Convention attendees cross the street outside the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta under the Center’s 36′x10.5′ billboard.
All Photos: Greg Mooney
Back in late 2008, many, if not all, organizations throughout the United States were looking at ways to generate new revenue due to the economic slowdown. Convention centers were among some of the hardest hit businesses in the US. Atlanta’s Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), North America’s fourth largest convention center, was not immune to this downward trend in the industry.
It was during this time the GWCC, operated by a state authority that also oversees the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Park and the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center, decided to expand its offerings to conventions and trade shows that were scheduled to take place during the next several years in the 3.9 million square-foot venue. One of these offerings was expanded digital signage inside and outside the center. The hope was that state-of-the-art signage would entice show managers to use the new additions for sponsorship and customer messaging. This initiative proved to be a win-win scenario for everyone involved. Shows saved the cost of procuring their own signage, and gained the use of the center’s signage at a reduced rate. Additionally, show managers had more inventory at their disposal. And the signage was operational and ready to go. Shows would also score a big win usng the new signage to increase their bottom-line selling sponsorship to exhibitors.
As a state-owned facility, the GWCC is required to solicit qualified vendors through the Request for Proposal (RFP) process. After determining what was needed, the GWCC prepared an RFP that outlined the desire to partner with an organization that was able to install, operate and sell signage for a share of the revenue generated over a three-year period. Following the proposal evaluation process, an organization was selected and the GWCC was in the digital signage business.
Several lessons were learned during this RFP process. First off, the GWCC should have determined what monitor brand to use, instead of letting the vendor select the model used. Another lesson that cost the center in the long run was not indicating what content management system the GWCC wanted in the RFP. Hindsight being 20-20, the RFP should have indicated a system that would expand with the addition of future signage.
Still, everything worked out in the end of the first phase of the GWCC’s digital signage journey. The center now had 14 individual monitors, up from 10 antiquated consumer-grade monitors. They also had two 3×3 videowalls and one 2×2 made up of 46-inch commercial-grade monitors. And the cherry on top was a 36′x10½′ digital billboard on the outside of one of the center’s buildings.
The vendor did a great job introducing the GWCC to the digital signage business. However, sales didn’t come in as anticipated. With almost two million annual daily visitors in a major metropolitan area, commercial advertising sales went well, but show sponsorship wasn’t quite what both partners wanted. The center expanded signage, at its own cost during the three-year contract period, by adding two more 3×3 videowalls and additional 55-inch single monitors. After reviewing performance and revenue generated in 2012, the center decided to go in a different direction and bring the entire maintenance, operation, programing and sales process in-house. Over time, this move proved to be the right one, as sponsorship sales grew. The belief was that convention and trade show customers were more comfortable working with internal center staff versus a third-party sales team.
With a desire to move forward and increase revenue streams for the center and customers, the GWCC partnered with another vendor and added interactive kiosks and charging stations with attached monitors. The kiosk wayfinding features proved to be very popular with guests trying to navigate the large venue. Another popular wayfinding feature the GWCC added was using the left side of each single monitor to provide static information about show locations and other frequently visited destinations inside the center.
It was around this time that some of the videowalls started to show brown spots on the corners of several monitors. It was later learned that this was due to poor air circulation. Another lesson learned: Have input into who installs the monitors and ask for references, as well as research the work they have done in the past. The group that installed the first round of videowalls mounted the monitors up against concrete walls, leaving little room for air to circulate. The solution was to contact the manufacturer, which replaced the damaged units, and to remount the monitors farther from the walls.
One of the more successful GWCC installations, in terms of popularity among customers and revenue generated, was the digital billboard. A decision was made in early 2014 to prepare another RFP and add two more digital billboards to the signage network. One of the two 48′x14′ billboards was placed on the new parking deck that was attached to the new College Football Hall of Fame on the Georgia World Congress Center Authority’s downtown Atlanta campus. The other billboard was installed on one of the center’s main entry points close the Georgia Dome to ensure maximum exposure for show attendee bus traffic and event foot traffic.
One of the aforementioned lessons learned had to be addressed in early 2015. The center’s digital signage network managers found themselves using six different content management solutions for 42 signage locations consisting of 90 total screens. This dilemma was the result of procuring signage during different phases that included free software. The solution was to find a content management system (CMS) that would enable the team to manage all internal/external signage locations remotely, and allow multiple team members to update content. A solution that met their needs and enables the center’s team to manage several of the locations is now in place. The efficiencies gained are numerous, thanks to the advancements made during the last several years in digital signage software management solutions.
Overall, it has been a long educational journey for the GWCC that still has many stops left. The current digital signage network has more than paid for itself during the last six years, and the only direction the center wants to go is forward.
[Editor’s Note] Author Mark Geiger will present “Creating a Digital Signage Network: Design, Management & Operation,” at Digital Signage Expo 2016 on Wednesday, March 16, from 4:00-5:00pm at the Las Vegas Convention Center. For more information about this or any educational program offered at DSE 2016, or to learn more about digital signage, go to www.dse2016.com.