Category: DGP Member Interviews

Guru Talk: Kathleen Cameron – Nest

Kathleen Cameron - digital asset managerKathleen Cameron’s digital asset management experience over the years has shown her that DAM is about the ease in discovering content. If done correctly, users no longer need to be reliant on knowing someone else’s folder structure.

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

My first digital asset management gig was organizing content for the Headlands Center for the Arts in exchange for studio space. I built them a DAM system and created the metadata schema (pre-VRA core). From there I worked at Quokka, which was a sports content provider, and each production team had their own instance of a DAM system to utilize, while the IT department looked into an enterprise DAM solution. It was my first experience working with an IT group and requirements gathering. I learned Dublin Core and built the taxonomy for the Sydney Summer Olympics. I was responsible for building out the workflows to get content into the tool and also responsible for digital rights management.

After my time at Quokka, I began working at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) as their Manager of Digital Content Development. It was not traditional DAM but more of a blended role of digital project manager and DAM manager. My first project was to build a DAM for the health sciences based on HEAL and my last project was submitting the requirements for a systemwide digital library for the University of California. In between I took on digitization projects for the library, as well as helping other departments organize their assets.

The Stanford Graduate School of Business hired me after they licensed at DAM system to manage the school’s content. This was a make-it-work situation as the tool was not the right fit for their requirements, but the IT manager was committed to the product. I grew the collection from 0-36k assets in 3 years with a focus on migrating existing digital collections from outdated servers to the ECM. I built in connectivity with social media so that users could easily push content to YouTube or Facebook, as well as connectivity with the CMS being used and a new LMS (learning management system).

My current role at Nest Labs has returned me to a more traditional digital asset management role. I function more as a Digital Archivist where I am actively collecting and describing content, thinking through content lifecycle and improving workflows. I’ve built out the taxonomy, migrated content from a non-traditional DAM system they were using, conducted user-training and revisit requirements annually.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

DAM is about the ease of discovering content. No longer reliant on knowing someone else’s folder structure, users can find content more readily through structured and unstructured metadata.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

First, it helped that I had a background in analog archives and understood the power of organization and description. In 1992, I looked at one of the first digital asset management tools while working as a library manager for a photo archive in NY. From there, we began planning digitization. I had a great mentor that I worked alongside when I was a photo editor at Benjamin-Cummins. I did a lot of research. I felt it was important to understand structured metadata so I learned Dublin Core – all other metadata schemas are somewhat based on this, so picking those up later was easier. I spent a lot of time working on preservation and taxonomies in grad school. This can be learned outside of the MLIS process, but are important to understand. Active preservation is part of the conversation in higher ed but less so in non-academic environments and is essential to protecting the investment we make when building a DAM.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

Right now it is change management. People get used to the tools they use even if those tools are not efficient. I work with a group that would prefer to work in Smartsheets, Google Team Drive, Box, Jira, etc. instead of one place. We lose efficiency and I don’t always get final assets.

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

The DAM industry goes through cycles. Right now we are in an upswing with a lot of products out there, some of which are too complex and some of which are simply too buggy for the price. I expect that in 5 years, the choices will slim down again with the most stable products remaining available.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

One of my biggest mistakes with DAM was being talked out of the right choice for an organization and being stuck with the wrong choice! The effects of something like that last a very long time.

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Guru Talk: Keith McKeon – Hogarth Worldwide

Keith McKeon - Digital Asset ManagerKeith McKeon is a Digital Asset Manager who understands that chasing features, without having a clear vision for the goal of a company’s DAM system, will lead to frustration and failure.

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

I initially started as technical support for clients using our digital asset management system while employed by Hogarth Worldwide. After a year, I took over technical account responsibilities for a few clients. For some of these clients, a full rebuild of their site’s configuration was necessary; others needed more guided training for their administrators. Strictly speaking, I have been a full-time Digital Asset Manager for Johnson and Johnson’s DAM instance. This role was comprised of user-management, training, implementing a quality control process and a full rebuild of their taxonomy among other projects. I currently mentor 2 junior Digital Asset Managers for Hogarth Worldwide and represent the professional services team for Hogarth in the Americas which includes close partnership with out DAM product team and London professional services teams.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

Most of what I know about digital asset management in the commercial, practical sense, was learned by rebuilding and repairing DAM implementations. However, I took a number of classes on image archives and collections while getting my Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS). I have also had the opportunity to assist the technicians in building the Frick’s image library and scan, and organize a personal library of slides and negatives from my family. There are lots of great places to learn about DAM. One of the best ones has been the Meetup NYC Digital Asset Managers. I’ve gained some insight and had many a conversation with some great panelists. I also recommend attending one of the Henry Stuart DAM conferences if your budget permits.

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

Understand that the best software for DAM will not solve the simplest implementation of DAM unless you know exactly what you need and have a committed team to bringing the use of the DAM into your organization’s existing structure. I’ve seen too many instances where the client chased features and either oversold or did not clearly communicate to their internal teams what the DAM software was for. Lastly, make sure the software you choose has a stellar support team and by support, I mean beyond a simple front for answering technical support tickets. In your first year, it is worth paying a little more for at least %20 of a person from the vendor to ensure you are capitalizing on your investment and they hear where your pain points are. If the product isn’t performing, don’t rely on a support ticket alone to give you the final answer. It is highly possible an alternative method of working can solve your problem and any good support team will be grateful for constructive feedback.

