“The medium is the message” is no longer the whole story. Message Point Media focuses its large screens on building value.
By Alex Watson
Thirty years in the information technology industry taught Bryan Gilliom the real value of technology lies in solving problems and managing information effectively.
“I think that 30 years in IT was enough for me to fall out of love with technology for its own sake. Many IT people—and if I am being honest I was the same way in my earlier career—love technology. We are attracted to this business because we are geeks at heart. Where that turns negative is when the technology becomes more important than the business problem it is designed to solve,” Gilliom says. “This is where you see all sorts of sins like bleeding edge unstable solutions based on the latest thing, massively over-engineered technical monstrosities, or solutions designed with no thought for support or user experience coming into play. Today when I am looking at a new technology, software, or tool I may still get a little geeky thrill, but my first thought is how can it solve a business problem in a meaningful way? If I can’t answer that, it doesn’t earn a spot in my toolbox.”
The main tool in Gilliom’s toolbox today is digital signage featuring well-designed graphics and a real-time flow of information that succinctly and efficiently communicates company information to internal or external audiences. The business was christened Message Point Media.
For Gilliom, the big screen was a natural progression in a career spent serving the small screen needs of companies through managed IT services.
“I grew up watching movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report. We were supposed to be living in a world surrounded by bright, eye-catching video screens by now,” he says. “Even though all the technology seemed to be in place to achieve this future, it hasn’t really materialized in our day-to-day lives. The problem felt like a very familiar one from my days in transitioning IT support to managed services. The drivers were things like uncertainty over the right technology to purchase, fear of obsolescence, how to support the screens and keep them fed once they were in place, and an inability to develop any economy of scale when it came to costs and people resources. I believed that if I could provide organizations a simple all-inclusive, turn-key monthly service like I had done with data backup, disaster recovery, or email hosting, that I could help almost any organization take advantage of this powerful communication tool to get their message heard and retained.”
After 30 years in the IT services industry, Gilliom wanted to use his experience to build something new and different. He started out doing business and CEO coaching for other technology businesses, but in mid-2014, a coaching engagement with the founder of Message Point Media introduced Gilliom to the digital signage industry and he found the opportunity to apply his business and technology background to the new challenge he was looking for.
“Almost every organization today is struggling to get their message heard. They are competing with hundreds, if not thousands, of voices for the attention of their audience,” he explains. “Whether it is a city trying to reach its citizens, a school trying to reach its students, or a business trying to reach its customers, they are finding it harder and harder. Email open rates are at an all-time low as people simply begin to ignore anything they don’t immediately recognize or let automated systems filter mail off into bulk or spam folders never to be seen again. Social media moves so quickly that for all but the most prolific posters, your chances of anyone seeing your message in the flood of messages people get in a single day is incredibly low. Studies show that traditional paper signage is nearly universally ignored, especially by millennials and younger generations raised on a steady diet of video and smartphones. Digital signage and private network TV stands alone in its ability to grab people’s attention and spark interest.
“We were all raised on television and it is nearly impossible not to at least glance at a TV screen when we come across one in our daily life. This kind of technology may not be able to tell the whole message itself, but it can spark the interest it takes to drive audiences to smartphones, social media, or human interactions to get, as Andy Rooney famously said, ‘the rest of the story,’” he continues. “The challenge is how to successfully take advantage of a medium that has been traditionally expensive and complicated to use.”
The complications of technology are nothing new to Bryan Gilliom. “I started in information technology as an after school job when I was in the eighth grade in 1982 for one of the first computer companies in Birmingham where my father was a consultant. From that point, I was hooked on computers and technology.”
In 1992, Gilliom joined his father to start a computer consulting company focused on helping small and medium businesses get the most out of the emerging PC revolution. It was sold in 2000 to InLine, a local IT distributor, to form the nucleus of their new professional services division. Gilliom joined the management team at InLine. In 2010, he became CEO. In 2013, he decided to step away and look for a new challenge. “As CTO and later CEO of that company, I became a huge believer in management by measurement, employee engagement, and real-time business dashboarding. Our offices had large screen monitors in several strategic locations that displayed real-time metrics about our service and the business. These same types of real-time visual dashboard and communications are at the heart of what we do for many of our clients with MessagePoint.TV.”
