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Managing Creative Assets In a Complex Time

*This article was written for ANA Forward and originally published on the ANA website.

From left to right: Digital asset management experts Neal Bilow, managing partner at Chromata Solutions, Jeffrey Marino, a partner at WordCityStudio, and David Lipsey, co-director of the Rutgers University Professional Certificate DAM Program, answer questions about why asset management is so crucial. Courtesy of Bilow, Marino, and Lipsey


A crisis illuminates the robust benefits of a cloud-based centralized asset management system

In response to the COVID-19 situation, marketers are rapidly assessing their creative messages and overall marketing plans. Some brands are choosing to cease their marketing campaigns immediately. Others are revising their current creative assets and adjusting the rights accordingly, while still other companies are tracking down a variety of older production assets to assemble more appropriate ads and renew the rights.

The COVID-19 crisis exposes the weakest links in marketers’ internal and external workflows — and illuminates the robust benefits of a cloud-based centralized asset management system.

Brands are creating more stories, in more shapes and sizes, for more screens and devices, than ever before. These precious assets also carry strict rights for usage and talent payments, and marketers and their agencies must be ready to make changes quickly to react to a mercurial business landscape.

The topic of creative asset management came into focus long before the coronavirus outbreak. And yes, there are far more important issues in life to grapple with right now outside the pain points in the marketing profession. But marketers are trying try to maintain a sense of routine in their daily lives and are putting their thinking caps on to keep pushing forward.

Extreme Reach spoke with David Lipsey, global chair of the Henry Stewart digital asset management (DAM) Conferences and co-director of the Rutgers University Professional Certificate DAM Program; Neal Bilow, managing partner at Chromata Solutions, a consultancy in the digital asset management sector; and Jeffrey Marino, a partner at WordCityStudio, about why asset management is so crucial, with a specific focus on video assets. The conversation also touched on how the marketing industry can emerge from the current crisis stronger than ever.

Q. Video is arguably the most powerful tool for marketers but we hear frustration about the complexity of effective video asset management. How are marketers struggling to manage all their video assets?

David Lipsey: We arrived at having video-as-marketing-assets from narrow points of origin: linear and highly structured television and highly specialized and externalized production workflows. This led to three derivative problems. First, legacy broadcast ad prep, delivery, and rights processes meant video asset control was far afield of the digital video sector that wanted to “slice and dice” and think “dynamic and digital,” but lacked a specialized creative supply chain. Second, this asset mismatch problem is further compounded by traditional outsourcing of TV creative production to external agencies and post-houses, which leaves the marketer with a decentralized system. Third, at the same time that consumers flocked to video across digital screens, DAM systems were ill-prepared to manage video. This left brands, agencies, and media partners to rely on manual processes, spreadsheets, and FTP protocols to ready video assets for deployment.

Neal Bilow: The problem can be broken down into two fundamental issues — massive file sizes and the absence of the right tools for today’s media landscape. This makes it difficult for marketers to store, organize, and effectively reuse video content. Most DAM systems don’t support these formats and lack the highly specific transcoding capabilities required today. What began a few years ago as a shift by marketers to bring the creation and management of still-image assets in house has now accelerated into the realm of sight, sound, and motion. While the investment in the creation of in-house agencies has been significant, for the most part it has not come with the tools (beyond video edit systems and some storage) to make these investments truly efficient.

Jeffrey Marino: The marketing opportunities requiring video assets have seen a tremendous increase over a relatively short period of time, bringing with it a whole new set of complexity for managing those assets. At the same time, user expectations for simpler video asset management will increase dramatically. The outsourcing of production to creative agencies and post-production houses combined with the many other teams involved in digital video campaigns have put additional demands on asset management systems and roles.

Q. How can brands approach asset management to also ensure precision compliance?

D.L: Legacy processes and software to manage TV rights were not architected for video across any screen or device. Addressing this starts with clarity on the “rights tree” and “rights expression” side of the house and greatly improved standardization and uniformity in how rights are described, tracked, and controlled. This metadata needs to be seamlessly integrated into a brand creative asset management system so that it self-actuates and controls where and when creative plays for compliance everywhere.

N.B.: One of the issues has been that the rights information is traditionally only found in a Word or PDF document sitting in a digital file cabinet. Most asset management systems are only tackling rights in a simple manner, which means that we need to work with our technology providers to increase their capability for the complexities of rights or integrate them with rights systems to easily query on what can be correctly used.

J.M.: New approaches to DAM systems that integrate TV and video rights management are a big opportunity. Effective rights management encompasses both brand and creative; it means associating finished content and reusable elements with all rights and usage data. Precision compliance is also about context, managing where distribution is permitted (i.e., geographically, on what channel, on what site, during which date ranges).

