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Nestled in the suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, ST Media Group International, Inc. is a family-owned publishing company deeply rooted in the Queen City. Steeped in its own rich personal history, ST Media Group International all started with its flagship publication, Signs of the Times magazine.

First published in May 1906 by former Billboard magazine owner W.H. Donaldson, Signs of the Times is as much a fixture of Americana as the signage it features. Initially distributed to 4,650 subscribers in 42 American cities, the Cincinnati-based publication set out to educate and inform a community of signmakers about the art and business of sign painting, electrical signage, billboards and outdoor advertising.

ST Media Group History 1At the turn of the century, as immigration led to over crowded cities, informational and advertising signage burgeoned. Signs of the Times documented the messages and signmaking methods. As business and factory development erupted during the industrial revolution, Signs of the Times celebrated their spectacular electric signs. During each World War, Signs of the Times highlighted the signs that reflected the spirit of America. And as the country’s thirst for technology, expansion, and product consumption swelled, Signs of the Times was (and is) there—educating its audience about new signage technology, while providing the dazzling sign graphics that portray an evolving America.

Signs of the Times’ infancy was marked with success and fueled by optimism. Editor H.C. Menefee, hired as editor in 1907, purchased the publication outright in 1914. He captained both the editorial and financial sides of the publication for decades, as it increased in both page count and subscribership. To expand the editorial content, Menefee hired sign painter Tom Kelley as editor in 1924. Signs of the Times weathered the Great Depression, and advertising was bolstered by technological advancements in signage, including neon lighting, fluorescent tubing and plastics.

In 1937, Dave Swormstedt, Sr. became vice-president, working cohesively with Menefee. During World War II, amid the governmental supply and material restrictions, the signage industry survived and the magazine sustained life. Swormstedt, Sr. remained optimistic and proactive in his efforts to grow his magazine and the industry. Through his tireless efforts, Swormstedt, Sr. was instrumental in founding two industry associations that still thrive today: The International Sign Association (founded in 1944 as the National Electric Sign Association) and the Screen Graphics Imaging Association (founded in 1949 as the Screen Process Printing Association). For his dedication, the SGIA created the “Swormstedt Award.” The annual award recognizes writers for their excellent editorial work related to the industry.

With the war over and a prosperous future ahead, Swormstedt, Sr. and Menefee moved the company, then known as Signs of the Times Publishing Co., from Sycamore Street to 407 Gilbert Avenue in downtown Cincinnati in 1949. In the decade to follow, under the guidance of new editor David Souder, Signs of the Times magazine extended its coverage of outdoor advertising and averaged more than 150 pages per month. The magazine’s success allowed the company to launch Screen Process magazine in 1953 (presently titled Screen Printing magazine). During this time, the elder Swormstedt welcomed his sons, Dave Jr. and Jerry, to the company in sales and editorial capacities, respectively.

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1962 saw major company change as H.C. Menefee’s career ended with his passing, and Dave Swormstedt, Sr. became company president. In time, Swormstedt, Sr. enhanced the company’s book department. He also purchased the rights to Display World (now Visual Merchandising and Store Design), which was jointly owned at the time. As the 70s approached, color printing improved and Signs of the Times featured four-color illustrations and photos. The upgrade was enthusiastically received by the magazine’s audience. Swormstedt, Sr. was the catalyst behind the changes.

After four decades of commitment to both work and family, Dave Swormstedt, Sr. passed away in 1978. Dave Jr. was named president and Jerry became vice-president. The duo successfully steered the company in a growth direction. Past company president Dave Swormstedt, Jr. highlights the company’s philosophy, which still endures today, “Survival of a small publication has been based on respect of, and for the industry. My earliest lesson as an ad salesman came from my boss when I said to an advertiser, ‘Oh, you’re the person who runs that little two inch ad each month.’ My boss told me later, ‘He deserves the same consideration as a full-page advertiser.’ ”

ST Media Group History 3In the early 1980s, automation, robotics, and computer technology flooded America. Times were changing, and the editors of Signs of the Times adapted. The magazine’s editors, brothers Tod and Wade Swormstedt (sons of Dave Jr.), diligently informed their audience of the automated signmaking technology and outdoor-advertising legislation that would deeply impact the industry.

Signs of the Times magazine continued its trend of tracking the industry’s progress in the 1990s and pioneered extensive market surveys and sign graphics competitions. Today, 18,200 subscribers in 112 countries eagerly anticipate the magazine. Former company president Jerry Swormstedt comments on Sign of the Times’ achievements, “The most intriguing asset of our more than one hundred years is our library dating back to 1906. It is an historic reference that is used by students, scenery designers, and industry members. It’s so fascinating to look back and see the trend in design, materials and messages as the century progressed.”

The 1990s also brought a new generation of Swormstedts to the management front. Dave Jr. and Jerry Swormstedt retired, passing their torches to their sons. Tod assumed the vice-president role. Wade became editor and eventual publisher of Signs of the Times magazine. And Tedd (son of Jerry) learned the financial and advertising side of the business. These leaders propelled ST Publications into exciting business ventures. Each publication received a dedicated website in the mid-90s. A new trade magazine, Signs of the Times and Screen Printing en español broke language barriers in 1993 and has been successfully distributed to 18,000 subscribers in Latin America. As new digital printing technology developed, The Big Picture magazine was created in 1996. To close the decade, Tedd Swormstedt was named company president by board members, and Tod founded the American Sign Museum.

The new millennium ushered exciting growth opportunities for ST Publications. ST Media Group International, Inc. was born in 2001 to reflect the company’s new endeavors. In the recent decade, the company has acquired numerous publications including Package Design, Industrial + Specialty Printing and Boutique Design (as well as their companion websites). Furthermore, ST Media Group has become a leading and ever-growing organizer and producer of events including the International Retail Design Conference, BDNY, Hospitality Match and BDwest — with more planned.

Current company president Tedd Swormstedt summarizes the company’s accomplishments, “You can’t truly appreciate all that we’ve accomplished until you hear a reader say. ‘I have every issue of Signs of the Times dating back to the 1950s.’ Our corporate goal is to generate that type of loyalty from each reader, online visitor and event attendee by making it our priority to inform, educate and grow the industries that we serve.”

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