Ask the Board – December 9, 2019 | DR. ELIZABETH CORNELL


“Could an in-home digital network have ads or is that sacred territory?”

For many higher education institutions, posting paid advertising on campus digital signage may be a boon that helps fund their system. But even if resources are not a concern, such ads can be useful to support an institution’s educational activities. For these reasons, schools should consider displaying more than just internal content on their digital signage. External advertising, however, needs to be carefully selected so it’s appropriate for the institution’s diverse audience. 

Campus digital signage may appear in an institution’s common and semi-private spaces, both of which command somewhat different audiences. Common areas, often open to the public, receive the heaviest traffic including students, faculty, and administrators. Individuals that the school considers a part of its broader community also visit these spaces including donors, members of the board of trustees, alumni (many of whom are also donors), prospective students and their parents, and visitors onsite for an event or other reason. On the other hand, offices and academic departments primarily receive students, faculty, and staff who have specific interests.

Students come to campus to essentially learn, teach and/or do research. Administrators support those activities. Visiting donors want to feel they’re supporting a worthy and focused center of education. Given the specific nature of these activities and interests, it would feel out of place if signage in the history department or the library showed an ad featuring someone taking to the road in a flashy car while sipping the latest flavored sparkling water. This type of advertising might even enrage certain faculty and students. After all, they represent a captive audience. They can’t turn off the digital signage or remove its content. 

It’s the duty of the institution to ensure that all content – paid or not – speaks to and is relevant to its population. Appropriate paid content might come from the following sources: Authorized campus vendors, such as purveyors of class rings, graduation gowns and portraits; campus dining services; and companies whose software students use on campus computers for educational purposes. Ads of this type contain relevant information that students and others may not encounter via advertising on external websites and other sources.

If your institution chooses to accept paid advertising, keep in mind that administrative time and effort will be required to solicit, oversee, and execute these ads. Also consider which office or account will receive the funds. At some higher-education institutions, it can be a real hassle to set up an account that receives funds from an outside source that is not tied to tuition or donations.

When it comes to deciding whether to include paid advertising on campus digital signage, what to show is as important as whether to show it. If paid content supports educational activities and institutional goals, then digital signage will not feel like sacred territory, exclusively reserved for internal messaging. Instead, the signage will serve the campus community as a resource with valuable information.

About Author

Director of Internal Communications
Fordham IT

End User Council

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