The Business Case for Digital & Media Asset Management

Executive Summary

While it’s not practical to document or track all of the ways organisations can save or make money by using a media management system, there are some well-known and generally accepted ways to gauge return on the investment (ROI), which will apply to many. These include:

  • reformatting for multi-channel. Automatic and assisted reformatting of assets for print, press, social media, intranet etc., can save as much a 70% of studio costs on typical projects. Read more...
  • searching for media files. Studies have shown typical marketing communications (Marcomms) staff spend on about 10% of their time on file management tasks and using a DAM can save as much as 70% of that time. Read more...
  • reusing media files. Since a media management system makes it easier to find media you already have, you spend less on the acquisition and generation of new media. Read more...
  • reduce duplicated files and associated effort. In a typical organisation the web site duplicates files stored on the drives used by marketing staff: both teams update, refine and use the files. With a media management system there is the potential for all staff to share and use one central store or media files, saving duplicated effort and storage space. Read more...

In some organisations measuring the potential ROI will be difficult: there may be too many different types of users or scenarios to model, or cost information may not be available. In others, the sheer number of media files - and widespread groans from staff and management about the difficulty of finding content - will be enough to justify the investment, perhaps with some savings on stress management courses.

ROI Too Difficult to Calculate?

Difficult to Calculate

You can’t put a meter on each employee and monitor the time they spend on file management tasks. Detailed surveys across many different types of role (intern, exec, experienced staff, new staff, etc.) can be too time-consuming and unreliable to consider if you work in a large complex organisation. However, in many companies it will not be that difficult. Consider the following examples.

MarComms Team of 5

When asked how much time they spent looking for files, Sarah and Jane didn’t find it too difficult. Working for a Hotel chain they spent 2 whole days each only last month searching for and agreeing pictures of exotic or unusual hotel buildings around the world, for a forthcoming campaign. They also had a good idea of how many projects they did a year based on the last 3 years and could recall how many of them were similarly difficult, as well as what was more typical.

Agency Repurposing 75%

Advertising agencies have to provide their clients with a break-down of time and cost, by activity. So if you are an agency, it should be straightforward to find out how much studio cost is expended on simple reproduction tasks. If you use agencies it should also be relatively easy to find out how much you are paying for this and for other services like posting to social-media sites, storage of media files and so on.

Completing an ROI Model

There are area you will probably not be able to quantify, which make a return on investment analysis more challenging:

  • the cost of recreating lost files
  • the times an asset was licensed twice – once by department X and once by department Y.

Such information is probably not logged and is therefore hard to research. What this means is that whatever savings you do work out are probably an underestimate of the benefits a well-managed DAM can bring.

However, many organisations do achieve a reasonably clear picture of the major issues a media management system can address for them, a good - or at least useful - estimate of the savings they can make, and therefore build confidence that the software will pay for itself over a period of time. Some companies will be able to target saving in departmental budgets that can be allocated to other productive activities.

Perhaps most importantly, measuring the ROI of a media management system necessitates a good understanding of how such systems can be fully exploited and that is in everyone’s interest. Even if you don’t think it’s feasible to perform these measurements, you still want to know how to get the most benefit out of the software.

Finally, remember that DAM (Digital Asset Management) and MAM (Media Asset Management) are really methods, not software. Associated software solutions support the methods, they don’t replace them. This is important: failure to embed use of DAM and MAM into your organisational workflow effectively will often mean that the full benefit remains unrealised.

Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts

Typical Time and Money Savers

+1 Searching For Assets

We know - from many of our customers and prospects - that one of the major reasons for getting a centralised DAM system is that the sheer number of media files distributed in different places makes it a headache to find the right media at the right time. DAM systems have been shown to reduce the time spent by users in searching and locating files.

According to research by GISTICS presented at the ISTC (UK) conference in 2012, creative professionals spend an average of 1 out of every 10 hours of their time on file management. That includes searching, verification (of permissions for example or quality), organisation, back-up and security.

