Listen to Erin McEIrath discuss 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 Erin McEIrath. Erin, how are you?
Erin McElrath: I’m just fine. How are you?
Henrik de Gyor: Great. Erin, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Erin McElrath: I am the Creative Tools Manager at an e-commerce company called Brandless and I manage all of the digital asset management and content that comes in and out of the company, whether it be on the site or on our printed collateral or on our social media.
Henrik de Gyor: How does an e-commerce company that puts people first use Digital Asset Management?
Erin McElrath: We use it just like any other company would. We do a lot of creative assets internally for marketing purposes. We also use it to store all of our product information, all of our packaging. Anything. Any image that has shown up on our site, we like to house on our DAM, but most recently, we’re starting to use a lot of user-generated content (UGC) from social media. So we’re scraping all social media sites and the images that we like and we would like to use further, ideally, we would like to put that in the DAM, in the, in the next coming months. In addition to the digital asset management, I also do all the post-production workflow. So I’m working with all of our outside agencies as the content is funneled in through the company and then approved and funneled back out.
Henrik de Gyor: What are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with Digital Asset Management?
Erin McElrath: Well, I think the biggest challenge, and I think anybody has been in the industry for awhile can agree that the biggest challenges assessing the need of the company for our positions. We do a job that we’re basically when we’re doing our job, no news is good news and everything is sailing right along and very efficient, but to bring other people on as help and as teammates because this is a very hard job to do by yourself. To show the need and the value of the position can be challenging. When the company would rather spend their money on new creatives or engineering team on new platforms to show that the DAM is actually the brain and the hub of the organization. When that is running smoothly, everybody can do their jobs. It takes a lot to show that value for successes. I guess on that same note when everything is running smoothly, that is my biggest success. Right now at Brandless, I have implemented three workflows using our current DAM where content has flowed in and out through a system with permissions and approvals. Everybody seems to be really happy with it and everything is working. So I think that to me is the pillar of my big success in any job that I have is making sure that the DAM that the company purchases is used to its full capabilities.
Henrik de Gyor: Would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Erin McElrath: I think the biggest one is don’t be afraid to assert yourself. We’re often seen as the people in the corner doing manual data entry work. That’s how we’re viewed by certain members of a team or a company, but we’re really not. We do so many things and most of the time nobody knows what we do. Digital Asset Manager is such a broad term that it could mean anything, so define the role that you want within your organization and what will be most appropriate and try to align yourselves with them, with the people in your company that you know you can help them most. Oftentimes, they don’t know what you do. Go up to them and asked them their pain points and see how you can help.
Another big one, most recently I kind of spoke about it earlier… Learn all you can about user-generated content, which is often called in the industry UGC. This is really big now. A lot of Digital Asset Managers don’t like to put that in the DAM because there’s so much. The liability is very unclear. It changes all the time and oftentimes when we have assets, we have contracts and releases for those assets, but for UGC we do not. Oftentimes, we just have a screenshot that our producers said, “can we use this photo?” And the person said “yes,” and that’s it. I think in my opinion, times are changing and we’re starting to formalize that relationship. Now Brandless, for example, is using a lot of UGC content and our marketing and our social media. We like to have and I like to have those in the DAM so I can track where they’ve been used and who is responsible for that connection. If something goes wrong with that initial user that uploaded that content, we can take it down immediately. I know where it lives on everything, so yeah, just familiarize yourself like technology is changing and we’re right at the forefront of that, so just be on the ball.
Henrik de Gyor: [0:01] This is Another DAM Podcast about Digital Asset Management. I’m Henrik de Gyor. Today I’m speaking with Kenneth Wilson. Kenneth, how are you?
Kenneth Wilson: [0:10] I’m good today. How are you?
Henrik: [0:11] Great. Kenneth, how are you involved with Digital Asset Management?
Kenneth: [0:15] I orchestrate the operation of Kohler companies’ digital supply chain, the center of which is the company’s DAM system, and I’ve also recently taken ownership of the communications resource library. That’s how I’m involved in Digital Asset Management.
Henrik: [0:33] How does an American manufacturing company use Digital Asset Management?
