DAM Champ: Romney Whitehead

DAM Champ Romney Whitehead is a digital content and publishing specialist, with 16 years experience in the world of DAM procuring and implementing systems. She holds a master’s degree in DAM and has been a visiting lecturer at Kings College in London where she taught a digital asset management course. Read on to learn more about her degree, teaching, and her work as a DAM Champ.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a digital asset management system (DAM). There is a wide variety in DAM champions, who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.

DAM Champ: Romney WhiteheadHow did you find out about DAM systems as a way to deal with digital assets?
I was working for BBC magazines in a purely analog world in 1997, sorting out their picture returns and libraries and working with prints, transparencies, and negatives, which were constantly getting lost or were late being returned to picture agencies. The only digital part of the workflow was post-print when digital scans of files were returned on CDs and then stored in a massive cupboard. Part of my job was also retrieving things that we wanted to reuse off these CDs, and it was a very time-consuming job.

When they talked about getting a digital asset management (DAM) system in 1999, I could see the future right there and asked to be part of the project. I think that since I was so enthusiastic about it, they made me the DAM champion, and shortly after I moved into the DAM team.

What inspired you to obtain a degree in DAM?
I had been working in DAM for a decade, and although I was well known and respected in the field, I was also aware that there was no real-world recognition or understanding of what I did or what DAM was.

When the course came up, it was the inaugural year, and for me it was a perfect fit. It meant I could do an MA in a year whilst working because it was just an extension of what I did on a day-to-day basis. For me, having an M.A. in DAM was the qualification that showed people that DAM was a real discipline and something that people choose to do for a living. Also, being introduced as a “MADAM” provides a great deal of entertainment at conferences or speaking engagements.

Can you talk about your DAM experience (e.g., your degree in DAM, working for BBC Worldwide and the NET-A-PORTER group, and finally having your own company)?
Despite working in different companies, the requirements around DAM are so often similar wherever you go. The need to consolidate, access, share, and manage files is the same if you are a publisher, or commerce, or big pharma, or entertainment like games and video. The nuances come with the acceptance of the company and the people themselves that there is a problem they need to solve. The hearts-and-minds part of DAM is huge, and you need to be an excellent salesperson when implementing a new system.

The BBC was a challenge, as it was so new at the time in the late ‘90s, but once you showed the benefits, there was a change within the teams who realized how much they came to rely on DAM. As time moved forward, the systems and requirements have evolved — which is what you would expect — and people realized that the system was more than a central archive, that it could be the backbone of a revenue-driving syndication business, that you could use it for successful new product development, and that it could become a center of a multiple system setup for commerce.

As a consultant specializing in DAM, what is your work like now?
Many and varied would be the answer. I have recently, in the last few weeks, spanned in the spectrum of traditional publishing, pure websites, mobile apps, commerce, and heritage. And it’s much more than DAM, so although that may form part of the work, some may be about audience growth or engagement for a website, development of new content apps, video strategies, or print-to-digital and monetising digital. But regardless of what we are talking about, I will always ask a client if they have a DAM and, if not, why not? Often, if they want to grow a business or a particular content area within a company, having a DAM will be the first stage that will allow them to do that.

How do you work with clients?
Listen, breath, speak. Listening and empathizing are very important. Sometimes clients will have been struggling with a particular problem for a while and are already frustrated, which then makes seeing progress difficult. Breaking down their problems into individual components and finding similarities throughout a business allows them to grasp a smaller, manageable chunk of change or implementation, which can then scale up to the wider business. I would never recommend taking on the whole company when it comes to implementing a system or change. Rather, pick a battle that proves the concept and that can be replicated in terms of strategy for the rest of the company.

I’m pragmatic and honest, and I know that you should never paint the sky blue for an executive team. After all, mistakes do happen when companies are working through new strategies and implementations, but the reality is that nobody dies from those mistakes. Companies should learn from their mistakes and move on.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to get a DAM system in their organization?
Be patient. Never stop being enthusiastic and evangelizing. Be stubborn enough to want to prove that this is the right thing to do and be eloquent when explaining why.

What is a common misperception about DAM?
That it’s an archive. And just an archive. And that you only use it at the end of a workflow. Or that it’s a product information management (PIM) system (my new favorite pet hate).

Why is DAM is important?
DAM is important because it taps into the fundamental challenges and problems that need to be solved by us all in this digital world. Even as individuals we’re creating such a multitude of digital assets of some kind that we’re then losing, ignoring, or not passing them on to the right people.

There is much talk about how DAM is invaluable for a business, but as individuals going about our daily lives we also need it. We create our own personal digital footprint across multiple devices and channels, but we also spend massive amounts of time and space not managing that footprint. Even thinking in the sense of passing on a legacy to families and friends, it’s important. In the past, we could have the whole analog legacy of letters, photo albums, or vinyl records to show the life history of a person and to pass on to others, but as we live our lives increasingly in a solely digital world, how do we show our life history? Through Facebook or Instagram or Twitter? If we all employed a DAM ethos in our personal lives, we would at least retain more of our personal heritage and legacy.

What is the best thing about DAM?
For me, it’s because it’s one of the only places in a business where you get a complete, holistic view of a company. The whole process of convincing executives that they need a DAM to roll out to users gives a unique perspective of a company. DAM will touch every department, be it creatives, marketing, IT, HR, or other facilities. I can’t think of any other business area where you get to meet and have to communicate with so many and varied types of workers. When you tell them they are actually in the business of knowledge management, they might look at you oddly to begin with, but as the light begins to dawn upon them and they see how powerful a DAM can be and how much it can revolutionize what they do, they suddenly become evangelists. Being able to take people from skeptics to champions for me is what is so cool about it all.

Do you recommend any resources, conferences, forums, or new sources for people looking to learn more about DAM?
There are so many to mention now, certainly many more than there were when I got into the world of DAM. The first one I came across was Henrik at Another DAM Podcast and Another DAM Blog. There is the DAM Foundation, Digital Asset Management News, and then ones that come from vendors like DAM Guru, and this site, too. More and more the vendors are offering free downloads to help DAM newbies as well.

In terms of impartial vendor research, I would always go with the Real Story Group, because they provide some free resources and webinars. The conference(s) for us all has to be the Henry Stewart DAM conferences, who also provide webinars.

What was it like being a visiting lecturer teaching courses about DAM?
It’s so much fun. I do enjoy teaching, and to be honest, it’s not such a stretch from teaching internal users in a company about DAM. The students are very enthusiastic, and it’s lovely to be teaching a subject to people who are like sponges when it comes to taking in what is being taught to them. I find it to be extremely satisfying work, and to be doing it at an M.A. level gives it an even greater feeling of satisfaction.

In general, what do you lecture on in your DAM course?
I tend to come in after the students have done the first semester, which is when they learn how to put that theory into practice. Sometimes it’s hard to try and see how a long education paper on knowledge management can translate into the practical, and when I first did the course I also wondered how it would work. In reality, it translated very easily. The practical and the theory of DAM and knowledge management are pretty much the same thing. The only thing it doesn’t teach you is the people management side of things, but that is also where I can help students understand that you need excellent people skills to work in the world of DAM.

How did you students feel about working in DAM?
I feel that they are excited about it. I know when I first came across DAM in 1999, it was like an epiphany for me as to how this field could change everything in terms of digital lifecycle. I feel like they get that immediately rather than being forced into changing how they’ve worked for years. I also feel that they understand that they need to be evangelists, that having a degree is just the start of their journey, and that they are the keeper of the future of our craft.

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