Ed Smith proposes that DAM users can save as many as 260 hours each year on average (that’s only 1 hour a week for each of a team of 5) and at a typical salary, with all costs taken into account, that this was worth $6,240 per user, every year. Not all of it is saved of course: 75% is proposed as the potential saving, worth $4,680 dollars per person per year.

How much time do your comms and creative staff spend looking for and managing media files - and what about other types of staff? We recommend you do a little research to find out. Estimate the annual average time per job role, multiply by the number of staff in the role and the average salary. Of course, even using a DAM system they will still spend some time searching, so you have to have an idea about how much quicker it will be. This will depend on how well you implement the system and in particular how well you tag the files you put into it.

My experience shows that if done well, time savings of as much as 70% are achievable. This won’t be 100% accurate in all situations, but neither will it be 100% misleading. It is not difficult to send a mail to selected staff asking them to tell you how much time they spend and give you some examples.

How many hours do staff in your company spend looking for media files?

+2 Reformatting Assets

Modern multi-channel marketing increases the likelihood that your Marcomms team need to reuse the same media files in multiple shapes and sizes to suit the requirements of each of the channels in which you are active. Typically, frequent reformatting tasks include:

  • scaling - reduce the overall size of an image or photo
  • cropping - remove parts of the image or photo so it fits a different space on the page
  • saving a frame from a video to use as a picture and resize it
  • cutting a short clip from a longer master video (for use YouTube or Facebook for example).

These are not complex tasks or ones that involve aesthetic judgement, so there should be no need for professional creative staff, but in many companies that’s exactly what happens. Sometimes, the staff involved will be expensive because they work for an external advertising agency. If marketing staff can perform all of the above operations themselves (having received the initial master artwork or videos from the creative team) and be able to publish directly to Facebook, Twitter, their CMS and the web with just one click, that could be a huge saving of studio costs, whether in-house or outsourced. At least one of our customers has reported saving 70% of costs associated with re-production tasks on typical projects, using such features.

If you are an advertising agency, these tools can help you perform tasks more quickly, with more junior staff. Since these small tasks occur frequently, you can save a lot of money in a short space of time, and pass that on in terms of reduced cost to your clients and hence increased competitiveness in your market.How much time and money do you spend on routine repurposing of master files?

+ 3 Website and Other Media Mountains

It’s still very common for organisations to maintain huge duplication of media files - one mountain for Marcomms, PR, etc. - and another for the website. Typically, these will contain a large number of duplicates used multiple times across your website, publications and advertising channels. Many processes applied to these images will also be duplicated: cropping to fit a web page column; sending for and obtaining approval for the reshaped asset; making it available on a URL. Additionally, there is the duplication of disk-space and backups, and the processing involved in several instances of identical images being served to different websites (your homepage, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest posts, newsletters, and more).

A similar media mountain may exist within the advertising agency you use - for which they may be charging you a storage and management fee. Many readers will remember times when you went back to an agency for media files used in an old campaign, only to be charged again. The media mountain has a price!

Some companies maintain internal backup and archive drives for media, but media management systems eliminate the need for such silos. All your users, internal and external to your organisation, can access and share the same collection of media files as well as having user-friendly tools to help prevent accidental deletion of files. That means having just one media store for all of your user groups: Marcomms, PR, web, agency, press, printers.

Files can be displayed on your website while they are hosted on your media server - not the webserver. Third Light IMS - and other DAM and media management systems - come with several tools that make it easy for web developers to generate and include the necessary image or video links for web pages (simplifying integrating with your CMS is usually a beneficial side-effect).

Often, marketing staff have to publish to Facebook, Twitter, their CMS, the web and other channels through co-operation with the web development team. With Third Light IMS, they can perform these operations themselves (having received good masters from the creative team) and publish directly to those channels with just one click. This can add up to big savings on web development costs.

How can you measure and reduce the costs and potential savings in all this?

  • Talk to your marketing team to see what’s involved in getting a new picture added to the corporate website or intranet
  • Find out from your web team how many images are added or changed on your web sites per year.
  • Ask your IT team for the amount of space used up by media files on your webserver (and elsewhere) and estimate of the costs of maintaining the space, including backups.
  • Ask your agency if you are paying for media storage and associated management.