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

This depends on the industry. For creative and marketing agencies I see it becoming nearly indistinguishable from other parts of operations. The proverbial “upload” button or, event that moves content from one stage to another will become more transparent in creative operations. Creative software can publish directly to a DAM and integrate with custom metadata requirements set by other tools in the workflow process. As DAM is better understood, it will become integrated as part of the larger content management strategy. Success will be measured by the ability to meet tighter deadlines and less time scrambling for information across other channels of communication. For other industries, like archives and libraries it’ll remain much the same on the surface, but I expect deeper levels of metadata and more connections to other archives will develop and hopefully, unique collections will be easier to find. The so called ‘invisible web’ will become more visible by AI provided paywalls and standards continue to develop.

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Guru Talk: Mark Leslie – Adidas

Mark-Leslie-Digital-Asset-ManagerDigital asset management professional, Mark Leslie explains the full power of DAM can only come into play after you completely understand the business processes of where the assets are created and how all audiences that make use of the assets.

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

For the last 14 years, I have worked with adidas in North America, specializing in licensed professional sports apparel and headwear product creation. During that time I held multiple roles: Production Art Manager for apparel, Senior Design Manager for all adidas licensed product, and Senior Manager of DAM for all North American product teams. In all of these roles I drove a high level of collaboration across teams in multiple geographic locations and very high volumes of product related asset creation and delivery.

I have always been a passionate thought leader and very energetic driver for continuous improvement in the Visual Art, Design and Creative Operations space. One of my core beliefs is to leave everything better than I found it, so my natural tendency has been to promote and give back to the DAM community. I have written numerous blog posts and articles about DAM and Digital Supply Chain topics. I have been a frequent panelist and presenter at Henry Stewart DAM in North America. I was invited by Adobe to present a case study at SUMMIT in 2017. And I’ve received peer recognition in the DAM space – DigitalAssetManagement.com interviewed me as part of their DAM Champ series, and I have been featured on an episode of Another DAM podcast.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

How I describe DAM depends on my audience. For the business user, I like to describe DAM as the virtual counterpart to the physical supply chain by using the term Digital Supply Chain. Business people understand the processes by which products are made, held in inventory, and sold. Raw materials come together to create the product. Finished products are stockpiled in inventory until they are delivered either to a retailer or sold directly to the consumer. A remarkably similar value chain exists for digital source files, which when combined with other files and descriptive information attributes, become digital assets. These assets are held in the centralized and structured storage called DAM, where they await future manipulation or delivery to their ultimate audience.

If I’m talking about what I do in a casual setting, I describe digital asset management as similar to trying to wrangle the mountain of digital photos we all have, or creating playlists in iTunes. Everyone has some experience with the challenges of trying to organize and locate more digital assets than they know what to do with!

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

The most important thing to understand for someone new to digital asset management is that its full value and power can only come into play after you completely understand the business processes where the assets are created and all the audiences that make use of the assets. DAM is simply software and technology used to accelerate and empower work getting done. And once DAM captures those assets, more opportunities for collaboration and delivery are possible because there is now a single source of truth. And while the technology of DAM is a powerful enabler, the needs and methods it supports must relate to the human factor.

On the creation side are people who imagine, request, and create assets while they are seeking ways to collaborate and be more effective. In the audience for assets are people searching for the latest fashion, the sleekest cars, or exciting food or adventures at their fingertips. All the ways we capture assets, describe them in detail, and instantly deliver them where they are needed are parts of the big picture. DAM plays a key role, as part of the overall Digital Supply Chain, to make all of these things happen seamlessly when we do our jobs well.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

With the depth of experience I have in the design process, leading creative operations, workflow automation and DAM, I would love to extend my horizons out beyond DAM into the marketing and use analytics realms. The insights into what makes the appropriate asset resonate with its intended audience not only create the payoffs for the marketing process, but could also be folded back into the creative teams to accelerate the front end development of those same visuals. Technology is constantly changing, markets are constantly changing, and Digital Transformation will continue as an ongoing process. Couple all of this with machine learning and AI and this is an exciting time to be directing these intersections between creativity, people, and technology.

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Guru Talk: Yumiko Saito – Amazon

Yumiko Saito - Digital LibrarianWorking as a digital asset management professional can take many paths. Yumiko shares her’s with us, and helps to illustrate the importance of one’s collective experiences when in a DAM professional role.

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

Technically my role here at Amazon is my first official role as a DAM professional. The road that got me to this point had a lot of turns and dead ends. I started my librarianship career as a Catalog Librarian at Syracuse University. In that role, I was creating metadata to describe physical library collections and managing physical locations of these library materials. I was very happy working as a Catalog Librarian but I felt there was more to do, more information resources to organize than just library collections.

