Guru Talk: Fred Robertson

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

Since 2005 I’ve worked for the following companies as a DAM professional.

Liberty Mutual Insurance
Arnold Worldwide
Bose Corporation

Most all of these DAM positions – minus the actual agency position at Arnold – were internal agency scenarios.  In each of these roles the need for a DAM was primarily undertaken and initiated in collaboration with the studio, where the responsibility for finalizing and releasing creative work was dependent upon a well-managed and organized library of assets.

What’s interesting about my internal agency work as an asset manager was that all three companies were looking for someone to come in and more fully establish a DAM.  In each case I was not taking over for a prior asset manager or simply continuing to manage assets as part of a legacy DAM system.

At Liberty that meant ultimately creating a brand new platform for managing and sharing assets, at Bose it meant providing new ways to organize and manage files within an established system which eventually would be replaced.  And at Biogen it was as part of a new DAM initiative which had begun before my arrival.

In hindsight my role at Liberty was a great starting point, providing an opportunity for me to establish my own working method and build a checklist to solving for problems which would recur with each new role I took on thereafter. This meant that I could initiate relationships throughout the agency and with (internal) clients who regularly engaged with the creative group. It did not take long for me to realized that my success as an asset manager would be entirely dependent upon maintaining and growing these relationships, establishing trust and providing value across and between all of these touch points in the lifecycle of any piece of creative work.

After six years at Liberty Mutual I spent next two years at Arnold Worldwide (primarily) supporting Dell, who was a new client at the time, and who required a dedicated asset manager within the agency. This was a somewhat new thing for Arnold – since they had two existing asset managers on staff who handled various accounts but were not dedicated to one particular client. At Liberty my interaction with outside agencies was very limited and once I was inside a large agency like Arnold, I was able to see a side of the creative process which was not visible to me at Liberty Mutual. Here again I realized that my success would be dependent upon my ability to establish relationships across many avenues of the creative workflow.

My work managing digital assets at both Liberty Mutual and Arnold Worldwide would come together fully at Bose Corporation in 2013. At Liberty my main focus was managing and purchasing stock imagery while tracking usage and licensing. At Arnold I was able to interact and support an established DAM system (with Dell), while also supporting other clients and the greater asset management team within the agency. This meant handling photo shoot files, building metadata schemas and uploading large batches of files for use throughout the agency.

At Bose my role as the digital asset manager was all encompassing. From handing all photo and video files, distributing files to outside agencies and vendors, to assisting the studio to finalize product and lifestyle imagery, managing production and library servers and supporting internal and international marketing partners. The DAM challenge at Bose was particularly huge and an ongoing opportunity for improvement and change. Implementing changes within an established framework and working around product launches which were continuously ongoing was difficult. My success in this role was very much incremental at first. It took time to build relationships and find a voice in the role. Responsibilities which were once handled by a number of different people took time to consolidate into one role. I think my greatest success at Bose was my ability to eliminate the number of touch points in the life cycle of asset creation. Knowing the one true source of truth and being the vehicle for it was very rewarding on many levels.

My most recent role at Biogen has been very different than previous roles in the DAM space and has presented many new challenges and scenarios to solve for which I had not (entirely) considered previously. While Biogen uses an internal agency for some of their work, they also use many other outside agencies to support their nearly half dozen different brands. So it’s a lot to try and wrangle into one cohesive DAM process. Finding the single source of truth was hard. As I mentioned previously, I came to this role after the DAM initiative had started and at the point where it was ready to launch – so my ability to understand the process and then participate in establishing DAM protocols which best supported those processes was limited.

I am leaving Biogen as this year comes to a close – my family is relocating – and I very much look forward to my next role as a DAM professional. Always looking for challenges and opportunities to expand my knowledge base in this space.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

The most important thing for anyone new to DAM to understand about DAM is that it’s everywhere. Which is to say, we all need our own personal DAMs for the myriad of personal assets we create, accumulate and share throughout our days. So if you can think of that, then imagine the needs of a company (of any size), how they present themselves to the world and how they need to be organized. And then, if you’ve come to realize the need for a DAM within your organization and have decided to embark on that journey, don’t hesitate, make excuses or cut corners. If you say you’re doing DAM, then by all means, do it across the board. Within an organization of any kind, DAM needs to be everywhere in the thinking of people who are involved in the creation of content, delivery of files and the preservation of assets for continued used.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