How many copies of each media file does an organisation need? Only two: production and backup.

+ 4 New Asset Creation And Acquisition

If media files are easier to find and reformat, it follows that there will be some reduction in the need for new media to be created or acquired.

Work out what you spend annually on this: use the DAM as the motivation to implement greater fiscal control on new asset creation and acquisition. Target a percentage saving. You probably won’t make your target initially, but you can calibrate your target after some experience and bottom-out your media budget.

+ 5 Increasing Revenues?

Digital asset management ROI

DAM can improve your competitive advantage by providing faster time-to-market for development of cross-functional digital products. This means you can:

  • increase market share & advertising revenue opportunities by bringing more products to market
  • upsell opportunities that can yield new revenue streams.

We shouldn't accept this argument too readily. This angle has been suggested by some DAM vendors. We think this will be too difficult for most to calculate - with one exception. Did you deliver a project too late and was there a directly attributable cost penalty? Did the reasons the project was late include the difficulty of finding or managing you media assets?

If you are an advertising agency, there’s one other thing. Some large corporates pay in excess of $2,000 USD per month to agencies to provide or manage their media management system for them. Some agencies provide a "media portal" or extranet for their clients. Needless to say this is profitable for the agency - not least because they have several clients paying for the same service. At an early stage in most new projects, a client will need to provide an agency with their brand logos and other collateral. An agency receiving these via a media management system - and serving creative work for review by the client through the same system - will find that some clients want to retain the centralised storage of corporate assets and the other tools it provides, beyond the initial project.

A single instance of our Intelligent Media Server can be used to provide multiple clients with this service (branded for each) and thus provide an additional service line and revenue stream for an agency. At the very least it could cover the agencies costs for running the DAM.

Media Management Costs

calculate all types of cost

In the following subsections we list the typical costs incurred by those acquiring a DAM system. Obviously, the cost of the DAM system license itself will be a major cost. As we have pointed out before, the cost of some solutions can be surprisingly high, but there are many good and reasonably priced solutions in the market at prices so obtaining a healthy ROI over a standard 3 year period is feasible.

However, there is another major cost consideration: who is going to manage this new solution, who will enter the metadata for the media, which is so vital to successful adoption of a DAM system? According to the DAM Foundation’s salary survey, the mean reported salary for Digital Asset Managers is $82,198 USD per year. This is a point of special relevance in our discussion of ROI.

Do you need to hire additional staff to support and maintain your new DAM system? Less than 10% of our customer-base does so. More typically the DAM is looked after by a small team, often the Marketing Communications function (Marcomms), while a growing number of organisations assign their photographers to manage it. In both cases the staff are intimately concerned with the media files and often have the greatest need to ensure media is well organised and reusable.

How much time will staff need to spend on the new DAM system - training, setting it up and then the ongoing curation? This depends on how many media files are created and how often. We suggest the following benchmarks estimates.

Once-off Staff Start-up Costs

  • 1 person-week to select a system
  • 1 person-week to train
  • 1 person-week to setup

Ongoing Staff Costs

  • 2 minutes per new / changed media file* (using a combination of auto, bulk and individual file tagging techniques
  • 10 minutes per new or changed users requiring access to the media server.

*Note: The amount of time you estimate for tagging files does depend on both how many legacy files you have but also on how much unique tagging each files requires. The more files within the same folders and collections have the same metadata, the less time it will take to tag them. We have estimated 2 minutes per file, but you might reduce this if you believe your metadata requirements are on the low side. We suggest you try it out: view an image, write a caption and some keywords and time how long it takes. Another factor affecting the estimate for the time and cost of entering metadata is the staff you use. It’s very common for organisations to hire graduate interns or temporary staff for the one-off task of getting legacy files updated. This might reduce the cost per hour and total cost significantly, when compared to the conservative estimate we have used, as long as the content is fairly accessible and does not require a specialist metadata editor.

