Kevin Gepford discusses Digital Asset Management
Henrik de Gyor: [0:02] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I am Henrik de Gyor. Today I am speaking with Kevin Gepford. Kevin, how are you?
Kevin Gepford: [0:10] I’m fine. How are you?
Henrik: [0:12] Great. Kevin, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Kevin: [0:16] I work for Comedy Central at their in‑house Brand Creative department. We create all the advertising, the billboards, the video promos, graphics for digital platforms such as iTunes, Xbox, and Hulu.
[0:30] Specifically, I work on the print side of things. I’ve got hands‑on involvement with our photo re‑touching. We also do the mechanical production and the final delivery of the files to their destination. I work in a team of brilliant right‑brain creatives, but I’m more of a left‑brain sort of person.
[0:48] I got interested in DAM originally as a self‑defense against the distractions of non‑core tasks. I’m talking about requests like digging up logos for someone, cracking open old archives just to print out an ad from last year, or hunting for a specific image among all the assets that we had that were scattered across the universe of portable hard drives, servers, optical media, and the like.
[1:15] The DAM that emerged from this is something that’s been a resource for the whole company for about 10 years, and it’s grown and evolved. Later, as time went by, it led to my involvement with content management. The volume and scope of our work had expanded tremendously, but our approval process didn’t grow along with it. It had become sheer chaos. It was in dire need of order and coherence, and I decided that this was an opportunity for me to make a bigger difference.
Henrik: [1:46] Why does a television channel, focused on comedy programming, use Digital Asset Management?
Kevin: [1:53] We use asset management to support our promotional efforts here. Just to be clear, I want you to know that this is not a function of our long‑form programming. We are part of Brand Creative, and our primary partner is the Marketing team. Everything that we do is focused on promotion and marketing, and the graphics that go into that production.
[2:17] I want to talk about the two prongs of asset management here at Comedy Central. The first one is DAM. These would be our libraries of static assets used across our advertising and promotional campaigns. The second is content management. We developed a system here to manage our internal work‑in‑progress. This could be the review and the approval of all of our creative output.
Henrik: [2:42] What are the biggest challenges and successes that you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Kevin: [2:45] For the first prong, Digital Asset Management, we started building our asset libraries about 10 year ago, as I said. All of our logos, our images, artwork, and including a PDF archive of all of our print work. That’s been updated over time ‑‑ not only the assets, but the back‑end ‑‑ but it still performs its original mission, for the most part.
[3:07] As far as challenges are concerned, I would say the first challenge was getting it off the ground. We obviously needed corporate resources so we could invest in the system, and then operate it on an ongoing basis.
[3:19] After that, it took a lot of work to prepare the assets. That’s the first step for any system that’s going from nothing to something. You’ve got to organize, you need to upload, and you need to keyword all the assets.
[3:32] After that, we had the ongoing challenge of keeping it up to date. The main issue for us, as I imagine it is for a lot of people, is that we don’t have a dedicated staff, so we do it in our down‑time. Even though we ourselves are dedicated to it, there’s often a lag between when an asset gets created and when it goes up to the library.
[3:51] For instance, if we do an entire ad campaign, the last thing we do before we archive it ‑‑ all the resource files, we make PDFs and put them in our asset library. So there’s a lag, depending on the scope of the campaign and how long it’s taking.
[4:08] After that, I would say probably the biggest challenge is just getting everybody on‑board. This took training, this took patience. People have been used to coming to my team directly, and just asking us for anything. Once we got this up and running, we would remind them to check the asset library first.
[4:27] Sometimes the thing they wanted wasn’t there, or it hadn’t been keyworded, or it just didn’t exist. Part of the training process was that we would fix the problem, upload the asset, and then make them go back and look again.
[4:40] This really went a long way to building good habits. Nowadays, people will come to me and say, “I already searched the library, but I couldn’t find what I was looking for.” And that’s really music to my ears.
[4:53] As far as successes are concerned, there’s a funny little story. A little while back, I was talking to my assistant, and I asked him, “Does anybody even use this system that we’ve put all our work into? I mean, why do we even bother?”
[5:05] He answered my question with a question. He asked me, “When is the last time that anyone came and asked you for a logo? The system is just working.”
“That’s when I knew [DAM] had become an essential resource for Comedy Central.”
[5:13] Almost prophetically, the system went down a few days later. Within about 30 minutes, I’d heard from about a half‑dozen people. That’s when I knew it had become an essential resource for Comedy Central.
[5:27] The second prong of asset management that I wanted to talk about is content management. I really enjoy talking about this, because it really is such an interesting project, and it’s made a profound difference in how we work.
[5:39] I think it really shows a path forward for our field as we imagine our future, and try to be more creative about how to make it dance.
[5:46] Our content management system is kind of like asset management on steroids. It’s active, it’s alive, and this has become a centerpiece where anyone can instantly see everything that we are doing, in real time, by visiting the site.
