DAM Champ: Stacey McKeever

DAM champ Stacey McKeever is the manager of the digital asset management team at Team One, an advertising agency in Los Angeles. She has over 20 years of experience working with DAM systems in various industries, including entertainment, travel, and retail. She received her master of library and information science degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and has been a lecturer there as well. She has also been a panelist at Henry Stewart DAM Los Angeles and has a publication in the Journal of Digital Media Management.

DAM champ: Someone who supports finding, setting up, or maintaining a DAM system. There’s a wide variety of DAM champions who come from positions in production, creative, management, IT, and marketing.


Stacey McKeeverWhat is your role in DAM currently?

I’m the manager of the DAM team at Team One. Team One is the agency of record for Lexus and has been for 30 years. I started in 2014 to help stabilize their DAM team by standardizing processes and procedures, setting appropriate boundaries, and deploying the asset repository more fully.

Could you explain a little how you interact with digital assets during the workday?

We’re a three-person team and we do a wide range of things. We receive our requests through Jira, our task management system, and the majority of the requests are for shot numbers and usage clearance; those typically come from the project managers or the interactive producers. We do asset retrieval (both internal requests and external requests) and asset delivery to outside parties when necessary. We receive and ingest photo shoots of the different car models, and we enter as much metadata to the files as possible. We also support our print producers when they need to deliver assets to the vendors.

How did you find out about DAM systems as a way to deal with digital assets?

Well, I fell backwards into it by way of library school. Between working in the computer lab for the department and through my coursework, I realized I was a latent techie. This really helped me get my first job post grad school, which was at Disney Online in 1998. As it turned out, one of my bosses at DOL had attended the same UCLA library program but he was two years ahead of me. Paul knew my background of working in the computer lab, so I was introduced to systems through him.

Why do you think DAM is important?

Simply put, DAM is important because it helps with chaos. It provides you with a window to see and know what you have. It’s also important because it can help you monetize what you have, if you choose to go that route.

Also, it’s easier to search for things when you have a systematic way of storing and looking for things.

“I don’t care what anybody says — it is not easier to search randomly on a server versus having keywords, content descriptions, etc.”

That would be akin to iTunes, Spotify, or your streaming service of choice saying, “Come on in and search our servers that have files with random file names.” There’d be no way you could find your desired music choices.

What is one of the biggest challenges you have as a DAM champ?

Adoption. No one likes to do things differently or get out of their comfort zone. Being moved into a new system can very intimidating. We get a lot of resistance because it is perceived that it’s going to slow people down immensely because “that’s not how I work.” True, it may slow them down initially as they get used to the new environment. However, we do lots of training, lots of one-on-ones, and lots of personalized service with our teams, so we try to make it as painless as possible.

An additional challenge is the “Googlization” of search in general. It’s harder to get people to take your in-house system seriously since everybody wants it to be like Google, where you can put in one word and get all of their results. People think they want that. But really, they don’t want that, because if they have to travel through a thousand results because they put in one search term, they get cranky. And I have to tell my folks, it’s not gonna happen that way. So, in that respect, it gets a little bit difficult, but in general DAM makes things easier.

Another (perceived) challenge is I think our user base believes my team has a completely different interface than they do, which is not true. We have to go through the same web portal they do. Now, we go in the backend to upload, which makes it easier, but in terms of working with the assets, we use the same web interface as they do. It’s just that we have a higher pain threshold than they do.

So, you work in a global DAM system, right? Meaning you have global users?

No. Actually, it’s just for our office and our satellite office in Texas. I have worked with a global system when I worked at Herbalife. I launched Herbalife’s global DAM system, which enabled the different regions to log into the system and be able to use it. So yes, I have done global systems before.

How did you make sure everyone was aligned when working in a global DAM system?

At Herbalife, I created the email distribution lists used to communicate to the user base. Whenever anyone new started and they needed to log in to the system, they had to come through me. I would send out an onboarding packet for the repository and do training for people here in Los Angeles. I would train trainers in the different regions so they could train their new users. Since I was the point for access, I could add users and deactivate users when people left. That sounds like a lot of work, but I liked doing it and it made life easier, especially if we had to do things like shut the server down. I could send out a global email to everybody. If there were issues, I could run reports and locate the issue(s). For example, there was a time where one of the regions was trying to download all of the logos from the system and this basically blocked everybody else out and tipped the server over. I was able to send an email to the region reminding them about best practices. Because I knew who had access, I could send targeted emails.

Another way is having clear service level agreements so everyone understands the rules. I’ve had requests where people say, “So sorry, we need this right away.” And if you’re talking about time zones, whether it’s back east or on the other side of the planet, having SLAs helps you be flexible while making sure there’s an understanding of what can and cannot be done. I’ve really worked to try and say, “Okay, I will help you as much as possible, but I need your help as well.” And for the most part, it worked.

On your LinkedIn profile it says you specialize in implementation, maintenance, and upgrades of large-scale DAM systems, so my question is, what tips would you give others who are trying to implement a large-scale DAM system?

Go for quick, small wins. The bigger the system, the bigger the stakes, and the more people who want to have their hand in the cookie jar to get kudos. Trying to do anything massive will make you want to poke your eye out, so always try to go for smaller wins.