I wanted to expand my experience outside the world of academic libraries so I moved onto roles such as a Content Manager for the Cornell Animal Health Diagnostic Center where I was organizing institutional resources to aid in passing accreditation.  Then onto the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center as an Assay Data Coordinator in the hopes that I would be assisting with organizing research data. That unfortunately was a dead end but that role positioned for my next role as Sr. Metadata Librarian at ProQuest.

For those of you who don’t know what ProQuest is, ProQuest a global information content and technology company. In my role as Sr. Metadata Librarian, I had to manage the migration of data from our providers onto the ProQuest platforms. It is during my tenure at ProQuest, through varying roles (Metadata Librarian, Content Production Lead, Content Ingestion Developer), I started to bridge the gap to being a DAM professional. Working at ProQuest gave me the opportunity to work with not only digital print (newspapers, journal articles, etc.) but also art collections, video, audio, market data, etc. While I was technically working with content management systems, it was a hop, skip and a jump away from DAM systems.

I have just entered the next phase of my career as a digital librarian here at Amazon. The needs of the user base are vastly different just as they had been in all of my previous roles but the outcome is the same. All users have the expectation of using a system that will store and organize assets and make them searchable and retrievable in the easiest way possible. That has been the theme of my career path. A winding, twisting and turning road it has been.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

One of the most easily digestible definitions of DAM I have found that explains DAM to lay people is from www.damglossary.org:

“Digital Asset Management (DAM) is a collective term applied to the process
of storing, cataloguing, searching and delivering computer files (or digital
assets). These may take the form of video, audio, images, print marketing
collateral, office documents, fonts or 3D models. Digital Asset Management
(DAM) systems centralise assets and establish a systematic approach to
ingesting assets so they can be located more easily and used appropriately.”

If that doesn’t work, I tell people, “I organize things so people can find them later”.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

As you may have gleamed from my introduction, I did not have the most direct path to DAM. My path to DAM was certainly through trial and error and on-the-job work experience that evolved over time.

I made an effort through my career to get as much extra training as could be afforded by myself or the companies I worked for. I took continuing education classes through local community colleges and universities to improve my technical skills like SQL, Python, CSS and HTML. I was lucky enough to work at a university where I was able to take classes at the School of Information Studies and get a second Master’s degree. I attended relevant workshops through ALA (American Library Association). I took free online courses available through Coursera and Lynda.com.

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

If I were not in my current role, I would still be in librarianship. My strengths are in my organizational skills and experience with metadata management. I would be happy moving into a role where I got to utilize both, whether that be in the academic, public, or private sector. Or I would be a helicopter pilot.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

My current challenge is looking beyond the DAM and foreseeing what future features users will be expecting 5, 10, 15 years from now with their DAM system. I misplaced my crystal ball so through a lot of user interviews I am collecting the wants and needs from our user base and extrapolating what features we will want to develop to make our DAM the best tool for our users.

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Guru Talk: Annella Mendoza – MAM Librarian & Archivist

Annella Mendoza - MAM Librarian and ArchivistStraight and to the point, Annella offers a clear look at what it takes to own the success of media asset management systems over the long-term in this industry of DAM professionals.

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

I’ve had a long-term practice as a moving image archivist focused on film. Then I moved on to television librarianship. In 2006, I was tasked to establish the digital video archive at The Weather Network (Canada) and, as Supervisor of the Content Archive, lead a small archive team.  The digital archive started out as proof-of concept and to attain a critical mass of digital video assets. A relatively simple MAM solution was used, out-of-the-box, no customization. E-mail advisory support from the developers was the only added feature. My research on digital archiving was self-directed. Operations were mainly a discovery of the organization and “behaviour” of the digital media, with plenty of valuable input from the archive staff, middle management, and the users. I was slowly coming to the realization that digital archiving was not an isolated undertaking but required the participation of its users and stakeholders.

By 2013, with the roll-out of a 2nd generation MAM system, my role evolved from archivist to Media Asset Management Specialist. It came with new responsibilities to regulate content metadata, provide training to new users, ensure user satisfaction especially from the creatives, and submit reports using the MAM analytics – all these on top of the maintenance and promotion the archive. By that time, I had standardized metadata practices, experienced two major migrations of digital assets, evolved policies on high value digital media assets and rights management. It was also exciting to function within a evolving DAM community of users and stakeholders.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

Digital asset management or DAM is organizing, regulating, and making accessible works or properties in digital form to a community of users within an organization, utilizing a work group or enterprise system developed specifically for DAM. Equally important is the awareness that DAM functions effectively within a community of DAM users and stakeholders (always have to emphasize this), each one aware of their responsibilities towards the DAM and consequences of non-action.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I first learned about DAM when I was hired by The Weather Network in 2007 to operate and regulate the media assets – in analogue and digital formats – and establish its first digital media archive. It was from an archive and library perspective. Much of the learning was first self-directed through research, some networking, and gaining insights into my day-to-day practice.

I later learned that DAM can be formally studied; then signed up and earned my certificate in Digital Asset Management from the DAM Foundation in 2015. It was good to know that my practice before studying the course were sound and valid.

