ISA International Sign Expo 2021

A virtual event with an in-person vibe



Eve Padula, Eric Zimmerman


ISA International Sign Expo (the largest and most comprehensive trade show in the sign, graphics, and visual communications industries) was held virtually this year from April 7-9. Virtual trade shows have been a dime a dozen for the past year (thanks, COVID), but the organizers of this event worked hard to bring in some human elements. As a result, this year’s ISA Sign Expo had more of a live, in-person feel than many other virtual events.



Products, Partnerships, Insights, and Technologies

Each year, attendees come to ISA Sign Expo to conduct business and bring themselves up to speed on the industry’s most relevant issues. The popularity of the event mirrors the growth that the sign & graphics industry has enjoyed over the past 77 years. The advent of digital print imaging for use in visual communications has largely contributed to this expansion. In addition to digital print imaging, dynamic digital signage now plays a prominent role in today's signage solutions. Advancements and innovations in digital technology will continue to energize the marketplace—and expansions in product lines mean more profits and opportunities for growth.


This year’s ISA Sign Expo focused on the following concepts:

  • Community: ISA believes that people and connections drive business in the sign & graphics industry, but many of these connections have been temporarily severed over the past year as the global pandemic has made large in-person gatherings impossible. This year’s event strove to re-establish these connections (albeit virtually) with friends, colleagues, and industry professionals.
  • Commerce: ISA Sign Expo enables business professionals to thrive in the sign, graphics, print, and visual communications industries. Rather than e-commerce, the focus is on cutting-edge programming, innovative vendors, and results that businesses need to build their bottom line and uncover new revenue streams.
  • Collaboration: To remain competitive in today’s industry, it’s important to stay on top of the latest technologies and innovations. At ISA Sign Expo 2021, hundreds of companies in the sign & graphics industry were showcasing their latest innovations and offering practical advice on how to do more with less.


What Made This Event Different?

Although ISA Sign Expo 2021 featured a number of product demonstrations from exhibitors and sponsors (see the complete exhibitor list here), most of these offerings had been previously announced at other events. There was certainly no shortage of opportunities to get under the hood and see the latest innovations of today’s sign & graphics printers, but none of the announcements were particularly earth-shattering.


Ultimately, the focus of ISA Sign Expo 2021 was a bit different. Rather than attempting to dazzle attendees with never-before-seen capabilities and blazing-fast speeds, this event took a more casual, personal approach. Whereas other virtual events often hold sessions and expect you to join them at a specific time, the Sign Expo’s Hopin platform enabled visitors to come and go at their leisure—it was quite easy to jump in during the middle of a session or demonstration, and just as easy to leave if it wasn’t what you were expecting. The show’s organizers also encouraged attendees to strike up conversations with friends, business colleagues, or other like-minded individuals that they didn’t know but wanted to connect with.


In addition to the standard product demonstrations, sponsor/exhibitor announcements, and moderated sessions, ISA Sign Expo 2021 featured Game Changer and Titan Talks with leaders in and outside the industry. There were also informal “Speakeasy” chats with industry experts, as well as social peer groups, on a variety of topics (e.g., parenting/family, gaming, outdoor recreation) to encourage networking and discussions. There was even some fun, lighthearted trivia sessions and daily happy hours/afterparties.


Further contributing to the intimate nature of this event, speakers were encouraged to share candid accounts of their own personal journeys as we continue to navigate through the pandemic. Many spoke about struggling to improve employee morale as workforces remain largely remote, maintaining the work/life balance, any business missteps they’ve made along the way, and the lessons learned from them.


A Roadmap to Recovery

Eric Zimmerman, Director of Wide Format Printing at Keypoint Intelligence, hosted a session called the “State of Wide Format” that focused on the roadmap to recovery. This presentation discussed the lingering trends associated with 2020, the unexpected changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the continued shifts and modifications in key wide format segments as the industry moves toward recovery in 2021.


The interactive platform of ISA Virtual event enabled open, candid feedback, and Q&A for the attendees was done via chat windows, a polling tab, or live webcams. In step with the show's overall theme, the amount of real-time interaction and bilateral communication gave the feeling of an “in-person” educational session.


Our Take

We at Keypoint Intelligence have attended our share of virtual and in-person events over the years. Although this event was virtual, it had the feel of a live show in that you could come into it not knowing what to expect and with no real plan of action, but still leave feeling like you got something out of it. In this case, rather than leaving with a stack of business cards and many handshakes, you left reminded that we’re all in this together, even if we’re physically apart (for now).


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