A smaller, easy win can be setting your SLA. That’s a very simple thing where you don’t have to worry about getting buy-in and talking to groups of people. It helps set and manage expectations especially if you’re a mom ’n pop shop and, most importantly, it allows you to prioritize things in such a way that your turnaround times for some things will be shorter, thereby allowing you to over-deliver (completing the task sooner) on your promise of a 48-hour turnaround time. For example, I have a standard SLA of within a 48 hour period. This means that if someone sends in a work request on Tuesday, it will be completed or sent to them no later than end of day Thursday. If they send it on Friday they’ll get the request back no later than end of day Tuesday. Initially, some people thought that was too long to wait. But when my team started completing and delivering requests faster, our user base started to relax and started to understand the ebb and flow of our work schedule; if we need the full 48 hours, then that means the DAM queue is full (digital asset management puns never get old for me).

Another small, easy win is setting expectations.

“I have this thing I call “The Myth of ‘Done.’” I’m always asked, “When is the DAM gonna be done?” To my mind, it’s not going to be done. The only way it’s going to be done is when your company stops making whatever widget you’re making. A DAM is not a roast. It’s not a chicken. There’s not a finite point to it, unless you’re doing an archive, which is a completely different thing.”

It’s more about getting them to understand that there are going to be a myriad of phases that will be complete, so uploading the assets, that’s one phase. But because more assets are being created, there’s always going to be flow into the system.

Another way of setting expectations is to delineate what the DAM system is not or what it won’t hold. It’s so much easier to have a “no go” list from the jump versus putting everything in first then trying to weed out files because there’s going to be a bunch of people singing the, “Wait, no, that has to stay” song. If you tell people, this is what’s not going in there, and stick to it (which can be difficult, I will admit), that’s helpful.

I noticed you have experience with physical and digital archives or curation methods. Can you talk about the differences and similarities between the two?

With the physical archive, we have representations of physical locations that had books in their original format. Think the Dead Sea Scrolls or the Libraries of Alexandria. There’s this understanding of what a physical archive is. It’s like, oh, okay, library books. They’re able to see and touch and be tactile.

With a digital archive, there’s nothing tactile. And it took me a long time to get over the fear of losing things, so initially I would keep copies of copies of copies. And finally, I understood that we’re going to lose stuff, like with some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. I’m sure there were probably more, but some have been lost in time and we don’t know that.

Well, it’s the same thing here. If you have a network outage and you’re in the middle of something and that file goes wonky, oops. You know, it’s gone. So it’s this whole problem of people wanting to keep everything because they don’t want to lose everything, but then it makes it harder to try and search.

If worse comes to worse and something happens, we can go back to the vendor and get something replaced. In some ways, it’s more freeing actually having a digital archive because you don’t have to worry about space in the same way. It’s easier to catalog in some ways, because when we upload everything into our DAM system, we can add more information, more metadata.

I like that. I think you summed it up really nice. My next question is, how do your MLIS degree and your librarian skills help you in the field of DAM?

It helps me because in library school we had to learn cataloging and how to create MARC, or  Machine Readable Cataloging records (which are used when cataloging). We learned how to use databases such as Dialog, OCLC, Lexis, and Westlaw (for legal documents). Having this background lends itself beautifully to DAM. We catalog and index files, we have metadata fields (MARC records), and the list goes on.

I went to library school decidedly in the pre-Google era. We were on the cusp of things starting to explode. We had to learn how to build queries and how to think as the user. I also learned how to be the liaison between my users and their information needs. This can apply to DAM. My team is the avatar for the user as well as a translator. So as we’re doing this call today, the team that supports my DAM, they’re here this week finalizing a major migration we did this past weekend. I’m able to talk to them in their language, then translate it, if you will, and be able to talk to others outside of the tech world.

“For me, one of the aspects of being a librarian is to help the user understand what their actual information need is as much as possible.”

And there are different schools of thought about this. One theory is what we think is our “original information need” really isn’t because the original information need comes from our “lizard brain” and we don’t have the language to describe that primal / primitive need. So the primal need has to be transformed into something the “civilized part” can describe. That’s how I see my (and my team’s) role.

An example of this is, I can’t tell you the number of times I receive requests like this:

“I need an image of a car.”

“Okay. Which model?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”

So, I list out models. It happened at Disney.

“I need an image of Mickey.”

“Which one?”

“Oh, it doesn’t matter.”

“Are you talking standard Mickey? Baby Mickey? Retro Mickey?”  

And every time, the response would be “Oh, yeah…”. So that long response is just to say my library background helps because I know how to do what we call a reference interview, which everybody does in their daily lives, where they’re always asking questions. You go to Starbucks and the barista says, “Hi, how can I help you?” I want coffee. “Do you want an espresso? An Americano?” Everybody does it.

I like that analogy. That’s a really good way of explaining it. That completes my questions. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I tell people this all the time: if someone in high school would have told me that I was going to have a career in librarianship and love it, I would’ve said they were crazy. That’s not what I wanted to do. Looking back, by earning my bachelor of arts in sociology, which studies social relationships between entities (from two to entire civilizations), really dovetailed perfectly into library school.

I love, love, love what I do. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get frustrating at times, and I understand that DAM is really not that sexy to some people so they don’t get the allure of it. That’s fine and that’s why I’m here. My whole job is to make things seamless and not be painful as much as possible.

I could talk about it all day long. I love DAM.

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