Today, there are many sources about DAM.  For a beginner professional, I would recommend Elizabeth Keathley’s Digital Asset Management: Content Architectures, Project Management, and Creating Order Out of Media Chaos: Second Edition as a textbook or main reference work.  DAMNEWS and Planet DAM will familiarize the new practitioner with up-to-date professional issues and developments.  Whenever possible, practitioners should attend meet-ups and conferences.  Networking is even more important today to continue discussions about DAM as it continues to change and evolve.

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

There are two important things to understand DAM, for someone new to DAM.

a.    Digital assets created or acquired by the organization can easily be found and shared by many who are authorized to use these assets.

b.    DAM operates best in an environment where there is shared responsibility by all its users.

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

My foundation discipline is librarianship and archiving, so it’s likely I will practice this profession. I imagine that DAM is inevitably in the picture, more like DAM in librarianship or in cultural practice. I enjoy writing; for my professional writing now, I write about DAM. I have done a travelogue and family history writing and self-published 2 works along this line. There are a few projects lined up so that will continue.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

My greatest challenge was backtracking on the digital assets that I’ve already worked on in the MAM.  It’s usually completing metadata. Metadata standards were still developing and I would have liked the complete information to be applied to all assets, even if that meant revisiting thousands of them. At that time, the MAM was not yet so sophisticated and batch processing was not always a reliable practice using our MAM solution. Having the vendor do this meant added costs which were not recommended. I ended up with adding extra time. In hindsight, I had to learn to let go and accept that there are imperfections and gaps found in the earlier works and that it simply got better with the more recent submissions.

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

I would like to see total integration of DAM with other business functions: with creation / production / acquisition, marketing / sales, library / archive, analytics and finance, other relevant functions that should enable assets to move smoothly from one function to the other. Associated metadata are being updated and made accurate as the assets move from one function to the other.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

My biggest mistake was not speaking well of the first MAM system given to our group when I was supposed to advocate it. Those were early days; our MAM system was limited to an out-of-the-box application. However, showing my frustrations to users other than my department was not helpful and delayed any satisfaction that should have resulted in their using the MAM. I ended up with more work providing service when the first MAM system should have been a self-serve solution.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

My biggest success was user satisfaction achieved when using the 2nd generation MAM to effectively search and retrieve the assets that they need and want. Bear in mind that there were users who also expressed their difficulty with it; but positive responses from others encouraged me to be more patient and customize my training to suit individual needs. Equally successful were other users successfully submitting their works and associated metadata to the MAM.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

I wish to learn how DAM is used in marketing, media planning, social media, and external customer experience. I know best how it is used in creative operations. I wish to know the differences between using DAM for creatives and DAM for marketing, social media, and monitoring customer experience.

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Guru Talk: Kelly Pepper – InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG)

Kelly Pepper - Digital Asset ManagerDigital asset management systems require the admin to have a variety of skills to be successful. Kelly Pepper has experience across the spectrum that clearly illustrates the benefit of this need.

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

I started out in digital archives after graduate school—first digitizing content for genealogical research and then for a grant-funded project at a state university library.  The experience I gained through those roles translated well into the business sector for my first DAM job with UPS as an Archives and Digital Asset Management Supervisor.  I kept my pinky toe in the archival world, but really dug into the administration and use of a DAM in a corporate setting.  I did mostly outreach to expand our audience, led user training, organized quality audits of our legacy metadata, and lots of testing and troubleshooting.  I joined InterContinental Hotels Group as a DAM Manager (a title that never gets old) to launch our first true DAM and am in the middle of that implementation now.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

It can be a tricky topic—my mother still doesn’t “get” what I do.  But I try to tell people that digital asset management systems (DAMs) make our important files findable, rather than losing everything in your email inbox or on several hard drives.  They allow groups of people to better share and collaborate with their important files, something that resonates with businesses when they associate time and money with those actions! It’s simply making information accessible, whether it’s archival materials or brand/marketing collateral.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I learned digital asset management on the job.  Nothing is as powerful as experience, particularly considering how unique each system and business can be.  Of course, you can build foundations through resources like Henry Stewart conferences and webinars.  I was fortunate to work with The Real Story Group on a DAM strategy project while at UPS, and found their knowledge and direction to be a great help to my overall understanding. They also taught me the importance of knowing your users and their use cases, so sometimes your best resource is your co-worker or customer!

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

You’re going to need a plethora of different skills! You’ll probably be the lone DAM admin or on a small team, so you’ll find your remit ever expanding.  You need to be technically astute and have the soft skills required to persuade new users/teams to come aboard.  Another important thing is to be patient—DAMs bring change and often resistance.  Be strategic and keep pushing.  There is more and more data available to prove that you’re fighting the good fight.

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

I’d likely be using my history degrees in an archival institution or museum.  Although most days, I wish I owned a cat café.

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

Assuming the robots haven’t taken over completely by then, DAM should continue to be more automated and more integrated.  It’s not just a repository anymore, and I see more vendors really pushing to make that sentiment a reality. The less manual processes involved and the more systems integrate, the easier user adoption will be, which is my ultimate vision.  I think it’s a good time to be in this field, as more organizations are realizing the power of a strong DAM and need the resources and expertise to implement them.

