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Another DAM Podcast interview with Alex Cabal on Digital Asset Management

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Alex Cabal talks about Digital Asset Management


Henrik de Gyor:  This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Alex Cabal. Alex, how are you?

Alex Cabal:  Doing well, thank you.

Henrik de Gyor:  Alex, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?

Alex Cabal:  So here at Make-A-Wish America, this is several years ago, we did not have anything at all. We just had a bunch of network drives. No labeling system, naming system of any kind. And so we were looking for a solution, specifically for our creative services department, but in doing so, we thought bigger. We are the national office for Make-A-Wish, so we thought we should probably find something that was an enterprise-wide solution. So we began a search, we narrowed it down, we selected our vendor, I’ve been a part of that entire process. So, and then once we’ve selected that vendor and implemented it. I’m also responsible for the administration and so that the upkeep basically.

Henrik de Gyor:  Alex, how does an organization that grants the wish of critically ill children use Digital Asset Management?

Alex Cabal:  Let me take a step back if I may. Just kind of describe how Make-A-Wish is setup. So I’m with Make-A-Wish America. We are the national office and we provide the structure and the guidance for all of our chapters of which there are 62 across the nation and our territories. The chapters are the ones that actually grant the wishes, so they’re the ones that hire the photographers, videographers. They write the stories for their local websites and such, and they’re the ones that gather all of the assets. At the national office, we have a bunch of designers and they’re the ones creating the collateral, you know, for a lot of our national campaigns, our national sponsors, etc. and they’re the ones that are actually looking for all of these assets. Since we do not grant the wishes ourselves, we rely on what the chapters provide to us and so we needed a mechanism for the chapters to get those assets to us.

And so our DAM system is a part of that. And so what happens is that the wishes are granted. Pictures are taken. The privacy of the wish kids is vital for us. So we’re big into publicity releases, restrictions, that kind of thing. So we structured our DAM system to include all of that information and to allow for attachments of those specific documents so we could see what our restrictions are in addition to all of the assets. The national office and Make-A-Wish in general, we are storytellers basically. We grant wishes for all of these kids across the country and we tell the stories behind those wishes. Not only do they include the wish kids, they also include the volunteers. Many volunteer at the chapter and they’re actually critical for the execution of these wishes. So they work hand in hand with the chapter, with the wish kids themselves, the families, etc.

But these volunteers also include limo drivers, maybe local carpenters, airport greeters, folks like that. So they’re all part of the storytelling. So in the past, we had a reporting style where we would take a story of a kid and you know, if the kid’s wish was to go skiing, we just kind of report what happened. But now we’re taking into account the perspectives of all of the folks involved with the wish. So that might be siblings, that might be the parents of the wish kid, that might be the limo driver or the truck driver or maybe it’s that person working at the ski shop and the example I just gave. So we’re looking at all those different perspectives because they all have a story to tell and when they tell those stories that it affects other people in their sphere and in their community.

So we’re reaching out and just trying to gather as much content and different points of view because everyone has a very specific take on things and we think that it’s very important to share that with the community at large. And then also there’s the donors. So we have donors, they [donate] $5, $10, etc. But we have a lot of also high-level donors where they donate thousands of dollars. So we’re also trying to capture what motivates them. And so a lot of these donors, they might have a relative, a neighbor, a friend that needs a wish. And so that drives them to help out and to be committed to the Make-A-Wish cause. So again, we try to capture those stories as well.

Henrik de Gyor:  Alex, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?

Alex Cabal:  With regard to struggles and Make-A-Wish America so I am a party of one and that is very similar to other companies were both for-profit and nonprofit where they might have a DAM department, but that probably constitutes one person, maybe two if they’re lucky.  So I’m not any different in that regard. I think where I am different is that I have two major responsibilities with my position and DAM is the lesser of the two. I’m also responsible for our chapter website platform. It’s the platform that powers not only, which is the national website, but all of our chapter websites and so that takes up the majority of my time and I try to spend as much time as I can with DAM. I’m different than other DAM administrators and that I specifically don’t look at all of the content per se. I just make sure that the systems are running. I trust that the folks at the chapter, that they’re able to use the system and that we have the metadata structure and all the field setup in a way that they can effectively use the system in that the folks at the national office who are looking for these assets that they can get into the system and find what they’re looking for and use it.