-1 Direct Costs

  • Software licensing fees (sometimes a one-off payment sometimes annual)
  • Support and maintenance (typically an annual payment)
  • Hardware on which to install the software (primary and backup). Not necessary if you use a hosted service in which the vendor makes your media library available on the web, and takes care of the hardware and backups needed.
  • Professional services. Typically an implementation project and initial staff training, but also sometimes installation and integration with legacy systems. Professional services can cost more than the licensing agreement, depending on the services and the vendor.
  • Remember to factor in growth for future needs and scalability.

-2 Indirect Costs

  • Training
  • Staff to maintain and support new system
  • Infrastructure (rack space, network equipment, bandwidth, electricity, cooling, security). Not necessary if you use a hosted service.
  • Documentation of processes and procedures
  • Business Continuity Planning (redundancy).

Document Costs and Potential Savings

You need to document and agree with the relevant colleagues the costs you hope to reduce or eliminate using a media management system. This will also enable you to take a view on the budget you allocate to the system you look to purchase.

We’ve produced a downloadable Word document ROI template you might use to document your costs - delete the items that don’t apply to you and adjust the ones that do.

It takes time and effort, but many organisations do achieve a clear picture of the issues a media management systems can address for them, along with a good estimate of the savings they can make and thereby some confidence that the software will pay for itself.

Monitoring the ROI

You should review the cost-effectiveness of your system at least every 3 years. Many organisations don’t in fact achieve the adoption and usage rates of the DAM systems they envisaged. They continue to pay annual fees for functionality they do not use, because they can’t do without the core feature - centralised tagged media assets that are relatively easy to find, manage, reformat for multiple channels and reuse multiple times.

IMS Annual Health Check

download example ROI calculation spreadeheet

You can do this yourself (DIY), or you can let Third Light shine the light of its experience on your media server setup. Here are some options.


We provide refresher training free of charge to customers who have been with us for 2 years or more. This provides a 360° view of Intelligent Media Server functionality. Using a real-world example IMS we walk you through the structure of the server (folders, metadata and user hierarchy) and then through a typical project, from photo-shoot to Facebook advertising. We also provide you with our Getting Started guide to help your review project.

On-Site Visits

We visit you and talk to the key users and potential users of your IMS library. We examine your media server, and propose changes and a way forward. You review the proposal and we finalise any actions arising by jointly discussing and amending the plan.

The staff carrying out this work are very experienced marketing and technical communications managers who also have several years’ experience with Intelligent Media Server. The emphasis is very much on ensuring IMS is exploited fully to help maximise the benefits to your organisation. For details, please contact

Final Balance

spreadsheet template

Achieving the targeted returns depends on will-power - and that usually means assigning the right people who will be committed to achieving the target. This work needs to be balanced against the cost of the solution, the time taken to tag assets and the time to administer the solution on an ongoing basis.

In practise, marketing and communications teams want to control the media they have when it gets out of control (primarily to make day-to-day life easier and better organised - but also to help maximize brand image). With a media management system, good images can become easy to find and use, bad ones taken out of circulation. It’s often these ‘natural’ motivations that provide the best or at least the most palpable ROI from the media management system. A motivated team wants good tools at a reasonable cost - they don’t want a solution that so expensive it hurts the bottom-line.

Digital Asset Management features: Evaluation can be a long journey
Click here to review Third Light's pricing
Free 30-Day Trial

More articles...

What our clients are saying

  • "We have been using Third Light since 2009 and have recently upgraded from our original in-house appliance to their cloud service. The solution and the service have always been outstanding. "

    Stephen Bacon, Bishops Stortford College
  • "The product itself offers exactly what we need in terms of functionality as well as in terms of look, feel, ease of use and manageability."

    Stephen Bacon, Bishops Stortford College
  • "The support at Third Light was amazing. They immediately switched the configuration over to our backup server allowing our customers to go about their business, none-the-wiser."

    Ryan Henry, IT, Bradshaw Taylor
  • "We use the File Server Module to work with images directly within our editing suites such as Photoshop. It gives our staff the ability to navigate and work with files just as they would with local images."

    Eric Newsome, Historic Images
  • "Third Light delivers a flexible, reliable and adaptable system that has transformed the way we use and manage our images. "

    Chris James, Head of Corporate Communications, The Scout Association