ISA Sign Expo Delivers Thrills and Stills

cutting a ribbon to open a trade show

Printing innovation and possibilities were plentiful at the International Sign Association’s (ISA) signature annual event, Sign Expo, in Atlanta May 4-6.

Even my heightened industry event optimism from attending Dscoop Edge Rockies in March (Dscoop’s Edge Rockies Signals The Print Industry is Back To Business) did not prepare me for the wave of energy that practically knocked me over when the aisles got crowded and the hum of humans talking, and machines running filled the hall.


It was a real print show. Just like you remember. And then some.

Now, I must admit after the show opened the crowd was a bit lite in Hall B. I was concerned. ISA had been caught in several Covid moves and cancelations, the show was in Atlanta vs. Orlando or Vegas which has built-in FOMO, and most of the industry is on a tight budget these days.

Would enough attendees come to support the show, the exhibitors, and the industry?

The answer from my perspective is a definitive, YES.

My “yes” starts with resetting to a realistic baseline of what successful attendance is post-Covid. The industry is operating with fewer humans, and print businesses have merged, sold, or closed. Let’s say we have lost 30% since March 2020.

Many print and sign shops are still running with minimal workers to stay open, or because they can’t find people to work. Unless they are in the city a show is in, traveling and bringing a crew to divide and conquer isn’t currently realistic. Paying for multiple people to travel and attend also falls in here.

If ISA reports anywhere near 50 or 60% of their attendance from their last show in Atlanta, that is a post-Covid trade show home run in my opinion, and where we can start rebuilding from.

crowded trade show floor printing event

Now I know I focused on quantity first, and that is out of character. There are always the people who want to point out there is “less” at the show. They are the same people who say it at every show they attend and said it in 2019, too. They aren’t wrong.

We have established the industry is smaller, overall. Exhibitors have had success with virtual and in-person events at their demo centers and customer locations. Some may never exhibit at shows again if the new way works better for them. Other companies may not be able to afford to attend, or able depending on where they are in the world and how their equipment is shipped.

This is reality, not a reflection on events or the industry. Is a trade show ‘better’ because it has 3000 booths vs. 300? This brings us to quality.

I spoke to a significant amount of attendees as I walked around, and a significant number of exhibitors.

Attendees were happy, enthusiastic, curious, looking for new revenue streams, looking for NEW in general, and came to the show with their checkbooks. Several exhibitors told me they sold everything in the booth, in the warehouse, and beyond.

Lori Anderson, President of ISA, told me the show had 30% first-time registrations. That is significant in many ways for exhibitor lead generation and sales but what resonated for me in the aisles and booths were the fresh, wide-eyed faces of the next generation of the industry. Covid elevated many of the ‘kids’ in family-owned businesses to owners, and that brought the median age of the show down at least 10-15 years based on the people I saw.

That median age shift changed many booth dynamics. Attendees were well-researched and prepared with questions. They were OPEN to technology and automation – don’t forget this was a sign show and signage is a very hands-on business which was super prone to ‘that is not how we do things around here.’

The next-gen walking around the floor was there for new, faster, digital, automated, workflow, education, and more. Here is the topper to prove my point. I sat in on a social media session given by Damaris Piraino and Morgan Hutchings from ISA in one of the show floor theaters. It was standing room only… AND… 4 printers asked questions – on a mic. This is a monumental sign that times have changed, and attitudes have modernized at the sign show!


All the progress made by attracting new people with the right attitude to the show floor was offset in a few instances by overt misogyny in exhibitor booths.

There was one exhibitor who thought it was a good idea to hire three women and put them in highly inappropriate attire. One woman quit, another put on pants, and the woman I spoke with at length in the blue wig and outfit they were given to wear when she arrived was deciding if her public humiliation was worth the check. She said, “I am standing in the Georgia World Conference Center at a sign show, and this is not professional.” None of them returned on day two, I was told.

On the day they were there, I stood to the side and watched the booth for 20 minutes to see if the “let’s use scantily dressed women as a lure” strategy works in 2022. I am happy to say it does not. More attendees were appalled and wanted nothing to do with the company than stopped to ogle the woman at the entrance or enter the booth to do business. The comments I heard as attendees passed the booth were harsh. It made men uncomfortable and the women furious.

This practice must end. It’s on the EVENT ORGANIZERS to prohibit it. A reasonable event dress code must be instituted and enforced for everyone at the show, including contracted employees helping with badge scanning and lead generation.

That situation was in one booth, and for one day. The misogyny I found more offensive was how women were being introduced by men, usually their bosses or higher-ups, at booth demos and booth events.

During introductions, every man was presented with their title and their responsibility and importance to the company were clearly shared. When it came to women – and you can believe me or not – no matter what their title (sometimes it wasn’t mentioned) or their actual company responsibilities, the mood lightened, and specifics were no longer required. Jane does something important around here …  Alicia keeps our morale up … Kim keeps us on schedule and hydrated.

I am uber paraphrasing to protect the not-so-innocent from shame as that is not my intention. My intention is for men to read this and give their female colleagues the same respect you give your male colleagues when you introduce them from now on, no matter where you are.

Ladies, I was equally disappointed that you didn’t speak up and professionally correct the information being shared about you… “Thanks, Jim, so hello everyone I am the VP of North American Sales and I manage a team of 200,” for example. If you treat it like no big deal, it will continue to happen. If you allow your work to be minimalized, you are minimalized to the audience – and perhaps your team as well.

This is your personal branding and professional reputation. If you don’t care, why would anyone else? Communicate to your team how you want to be presented and provide them with the information you want to be shared about you. Take control of this, and make it simple to get what you want. Need help, get involved, and get empowered at


For two days I experienced a real industry trade show complete with bad hotel coffee, bus schedules, $13 turkey sandwiches, 10,000+ steps per day (my watch started questioning who was wearing it), learning about new products, seeing old friends, making new ones, and I basked in the harsh overhead light in the Georgia World Congress Center that illuminated thousands of Sign Expo attendees and exhibitors who were back to business.

Next up for me… Digital Print For Packaging US June 6-8 in Santa Monica and online (I will be moderating a panel virtually),  AMPLIFY Print in Minneapolis, June 14-16;  America’s Print Show in Columbus, OH August 17-19, thINK Ahead 22 July 18-20 (Canon Solutions America customer event) in Boca Raton, FL, and Printing United Oct 19-21 in Las Vegas.

Hope to see you there!


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DeborahCorn-PrintMediaCentrDeborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to The Printerverse™ at Print Media Centr, a Print Buyerologist™, industry speaker and blogger, host of Podcasts from The Printerverse, the cultivator of Print Production Professionals the #1 print group on LinkedIn, Girl #1 at GirlsWhoPrint, host of #PrintChat every Wednesday, the founder of International Print Day and the founder of #ProjectPeacock.

Deborah has 25+ years of experience working in advertising as a Print Producer. She currently provides printspiration and resources to print and marketing professionals through PMC and works behind the scenes with printers, suppliers, and industry organizations helping them create meaningful relationships with customers, and achieve success with their sales, social media, and content marketing endeavors.

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