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DAM 101

Save the Shoot, Build a Robust DAM Platform

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Sep 20, 2021

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How brands can look within, find valuable and often siloed creative assets, and build a robust DAM of creative assets they ALREADY own.

By Casey Templeton, CEO Stacks, LLC & Kathleen Cameron, Digital Asset Manager, Global Marketing Ops at Google

Photoshoots around the globe are being postponed, canceled, or drastically altered because of COVID-19. As a result, brands are delaying product launches, new websites, and marketing campaigns because they don’t have the updated visuals needed to support them.

However, brands cannot hope and wait for the pandemic to pass; they need to remain current with fresh content. When photoshoots are out of the question, teams need to start looking inward to take advantage of existing content.

Typically, only a small percentage of photos from a shoot are retouched and used. By keeping track of the outtakes and making these discoverable for other uses, organizations can save time and money.

This downtime might be an amazing opportunity for brands to look within; scrape their servers and build a stock library of creative assets they ALREADY own but might not know they have.

As you begin your journey into digital asset management (DAM), be mindful that it is a program, not just a project. Building a DAM platform will impact multiple initiatives in your organization and should be approached with patience, diverse stakeholder inputs, and a focus on the end-users.

Robust DAM

10 Steps to Utilize Creative Assets You Already Own to Build a Robust DAM:

Talk to Users About Their Requirements

The bigger your organization, the less you may know about what creative assets are being used and how they are being used. Have conversations with a wide range of staff to understand how they create, search for, and use assets. Don’t forget to include IT in this conversation. They have valuable input as to how to bring new tech into your organization. These early conversations help build out your requirements and also build buy-in for your new workflow and system.

Determine the “Cost of Inaction

How much would you save if you kept all your assets in a single place? This is the key ‘value proposition’ of implementing a DAM platform. Below are some examples of the types of costs a DAM can eliminate:

  1. Spending $100,000+ on a photoshoot only to discover that similar photos already exist with a separate team/division.
  2. It takes two days for one person (i.e. “The Gatekeeper”) at your organization to find assets for you. What does this cost your organization in lost productivity?
  3. What happens if your Gatekeeper, who knows where every valuable creative asset lives, buys a lottery ticket, wins big, and doesn’t come back to work on Monday?

Build a program, not a platform, that outlives the tenure of any member of your team.

Create a Temporary, Company-Wide “Collection Bin”

A little preliminary organization will help you understand what kind of creative assets, and how many, are in your organization. Below, we have listed some of the steps involved in this process:

  1. Organizing: This can be as simple as creating a folder structure on a drive such as Google Drive, Dropbox, or Box. Keep the folder structure simple and meaningful as this will help when you migrate assets to your new DAM platform.
  2. Collect Usage Rights for the Assets: Who manages usage rights, years of usage included, copyright owner contact information, etc.? Some clients create a digital “birth certificate” for incoming assets that each contributor must completely fill out when submitting assets to their DAM. This is one of the most important things to consider when implementing digital asset management.
  3. Invite Others to Contribute To Your Temporary “Collection Bin”
    Make a compelling case for centralizing digital assets to other departments in your organization by showing them how they can save both money and time. Then provide simple instructions so they can share/upload all their choice brand visuals. Focus on some of these potential contributor groups:
  • Internal Teams: Individuals in marketing, corporate communications, investor relations, sales, and other departments have assets on cluttered hard drives, personal Dropbox accounts, and stacks of old dusty DVDs they most likely can share.
  • External Vendors and Agency Partners: Partners often have full takes from various photo/video productions and projects that may not have made the final deliverable but hold a lot of value for future content.

Select a DAM Platform That Fits Your Need

Now that you’ve gathered your user requirements and once-scattered creative assets, you can begin identifying a DAM platform to effectively manage your content.

Why do you need a DAM to replace your Drive? A DAM provides more functionality than a Drive can. Metadata and keyword search, advanced data reporting, and approval suites are just a few of the ways a DAM platform can revolutionize your workflow.

Most organizations purchase platforms that are larger and more complex than they need. In reality, most people only use a fraction of the key features of any DAM platform and don’t use all the bells & whistles. This is an expensive mistake since DAMs can cost from $15,000/year to $400,000+/year. It is important to understand your actual needs/requirements before beginning the RFQ (Request For Quote) process with DAM vendors.

Helpful internal information to collect or understand when searching for a DAM platform:

  • IT Requirements: Cloud-based or on-prem (assets located on-premise), SSO (single-sign-on), security, etc.
  • Asset Types/Storage Needs: How many TB (terabytes) of storage space is needed, how many different types of assets exist, etc
  • Required Integrations/API: What are the essential platforms your organization uses that are vital for your DAM to efficiently and effectively integrate with? This may be part of a long-term strategy but is good to consider when talking with vendors.
  • Number of Users (seats) or Volume Requirements: How many admins, managers, and end-users will you have? What are the permission levels for each type of user (i.e. admins, managers, librarians, creatives/contributors, and other end-users)?

Example RFQ (Request For Quote) email to DAM Vendors: (Warning: you will be speaking to a salesperson so be mindful of overly positive answers)

“I’m seeking more information about your cloud-based ___________ program. We currently have about ## TB consisting of roughly ##% photos, ##% videos, and #% pretty complex AI files. We need API integration to work seamlessly with our PIM, ______________. Ideally, we need to have SSO access control for our #,### internal team members. We currently do not have a DAM manager so we would be interested in learning about any implementation and fractional DAM management partners you can recommend.”

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Establish Governance

This is a key step that is often overlooked. You need a governance committee to help make decisions about how the platform is set up and managed. Your committee should include people from across your organization.

Create a Metadata Structure (aka “The Cookbook Index”)

Before migrating your assets to a DAM platform, you need to create the metadata structure (fields + controlled vocabularies). This will inform how your DAM is built and how your users will interact with it. Consider using a job number or some other identifier to link the assets from a shoot. Use controlled vocabularies when possible. A controlled vocabulary is like a cookbook index. For example:

Cookies (would be the name of the field. Below is the controlled vocabulary that shows up in that field):

  • Chocolate Chip
  • Ginger
  • Macaroon

File Naming Standards

A consistent file naming structure will tell users a great deal about a creative asset before they even view it. A useful filename provides order, high-level information, and usage context. For example:


User Journeys and Permissions

Determine how users will navigate the DAM and what they should be able to do.

  • Who uploads and tags assets?
  • What should the search and discovery experience be like?
  • Who can download which assets (all assets, some assets?)
  • Create user roles based on what each user needs to do

Migrate Creative Assets to New DAM

Once your DAM is set up, it’s time to start moving assets into their new long-term home. As you upload, be sure to add metadata and permissions.

Note: Before allowing any users access to your DAM, it is important to ensure that all usage licenses have been applied to the assets and safeguards are in place to prohibit any single individual from making significant changes.

Invite Teams / Users

FINALLY! It is time to show off your hard work and allow others to access, search, download, and utilize your brand’s assets! Launch your new DAM with a small group of initial users. Begin with your immediate team or a small group of DAM champions in your organization. Once you’ve worked out the kinks with this small group, invite your organization’s leaders to use the DAM platform and ask them for feedback on any changes that should be made before the next group of users is invited.

Now, wash, rinse, repeat! Always review each of these steps and advocate for new content and updated platform features to best support your organization’s initiatives.

A big thank you to Kathleen Cameron for her wonderful insight and support!

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