In all my years of doing this, the biggest ongoing challenge is finding someone within the organization who understands that DAM needs a seat a lot of different tables in order to be successful. DAM needs to be a part of many conversations. And it needs to be able to speak for itself. I am yet to find a DAM role where the voice of the asset manager can be heard over the systems, operations and/or product owner leads who get invited to meetings where decisions are made about DAM. Decisions largely made without the asset manager activity participating. I see this as my (personal) ongoing challenge simply because I haven’t been able to have that voice when the management structure is a roadblock to meaningful success in the role and therefore the overall DAM strategy.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I’d like to learn more about other DAM systems and about other ways of managing assets and content. My roles up to now have all been very similar in terms of the content, the work and even the systems used to support the role. So an opportunity to work with other tools would be great. I also would love to shift gears and work less on the agency/creative side of the things and delve into archives and collections. Either at an institutional or educational level; at a museum, university or foundation of some sort. I feel like my engagement would be maximized by my interest and feel the personal reward would be greater than any previous role. I don’t have a library science degree but have begun to think that pursuing one would help me to further this pursuit.

If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?

I like this question a lot. Because I don’t think there’s any way to avoid doing DAM in one form or another for me. I truly think it’s in my blood to be an asset manager of some sort. Personal librarian, archivist, photographer, hoarder, etc. I really do believe that I can’t not be an asset manager even if it weren’t my primary profession.

Guru Talk: Ian Matzen – Tame Your Assets

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

I have worked as a digital asset management professional for six years, four of which have been as a remote worker. I have a background in digital video post-production: having post-produced spots for advertisers, episodes for reality television, and short videos for corporate clients.

Currently I am one of four DAM Librarians working in the Marketing department at Wells Fargo. Prior to this, I was the Digital Asset Manager for America’s Test Kitchen, a Boston-based publisher. At Net-a-Porter, a luxury brand online retailer headquartered in London, I was a Digital Asset Technician.

In these positions, I applied my skills in asset migration, workflow automation, user adoption, digital preservation, digital rights management, data analysis, metadata modeling, controlled vocabulary (taxonomy) design, user-centered interface design, and auto-classification.

What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?

DAM as a practice is heavily influenced by those company staff who create and use digital assets. While most companies will benefit from having a DAM system, it will likely become a “shelf-baby” — DAM software left unused due to lack of attention — without the proper setup based on the needs and practices of its users. Consequently, you will excel at your work once you learn to partner with and influence stakeholders to arrive at governance standards that are both agreeable and steeped in standards and best practices.

You will likely spend less of your time managing assets than you will working on other tasks. Most days you will find me configuring, testing, and troubleshooting the DAM system and providing reference desk services to users. Most DAM systems were put into place to manage and make accessible a very large number of digital assets. Expecting a single person to upload, catalog, validate, classify, update, migrate, and distribute them is wishful thinking. We enable others to manage digital assets for themselves.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

I can think of more DAM challenges than I have room to write! The greatest challenge is how to communicate the value that DAM brings to the company so that it is understood by upper management. DAM professionals, our immediate supervisors, and DAM conference attendees are obviously well aware of its value. I get it: considering DAM is too “in the weeds” for C-suite management. While I acknowledge this, the lack of understanding can have some serious ramifications to our work: from insufficient resource allocation — limiting us from increasing DAM’s value — to being threatened or affected by staffing cuts. Ultimately users are left to bear the burden. A large part of our work as DAM professionals must be to advocate for ourselves and advertise our accomplishments. Finding a means to communicate this message to upper-management is an ongoing challenge.

What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?

Currently, we seem to be going through a hoarding phase, amassing and storing most of our digital assets without first carefully selecting what to keep and then reconsidering this selection at regular intervals in the future. In five years, unless companies are ready to destroy much of this content, they will turn to archiving much of this material. This will be a great opportunity for archivists!

In the next five years, I hope vendors will adopt a set of common standards to support out-of-the-box system integrations. This may be wishful thinking, but system vendors must realize that by adopting such standards their products will be attractive to companies that value efficiency and interoperability over spending money on overly-complicated customizations.

Guru Talk: Deb Fanslow – ICP

What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?