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Guru Talk: Alice Cameron – Northwestern University

Alice Cameron - Digital Asset ManagerDigital Asset Manager, Alice Cameron, clearly understands that every system is different, and there’s no definitive resource. Respecting the uniqueness of each DAM system will help improve the end user-experience.

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

When I decided to pursue my MLIS, specializing in Archives & Cultural Heritage, I really never expected to become a “DAM Professional”! I dove into the profession at McDonald’s Global Headquarters as a Metadata Specialist, working with multiple DAM systems. My role really encompassed every area of DAM management: user relations, backend testing, troubleshooting, taxonomy & metadata schemas, and later on migration to a new tool. I left McDonald’s to pursue my career as Digital Asset Manager & Head Digital Archivist for Northwestern University, in the Office of Global Marketing and Communications, where I work with a single DAM system. At Northwestern, I’ve brought our “MDAM” (Marketing DAM) into existence; from customization to implementation, with daily oversight to streamline the integration of content from 36 marketing units within our schools & departments.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

I think most DAM professionals can agree – we love our jobs, but explaining what we do can take some time. I usually say, “You know when you want to find something on Google, and sometimes it takes a while and you have to mess around with your search terms, and sometimes you get exactly what you want right away? I make that happen for my organization’s content.”  It doesn’t get into the full depth of rights and asset management, but it gives friends and colleagues an idea they can relate to. Usually people ask how my Library Science degree comes into play, and I explain that I’m still a librarian, I’m still an archivist, I’m making content and information accessible to the end user, and doing my best to make that process as seamless as possible.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I first learned about DAM in my time at Dominican University, and I consolidated that knowledge with on-the-job experience. Every system is different; there’s no definitive resource, every system is unique, and collaboration with your vendor along with working through the complexities of your solution is essential to becoming a DAM expert.

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

The complexities of it. From the initial implementation to daily use, there’s always something to fix, to improve, to work on. DAM is not a self-contained solution that can run on its own. DAM isn’t “outside” of librarianship or physical assets anymore. You’ll get out of it what you put into it, and you have to put quite a lot of work into it. Your end users are the single most important measure of success in DAM. If their work life is easier because of DAM, you’re doing something right. I am constantly asking my end users for recommendations or suggestions for the tool. I always tell them nothing is too far-fetched technology wise. I put every new idea on my wish list, and if it’s not something that’s technologically possible yet, I put it on our vendor’s roadmap.

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

Probably working more closely with physical archives again. Or volunteering at an animal sanctuary somewhere.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

My greatest ongoing challenge with digital asset management is that there are only 24 hours in a day. It seems as though there’s never enough time.

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

I’d like to see stronger integration with other platforms. There’s a massive disconnect in institutional DAM tools (usually as a result of there being a variety of different vendors and processes). I see huge storage improvements in the future, too.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

I got to a point where I was working 12-14 hours a day, 6 days a week, and eventually I realized DAM is a process; it’s never going to be “completed.” If I’d gone on working like that forever, it would have driven me mad! Prioritizing is key.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

My approach to implementing and maintaining MDAM at Northwestern. It was the first DAM where all of my decisions were brought to life. It’s so important to have a close relationship with your vendor. You’ll never get functionalities or improvements that you don’t ask for, and I’ve been really lucky to work with a great vendor, who consistently take my requests and make them a reality. Our tool has already evolved so much in the past year. Constant emails and weekly vendor catch-ups make all the difference when they result in incredible feedback from your end users.

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Guru Talk: Emily Vargas – Wilson Sporting Goods

Emily Vargas - Digital Asset Manager

An insightful read by Digital Asset Manager Emily Vargas on how to tame 2 million assets with sound digital asset management fundamentals.

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

I freelanced for about 8 years before I became permanent at Wilson Sporting Goods, so I worked at several places to get a more rounded experience as a Digital Asset Manager. Before Wilson, I was at Pearson, McDonald’s, Sears, Playboy, Answers Media, University at Buffalo SUNY Digital Libraries, Rochester Institute of Technology Archives, Bausch & Lomb Archives, and worked for a smaller photographer in Rochester New York. Each place here in Chicago I was a Digital Asset Management Contractor, or some form of that title, but in Rochester and Buffalo I was more of an archive and photographer assistant. Each place I was either working to digitize physical assets to be searchable in the DAM/database or working with born-digital assets in a variety of formats such as graphics, photography, video and audio. I also have had many experiences working with an exiting digital collection that had outgrown the original setup where I was brought in to fix an existing setup so that the collections were scalable for future growth.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

When I describe DAM to others, I come to it from my perspective as a librarian where we are organizing and cataloging the physical or digital content to serve the needs of the business as well as serving the people who are running the business. We are working to document the history of the company as we are also concurrently working on the new business needs such as e-commerce, product development, social media, videos, catalogs, and in-store displays, as well as all the photography assets that are needed to create that content such as product photography, lifestyle photography, and beauty shots possibly even video or audio content.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

I had been working for a photographer and a couple archives through my undergrad in photo school, but ultimately was encouraged to go to library school. Library school was so beneficial to me to learn the basics of organization, but once I graduated I started interning and freelancing anywhere I could get into in order to learn more about the variety of libraries and content that those libraries were working with. I found myself most drawn to Creative Departments within corporations that drew on my photo and production background, while putting my library education to work to help our departments be more efficient.

