It’s no secret that I’m a fan of adding information professionals to digital asset management teams. While the rest of us are focused on the how-much and how-to of making a new DAM fly, it’s an information professional’s job to ask, What are you trying to do?

It’s a question that can lead to more successful DAM programs, but it’s a question that is best asked by someone who knows what to do with the answer. And those people are all too often not in the room. 

Selling The Apple iPro

The problem is that most of us don’t know we need information professionals because there is no Steve Jobs telling us we do. (I can’t help but think he checked out when he did because he knew there was no palatable way to promote wearables and remain a legend.)

If the Information Professional was an Apple product, however, the campaign messages might look like these:

  • All the info you need -- even if you don’t know what to ask
  • Roadblocks bulldozed before you arrive -- even when you’re just wandering
  • It’s the “Preemptive Intelligence Analyst” tattoo Siri would get, if she could just decide on a design

Think about that last one: preemptive intelligence analyst. Now, there’s a specialty you don’t see on many LinkedIn profiles. But wouldn’t it get your attention? Tomorrow’s preemptive intelligence analysts are today living behind titles like Librarian, Archivist and others that employers interpret as, “underappreciated grade school educator willing to work for peanuts because it’s for the Greater Good.” And until the Library Science industry mobilizes and starts making noise about more than just budget cuts, this is where information professionals will remain.

Wake Up and Smell the Marketing

The funny thing about marketing is that it shouldn’t be necessary. Things that are good should naturally rise to the top while garbage naturally sinks to the bottom. This isn’t reality, of course, because marketing upsets the natural order of things.

Many smart people, like information professionals, imagine the way things ought to be and they refuse to accept anything less. Rather than adapt and capitalize, they cower and complain. Or just cower.

While “UX Designers” and “Marketing Technologists” are surfing the Information Wave all the way to the 6-figure top, information professionals are watching the evolution of The New World Order of Technology from the shore. Content to accept that the water’s riches were meant for others, info pros have doused themselves in SPF-1000, donned sun-shielding hats the size of flying saucers, and sit patiently awaiting their turn.

In other words, the Information Professional community sucks at marketing. In fact, they make the same giant marketing mistake that is made by so many companies: They assume that marketing is silly or beneath them, or they say they just don’t have the time. Some have even admitted to me that they wouldn’t know where to begin to learn to market themselves.

If only there was a place where someone could go and access free information. You know, like a building where there are tons of books, or even an online search tool. If these things did exist, information professionals would finally be able to find the marketing information they need to alter the course of their profession.

Until then, what we have are lost budgets, decreasing job opportunities, and predictions of dim futures for holders of MLIS or similar degrees. It’s gotten so bad that some forward-thinking members of the Information Professional community are sounding the alarm. (Read how Ian Matzen and Rebecca T. Miller are trying to awaken their fellow info pros.)

No Love from DAM Vendors

Making things worse (as we often do), DAM vendors routinely avoid the recommendation (or even the mention) of information professionals because we don't want to complicate or lengthen sales cycles that can already dwarf the human gestation period. In the interest of making DAM seem as easy as pie, there’s just no room for discussion about what could wrong if the system isn’t properly designed.

But this is exactly the discussion upon which the value of an information professional is most effectively framed. Picturepark CEO Ramon Forster wrote an article in which he claims that Picturepark (my employer) has lost bids because his sales and services people held nothing back when disclosing truths and advice that often includes the hiring of an information professional. Forster argues that some DAM vendors downplay or hide the complexities of launching and maintaining a successful DAM initiative and, in doing so, make their solutions appear easier to prospects who are already overwhelmed with unknowns.

Sounds like a commonsense sales tactic, for people selling shoes. But when you define success more by a fifth-year renewal than a first-year PO, it’s not a sustainable tactic. Still, is full disclosure really the responsibility of a DAM vendor? Is it my job as a DAM vendor marketing director to launch global campaigns that warn how bad DAM can get when it goes wrong? (Granted, I have actually done so, but I’m a freak. My more sane counterparts at other organizations never do such things. Follow their leads, not mine.)

We DAM vendors are here to sell software, not pull information professionals kicking and screaming out of the era of microfiche as a modern technology and online catalogs as evidence of progress.

Dancing with the Devil

It’s time for you information professionals out there to start telling a story that actually interests us. We need to see more than just a modest participation in Digital Asset Management. We need you to become bold about the value you offer. We need you to blog about DAM vs. DAM under your influence. And we need you to stop patting one another on the back for having attended Library Science webinars about the future of microdata -- that’s not enough.

Come out of the library closet and show us how fabulous you are. Sell us on the value you provide. Make us beg to involve you and fear losing you. Market yourselves.

To get you going, here is my list of the “Top 5 DAM Benefits of an Information Professional.” Keep these things in mind when you meet someone who has no idea how you could improve their DAM.

  • Taxonomy construction -- Where does one start? What has worked for others? Which categorization methods lead to corners? Which are most scalable?
  • Metadata perspective -- What are some best practices in use of structured metadata, including menus, controlled vocabularies, etc. When are free-form text fields better?
  • Policy authoring -- What does DAM policy look like? What happens without it? How does one monitor and measure it?
  • User education -- Until DAMs get to the point where they are more advanced and intuitive, some training will be involved. Good training curriculum flows as an extension of user experience design: What the UI can’t make obvious, the training covers. But who’s going to do that training or write those how-to guides?
  • Vendor advisories -- Do vendors really know how controlled vocabularies should be used? Vendors listen to users, but users aren’t always experts. Don’t leave industry analysis to industry analysts. Write up some teaser reviews and send them to product managers. Show us vendors what we’re missing.

If you agree with me, then blog about it. If you disagree, then blog about it. Either way, the DAM industry needs you. We’re drowning under the weight of adjacent technologies that paint DAM as being nothing more than a menu option. And we’re suffering from the bad mojo that comes from too many poorly configured DAM systems.

In return, we can sell you as the Preemptive Intelligence Analysts that will be all the rage tomorrow. And we can help get you paid too.