[6:00] Our content management system is a tool that we use, basically, to manage our work‑in‑progress. It has a longer name that nobody uses ‑‑ we call it the Creative Review and Approval System. It is, from the standpoint of most of our users, a Web based application.
[6:18] It lives in the cloud, and it’s used to coordinate the efforts of all of our design teams. The graphic designers, the Web designers, the animators ‑‑ they upload their work for review and approval. Then they can also get comments and updates from their team members.
[6:37] A great example of our workflow prior to this would be how we made Web banner ads. This is going back maybe four years. The team for building Web banner ads would be ‑‑ a developer on one end, the marketing department on the other, and in between you would have project managers, designers, and one or two or more creative directors.
[6:57] The number of individually posted files of updates and the number of emails about them, just to get one ad approved, was insane. All the comments were buried in enormous email‑chains. There was no way to really visually track an ad’s progress, and when the first ad was finally approved after 20 rounds, we had two dozen more to go. There was almost no way to really compare the ads to ensure consistency.
[7:26] What we built was a content management system to fix the process. Over time, we expanded and re‑built it so it would service not only the Web banner ads, but it would also serve the entire Brand Creative department, and it would be able to handle video clips, Web banner ads, and basically any kind of static asset.
[7:50] Now, all from one place, our users can do a number of common tasks. They can upload files, update it with new versions, they can email their team members, they can view and leave comments. Their managers can review, approve, and reject things. They can create lightboxes they can share with anybody.
[8:07] Then they can take anything that’s in the system and pretty much share with anybody else with just a couple of clicks. For the last piece, you could see the entire campaigns with just a click, it’s an automagic slideshow, for anyone that wants to review the entire campaign, or for any normal user who wants to just take a look and see what other departments are doing. The magic part, though, is when a campaign is archived, it becomes a searchable library of our completed work.
[8:38] So… challenges, you asked.
[8:41] Well, once again, it wasn’t easy to get resources for our initial investment. It took a lot of persuasion that what we envisioned would be a better product than anything we could get on the market. But then we got some seed money, and we were able to show proof of concept, and then grow it from there.
[8:59] A surprising challenge was simply getting the teams to work together and be open to sharing their ideas with each other. They really all liked living in their happy little silos. I got feedback from a couple of people that really were worried that their projects, which were so important to them, would just be sort of lost in all the other projects of other people that were working on the same campaign. From my perspective, that’s kind of the point. No man is an island, anymore. You are playing in a bigger sandbox.
Henrik: [9:31] True.
Kevin: [9:31] The other part of the challenge, for me, was just patience. It took more than a weekend to build this and I would say that it was the fruit of many months of development and testing, and we’re still getting comments and feedback. I got some comments just this week that we intend to work on to improve the functionality of our lightboxes. It’s a work‑in‑progress.
[9:55] Now, as far as successes are concerned, I would say that it’s pretty obvious. Everybody is just collaborating like we never have before. We’re talking to each other, we know who is working on the other projects, and we have quick ways of communicating with them, to get a visual overview of what we and other people are working on. So it really has, just by its design and by its very nature, helped collaboration.
[10:20] User engagement with the system is just phenomenal. My co‑workers and colleagues care enough to give feedback all the time, and it’s not all positive. Sometimes they come in and they just demand better features, or they have a great idea to make an improvement. Their engagement is just wonderful, and I appreciate it so much. Any kind of feedback is a sign that they care, rather than just accepting the status quo. That’s why we started this whole thing to begin with.
[10:52] Another success ‑‑ and this one totally surprised me ‑‑ our most popular feature turned out to be lightboxes. These have just revolutionized the way that we give presentations. There’s no more poking around in the middle of a meeting to find assets on a server somewhere. It just puts everything in a streamlined slideshow that you can navigate with the arrow key on your keyboard.
[11:16] This was a feature, I know and am glad to say, that nobody asked for, and nobody even imagined something like this could be possible. And yet, there it is, and they love it.
[11:29] The last thing, and this always gives me a chuckle. We kept the old system on standby. Just in case, you know? It slowly and gradually fell into disuse, and finally, when the old thing crashed, nobody even noticed for several days.
Henrik: [11:46] [laughs]
Kevin: [11:47] What does that tell you?
Henrik: [11:48] Time to make it extinct.
Kevin: [11:50] Yeah.
Henrik: [11:52] What advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Kevin: [11:57] I am kind of a contrarian by nature, but I really think that formal education, maybe formal training, is not necessary to enter this field. It’s wide open for anybody who wants to make a difference. I really bet that if you took a survey of influential people in the field, very few have actually gone to school for it. What you need is a desire to make a difference ‑‑ a passion for it. It also helps if you get a lucky break and you have the right contacts.
[12:26] Lastly, I think anyone wanting to become a DAM professional needs determination and patience for the long journey.
Henrik: [12:34] Great points. Thanks, Kevin.
Kevin: [12:36] It’s a pleasure.
Henrik: [12:38] For more on this and other Digital Asset Management topics, log on to AnotherDAMblog.com.
If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[12:54] Thanks again.