Ultimately, different topics require different approaches and research, but if you understand why something had been done in the past then you can better evaluate how to proceed for the future. When in doubt, I go back to the basics and open my Intro to Cataloging and Classification (Chan) book from library school. Drawing on my knowledge and then collaborating with our users has given me the greatest successes.

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

Listen and talk to your users. You can do anything and everything to your system that you want, but if it doesn’t work for your users, then it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work for them, then they may start using something else that you cannot preserve and protect. You can’t help your users unless you understand what they need.

When I first started at Wilson, I interviewed a variety of stakeholders worldwide from the customer service reps, sales, marketing, creative, directors, and general managers. This gave me a 360 perspective of not only how the business operates, but also how they are using the system and what they need from it. Ultimately the changes we needed to make were simple and no-cost that we brought in over 3,000 new users in a two-year time period as well as re-establishing our DAM as the single source for content and information.

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

I would still be working with photographers in a production position, managing a photo studio, or maybe creative project management. I enjoy working with creative and photography studios to help them create efficiencies so that they can spend more time working on their craft.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

The daily manual work that is required to make the system work such as asset-specific metadata and on-boarding new team members to follow SOP standards. We utilize automated practices as much as we can, but there are still elements that require the human interaction and I am only one person responsible for managing over 2 million assets, which is growing by the minute.

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

More automation where DAM is working with PIM and PLM to update and manage the metadata of specific collections of assets such as product photography. I would also love to see the automation tie in marcomm where someone would get the full package of assets for each product such as product images, marketing assets, videos, and lifestyle. More content to support each product in order to help our business grow.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

My first attempt at Facets and setting them up was such as disaster. I was excited about the capabilities and set them up with too much detail. The end result required so much ongoing maintenance and updates on the backend that our team was constantly re-tagging assets that had already been done before. Most of what we put in place ended up confusing or frustrating our users more so than helping them. For example, the facet for color we broke down into specific colors such as dark green, medium green, light green, but due to the subjectivity of this topic, the metadata ended up not being consistent. What I learned was that sometimes, general is better especially for something like color. What you see happening on many sites such as Zappos, you can choose a color family such as “Green” and then you get all the products that are green regardless of what color variation of green they are. Ultimately your facets should be helping your users narrow down the content in their search results faster.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

My second attempt at facets. I understood what went wrong and so I married the idea of facets with metadata inheritance and taxonomy. What I ended up with is a system that is tagging assets for me as everyone is actively working on the DAM. This is so powerful for myself as a solo librarian that has thousands of users worldwide. This has been successful because the facets are generic, but powerful when paired together such as Brand + Sport + Content Type + Year so we can easily filter through content to get to a Wilson football package from 2014 because those assets are living within their designated structure for Wilson > Football > Packaging > 2014 and therefore can inherit the metadata from those folders that we setup. This gives the system the ability to create those relationships that ontologies would typically create, while still maintaining the taxonomy-based system.

What more would you like to learn about DAM?

Right now, I am really eager to learn more about ontologies. I am so fascinated by the relationships between assets and how they lead users to more content that they are looking for in order to benefit the business.

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Guru Talk: Jared Bajkowski – Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Jared Bajkowski - DAM ProfessionalIf you’ve ever wondered about the three R’s of digital asset management, Jared Bajkowski covers this and so much more in his DAM interview.

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

I’ve been the Digital Assets Manager at a large non-profit for four years. At the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, we fund scientific research at labs around the world—which means a lot of digital assets. Most people outside of science aren’t familiar with us, but we’re actually the second largest philanthropic organization in the United States. I am the institute’s first Digital Assets Manager, so my primary goal was to lay the groundwork for the policies and guidelines for current and future records. Once the DAM was established I oversaw the process of bringing the current records online while continuing to catalog new assets as they came in. Building a strategy and policy from the ground up was exciting to me (still is).

My day-to-day now is managing the flow of new photography, design files, research imagery, video clips, contracts, etc. into the system. Often I’m curating customized collections for media outlets, web developers, graphic designers, or colleagues as needed for internal and external production. I also manage the institute’s graphic identity within the DAM, so I often work directly with designers on appropriate usage of our assets.

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

DAM boils down to what others have called the three R’s: repository, reuse, and rights. Media is born digital these days and few organizations have physical file rooms anymore, so DAM is your digital vault keeping these items safe, centralized, and backed-up on your servers. Detailed metadata also makes it possible to quickly find items, eliminating potentially redundant photo or design projects. Finally, item records will make it clear what you do and don’t have copyright clearance for. Basically, a good DAM protects the money you’ve already spent, makes that money go farther, and guards against lawsuits.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

When I first transitioned from being a librarian to a Digital Assets Manager, I found much of the underlying philosophy of cataloging and preservation familiar, with some different nuances. Learning new terminology and graphic design workflow was important, and local Meetup groups and conferences were important to help me catch up. I found Henry Stewart’s DAM New York conference and the Journal of Digital Media Management to be particularly helpful.

