Digital Signage Best Practices

By George Koroneos | June 10, 2008

Digital Signage Best Practices
As the price point of plasma and LCD monitors continues to fall, many hotels and restaurants have jumped on the digital bandwagon, purchasing and installing flat-screen monitors to replace traditional signage boards.

But what many operators in the hospitality business are slowly realizing is that slapping a widescreen on the wall is only a fraction of the solution. To get maximum return on their investment they must have a total digital display solution, which includes a content management system (CMS), a media player for each display, and most importantly a way to monetize the digital solution when there is nothing to show on the screen.

Wasted space
One of the biggest challenges facing hotel operators is what to do with the digital signs when there isn't a conference or program going on. The key is to rent the virtual space out for third-party advertisements, but few operators have been able to do this well. To sell ad space to external businesses, properties must hire a sales person or advertising agency to generate sales.

Most locations are choosing to use intra-venue advertising instead. By publicizing internal restaurants and events, hotels can potentially sway an indecisive guest to stay in and eat or visit the bar.

"Digital displays are where technology meets creativity. There is a strong convergence in the market place today of technology and purpose, and merchandising is becoming a critical part of enterprise IT," says Joseph Finizio, executive director of the RSPA, an association dedicated to retail technology solution providers (

There are two main business models that should be considered when implementing a digital signage system: the ad supported network and the lift-supported network. The former refers to a campaign where you host another company's brand on your digital displays. Revenue would be based on ads sold, much like television commercials. For example, a digital monitor can be placed in a restaurant to run ads for different beers or desserts to tantalize customer appetites.

Using the lift-supported network, restaurants can post their menu boards on a monitor listing the daily specials. Items can be tied to expiration date or menu-item usage so that a meal that is about to go stale can trigger a discount advertised on the display. That reduces waste while increasing net profit.

Hotels, however, have a different challenge.

"One of the best practices that we really had to consider was, -- What do we do [with the signs when] there isn't a meeting going on? What else can we put on these boards when they are blank?'" asks Lynda Simonetti, director of PR for the Beverley Hilton (, which has 22, 14-inch door displays outside of each meeting room and two 40-inch displays in the main walkway. "Instead of letting them just turn the displays off, the content system automatically flows advertising for the in-house spa and restaurant."

The digital choice
Digital signage doesn't have to cost a fortune. One hotel chain had its vendor install $100 media players behind all of its flat-screen televisions. This rudimentary signage offering is used to show general information and minimal video. The media players are tethered to small 17-inch displays and everything fit into a tiny footprint. 
On a larger scale, hotels and restaurants can install massive monitors that run on a network via content media players. This involves rewiring the location, and purchasing backend software that can switch content on the fly.

"The implementation isn't too difficult; the biggest mistake operators make is making the content too long," Finizio says. "People walking down the halls don't have enough time to look at a two-minute spot. At most, ads should be limited to 30 seconds."

Companies that own multiple brands should consider cross marketing their properties across all establishments. This is particularly good for hotels that own resorts in different locations.

"If a property is just putting up random ads, they are going to get nowhere, and ultimately guests are going to ask if they can switch the channel to ESPN," Finizio says.

Package options
Operators have two options when installing digital displays: hire a different vendor for installation, software management, operations, and content generation or have one company do it all for you. The Beverly Hilton went with the all-in-one package and hired a full-time employee to manage the entire system.

"If you don't have someone working with you, then you have invested in a giant network of boards that don't do anything for you," Simonetti says. "They might get your guests in and out of meetings, but what do they do when they are done with that?"

Using an Omnivex ( content management system, the Beverly Hilton controls all information automatically. It turns on the displays in the morning, runs the day's events (switching between ads and event information), adjusts the content when a meeting ends, and then turns the displays off after hours.

Info on demand
One place that the digital display doesn't get much down time is at the Westin O'Hare (, located minutes from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The hotel uses a traditional 42-inch plasma screen to display airport information directly from the airlines, using Flyte Systems ( as the content provider.

"It's a value for us; a win-win for the hotel and the customer. We are willing to pay for it because as an airport property, it's a service that is important to our customer," says Paul Church, director of operations at Westin O'Hare.

Westin is now working on a plan to include advertisements on the board. Since much of the display's real estate is used up by flight times, the options are limited. Westin's vendor, Digital Minds (, will use the existing ticker at the bottom of the screen as sellable space for local businesses to advertise their wares.

"That's a market that we really haven't tapped," Church says. "It's probably not a huge revenue source, but it's obviously the wave of the future. Every hotel is going to have flat screen TVs within the next year as the old box screens are gone, and this is a great way to communicate information."

Miles of displays
With nearly two miles of property, the Frenchman Reef and Morning Star Marriott ( in the Virgin Islands jumped at the chance to install digital signage to spare its staff from having to run around the hotel to change dozens of signs, every day.

The property need only update one source to adjust any of the displays, including meeting signage, guest room television information, and lobby displays. The Four Winds ( interactive package updates information using a basic spreadsheet.

The Marriott also installed two 40-inch NEC ( monitors in the lobby to capture guest attention. The hotel had its installer, PSAV (, hang the displays in a vertical portrait mode, allowing the resort to split the image on screen in two. The top portion shows the pertinent event information while the bottom screen runs a loop of in-house promotions and activity information. Frenchman Reef is considering selling ad space to a third party.

"Most of our ad content is informational with splash photos of restaurants. Nothing is too long because we don't want it to look like a TV," says Yulial Purnomo, director of IT at Frenchman Reef and Morning Star Marriott Resort. "The current system can handle whatever the customer wants. It can run text, images, short movies, and a display logo."

Future forward
Think you already have a fantastic digital display? Thing again. The Beverley Hilton is taking digital signage to the next level with plans to install polarized glass in its all-glass lobby. Video content will be projected directly onto the glass, turning the lobby itself into a digital display.

"Any time of the day, right on the outside front glass of the hotel, you are seeing whatever message we want you to see," says Darren Phalen, the property's in-house display manager. "The polarized glass is so specialized that from the inside of the lobby, you can't see the picture."

Is the world ready for digital signage on the side of buildings? Why should Times Square get all the fun?

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