Kenneth: [0:36] Kohler is a multinational manufacturing company. We have a very diversified group of businesses that are part of the Kohler company, that make up the company. Most people know very well in the plumbing, kitchen, and bath businesses.
[0:52] We also have a hospitality group that has The American Club, which is a five‑diamond hotel, that is in Kohler Wisconsin, along with many golf courses that make up Destination Kohler, along with golf courses in Kohler… Whistling Straits, Blackwolf Run… along with a golf course in Scotland, the Old Course hotel. That makes up the hospitality group.
[1:17] We also have an interior section headquartered out of Chicago, where we have furniture businesses… Baker, McGuire. A custom tile manufacturing company called Ann Sacks in Portland, along with… can’t forget our global power group, who has a number of companies they operate throughout the world.
[1:38] All those companies make up the Kohler businesses and we handle a lot of the communications for all of those different businesses. Right now, we use our DAM system to store a lot of the final marketing images, and the graphic layouts for most of our North American businesses.
[1:56] The global businesses also use the system to some extent. A lot of the products are US SKUs that are also sold in other places but some of our global businesses have SKUs that are specific to them. We’re actually trying to work to encourage them to supply our system with those unique‑to‑their‑location assets.
[2:21] The DAM system that I manage will house the packaging images, the web images that are used for the catalog, as well as the layouts for printed literature, catalogs, the sell sheets that go to our showrooms and also archives digital imagery that serves to document the history and happenings of the company. This documentary and archived footage is mainly captured digitally now.
[2:51] We’ve begun efforts to digitize years’ worth of the history that was not digital, both still and video, and that will all make its way into the system as well. At the digital supply chain, if we look at it as a whole, the front end of it we’ve got a lot of different content creators. We have our own photo studio.
[3:14] We’ve got photographers, who create content, and at the front end of that supply chain, you’re not trying to shape the standards for file formats and making sure things are consistent there. While we have our own staff photographers for the different businesses, globally, we’ll use a variety of photographers, so trying to make sure everything comes in in a consistent form.
[3:37] On the back end, assets from our DAM system are syndicated to a content delivery network (CDN), so that they can be published to our websites and to the web catalogs, and also manage that practice.
Henrik: [3:52] Kenneth, what are the biggest challenges and successes you’ve seen with DAM?
Kenneth: [3:58] Personally, one of the biggest current pain points that I have comes around tracking renditions of assets that are headed for both digital and print destinations. It’s tricky to figure out what should be a version when changes are made, or what should really turn into a derivative asset. That’s probably one of the biggest pain points that I currently have.
[4:24] It’s really about educating the art directors on what it means when they version something versus what it means when they create a brand new asset. With all those businesses, we’ve got a lot of printed stuff that we still do, but there’s also a really big focus on digital, of course, using the web. A lot of our businesses are starting to do website redesigns, so that’ll continue to frustrate me this next year.
[4:53] That’s one of our biggest challenges right now. It’s trying to make sure that we don’t have a lot of duplicate content that varies so slightly that people couldn’t really do a search and be confident in the results they find within the DAM, and not really have to sort through, oh, this one’s slightly brighter, this one’s slightly darker.
[5:18] One of the biggest successes that I’ve seen in DAM lately is starting to overcome the notion of simply being a storage repository for the organizations that adopt it, more than a search tool to find things that already exist.
[5:34] One way we’re trying to get over that is the reuse of things we’ve already shot. An image that was shot for our hospitality businesses could be reused in marketing materials for the power businesses.
[5:50] So, that return on investment there. One of the bigger successes is DAM’s ability to shape workflows. One of my major initiatives this year is to implement a review on an approval workflow that we call creative review. In a digital form, it’s something that our creative groups already do, and it’s largely on paper. Trying to move that into a digital space is the big win.
[6:22] One of the major benefits we can get out of it is being able to inform content creators, our photographers, how successful they are shooting to a shot list, by having those discussions by art directors around the images and content they’re creating.
[6:41] Having some sort of record and being able to say, “It’s done, this set of images, you can do this slightly differently and these images will be able to serve a wider range of uses.”
[6:55] That’s one benefit of that workflow type of creative review and approvals implementations.
Henrik: [7:02] These are very common issues that many organizations have. Getting collaborative tools to your point, and also getting the tools to not only deduplicate, and control renderings, and version control, but also to know what the single source of truth is for brand consistency.