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

What makes DAM go isn’t the technology or assets or policy (though they are important). What makes an effective DAM is user buy-in—never forget that. You could have the best system on the planet with perfect metadata, but it’s all worthless if your team isn’t using it. People need to see their work life getting easier with DAM around, and not just see it as more work. Talk to the team to identify the pain points in their workflow and then tailor your DAM to solve that problem. Solve peoples’ problems, and they’ll become your best evangelists for the system.

What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?

When the DAM was initially established, I was trying to standardized about five years’ worth of metadata from the old system. Previously there was no authority control so it was a bit like the wild west for metadata. Batch processing helped but trying to deal with this wealth of assets in a detailed manner was driving me crazy. Finally, under the advice of some DAM colleagues, I made my peace with the older assets and focused on the newer entries. This made sense since these were the assets people were actually using anyway. Focus on the present and future, and do what you can with the past.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

Seeing people use the system outside my department was a thrill the first time I saw it happen. That’s when I knew all the training, meetings, outreach had worked. After all the hard work we put into it, seeing the DAM was out there in the wild, doing its job was a big moment for me.

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Guru Talk: Melissa Pauna – Gap Inc – Banana Republic

Melissa Pauna - Digital Asset ManagerSome of the best advice you’ll hear in the digital asset management space comes from Melissa Pauna. She has learned that derailments should not make one lose sight of the objectives, remaining tenacious and focusing on the big picture can lead to success in less than ideal DAM situations.

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

Having worked in a number of positions has provided a wonderful opportunity to understand how digital asset management (DAM) implementation, administration, and prioritization differs between sectors and even within industries.

Getty Center – I was involved in the first DAM roll-out pilot project that started in the Communications department to assist in fulfilling global press image requests. Once we had a handle on the tool and workflow, I met with representatives from around the Getty Center campus: Museum, Research Institute, Foundation, Conservation Institute. Incorporating these divisions was a gradual and systematic roll-out ensuring seamless integration. Metadata was vigilantly updated and maintained for each division as assets merged into a larger, unified, repository. You’ve never seen so much metadata until you work for a museum/library combo of this caliber!


MGA Entertainment – As the digital archivist for one of the largest privately owned toy companies in the US, I was responsible for distributing and archiving photography. I was part of a talented in-house photo studio team that shot the product lines for use on packaging and also distribution to retailers. My role working with the product photography brought me in contact with designers, sales, and the Hong Kong samples division to ensure images were available and up-to–date to keep Santa’s workshop functioning. It was here that I experienced my first DAM system migration and data cleanup!


SolutionSet – Originally Haggin Marketing, I was hired to manage a digital asset management team for a well-established Bay-area marketing firm. The firm was largely print (catalog) based when I first started. We set up a DAM platform that was used by internal creative, production, and pre-press teams. Eventually a  digital company was acquired to round-out service  offerings. My team handled the image asset management lifecycle from start to finish including processing photoshoots, creating FPO files, retouching, and finally distributing and archiving approved photography for print and digital. Because many of our clients didn’t have a DAM system of their own, I also set up mini-DAM hubs for our clients to use to access and manage their files, incorporating their brand-specific taxonomies.


Benefit Cosmetics – At this company I was hired to implement a newly purchased digital asset management (DAM) system for the marketing division with the intent to replace an existing system. After reviewing the vendor’s exploratory interviews with stakeholders, I advised a slight course adjustment regarding the ‘focus’ of the DAM and then we quickly set to work. The new system was fully operational in less than four months just in time for a global conference unveil. It included a complete taxonomy and hierarchy build, specialized metadata schemas, branded portal (HotDAM!) that provided assets to over 700 global partners, and also served as an asset share-back platform. After Phase 1, how-to videos were created and uploaded to provide self-serve learning between formal user trainings. Once I was able to hire an assistant, we had the opportunity to further expand the DAM creating a SKU-based search, and finally integrated a weekly newsletter that highlighted new assets and included DAM tips & tricks based on user feedback. The DAM and newsletter also supported an in–house feature film that was created about the founders and shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The film included a global road show, stopping at stores and meeting with press. Production and press assets were easily shared with the masses eager to learn how “Laughter is the best cosmetic…so grin and wear it!” – that is, once we figured how to handle super-sized video files!


Banana Republic – As the global marketing asset manager and creative technology advisor for the brand, I am the advocate for DAM and continually strive to impart the importance of best practices throughout the enterprise. I was the first asset manager hired at Gap Inc. and during my first few months conducted an inventory of the systems being used (there were a few!), noting where assets were being stored (so many places!), and trying to determine how to turn a grass-roots approach to DAM into conversations that revealed to leadership at various levels throughout the enterprise the business critical nature of DAM. At it’s core my role involves simplifying the asset management process for our internal and external teams in an environment that often involves dependencies between brands and involves multiple legacy systems. Add to the mix a newly purchased crowdfunded DAM system that isn’t exactly living up to the sales pitch and an exciting partnership with a third-party rights management vendor… It’s quite the puzzle and a perfect environment to test anyone’s DAM chops!