So I’m kind of…I’m in the mix, but I’m not a heavy user. I just make sure everything works. And on our side, not only do our designers look for these assets because they’re looking for brochures, they are looking for signs or looking to create signs. Our social media team also uses the system because they’re always looking for new assets to share with our different constituents and so those are the two primary folks that use the system on a daily basis. Part of our struggles, and this kind of goes to how we are set up, we a federated system, so each of our 62 chapters are their own private 501(c)(3)s [nonprofit organization]. So yes, they are a part of the Make-A-Wish family, but they also have a, a certain level of independence from the national office so they can pretty much do their own thing within certain guidelines, of course. As part of that, you know, a lot of the chapters run a lean staff and some chapters might have like two people. You might run into another chapter where there might be 32 people and so it all varies and the person responsible at the chapter for accessing and utilizing this DAM system may also differ. In one chapter, it might be a marketing person. In another, it could be a communications person or in another, it could be a development or a finance person. So there are no steadfast rules. It just kind of…for each chapter the situation is a little different and more often than not, whoever is the more tech-savvy person is probably the person that gets saddled with the DAM responsibilities. So you know, because of that and because at a chapter, they are running lean. They wear multiple hats. They’re basically trying to get through the day, first and foremost for them is to make sure that wishes happen and they also have large events to which are big fundraising opportunities, so they’re trying to make sure that those two things go without a hitch. More often than not, working with a DAM is even though it’s a necessary function, it kinda gets pushed by the wayside a little bit and to be quite honest and that that’s been a big struggle and you combine that with the size of the chapters and the general lack of resources that nonprofits typically have. That’s kind of the meat of where we run into some issues.

Then there’s also the whole taxonomy thing. I come from the school where the more information there is, the better it is and try to be as specific as you can. What we’re finding out is that maybe that’s not the case. And I think in attending the past two DAM conferences in New York, in hearing feedback from other folks, they’re saying the same thing. And that being too specific could be a challenge. And that perhaps taking a step back and trying to be a little bit more vague in your categories or maybe all-encompassing would be a better idea. So I have to take a look at that and that’s one of the things that I’m doing this Summer is taking a look at our current DAM system and how it is set up with the metadata and all the taxonomy and trying to reconfigure that so that going into the Fall we’ve got a more streamlined version and it’ll help the adoption rate for those folks that yeah, they’re, they need to use the DAM system, but they might feel a little intimidated or it’s a little too cumbersome.  Anything that I can do on my end to streamline that and to make it simpler for them, then I need to be doing that. So that’s a lot of the struggles that we typically have.

With successes, one of the cool things that we do is we use our DAM system as a collection vehicle for our annual calendar. So basically, we put a call out to chapters and we asked them to send us with stories and pictures of wish, kids they’d like to see profiled in our annual calendar. We probably get around 30 of those submissions each year. And so from that pool, our creative services team looks at all of those and then they determine which 12 kids get selected for the calendar. So we did a lot of excitement with that. We’re actually thinking of attaching some kind of reward system for folks that use the DAM system and to, you know, that gives us access to pictures for the submission.

So if we select one of their kids to be in the calendar, we make them some kind of an award. So that’s something that we’re thinking about and I think we’ll probably do this year. We also use our DAM as a collection mechanism for some of our large campaigns are Macy’s Believe campaign is one of our bigger ones, which occurs towards the holiday season of the year. And so we use that to gather images for the different Macy’s Believe events that occur across the chapters. So those have worked well. We’ve also connected our DAM to what we call our design studio, and that is basically a marketing portal, so if a chapter in its simplest form, if they want to order business cards with their logo, they can on a larger scale. If they wanted to create a sign for, let’s say a subway or a brochure or something like that. Basically, that system connects to the DAM and then they can pull hig- res images that belongs to their chapter and then they can utilize those.