Q. How are the leading DAM solutions, built originally for photography, images, and documents, approaching video asset management? Are they focusing more on building capabilities or partnering to accelerate a more fulsome solution for marketers specifically?

D.L.: I see a bit of both and a next-generation wave of technologies arriving on the scene with marketing-centric video as core to the design. Understandably, it can be very difficult for both traditional DAM vendors to “add in” deep video versatility, as well as for traditional broadcast “MAM” [media asset management] vendors to add the agility for multipurpose video that today’s marketers need.

N.B.: Project management tool integrations with DAM systems is commonplace. One of the core and recurring questions today is, “What does it mean for a DAM solution to claim it supports video?” Some systems offer the simple ability to upload a web version of a video while others offer a complete video system via deep integration with specialized technologies. Staffing and talent — not just technology — are also crucial to this decision.

J.M.: A logical step for video management involves the adoption of robust metadata standards for video that not only include all metadata associated with the production team that created the video, but also the data capturing performer contracts, rights usage expiration dates, and approvals for where the ads can run. Today, that means appending data to video throughout its lifecycle, possibly partnering with a platform purpose-built for integrating that data, as the most practical video-everywhere route for DAMs managed by marketing teams.

Q. Managed service and product innovation are critically important in the DAM sector. What’s needed ahead to help brands navigate an increasingly complex landscape?

D.L.: DAM vendors are keenly aware of the increasingly “digital” and “video” complexion of the marketing landscape and they are investing heavily to try to reach the horizon. Not all of these efforts will succeed, but the investment continues. At the same time, notable trends include greatly improved APIs and interfaces among complimenting best-in-breed systems, a better “philosophy” of partnering, the maturing of the managed services offering in high-velocity content workflows, and the incessant drumbeat of better tools for accelerating contextual metadata.

N.B.: We are now seeing the deployment of video-to-cloud and/or offsite/private cloud solutions. Traditionally there was always a concern about cost and the belief that the content needed to be directly on an editor’s hard-drive or an external drive. The new world of a distributed staff means the need now is to have video managed through distributed networks (the cloud).

Q. What advice do you have for clients staring at a dizzying array of marketing solutions as they contemplate the best way to manage, control, and deploy video assets across a multichannel landscape?

D.L.: If only we had a “one-size-fits-all” answer. But never fear, thinking through your strategy, goals, and needs will lead the way.

    1. Use the Digital Asset Management Capability Model as a reference framework.
    2. Work through all the details of governance. Who will establish processes and roles? Who will oversee quality control? Who is responsible for training the teams that will come together in the system you create? Poor governance accounts for the great majority of failed projects.
    3. Create the metrics and measurements that will define success before starting a new project. Don’t stop at just traditional ROI. Measure return on production-investment (reuse) and impact on business (efficiency gains) and return on information-as-asset (data, infonomics).
    4. The current evolving cross-departmental and external nature of asset usage requires careful attention to talent payments and rights management. Along the way, rights administrators, technology support staff, and vendor partnerships need an equilibrium of partnership and dialog.
    5. New asset types just keep coming. Future-proof marketing solutions and be ready for them to continue to increase.
    6. Finally, in the spirt of “measure twice, cut once,” get the best advice you can for assessing the vendor’s roles, references, user groups, state-currency on market trends, and how they engaged in these durable relationships. While content and digital move at their own light-speed, it’s our relationships with each other and a vendor’s commitment to client success that cement long-term success.

N.B.: Think in a systematic way and talk to others. The vast number of vendors in this space can be overwhelming. Start with a core list of what you need and then augment that list with what you learn. Seek out those who have gone through this before. Marketers will be surprised at how many people are willing to share their experiences. Establish a roadmap for your project. Don’t try and launch with every asset and workflow complete. Start with some of the easier workflows and assets to gain practical, hands-on experience, and then iterate and make changes along the way. Our experience in 20-plus years of evolving content technology projects tells us that it is important to recognize that the more you are willing to evolve your workflow to adapt to tools — without needing major customization — the better.

J.M.: When I think of content for advertising, I think about trafficking systems, rights management, the business of bridging workflows across organizations, and the complexity of the advertiser/agency/media matrix. Advertising content distribution involves some DAM-like process requirements, but it doesn’t depend on DAM. What can DAM simplify and automate together with ad creative workflow? What are the integration opportunities for DAM at the distribution end of such a high-value content chain? These are excellent questions to investigate as traditional DAM solutions are good at managing and controlling assets but not generally connected all the way upstream to the TV and video creation process and all the way downstream into media destinations.

The modern media landscape presents brands with new, powerful opportunities to meet consumers wherever they are, personalize their stories for greater resonance, and target their best prospects with more precision than ever before. Centralized, controlled, rights-managed asset management will accelerate marketers’ ability to realize the promise in front of them.

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