatic display control BYOD wireless presentation, automatic input switching are so important. So we’re going to continue to see that shift toward work interactive and BYOD driven applications to maintain that touch-free approach.

Derek DeWitt: So you work on PR strategies. How does a cohesive PR strategy kind of work inside of a communications plan? Are they separate? Are they together? Where’s the crossover?

Brian Galante: Well, I think in any case, PR is an important spoke in the broader marketing wheel and it’s most effective when it aligns with the core branding and messaging of the organization. There’s no question about that. That’s true whether you’re launching a product, you’re highlighting a customer win or simply communicating a business message.

To me, the exciting aspect of PR versus many other marketing operations is that there’s typically, and I say typically, more room for creativity in how that message is communicated. It’s still vital to stay on message so as not to create confusion in the public or within a company, but we do have the opportunity to take a livelier approach to how we tell a story. So, it is important to have a cohesive PR strategy within a broader marketing plan so that you can effectively roll out and communicate a message.

But looking strictly at how PR aligns with internal communications, there also variances in how that message is communicated internally to employees versus externally immediate. Internally, the message is typically straightforward, clear, and concise. An email may come from a CEO that has a very brief paragraph or two kind of explaining some changes or differences in company operations that may need to be communicated externally. But similar to my previous response, we still need to be clear, but we don’t have to be quite as dry. We can inject some creativity and liveliness into that message.

Derek DeWitt: Well, you know, like one of the examples I think of is the way that many press releases are written. They’re usually super formal. You know, the company literally talks about themselves in the third person and, you know, it’s all this sort of like this really sort of boring, even if you sent that to me in an email, I would just, I wouldn’t read it, you know. And I wonder if that’s not starting to change, if the way that we’re talking to the public is changing, the way that we’re talking to the internal people. And if it’s even going to change the way that we communicate, even on more formal levels, like, I don’t know, should we even stick up a press release on signs or in emails, or should we, is that just for external websites for backlinks and things?

Brian Galante: I think it really depends on the business vertical. So for example, on a corporate campus inside a company, it might make sense to share a press release on digital signage.

Say we’re talking about a corporate environment; digital signage obviously offers an effective and efficient tool for sharing company communications. It also makes perfect sense to post important press announcements to the digital signage network in addition to sending a company-wide email. That way you’re expanding your opportunities to reach your workers. Perhaps your workers, a worker’s not at his desktop all day. He’s in meetings, inside meeting spaces, moving throughout the building. There’s digital signage. He’s more likely to catch that on the sign than he is on his desktop.

But it may also have the benefit for communicating company messages to customers and visitors in a corporate environment, perhaps when they’re in a lobby or a meeting space waiting for an appointment to start. There’s probably less of a need for this in say a retail or hospitality environment, as often a press release is not meant to be directly shared with consumers.

Derek DeWitt: You’d have to tweak it. I mean, obviously you can’t stick a whole five paragraph press release of text up on a digital signage message, for example, because it’s only displayed for seven seconds. So you really got to grab the top five items, stick them in very simply worded bullet lists. There’s your message.

Brian Galante: Absolutely. I think that’s the way to go. And as you had said before, press release copied can be boring. But as I said before that, we also do, and it depends I guess on the client. Because I do have some clients that prefer a drier approach. I have others that allow me to take more liberties.

I think in the end, it’s important that your press releases are lively and engaging and catchy and just not simply formal and boring. They need to be factual, but they also need to be engaging to catch attention. So, I think internally it’s more about communicating the facts whereas externally, sure, it’s still about communicating the facts, but making that story a little more lively and engaging

Derek DeWitt: The public discourse sphere has become more informal over time, which I’m sure some people think is a shame. You know, I just can’t help but wonder, because the first time it happens, it will happen. And the first time it happens, it’s going to get talked about…is that somebody puts out a press release, some big company, but they throw emojis in it.