We also allow for a sharing option so that chapters can share their assets with other chapters. Currently, by default, everything is based on a per chapter use, so our Arizona chapter of can only see Arizona content. Hudson Valley can only see Hudson Valley, etc. However, we do give each chapter the option on a per item basis to share those items. We have some chapters that are very eager to share because they collect great assets and they know some other chapters struggle with that, so they do what they can to make those available so that the enterprise as a whole can benefit. So those are some of the success stories that we’ve had with our DAM.

Henrik de Gyor:  And what advice would like to share with DAM professionals and people are aspiring to become DAM professionals?

Alex Cabal:  So with DAM professionals, if there’s anyone looking to select a DAM system that does not currently have one, my advice would be to get your IT team involved in the selection process and the planning and how the IT team will need to understand how this will work with their current infrastructure, you know, especially with permissions, if you deal with single sign-on, there are a lot of considerations there. So it’s important that IT is involved in that entire selection process more often than not they have a process in place for selecting vendors and all of that kind of stuff. So they’re very useful in the vetting process for that. It’s also important to sell the importance of a DAM if you don’t currently have one. I think most leadership probably don’t understand. They probably think, “oh, we can get a bunch of storage, a bunch of external drives, etc. It shouldn’t be that big of a problem” So you have to sell the key benefits of whatever system you’re looking at and how that could potentially benefit your organization and I would also advise to look further on down the road. Not in the immediate sense where, okay, in the short term you have storage, but in the long term, what does this mean? Are there other systems that you currently employ that may benefit from tapping into your DAM? So that’s something to look at too, and if you can find a connection that makes sense between those systems and if there’s a technology that exists that allows your DAM to connect with like Salesforce, for example, then that becomes a little bit of an easier sell. Another piece of advice for taxonomy, spent a lot of time figuring out what makes sense for the organization. What might make sense to the DAM administrator might not make sense to other folks. And I’m learning that by experience and so get those other parties in the room who are going to be the heavy users? Who are going to be the ones that are actually downloading? What are the types of terms that they’re going to be looking for? and that should help guide you in how you create the taxonomy for all, all of that information.

For aspiring professionals, a taxonomy and that was something that I didn’t think was going to be that big of a deal. I kind of took it for granted, but in actually going through the pains of realizing that what makes sense in my head doesn’t necessarily make sense in others heads. It’s a really good idea to understand how things are categorized. What makes sense. Be open to taking in input from other folks that probably organize differently than you.  So that’s a big deal. For the students out there, if there are like library sciences, that probably will be a big help. I think the DAM community as a whole… this to me, and I’m relatively new to this, but this seems like an up and coming thing. I mean, this is what I’m gathering from the conferences that I’ve attended recently and talking with other folks… those of us that are in this community realized the importance of it. Those of us outside of it, although they might be touched by it, they don’t quite get it, and so it’s kind of our job to show the importance and how this can help benefit the organization. So take the time to learn about the taxonomy. If you’re a student, check into library sciences or organization, that’s a big thing. Networking, that’s a big deal. You’ll find other folks that with similar interests or are in similar situations and you could probably get some good advice from them and if you’re serious about becoming a DAM professional, don’t be surprised if you are going to be the only one doing that at whatever company you land at and it might be like that for a while. My gut is that even though people are starting to see or companies are starting to see the importance of this is might not be the highest priority for a lot of companies. So it might be a slow growth type of thing within just become familiar with the different systems that are out there and what’s available. So if you do land somewhere, you’re able to have some information. You may not be an expert in that particular system, but it’s not like you’re completely starting from scratch.

Henrik de Gyor:  Well, thanks Alex.

Alex Cabal:  Yeah, you’re welcome.

Henrik de Gyor:  For more on this, visit Another DAM Podcast for over 200 episodes like this. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to email me at Thanks again.


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Author: Henrik de Gyor

Consultant. Podcaster. Writer.

One thought on “Another DAM Podcast interview with Alex Cabal on Digital Asset Management

  1. Pingback: 10 Things on the 10th September: DAM, Metadata, Taxonomy – MOD LIBRARIAN