Paul Lloyd, HR director for Birmingham Waterworks, is a client. “We started working with Bryan and Message Point Media about a year ago. We are using their product to support our employee and customer engagement strategies,” he says. “On the employee side, we launched “BWWB TV” to update and educate our employees on a number of topics, including employee recognition (new hires, service anniversaries, promotions, etc.); safety; health and wellness; financial info; and technology tips. Our overall objective is to continuously provide information to our employees that will help them understand the vision, mission, and strategies of the BWWB, which will result in a well-informed work force with high morale and productivity.
“On the customer side we update our customers on current projects, industry awards received, and warranty programs,” he continues. “We are in the process of rolling information out in the near future on our leak repair process, water quality, etc., with the overall objective to keep our customers informed and aware that the BWWB seeks to provide them with excellent customer service.”
When an organization subscribes to MessagePoint.TV, all the technical details of what to buy, how to implement it, how it will be supported, and who will maintain the visual communications system fall away. The client can simply focus on the message that they want to get across. “We take care of all the rest for them for a simple predictable monthly cost with no big capital upfront investment,” Gilliom says. “It is much easier for organizations of all kinds to budget for this type of known monthly cost. They also don’t have to worry about rolling a solution like this out and then not being able to sustain the quality and experience their audience expects.
“In addition to this peace of mind, they don’t just get a technology company, they also get a communications partner,” he continues. “We help our clients develop image, dashboard, or video-based content if they need it. We help them identify information from their existing systems or content they may already have locked up in PowerPoint presentations, brochures, or flyers and transform it into fresh visual content that works not only on our screens but in social media or on the Web. Our biggest challenge is not convincing people of the value of what we do. It is letting people know a service like ours even exists.”
Successfully delivering this kind of service exists in a gray area between two very different disciplines. “On one hand, deploying these kinds of networks effectively requires a lot of knowledge about the Internet, embedded computing, interfacing with all manner of legacy computer systems, and remote support technologies. Fail to master this aspect of the challenge, and you have a beautiful network of screens that are unreliable, rarely change, and are expensive to install and maintain. On the other hand, you also need strong design and communications skills to create content to run on the screens that inspires and engages audiences—content that is memorable and motivates the actions you are trying to get from your audience, whether that is employees, citizens, or consumers. Getting both of these right is an exciting challenge for a business, and one that requires building up a whole other set of ‘muscles’ while still maintaining the technology ones I already have.”
Gilliom says he believed it would be primarily the technical infrastructure and support side of the business that would constitute the majority of the work, but found that it wasn’t the case. “We quickly found that clients needed our help just as much with the design and message strategy portion of the equation,” he says.
Gilliom spent much of 2015 fine-tuning Message Point. This year, he hopes brings a new scale to the business. He sees hundreds of businesses and organizations in Birmimgham alone that could use his services. “We are working with a number of local municipalities in areas like city hall, libraries, police, fire, public works, and community centers, but there are many more we haven’t even approached yet,” he says. “Once we have reached a natural saturation point in Alabama and Mississippi, where our current offices are located, we intend to expand to other major cities in the Southeastern U.S. and beyond.
“Over and over we hear, ‘We have been trying to do this for two, three, sometimes five years,’” he shares. “‘We are shown a couple of screens that are turned off or are running a stale loop of a half dozen slides of outdated content.’ My favorite quote I share all the time came from a local principal who said, ‘When the student of the month for September was still on the screen in December, we just turned the screens off and left them off.’ It isn’t that we don’t see these screens because people don’t believe they have value. We don’t see them because they are so rarely successfully implemented, even by organizations with large budgets and staffs.
“Beyond that, I have a vision of a new kind of local communications network for our community and others like it. I can envision a future where you would encounter screens throughout your day in different locations. Businesses, restaurants, civic buildings, parks, public transit, even outdoor kiosks would have screens that were part of a larger network,” he says. “These screens would each serve their own communications purposes for their hosts, but they could also share a stream of content about community events, news, and other content in the public interest. Information about what was going on in our community would simply be a part of your daily experience, without you having to visit a website or dig through a social media stream. The content wouldn’t exist to try and provide all the information, only to provide the headlines, teasers, or hints to motivate people to take the next step to tap into the sea of information available at our fingertips.”
For Gilliom, it is infinitely more rewarding being a part of helping organizations get heard versus simply keeping “the lights on” when it comes to their information technology. “Whether it is being involved in things like encouraging healthier eating, reducing bullying in schools, raising awareness of what is going on in your city, helping catch criminal fugitives, or just helping a business tell potential customers their story, the opportunity to have a real impact in people’s day-to-day lives is part of what is so intriguing,” he says.