Brian Galante: That is something I can guarantee you that I will never do. I mean, I’ll do emojis on email. If I’m going one-to-one with someone I’m comfortable with. I will not do that in a press release.

Derek DeWitt: So that’s where you draw the line, right there?

Brian Galante: That’s where I draw the line my friend. I would say that there’s one other interesting element of marketing and digital signage. And I think, you know, this comes more down to process. It comes down to having a strong digital signage and IT operation, whether it’s being handled and operated on premise or through a managed service.

So those of us writing the press releases, we’re the communicators and digital signage is the vehicle to deliver that communication. You know, there’s the liaison in the middle, typically, who’s bringing that information to the digital signage network. So, let’s say you’re using a digital signage solution like AxisTV Signage Suite. You don’t need to be a technical wizard to post content. So we’re seeing more IT, HR, marketing and communications departments taking ownership of these signage networks, and the creators are often posting their own content. I have been working from home since 1999. I’ve never done it myself. Give me a quick training session. I’m sure I’d be off and running.

Derek DeWitt: You know, there’s this terminology of digital natives. The millennials and Gen Zers are people who grew up with digital technologies, being a main, if not the primary source of information in their lives. You know, millennials grew up with the web. Gen Zers grew up with the social web and with smartphones. And so, it’s just like, of course, this is just how it is.

And when older generations, like Gen Xers or even boomers, are still trying to get their heads around it…because you can’t help but think, especially if you were say born in the fifties, you can’t help but think this is new. But for your audience, it’s not new. It’s, that’s just the way the world is. And so you get this concept of like, “Hey, you know, I read an article that says videos are engaged 60 times more than just text alone messages. So let’s make a video and make it go viral.” And this whole idea of manufacturing viral content. But it’s nonsense, right? You can’t do that.

Brian Galante: It’s nonsense. Content is either going to go viral or it’s not. And I think the content that does go viral is the content that at least the owner is not expecting it to. Any organization that falls into that trap of, we need to create a viral video, they’re probably going to fail miserably. It’s not something you can force.

Derek DeWitt: So let me ask you this. It’s, you know, it’s a common thing people say, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. But I kind of feel that’s not true.

Brian Galante: I wholeheartedly disagree with the fact that no publicity is bad publicity. And maybe it’s just because of the chair that I sit in. But anytime something comes out, even just the tiniest bit wrong, guess who’s going to hear about it? So bad publicity in my view is bad publicity.

Derek DeWitt: You know, in my youth, a professional company, a company or organization that had authority was very formal and very generic, very neutral. And that was “Ooh, well we know these guys because they they’re like this, and so we respect them.” And it seems to me that that’s flipped a bit. So that it’s almost now more like if an organization can somehow communicate a personality or a sense of humor or a certain aesthetic, that seems to take off more with audience, whether it’s B2B or it’s internal communications or it’s with the general public.

Brian Galante: Regardless of the size of the company and the corporation, there are people working there. And there’s a spirit or an enthusiasm I should say of the people that are working there. And that needs to be communicated. You know, a corporation, a company should not just be a faceless organization. You need to communicate that there are real people there and that there is an enthusiasm behind the operation. I think that goes a long way. And I do feel the customers, whether it’s in a B2B scenario or you’re communicating directly to consumers, I think it’s important to communicate that there are real people working there and there are people behind the operation.

Derek DeWitt: So maybe that’s some or all of what the future holds. Maybe not. That’s the problem with predicting the future is you just really never know and a lot of it depends on external factors. But nonetheless, it’s always very helpful to talk to somebody who sort of has their finger on the pulse and they know what’s what and what the trends are and are most likely going to be – for example, my guest Brian Galante, president and owner of Dimension PR. It’s been a very stimulating and interesting conversation, Brian. Thank you for talking to me today.

Brian Galante: I appreciate you having me on Derek. Thank you so much for the opportunity.

Derek DeWitt: All right. Thank you. And thank you everybody out there for listening.