What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?
My first exposure to DAM was at Marvel Entertainment, as Director of Special Projects. It was right around the release of their first Spider-Man movie, before they really exploded and became a major player in Hollywood. This was before Marvel Studios and before their acquisition by Disney. Sony and Columbia Pictures produced the movie itself, so Marvel was reliant on the licensing of merchandise to capitalize on the production. When the movie was a monumental success and demand for Spider-Man merchandise exploded, they realized all their systems were inadequate for the growth they were going to experience. One of the major systems they needed was a DAM that could handle merchandising product approvals. I was responsible for the implementation of a DAM called Stellent and helped design a brand assurance workflow to allow assets—mostly photos at that time—to be submitted into the system from the licensees that were producing Spider-Man t-shirts, action figures, and so forth. The brand assurance team at Marvel would then check brand standards, for example color, style guide, logo, packaging tags, etc., and, once approved for release, the item would proceed through the workflow to Marvel’s other systems to track royalties. This is also where I was introduced to Tarek Fadel, who was focused on rights and royalties for Marvel’s licensing program. We worked together to build the first global licensing system at Marvel.
I then moved over to FADEL to help Tarek productize rights and royalty management software based on a proprietary data model we developed. At that time, he was also working with publishers that needed to track rights for photos and illustrations, and I combined my DAM knowledge with our rights management data model and applied it to assets. That became ARC, the first cloud-based asset rights clearance product that we developed at FADEL. It could be bolted onto any DAM via a public API library. As it evolved, ARC became Rights Cloud, and as we developed content services and content tracking capabilities, it all converged as Brand Vision – a martech solution for digital brand compliance.
How do you describe digital asset management to others?
A lot of people think of digital asset management as a war chest of your assets. And when I say assets, I’m really talking about images and video. A DAM system has become part of the marketing technology stack, because most marketing campaigns are digital and therefore use digital assets. But many people forget the M in DAM, which is the management piece. That goes beyond storage to the ability to search for assets, transform them, share them, collaborate around them, distribute them in different ways, report on them, and analyze them. From our point of view at FADEL, the management piece also includes tracking the rights for them, enforcing compliance, and monitoring them post-production to make sure their usage isn’t triggering violations once they’re out in the wild. So how I would describe DAM is not only a place to store marketing assets but also a platform to manage the lifecycle of those assets.
What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?
I think the most important thing to remember is it’s part of an ecosystem. It’s part of a bunch of larger processes that include different constituents. Everybody from the brand strategists who need to understand the success of past campaigns, to the creative folks who actually need to use those assets to produce new content, to the librarians and managers who take that content and share it in powerful ways, to the distribution folks who are putting content out on social media and websites, to the compliance and governance folks who need to make sure that along that whole chain they’re not breaking any rules for talent, restrictions, or rights that apply to the assets. It’s really soup to nuts. It’s not just a Dropbox for files. It’s part of an ecosystem that needs to support all those different roles and integrate with other tools in the environment.
How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?
Trial by fire initially. I didn’t know anything about DAM until I was at Marvel and they said “pick a DAM, here’s a bunch of DAM vendors.” And that’s one way to learn it, is through the procurement process when you’re forced to understand the requirements and understand what’s out there. In addition to learning on the job, Henry Stewart events, both live events and webinars, really help you learn about evolving trends. There are also a bunch of publications, like DAM News. What I like to do is set up filters on my email and when I get something new, I put it aside to read when I have time. I just try to digest as much as I can.
What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?
I think it’s already transitioning to becoming the foundation for all other marketing technology. I see it becoming more of a platform than a system, like a database or tech stack that supports a bunch of different things on top of it. As a result, it will become ubiquitous. It won’t be like “this is your DAM”, it will be the foundational piece of the marketing technology ecosystem that supports your business.
What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?
As a DAM professional on the software vendor side, the challenge for the market is that there are so many choices, and every choice out there has a slightly different flavor and is constantly evolving in its own way. So rather than being singular and moving forward, it seems like different things are popping like fireworks. It’s a bit of a chaotic landscape and it can be distracting to figure out what’s important and what’s not. For example, this year the biggest thing was AI. But if you look at how that applies to the management of digital assets, then you should only be thinking about AI in terms of how it can help you manage digital assets, not how it can generate Twitter posts. While that’s cool and a useful part of marketing, it’s not necessarily relevant to the task of managing digital assets.
From the user perspective, I would say the challenge is seamless integration into workflows. Most DAMs are good at taxonomy and metadata and searching and transformation, but people are also looking for how a DAM integrates into their production lifecycle and how it can make their day-to-day job more effective.
What do you see as the biggest mistake with regard to DAM?
The biggest mistake we see when people implement a DAM is that they say “we need a DAM and we need it in six months.” But they don’t think about the other things that revolve around the DAM, for example rights management, which FADEL has been focusing on for a while. The best time to think about rights management is when you’re implementing your DAM, because that’s the easiest time to build that into your metadata model. Integration with your PIM is another consideration. How is that all going to work?
What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?
The most successful DAM implementation projects I’ve seen have had very sophisticated plans about what they want to do and where they want to go. You can use DAM for a lot more than digital asset storage, so thinking of it in terms of extensibility is helpful. It takes extra time and extra resources, but putting thought in upfront is really what is going to make it successful. This approach has led to my biggest DAM successes. When I worked at Marvel, I implemented a workflow system, not just a DAM. It was a place to capture and store digital assets but it was also a place to provide a workflow around the lifecycle required for those assets, which at Marvel happened to be brand assurance. From a FADEL perspective, our biggest success is that we’ve extended the entire DAM marketplace to be able to plug digital rights management—a complicated matrix of data sets that goes beyond the paygrade of a linear metadata field—into any DAM in the market.
If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?
Music. Acting. Art. Writing. Screenwriting, mostly. Actually, one of the first full screenplays I wrote was a spec script for Iron Man that was read by a few folks at Marvel. Since then I’ve won numerous awards for my original screenplay “Guardians Of The Crown,” which is a World War II action/adventure.
What more would you like to learn about DAM?
I am curious to learn what is going to happen with AI and where it’s going so I can understand how we might apply it in this field and bring AI into our products. Not just DAM but rights management and content tracking. The interesting thing about rights management is that the wild, wild west continues to exist. Just when you think you’ve conquered it, it pops up in a different format. Napster seemed cool and then they got sued. AI is a totally gray area at the moment but several major authors have sued already for ingesting data that’s their property. We never know what the next content is going to be, so we need to be able to capture and manage data, as well as the usage rights associated with it, from new distribution channels, however wild they may be.
About Gregg Guest
Gregg is Vice President of Product Management at licensing and rights solutions provider FADEL. Gregg has applied his foundational understanding of DAMs to incorporate essential digital rights management (DRM) concepts by tying a sophisticated rights model to assets. This helps DAM users better manage assets throughout the content lifecycle.
Gregg’s LinkedIn profile can be viewed at the link below.
This interview was published in DAM News on 12th October 2023. For more DAM News interviews, see the interviews index page.Share this Article: