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When people think about the institutional challenges faced in higher education, they might consider graduation rates, diversity, research and fundraising. We all know there’s a lot going on at colleges and universities, but many might be unaware of the marketing and public relations side of running a top-notch school.

When you consider the diversity of goals and activities that exist at a typical college, though, it’s apparent that these organizations face some of the biggest hurdles when it comes to things like managing brand consistency.

There are events, research organizations, academic programs, extracurricular programs, grant competition and a host of other things going on in a wide variety of fields -- from liberal arts to engineering to law to medicine. From a branding and messaging standpoint, there’s more there to juggle than there is at some multinational corporations.

Naturally, all this activity means a virtually constant generation of digital media related to the institution and the brand. As in any other kind of organization, colleges and universities have digital asset libraries (containing images, videos, presentations, illustrations, audio, documents and other file types) that can grow to the point where managing, tracking and governing the use of those assets becomes unwieldy without specialized digital asset management software.

Taking on the Biggest Jobs with Digital Asset Management

Across the higher education world, communications needs are similar -- but they’re not identical. At Corinthian Colleges, Inc., the advertising team is responsible for messaging for an institution with over 90,000 students in associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs. CCi also has about 17,700 employees.

At that scale, managing a digital asset library is a practically impossible task without DAM software.

Corinthian Colleges Advertising Director Camille Ortiz elaborates:

I oversee project management teams. We’re modeled like an in-house agency team, managing all aspects of the communications.We manage thousands of files and we’re generally responsible for anything printed, and that’s thousands of pieces. We also use the system to house assets we share with partners outside of marketing, like photography and logos.”

CCi knew from simply observing its own workflows prior to a DAM implementation that a software investment to make processes more efficient was worthwhile.

Ortiz continues:

Before DAM, when we would get a request internally, the process of fulfilling that asset request could take up to 20 minutes. We use the DAM tool to facilitate common needs like this. Now, they’re already pre-approved and compliant images available to send and download in seconds. We also get questions about logos several times a week and the DAM system has helped us so much in that respect."

Elementary as it might sound, managing logos and names -- perhaps the most basic elements of a brand -- can get very difficult for any organization.

Universities aren’t the exception; on the contrary, the structure of educational institutions can sometimes make managing brand identity even more difficult. Diverse stakeholders and actors with disparate interests are often liable to take branding into their own hands for niche projects and subgroups. As another university marketing office has found, DAM software goes a long way in reining in a school’s own name.

Role and permissions features are a big part of the reason why DAM is useful here. If people have one central repository of marketing materials, their access to images and graphics (like logos, for instance) can be governed as strictly or loosely as is necessary to serve the overarching branding goals of the institution.

Using DAM Software to Streamline Workflows & Create More Responsive Media Relations

At one university in the northeast, DAM software has helped make staff more nimble and effective when faced with asset requests from the press. This particular university’s staff cannot be identified because the institution has a policy that keeps its staff from offering statements on the school’s software purchases.

“It’s pretty busy here,” said one member of the university’s press relations office. “Tracking down photos is not how we want to use all of our time.”

The school is among a growing list of the academic institutions that have found new levels of efficiency in digital asset management software. To hear the school’s digital media and resources coordinator tell it, the difference between pre- and post-DAM implementation workflows is night and day.

“Our photography department is tasked with producing marketing content for the entire University,” he said. He started at the institution six years ago, when he says the university was struggling to manage growth in both the size of its digital asset library and the user base seeking access to that library as a source of media for communications.

The school needed a way of managing its rich media “without our staff having to go through images and without people having to physically come to us.” He and the photography department are expected to have institutional knowledge for every department at the institution. This is, to use his own word, an “impossibility.”

That’s why they sought out a DAM system.

“The first major benefit was time saved,” the asset manager said. “It’s great because (the DAM system) acts as a repository for our data. Our current system also allows us to track image uses.”

“It’s also heightened our profile among universities. I’ve received a lot of calls, including from Ivy League universities, from people who want advice and are looking to learn more about DAM. I’ve been shocked at how many calls I’ve received.”

That other universities are turning to this staff for insights is probably a result of the success that the school has had in streamlining its communications workflows with DAM software.

Their communications team was able to use its DAM system to make the process of supplying outside journalists with digital media far easier and more painless than it had been before.

“The first time I used it, someone from public radio had called. They had a program called about rare musical instruments, and we had a new organ,” said the media relations officer. “They asked for a picture of the organ. With this new system, it was really easy. The whole process took about five minutes. Before, something like that could take days.”

The same process plays itself out regularly, although it’s more common for his office to get requests for faculty photos. Most DAM systems (at least any worth looking into) will perform on-the-fly file conversions, meaning that the software will only deal with one master asset and convert it to different sizes and formats as needed. This cuts storage costs and makes version control and consistency much easier than, say, storing several parallel files and having to make identical edits to each every time there is an update or branding shift.

Ensuring Consistency by Facilitating Governance

Martha Dennis is the director of the Office of Marketing and Communications at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business. At one time, though, Dennis developed databases. So when the new dean of Terry made it a priority to consolidate the branding in and around the college, Dennis knew the school would need to find itself a good DAM system.

“We had a big shared drive with several gigabytes of photos in a folder structure,” Dennis said. That folder structure is good to have, but it doesn’t give you much in terms of searchability.

Dennis and her team were charged with finding a way to consolidate the brand identity, but also to manage the brand into the future by streamlining workflows and putting mechanisms in place that ensured brand consistency.

Now that there is DAM software in place at Terry, “search time has been cut down,” Dennis said, and the Terry College is able to more effectively leverage its talented staff, student and faculty community and build greater brand equity around the Terry name.

What This Means for Universities More Broadly

What these stories have in common -- aside from their having taken place in higher education -- is that the organizations identified a singular pain point (unwieldy and inefficient digital asset processes) and took initiative to alleviate that pain.

So what does this mean for you and your school? Just about any college or university can expect a return on a digital asset management software investment. No matter how fast and organized your people are, there are some things that only software can do for your rich media library. Metadata entry, on-the-fly file conversions and version control are just some of the benefits that DAM software brings to any organization that adopts it as part of its tool set.

The biggest benefit, though, is that DAM software enables you to repurpose your labor, time and talent. Every minute that DAM saves you on redundancies, asset searches and file conversions is a minute that photographers can photograph, writers can write and strategists can strategize.

Take some time to look into how your staff spends its time in your digital asset library. Once you understand what your workflows look like and how long it takes to complete tasks, you’ll be in a much better position to approach DAM software providers and get a sense for what kind of benefits you can expect from a best-fit solution and how much you should be prepared to spend on it.

Title Image courtesy of Dani Simmonds (Shutterstock).

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