The Right Electronic Message

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Heller 3I have been in the electronic message center (EMC) business since 1984. Back in those early days, EMCs featured 30-watt incandescent lamps that would only display one line of text with a maximum of nine letters. These signs sold for over $25,000, burned over $1,000 per month in electricity, and typically featured a maintenance contract of at least $225 per month.

However even back then, I learned the most important value of an EMC—its advertising value. I’ve never had one customer tell me that their EMC didn’t increase their sales.

Today your customers can get a full-color, animated LED EMC that’s a much more effective advertising medium than the old

incandescent lamp EMC and for about their same price. Plus operating costs are now only a fraction of the old incandescent EMCs.

So what does all of this mean? It means that today’s LED EMCs actually provide an even-better advertising value to your customers.

The Sales Effort

But in today’s sales presentation, I’m concerned that everyone is getting caught up in two things: (1.) offering the lowest price, and (2.) the “nuts and bolts” of the technical details of why their EMC package is better than someone else’s. I believe this mindset misses a couple of key points.

In your initial meeting with clients, you should instead get an understanding of how they want to use the EMC sign. Find out what type of words, graphics, animations, images, and/or video they might want to display.

Also discover what products and brand names the customer offers. Investigate whether they’re going to be doing any co-op advertising with some of their suppliers, and if so, if these suppliers have any special requirements.

The Upsell

Once you get off the subject of selling “nuts and bolts” and focus on selling the advertising value, don’t be afraid to propose a full-color LED EMC. The cost is not that much more than a mono-color LED EMC, and the advertising impact is ten times greater.

Often when you start discussing the advertising value (along with the impact a larger or higher resolution EMC will have), upgrading said-customer to a more expensive display is sometimes possible and worth the time to at least pitch the concept.

The Presentation Preview

Get a copy of your EMC supplier’s software and load it onto a notebook computer. Develop a sample set of messages based upon the information you obtained during your initial meeting and show your customer what he can do with the size and resolution of the LED EMC that you’ve determined best fits his needs.

If your customer is going to be using photos or videos on the EMC display, then during this software presentation, you can show him how it will look. This will also help explain why you selected the product you did.

For example, if your customer wants to use a lot of photos and/or video, a LED EMC with virtual pixels will produce a much better image than traditional LED EMC signs. You can get logos and artwork from the Internet as examples. LED EMC signs can work with low-resolution files as long as they’re big enough. (Note: You do not want to enlarge images.)

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The Resolution

Once you’ve made the sale, realize that, when it comes to EMCs, size does matter. From your site survey, you can get the necessary information regarding how large of an LED EMC is permitted. Once you have that information, it’s time to figure out the appropriate type of resolution that will meet your customers’ needs.

Resolution is determined by the distance between light points (called “pixels”). We reference the distance from the center of one pixel to the center of the adjacent pixel. The higher the resolution, the closer the pixels. This equates to better-looking graphics and video, as well as the ability to display more text. Factors to consider in determining the appropriate resolution would be minimum and maximum viewing distances.

Today 20mm and 16mm pixel spacings are the most common. If the customer wants to display a lot of text, 20mm spacing will work great. If they want photos, then they would consider 20mm with virtual pixel or 16mm pixel resolution. But if your customer wants really great-looking images, you can offer them 12.5mm.

Also consider the font size and the number of letters that can be displayed per line of copy, so that it will meet your customer’s requirements. There’s nothing worse than selling an LED EMC sign only to discover that the customer’s name won’t fit the screen in a font that’s large enough to be readable.

The Hook Up

Your initial site survey needs to gather more information for an LED EMC than a typical backlit sign or set of channel letters. In addition to determining the resolution, you also need to know the location of the computer where the software will be installed, as well as some hint of the operator’s computer skills.

Questions to ask: How are you going to connect that computer to the LED EMC sign? Where does the data cable need to be run, and will you need to access the customer’s network? How are you going to get from the building to the sign with it?

Not addressing these issues during the site survey or not covering who’s responsible for what during the sales presentation is a very common mistake. This leads to on-site mass confusion during installation and an upset customer.

Advice Before the Install

If you haven’t installed very many LED EMCs at this point in your career, I recommend turning on the LED EMC in your shop prior to delivery. Set up the computer, the dimmer, and the temp probe and get an understanding of the LED EMC power and data wiring schematics. Then review the LED EMC provider’s operator manual and run the software.

You should also know if your LED supplier has a photo cell dimmer. Often sign codes require a photo cell dimmer that will automatically adjust the brightness of the sign to the ambient light. LED EMCs without dimming capability can be too bright at night to be effective and readable.

Trouble to Avoid

If you don’t understand how to get the computer to connect to the sign, your LED EMC supplier will offer technical support and network assistance. But don’t do this the day of the installation; do your homework and figure it all out before you travel to the job site for installation.

Always train the computer operator before you deliver the sign. Nothing is more embarrassing then installing the new LED EMC sign only to find out the person who will operate the computer is not in that day, and no one has any idea of what content they want to display. This leaves you trying to think of some interesting generic messages to put up on the EMC.

And see if the LED EMC supplier will preload content that the customer would like to see as soon as the power is connected. This can be saved on the hard drive of the computer. When it is turned on, the owner can quickly see what a great-looking sign you’ve sold him. This will give you time to complete the rest of the installation in peace.

—Todd Heller

Todd Heller is president of Ad-Tech International. For more information, visit

Photos courtesy of Ad-Tech International.