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DAM: getting creative with rich media

Everyone loves rich media—the mesmerizing videos, the splashy images—but not everyone loves managing the files that create those effects. All too often, the hunt for “that really good picture we can use in the presentation” comes down to finding the last person who used it and saved the latest version to a local hard drive. And it’s not that the right digital asset management (DAM) software tools aren’t available, or even that the financial returns don’t justify the investment. Taking the time to focus on the issue and sort out the options can be the biggest barrier.

Vendors are not always their own best friends, either. “Sometimes vendors pitch the whole kitchen sink when the users would be best served by an incremental approach,” says Theresa Regli, analyst at the Real Story Group. “Many media-intensive companies are still using folders and share drives, and they could really use a solution, but they are not ready to buy an all-encompassing solution yet.”

The irony, Regli points out, is that many DAM solutions are componentized, so users theoretically could select only what they need. However, shopping a la carte can take more expertise than some organizations have, and cross-product comparisons can be difficult given the varied feature sets.

Nevertheless, companies both large and small are jumping in and making DAM systems work, to great advantage. Creative departments have understandably been early adopters.

Joico manufactures and sells hair care products, hair coloring and appliances. The company’s images, brochures and training materials were stored on share drives in folders that were well organized but could not be accessed by all the employees and partners who needed to use the files. “We were spending a lot of money shipping CDs and DVDs globally with images that were too large to e-mail,” says Lilly Taktakian, digital asset manager at Joico.

Having previously used Cumulus, a DAM solution from Canto, Taktakian put it on the list of contenders. “From past experience I found that it could be used simply or in a very complex manner, easily expanding with the company’s future growth,” she says. Wanting some additional customization, Joico chose to work with a Canto partner to customize the interface and add features that were not present out of the box. Those customizations provided an interface that was easy for a range of users, from novice to experienced, to work with, and allowed for file conversions on the fly.

The workgroup edition of Cumulus, including WebPublisherPro, was the right fit for the number of workers using Joico’s DAM system. Because the file hierarchy was already in place along with a strategic naming convention, Cumulus imported the files directly, maintaining the established categories and metadata. “I always have to add some metadata, but the file naming convention allowed us to incorporate the embedded information automatically,” Taktakian adds. Migrating all the files took approximately six to eight months, with Taktakian working solo to complete the job along with her routine tasks.

The system now has 55,000 assets and is growing, with about 150 to 350 being added each month. “By enabling our 300+ partners to be able to access files over the Internet 24/7,” says Taktakian, “the system paid for itself within a month.” In the past, partners had to wait two days or more for assets on CDs or DVDs. “Now they are accustomed to having on demand assets,” she adds. “This level of expectation has become a permanent way of life, and there is no going back.”

From workgroup to enterprise

Newsday, a daily newspaper that serves the New York City metropolitan area, began using the workgroup version of Cumulus and later expanded to the enterprise version. “Up until a few years ago, we were storing files on network drives. It was the typical story of struggling to find the right file when we needed it,” says James Kober, director of advertising operations at Newsday.

The original plan was that the creative staff, consisting of about a dozen people, would use Cumulus. That group develops ads for some of Newsday’s smaller customers who do not use ad agencies. It was deployed, and was well accepted by the creative staff. “We knew that if the artists did not like it, the system would not be successful,” Kober says, “but they jumped on it.” The artists were able to store, find and revise ads for their customers much more quickly. Ads developed by agencies are also stored archivally in the system.

Later, Kober became convinced that Cumulus could have wider use in advertising operations, and upgraded to the enterprise version. Once the sales reps began using Cumulus, they received an e-mail when an advertisement had been created or when requested changes had been made, and could check it on the Web site. “A few of the salespeople were skeptical initially,” says Kober, “but now they say they couldn’t live without it.” The enterprise DAM system now houses 650,000 assets and has several hundred users.

Reducing review cycle

The sales reps have long been interested in being able to show customers the ads on their BlackBerrys while traveling, but the screen is too small to show the ad clearly. “We have a pilot group starting up on the iPad,” Kober says. “They will get an alert as soon as the artist is done with the piece, and will have the opportunity to show it to the customer in the field using the iPad. If the ad is approved by the client, the rep will send it back into Cumulus as approved, and if not, they can type in the requested modifications.”

The application that presents the Cumulus file was developed as a native application on the iPad by Vitras (vitras.de). Kober is convinced that the mobile capability will reduce the review cycle time and increase customer satisfaction.

Cumulus is a well-established product that dates back to the early 1990s. Recent enhancements include analytics that help customers track usage of files, as well as successful or unsuccessful search results. “Out of the box, small to medium-sized companies can use Cumulus directly as it is. For larger customers or more complicated usage, Cumulus can be customized and integrated to fit best into existing solutions,” says Steffen Setzer, marketing director at Canto.

Depending on the customer’s needs, the focus may be on archiving, workflow or building a partner portal. “Customers do not have to be media-intensive to make use of Cumulus,” adds Setzer. “Some are using it just to manage PowerPoint presentations, so they can add an updated logo or image without redoing the whole presentation.”

Creative department challenges

At the Showtime network, the internal creative services department, known as Red Group, has about 100 employees who prepare promotional materials and ads relating to its 24 cable channels. Those include Showtime and its associated channels, The Movie Channel, the Smithsonian Channel and Flix, among many others. The group was using a proprietary DAM system but needed a solution that embraced open standards such as Adobe’s Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP), Java and HTML. In addition, the group wanted a way to provide direct access by individuals who wanted to repurpose the files, rather than having to respond to dozens of requests per day to locate and send files.

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