I’ve been working in DAM for over 6 years, with experience across the pharmaceutical, CPG, library, museum, and education industries. After earning my Master of Library Sciences degree, I began my career in DAM within academia, working as a graduate intern at the Rutgers University Center of Alcohol Studies to implement an enterprise document management system to manage the library’s special collections. To gain more experience, I then interned with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, cataloging their marketing materials to support the museum’s rich holdings. At the same time, I volunteered at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, digitizing rare historic library manuscripts and archival materials.

My first foray into DAM in the private sector was a position with Schawk, working as the Lead Digital Asset Coordinator for their client, Campbell Soup Company. In this role, I managed and administered Campbell’s library of over 115,000 packaging/brand assets, oversaw creation, review, cataloging, and distribution of product renderings, and got my first taste of workflow design and optimization, as well as the challenges of upgrading an enterprise system and aligning stakeholders across a global company. I then moved into a challenging role at Campbell as Marketing Content Platforms Manager, coming onboard mid-project to lead a global team in launching Campbell’s first enterprise DAM system and integrating it with their established workflow system.

Next came a role as Content Steward with Aquent Studios, working with a team of librarians at their client, Merck, to develop global modular content automation capabilities. It was here that I learned the complexities of modularizing master content for local reuse using an XML workflow. I was heavily involved in developing standards and processes, as well as training and documentation.

From this experience, I transitioned to a much broader role at Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS) as Content Management Capability Lead, where I focused on developing a strategy to drive content reuse across the business, traditional digital asset management, and development of modular content capabilities. In this role, I led projects to analyze and update BMS’s metadata schema, augment DAM reporting capabilities using data visualization, upgrade the DAM system, onboard a new business unit, identify what we called the upstream “content pipeline,” and last but not least, customize their DAM system to support creation and management of dynamic modular content.

As a proponent of documentation, my next role was a foray into knowledge management, a close cousin to DAM. In this temporary position I worked as a consultant with the Educational Testing Service (ETS), where I led a project to develop an online knowledge base to support ETS’s flagship item banking system—the hub of an extraordinarily complex ecosystem that stands as a stellar example of end-to-end modular content creation and delivery.

All of these experiences have led me to my current role as Migration Manager for ICP. I work with their client, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, to manage a library of References to support commercial and medical materials. After migrating their Reference library to a new platform, I am now responsible for ongoing content curation and governance. With the rollout of the new system, I have contributed to developing new metadata standards and processes, system configuration, training, and user support. I work among a team of talented DAM professionals, and benefit from their collective experience.


How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I actually started learning about DAM before I knew what it was. At the beginning of my 17-year stint working as a graphic designer in the publishing industry, I was creating digital assets and managing all of the content created during the process on servers. My first exposure to DAM was on the user side, where I used one of the first enterprise DAM systems (remember the days of Artesia?) to store and distribute book cover images. Coming into DAM with an understanding of the creative process and the user experience is invaluable.

Although not mandatory for a successful career, I absolutely recommend investing in a Library/Information Science degree that focuses on managing digital libraries. DAM today is heavily marketing-focused, but the principles of centralizing, structuring, managing, and distributing information for findability are much broader than that, and are evergreen across industries, content types, and every DAM use case I have ever heard. And the focus is always on the people using information systems to access and use information in all of its various forms.

Some of the best DAM education I’ve had came as a result of working as a School Library Media Specialist. It was in this role that I learned about the reference interview (what is the user’s underlying need?), teaching (accommodating different learning styles, scaffolding, and continuous reinforcement), change management (personalization is key), user experience (how many interfaces do students need to learn to find the right article?), and most of all, the importance of patience!

Apart from work experience, I would of course recommend visiting the DAM Directory, a curated launching pad to a myriad of DAM resources. Attend DAM conferences, find a mentor, join professional associations, sign up for DAM Peeps, and read everything you can from consultants, analysts, vendors, and practicing DAM professionals—keeping in mind the source.

You can learn many of the core principles of digital asset management by managing your own digital content using a personal desktop DAM system designed for the professional photographer’s workflow. Last but not least, for those new to DAM and the experienced alike, keep an eye on job postings to learn the skills that employers are looking for—then go out and acquire them!


What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I have a voracious appetite for learning, so my list is long! At the top currently is learning more about the larger ecosystem of DAM—strategy and orchestration of data and content that flows upstream and downstream throughout the digital supply chain.

I’d love to get a peek under the hood of a DAM system from a developer. Also on the list is learning more about system integration, Master Data/Metadata management, modular content, data aggregation, Media Asset Management (MAM), product management, analytics…there’s always something more to learn!