Kenneth: [7:18] Absolutely. That single source of truth is another pain point. I attend conferences, and a lot of the organizations that are attending may be in search of just starting the DAM process, as far as finding which software to use and how to set it up, how to govern it, and that’s always a battle with whoever holds the purse strings.
[7:41] I think one of the things I may have to be an advocate for within Kohler may be a greater emphasis on a PIM system, product information management tool, and how it integrates with a DAM system, because we use our DAM to drive that syndication of assets out to our web catalog. All those images have to marry to information about whatever’s pictured.
[8:05] Those catalog images, the data from that should come from a PIM. Right now we’re taking that information and inserting it into our system, manually, per asset. We have an opportunity there to automate that more by establishing a single source of truth for that product information.
[8:32] When product information changes, if something gets discontinued, all that information will flow automatically into the DAM system, and so that metadata is more dynamic, living, breathing kind of metadata.
Henrik: [8:47] That’s a very popular and hot topic in DAM, is to get to product information management to your point, tying with DAM so you don’t have to reproduce the data from one system to another, and have the master record of your information, your catalog items, and all the SKUs, product codes, et cetera, in your PIM, and sync up with the DAM.
[9:06] Your master record is your PIM and the repository of all the imagery that may or may not be active, to your point, is in your DAM.
[9:14] There are several vendors who are very interested in making that easier for companies. You’re not the only organization out there that has this issue, which is great to hear.
[9:24] Kenneth, what advice would you like to share with DAM professionals and people aspiring to become DAM professionals?
Kenneth: [9:29] That’s a good question. I can share a little bit of how I got there. Maybe that helps those aspiring to becoming DAM professionals and even inspires those who are. There’s a lot of talk about convergence. One of the topics at a recent DAM conference was, “Are we all becoming each other?” In a way, the convergence helps us push past some of the boundaries we run into.
[10:00] The breadth of knowledge has definitely been a factor in the success that I’ve had with DAM here at Kohler. Before being in this role, I was pursuing a career doing photography professionally.
[10:13] I’ve got an understanding of what the photographers, who are delivering creative content to be stored in this repository, a frame of reference to what they’re thinking or doing. In addition before that, I studied at the University of Michigan.
[10:29] I studied industrial product design, and I was in a school of art and design, and was able to take all the photography requirements as well in my time there.
[10:41] The industrial design thinking, the problem solving, the creative problem solving, those have really been helpful in coming into Kohler, a place that already had an established DAM system, and being able to see what was already happening, and trying to come up with new, more efficient ways to do some of the things they were doing.
[11:06] Our studio’s been digital for probably the last 10 to 12, maybe 15 years. There was a lot of existent content when I got here, but we’re creating more and more images each year than before.
[11:20] The design thinking has really helped to push the boundaries and to come up with creative, new ways of looking at solving the workflow problems, or how content comes into the supply chain, how it moves around and really completes a circle for the asset life cycle, I like to call it, where it may go out to a vendor, but it’s got to come back and it lives in the system. How does that asset end up becoming an archive that we reference back, historically.
[11:49] This year, I’ll be collaborating a lot more with our corporate archivist, as she digitizes a lot of the historical content that she has in her archives. Our history is increasingly becoming captured digitally. We’ll still have physical artifacts in archives in the future.
[12:09] A lot of the speeches that may have been written 60 years ago, that we have a paper‑printed copy, they won’t have a digital equivalent. Trying to preserve some of these things so that they are useful, working assets now, but turn into archives later, that design background has really helped me there. Even before that, I started off pursuing an engineering degree.
[12:37] Coding, computer science, writing code, is also a really good set of skills to have when implementing a system, working with IT to resolve and troubleshoot issues. I think that convergence is something that will really help shape and push the boundaries of the industry. That’s what I would share.
Henrik: [13:01] Great. Thanks, Kenneth.
Kenneth: [13:03] Thank you.
Henrik: [13:04] For more on this and other Digital Asset Management topics, go to AnotherDAMblog.com. Another DAM Podcast has over 150 podcast episodes for you to listen to, including this one. Visit AnotherDAMpodcast.com. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again.