What companies/organizations have you worked for as a DAM professional? What was your role at each?
Being a DAM professional has given me the opportunity to work in a variety of industries including image licensing, advertising, cultural heritage, and a global conservation NGO which is where I am currently. Working in different industries has served as a series of crash courses in DAM with each company/organization providing different lessons about the fundamental components of DAM (e.g., metadata / search enhancement, culture change / stakeholder buy-in, vendor selection, etc.). It gave me an opportunity to see the differences in each industry but also the underlying themes that impact healthy DAM programs across the spectrum.
I started as a photo archivist working for the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) in the dark ages when digitizing archives and metadata was a relatively new concept to the cultural heritage community. I moved to a small startup licensing agency called Trunk Archive focusing on scanning commercial photography archives which eventually included managing unruly digital acquisitions from professional photographers. So many hard drives! Again, this was still the dark ages even for professional photographers. From there I had a short stint as an administrator at Draftfcb, an advertising agency focused on building a library profiling the global creative and briefs. Finally, I landed at World Wildlife Fund as the Photo & Digital Asset Manager. My role has evolved considerably as the DAM program evolves. My responsibilities include everything from rights management and contracts, taxonomy, and search enhancement to serving as photo editor responsible for licensing, commissioning, and building a roster of photographers to document World Wildlife Fund’s conservation efforts. I even served as the interim global DAM lead for 16 months while WWF-International was going through some growing pains.
How do you describe Digital Asset Management to others?
Throughout my career, I’ve called DAM many things mainly to pique senior management’s attention. At World Wildlife Fund, to garner enthusiasm for the new platform, the RFP committee decided to host a contest where employees could suggest names for the new DAM. The name, the HIVE, won. Our DAM is branded with its own logo and training materials, we even created HIVE posters for the launch of the DAM in 2016. Employees at World Wildlife Fund might not know what a digital asset management platform is, but everyone knows about the HIVE!
What’s the most important thing for someone new to DAM to understand about DAM?
I think it really depends on where they sit within an organization or what their role is but in general it’s important to know that DAM is people first, technology second. Managing these platforms takes a village.
Vendor selection can be a challenging process. It requires nothing less than a forensic level audit because once a company has committed to a platform it’s very difficult to change course. It’s a long-term commitment. Considerations should include a vendor’s customer support model, upgrade and release schedules, and development philosophy. It’s also important to have the best possible relationship with your vendor, transparency about expectations is very important. The best programs and platforms can be compromised by communication breakdowns.
In addition, an organization can have the best technology platform in the world and without the right culture, resources and stakeholder support, the technology will not work.
Organizational culture is one of the largest factors in a DAM program’s success. I’m repeating myself but I’m a huge believer that DAM is people first, technology second.
How did you learn DAM? Any recommended sources?
I completed a master’s in library science which gave me the foundation for building digital libraries (e.g., metadata, database management, digitization standards) but the majority of what I know was learned on the job. As I stated above, each new company I worked for served as a crash course in a different component of DAM. Whereas Trunk Archive was all about developing automated methods and workflows for managing large and unruly digital photo acquisitions and managing them in a database for licensing, Draftfcb taught me about working in a global company’s DAM and the importance of assessing organizational culture when implementing a DAM, and World Wildlife Fund has been a crash course in rights management, contracts and licensing, vendor management, and senior management support challenges.
I also have the good fortune to work with great people throughout my career. To give an example, I wouldn’t have the breadth of knowledge about rights management and intellectual property if it weren’t for the guidance and support of World Wildlife Fund general counsel. They immediately understand the value of the DAM and have been a consistent support since the very beginning of the program.
Another example are the retouching staff at Trunk Archive, they taught me about photo editing workflows and how licensing agencies work with photographers and studios. We all learned a ton about digital asset management through manual processing of files. It was tedious but it moved us towards automation due to the help of our development team who had a very good understanding of the issues.
Although I rely upon them less now, I’ve found archives and library communities and organizations like New York Archivists Roundtable, Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference and Metropolitan New York Library Council the to be very supportive. It’s been a great place for sharing and learning.
I like the direction Henry Stewart has moved towards since the pandemic started. The online workshops and learning sessions feel so much more catered to DAM practitioners. I really loved the Festival of DAM in 2020 and was sad I couldn’t attend this year.
Finally, I’m beginning to see a new generation of DAM professionals emerge and have learned so much from them already. They are amazing!
What is your ongoing greatest challenge with DAM?
Senior management support, adoption, and career development.
What is your vision for DAM? What will it look like in 5 years?
I think we are moving beyond DAM for marketing and communication teams to company wide use of the system. DAM is no longer just for marketing teams. I don’t have the answers yet but am very curious what this looks like from an internal management perspective.
What was your biggest mistake with regard to DAM?
I’ve learned a LOT the hard way. I would say the biggest mistake was not building staffing resources at the very start of the vendor selection process at World Wildlife Fund. RFP processes are time consuming and complicated but in hindsight we should have been setting up staffing expectations for the DAM platform at the very beginning of the process. We inherited the old business model where offices assign existing employees the task of uploading and cataloging assets and it just doesn’t work. And once the initial excitement about the platform diffuses, it’s difficult to make a business case for resources.
What was your biggest success with regard to DAM?
Despite the above, building a global DAM for World Wildlife Fund which represents photography from some of the best conservation photographers and filmmakers in the world is one of the highlights of my career. I’ve had the opportunity to work with colleagues all over the globe from Colombia to Myanmar in an organization of smart and committed people.
If you weren’t doing DAM as a career, what would you be doing?
Good question! My interests are all over the place, I continue to be inspired by visual culture. Photography and film have served as ambassadors for career and friendship. I can’t imagine not doing something related to visual language.
I would love to learn more about digital forensics.
I know this is DAM related, but I would love to build another photography and video library. My dream is to work for a film company that produces horror movies and be their taxonomist. A24, Blumhouse or Shudder if you need a taxonomist or media asset manager, I’m your girl!
What more would you like to learn about DAM?
Right now, I’m really concerned about next steps for DAM professionals at the midpoint in their careers. There isn’t much of a road map for us here in the trenches, I would love to see that change.
Jennifer Anna is Photo & Digital Asset Manager for World Wildlife Fund (US) you can connect with her on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jenniferanna/
This interview was published in DAM News on 22nd September 2021. For more DAM News interviews, see the interviews index page.Share this Article: