Industry Insights: Are You Networking the Right Way?

Every business executive understands the importance of community networking. Powerful connections are made and projects hatched at local service organization meetings or at Chamber of Commerce events. It’s where the sign community comes in contact—and can share insights—with the end users who aren’t yet our customers.

But there’s another equally important relationship that has emerged: vertical networking. This is engaging with other business entities that share a common goal. A 2011 academic study showed that vertical relationships can help businesses gain a competitive advantage by lowering costs in acquiring projects or delivering products.

ISA has long been a member of organizations that work together on common interests: the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the National Retail Federation, to name a few.

But recently, we’ve begun aggressively building other relationships as well. These relationships reflect new realities in the changing nature of our businesses. Project management is shifting and design-build is becoming an important aspect of overall construction. In these projects, the building owner awards one contract—to a design-build team. That team oversees all facets of the design and construction services.

For the sign industry, that means that we must share the message of the importance of signs with a new audience: those who influence projects, not just the end users.

That’s why ISA has begun targeting programs at those in related fields, such as architects and graphic designers. We’ve begun training programs on new ADA standards for accessible design. While these courses have included sign manufacturers, architects, and environmental graphic designers, we received accreditation from the American Institute of Architects.

We will continue to build bridges with these important groups at ISA International Sign Expo 2013. We’ll host targeted sessions on April 5 and 6 in architectural sign design, specifically for the environmental graphic design audience.  It is a win-win situation. They receive education that helps them better serve their clients while our industry has an opportunity to build relationships with these key players. We have designated a task force in 2013 to continue to explore opportunities with the design community.

Our outreach to architects and environmental graphic designers follows our work with planners and local officials over the past few years. We’ve trained planners in numerous sessions around the country, helping them understand the importance of signage to the businesses that operate in their communities. This has been a tremendous success and one which will only continue to grow in importance.

While it’s essential that we build valuable relationships with groups that influence our day-to-day operations, like codes officials and architects, we continue to grow and hone what we offer within our industry, too.

It’s a multi-faceted approach that all businesses must explore these days. For those in our industry, it could mean aligning with other companies to round out services. While you may not work together on every project, having a relationship in place means you can serve your customers better when the need arises. End users want the simplicity of working with one entity to provide all their signage needs. Where you have gaps in your services, it’s important that you know who you can contract that portion out to. Otherwise, clients will look to competitors who can provide what they need.

So how does we build those relationships? It’s back to networking. Local sign associations provide a great opportunity to know others in your area. As you get involved at the local level, you easily can build these relationships and understand the full range of services that related businesses offer.

ISA International Sign Expo 2013 provides the best place to explore all facets of our industry. We’re offering several peer networking events as part of Expo, including those aimed at project management and shop operations, plus a CEO roundtable and an event for millenials in the industry. We’ll close out the Expo floor each day with a Happy Hour, providing a chance to relax for a few minutes while meeting vendors and peers.

Expo—held  April 3-6 at Mandalay Bay Resort and Convention Center in Las Vegas—is one of the few places to see first-hand demonstrations of the newest equipment. We expect the Expo floor to be teeming with the latest in wide and grand-format print capabilities.

We also have targeted education for digital print imaging professionals. Broader educational events will improve teamwork, sales, and management.

Whether it’s through an international event like Expo or involvement at the local sign association level, it’s vital that you begin to build vertical relationships. It’s just the way the business world is moving. And as the study showed, it can provide a competitive advantage while lowering costs. And who among is isn’t looking to do that?