It’s been a long three years since the International Sign Expo was last held in person. 2021’s virtual event was a success, but there’s nothing like in-person networking, demos, educational sessions, and parties.

“We haven’t met since 2019, so our industry is super-ready to get together,” said Alicia Auerswald, International Sign Association (ISA) VP marketing, membership and communications.

This year’s International Sign Expo comes to the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta next week, May 4–6, and if early registrations are any indication, the sign industry is eager to return to normal.

The Sign Expo traditionally alternates between Las Vegas and Orlando, with this year’s event taking place in Atlanta. Comparisons of non-Vegas to Vegas years isn’t entirely fair, but this year looks to be comparable to the last Orlando Expo (2018).

“The fact that we are trending ahead of 2018 definitely gives us lots of optimism and enthusiasm that we’re heading in the right direction,” said Iain Mackenzie, ISA’s VP of meetings and events.

The return of the Expo also introduces some new elements.

The Wrap Experience, a car-wrapping challenge, has long been a hallmark of the Sign Expo, but this year it is being complemented by a new competition: The Fabrication Experience.

“It’s a nod to a traditional component of the sign industry,” said Mackenzie.

Designed to be both educational and fun, teams will compete against each other to build a lightbox. And, during the competition, said Mackenzie, “the instructor is going to be talking about the products, how the products work and their benefits in different weather conditions.”

Another feature new for 2022 is Community Cohorts, a peer-to-peer learning experience.

“One thing we’ve learned over the course of the last couple of years is that learning, finding solutions and how to fix certain things from your peers really makes a difference,” said Auerswald.

Community Cohorts was born during last year’s virtual Sign Expo and proved so popular that ISA is bringing it to the in-person event. There are four one-and-a-half-hour sessions on Friday covering such topics as CEO/C-Suite, sales, print, and project managers.

Registration is separate from the general Sign Expo; attendees can register for the individual Community Cohort sessions here.

Another feature that was ported from the virtual to the in-person Expo is a kind of “matchmaking” event for national and local sign companies that was itself spun out of a long-time networking event and reception.

“Over the last two years, we pivoted and converted it into a virtual event, and it became a more matchmaking-oriented type of event with one-to-one conversations,” said Auerswald. “What we realized was that even though we were going back to in-person, the success of this virtual event led us to reinvent that event, and it’s already nearly sold out.”

Essentially, it’s a kind of “speed dating” that lets national sign companies find local installers and other providers. It was such a hit in its virtual incarnation, said Auerswald, that “it really shows the need for those connections between the nationals and the installers.”

There are several pre-conference sessions on Tuesday, May 3, including a “Business Boot Camp for Wrap Professionals,” sponsored by Avery Dennison; “Developing Exemplary Project Management Teams;” “Finding Success with Wide-Format Print;” and a “Dynamic Digital Workshop.” More information about these sessions can be found here.

In addition to sign-industry-specific educational sessions, the Sign Expo traditionally features a keynote speaker from outside the industry to deliver a talk that is more inspirational than educational. This year, Shon Hopwood will deliver a keynote provocatively titled “Second Chances: Shon Hopwood’s Incredible Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases and Finding Redemption.”

“Over the last two years, there has been so much change, so many people have had to pivot and adapt what they were doing, and Shon’s story is absolutely amazing, because it really talks about perseverance, finding the silver linings, and finding the motivation to be successful and overcome the hurdles to success,” said Auerswald.

The Sign Expo will also include a brand-new mobile app and app platform, the emphasis of which is going to be on networking.

“One of the key things that we want to do is make quality connections at the Sign Expo, and our mobile app has those matchmaking capabilities to connect attendees with other attendees, exhibitors with attendees, and exhibitors with exhibitors,” said Auerswald. “It’s really going to be the tool that can drive those connections on the show floor—and after the event, as well.”

There will not be a virtual component this year, as ISA made the decision to focus on an in-person experience.

“People want to come, see and touch all the products and really meet face to face with people,” said Auerswald.

“People are desperate to get back and see each other, do business, and see and purchase new products in person because an industry such as ours is very much based on seeing materials and actually seeing equipment and comparing products,” added Mackenzie. “As great as virtual is, it’s hard to do that.”

And of course there is the return of ISA ROCKS, the industry party.

The sign industry hasn’t met in person since 2019, so this year’s Sign Expo may feel more like a homecoming or family reunion than a trade show. WhatTheyThink | Wide Format & Signage will be there!