Exploring Arts and Avenues: An interview with Lori Anderson

July 9, 2014Stephanie Gutnik

“It’s fascinating how life takes different paths,” smiled Lori Anderson, President and CEO of the International Sign Association. “I look at every minute as an opportunity to do something fun and interesting, and have a meandering career path to prove it!”

To Lori, life is an adventure. After teaching music in North Dakota and the suburbs of Baltimore for five years, she couldn’t visualize doing it forever. Upon seeking the guidance of a career coach, Lori headed to Capitol Hill looking for a job in politics, an interest originating from dinner conversations with her family growing up. She became a legislative assistant to the Congressman of North Dakota after nine months of job applications, courage and patience.

Lori’s next step was to take an entry-level position in the government relations department of a plastics industry trade association, and landing the job came with a valuable life lesson. Lori had called herself an educator throughout her time in D.C., thinking the music component would be a hindrance to her goals of becoming a policy analyst. As it turns out, her interviewer (and subsequently her boss) sang with The Choral Arts Society of Washington and was married to a music teacher.

“Don’t hide who you are. If you have to, the role might not be the best fit,” cautioned Lori. “Fully embracing my past, I spent 14 years at The Society of the Plastics Industry and left as leader of the department.”

Lori’s carpe diem attitude, intellect and creative inclination are a perfect fit for her current role at ISA, where she has been for the past ten years. Lori fully embraces the association’s mission to help grow the American and international sign industry and to convey the importance of signs to businesses and communities. Her passion emanates from her understanding of the industry’s past, current opportunities and future needs. She notes that the definition of a sign company is rapidly evolving and changing as it always has. Moreover, since change cannot stop, it must be welcomed. When it was founded more than 70 years ago, the sign industry was primarily comprised of hand-painted signs. Throughout ISA’s existence, the industry has actively embraced the introduction of vinyl cutting, digital printing and LED lighting.

When digital printing came along, the industry slowly evolved; now it is completely incorporated into the ISA International Sign Expo show floor, the sign industry’s largest trade show. Lori believes this same transformation is now happening with dynamic digital signage and shares that ISA leadership are committed to helping the industry understand and view the technology as a complement rather than a threat. The Dynamic Digital Park on the ISA Sign Expo floor is growing steadily, and the presence of dynamic digital suppliers assists with acceptance by signmakers, who are adding digital offerings to their business plans.

In terms of challenges, the ISA is in constant communication with the government to help the industry -and its efforts are seen across the country. The association holds seminars for city planning officials who play a vital role in determining where signs can be installed in their regions. ISA staff also testifies before city councils and works with communities to develop reasonable sign codes. A particularly important initiative is a multi-year effort to reinforce the pipeline of workers in the sign industry, a career that graduates are not always informed of. The proactive strategy involves working with technical and community schools to help drive the understanding that a sign career is viable and rewarding, with many options to explore such as graphic design, installation, sales and engineering.

Identifying these types of issues and opportunities, and determining ways to both resolve and take advantage of them, requires a strong leader (check) and an incredible team (check). “I am extremely proud of ISA employees and our Board of Directors,” said Lori whole-heartedly. “The Board trusts our team and allows us to take risks, try new things and be innovative. I am so pleased with the culture that has evolved.”

“Signs are a business, obviously,” concludes Lori, “but they are also an art form. When you walk down the street with a signmaker, it will take some time. They will touch the signs and take pride in work that’s well done. Ultimately it’s a craft that once instilled in your blood, really sticks.”

About Lori

Lori Anderson is President & CEO for the International Sign Association (ISA), which serves the international on-premise signage and visual communications industry. ISA’s programs include educational conferences, government relations, technology research and the ISA International Sign Expo, which attracts some 20,000 signage and graphics professionals annually.

Prior to joining ISA in 2004, Lori was Strategic Planning and Industry Relations Officer for the Society of the Plastics Industry, Inc. (SPI) in Washington, DC, where she was responsible for a number of programs, including government and public affairs, industry statistics, international trade policy and strategic planning. She was with SPI for 14 years. Before joining SPI, Lori was a legislative aide for former Congressman and Senator Byron Dorgan. Prior to working on Capitol Hill, Lori was a public school educator in North Dakota and Maryland.

Ms. Anderson has a Bachelor of Science degree in education from the University of Maryland and a Masters Degree in Public Policy from the University of Maryland, School of Public Affairs. She serves on the board of the European Sign Association, is past chairman of the National Association of Manufacturers Council of Manufacturing Associations Board of Directors and is a member of the US Chamber of Commerce Committee of 100. She obtained the Certified Association Executive (CAE) designation through the American Society of Association Executives in January 2003.