How do you describe digital asset management to others?

There’s the short answer and then the more complex one – it really depends on who the audience is. In my world DAM has involved a lot of inter-related bits coming together to form a whole: project and product management, taxonomy and hierarchy building, metadata modeling, change management, technical writing, help desk and reference desk, QC, trainer, and the list goes on.

I usually start by briefly describing what I do day-to-day by saying I manage a company’s digital and marketing assets, which includes images, videos and docs. These materials are stored in a system, then I determine who has access, apply rights info, and ensure assets are findable. At which point some people will say, “Oh, so you’re like a librarian!” and then I generally respond with a smile: sort of.

Early on in my career I managed library divisions and agree it does encompass some overlapping principles, and because I’m detailed-oriented (and a long-time fact-checker on the side), I know ‘librarian’ isn’t accurate or what I consider myself, even if the analogies can be helpful.

Digital asset management is an emerging new discipline. Just as there are many ways to manage assets, there are many ways people enter into this work. The longer one is in this space and experiences different methodologies, workflows, etc., it becomes clear that what one person considers digital asset management can vary greatly. Another fun question: What is a digital asset management system? This too can be tricky as I discovered while serving as a member of DAM selection committee.

How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?

My career in DAM began just as it was emerging. I have a multi-disciplinary Master’s and was studying interactive media in the 90s while working for archives and museums digitizing their collections. It was a highly innovative time when two worlds were merging and quickly evolving. Digitizing physical pieces and seeing them translated into digital files, and then taking those digital files and creating a digital experience was exciting. Largely, there weren’t any rules for how to manage this ‘new’ media.

In the professional space, museums, and later libraries, were taking the lead ensuring the information about their newly created and ever-growing digital collections was properly recorded, grappling with issues around standards and long-term permanence in both worlds. Meanwhile, in the creative space, artists and designers were at ground zero trying to figure out a number of potentially confusing topics: naming digital files, handling versions, verifying quality and proper format. Then there was storage and backup considerations. Processing digital files was often taxing for a computer which resulted in frequent crashes, hard drives filled up much faster than they do now, and for good or for bad, there weren’t clouds.

I started exploring the born digital space playing around with Photoshop and Illustrator, then experimenting with digital video, creating websites, interactive… It was a natural progression to take the knowledge I’d acquired with my hands-on physical collection experience using the organizational practices I’d developed through academic training and applying that to digital collections. I’ve found that having a creative and technical background turned out to be the perfect synergy for giving me a solid well-rounded foundation for understanding where this field came from and where it’s headed.

So even though I’ve been involved with DAM, or what it started as, for a couple decades, I stay inspired by keeping up with the latest technology trends, etc. This can be done via webinars and conferences. There are monthly webinars on a variety of topics – everything from the basics to vendor–specific product–focused sessions, all of which provide a way to make DAM less of a mystery. Whether attending a webinar or conference, fundamental best practices in DAM, many of which haven’t changed much in the past decade or so, are usually highlighted.

Attending a DAM conference can be a good way to network and interact with vendors. I never tire of the best practice reminders and always enjoy hearing war stories from peers, which provide a lot of great learning in themselves.

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

Not have DAM as a career? It’s hard to imagine not being a part of this field in some way since I love organizing, managing, developing, advising… I’m passionate about the arts & cultural heritage. If I was no longer in the DAM space, front-and-center, I’d most likely be involved in something that incorporates my background and interests, such as protecting our architectural and cultural heritage, preserving our past, supporting the arts and artists.

What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?

My answer to this would have been slightly less emphatic, but overall it’s keeping perspective! Currently I’m helping to identify short and long-term options as my team ponders the question ‘Is the juice worth the squeeze?’ with a new platform that was recently purchased enterprise-wide. Some of us saw early on in the RFI/RFP process that there would be significant challenges with the tool and vendor with the red flags now proving themselves. However, remaining tenacious while working through day-to-day challenges, always keeping the long-term goals in mind helps shake off frustrations. Not allowing derailments to make one lose sight of the objectives is what I advise others. After a year into a murky situation I try to remember my own advice and know that this too shall pass. The silver lining is truly great learning can arise from a less-than-ideal situation.

What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?

Partnership development has brought me great satisfaction over the years. Good partnerships are the key to a successful DAM experience at the most basic level whether it’s criteria gathering, implementation, or user adoption. At a larger level, engaging with vendors on their product roadmaps, working through system challenges together that lead to optimizing their system or service and improving the DAM experience at some level for the larger community, it is so much fun and extremely rewarding.

Recently I discovered a wonderful company that is pioneering the way rights management is handled in the DAM space. I met them at a DAM conference last year and was thrilled to see what they were up to given my background and vigilant interest in this topic. I could see they had an interesting model in place that would benefit many industries and was eager to chat with them about the product. A couple months later they reached out to see if my organization might be interested in piloting their product. A few months after that we participated in a Q&A session at Adobe Summit where they received recognition as one of the ‘Top 10 hottest DAM features for 2016’.

Learning and sharing is what keeps DAM interesting for me. So if there’s a way I can educate and also advance DAM to the next level, that’s success to me.

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