ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II

June 5, 2014 | by Christopher Hall

The City of Chicago is open for business again for on-premises dynamic digital signage.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently signed a law overturning a nearly yearlong moratorium on new, exterior digital signage on city buildings. The moratorium was enacted last July in response to public outcry over a spate of LED digital advertising signs going up on the outside of buildings in neighborhoods around the city — "prompting fears," according to WTTW's "Chicago Tonight," "that Chicago was fast turning into the Las Vegas of the Midwest."

The International Sign Association worked with a coalition of local businesses and the city's Commissioner of Buildings, staffers from the mayor's office and city council members to overturn the moratorium and bring digital signs back to Chicago, said ISA VP of government relations David Hickey in a recent interview.

Chicago Buildings Commissioner Felicia Davi spent six months negotiating with sign companies and the city council to formulate the new regulations, and told "Chicago Tonight" that the city's new digital sign codes strike the right balance between business and quality of life concerns.

“Overall, it’s about how do we balance the needs of our residents with the needs of a thriving downtown booming economy, and our ordinance sits in the middle of the space to be able to do that,” she said on the show.

Digital Signage Today sat down for a phone interview with Hickey about the effort in Chicago and around the country to pass legislation governing but allowing digital signage. A transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity, appears below:

(Editor's note: Due to space and length considerations, the Q and A with Hickey was separated into two parts; this is part two. Go here to read part one. The conversation picks up talking about the aftermath of the city's decision to overturn its sign moratorium.)

DST: With that cleared up, to revisit the story in Chicago, we ran though how the moratorium was overturned, but what does this mean bigger picture, both the moratorium and getting it overturned?

Hickey: Like I said, this is happening across the country, either in a community of 10,000 or in a huge metropolitan area like Chicago. What helps with Chicago, since we had a positive outcome there, is that if other cities that are Chicago's size want to know what Chicago did on it, they can see that Chicago eventually came out with reasonable and beneficial language regarding these kinds of digital signs, and that's always good. Lots of times cities just copy each other, which is not always a good thing, but if they're going to do it, at least they can copy language that the sign industry considers reasonable and beneficial.

So that’s a positive development. And, as always, just working with local officials in a city, whether Chicago or Madison, Wisconsin, or North Miami, Florida, or Huntsville, Alabama, it just makes local officials realize that they can work with the sign industry on these issues to come up with regulations that are reasonable. We're not an industry that just says, 'No, you can't regulate these kinds of signs at all.' Instead we say, 'OK, here's how they need to be treated so that they can be used effectively by the businesses that are using them — and then everyone's going to benefit because you have reasonable regulations."

DST: And the ISA does some work with planners through the American Planning Association? How is that going, and how does that tie into this?

Hickey: We do about six or seven daylong educational event across the country; those are called "Planning for Sign Code Success" events. (The ISA's first "Planning for Sign Code Success" of this year was last week in Houston. Hickey said the ISA anticipated having about 50 Houston-area planners attending.) They're daylong and planners can earn certification maintenance credits — that's their version of continuing education credits that they have to get every year in order to keep their AICP (American Institute of Certified Planners) licensing. National APA has accredited ISA to be a continuing education provider, so we have a daylong presentation of four or five different modules on different sign code issues. One of them, by the way, is about how to effectively treat digital signs, because that is a hot button issue among these planners. It's always the seminar that evokes the most questioning and the most conversation. It's also … I've definitely seen people's minds changed when they hear about the brightness recommendations for the first time or Texas A&M's research for the first time, so those are really productive things that we do … We're like "Sign Code 101" for planners across the country, because most of them didn’t learn about it in school. We're giving them information, and we're helping them make informed decision when it comes to enacting reasonable and beneficial sign codes.

DST: Speaking of beneficial, can talk a bit about the benefits of having these signs versus not having them?

Hickey: What we tell planners is just that these are innovative and attractive forms of communications that businesses are using on an increasing basis to attract potential customers. If you look at surveys of who likes these kinds of signs, you can see, the younger people get, the more and more they like digital signs. They like how they look; they like how they communicate with them; and that’s who businesses want to reach out to; they're the future. So if these kinds of signs are allowed in a reasonable way by businesses and by communities … they look great; they're becoming more cost effective; the technology is getting better and better; and we just think business should be allowed to use them for those purposes.

And so then you talk about the economic impact of these signs for businesses. Businesses are able to communicate more to potential customers and then it helps their business — and then that helps the tax base for the community and helps with employment in the community. It’s a win-win situation really.

Watch the "Chicago Tonight" segment on the issue below:

Cover image is a screencap from the WTTW video.


Topics: Advertising, DOOH Advertising, LED Signs, Trends / Statistics


Christopher Hall / Christopher is the managing director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association and former editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry.
wwwView Christopher Hall's profile on LinkedIn

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