Back in the film days workflows involved few people, and very direct communications. A concept would generate an assignment, a “known” photographer would go out and interpret the situation and rolls of film would show up, best case in a day or two. The film would then be sent out to a lab for processing, and a day or two later be back in the office. Usually a single editor would either (if they could “read” negatives or slides well) lay them on a light table and use a punch (like train conductors use to punch tickets) to indicate the frames they like, or send the film off for contact sheets to be made (another day or two), and indicate their selections with a china marker circle on the right frame. In the rare situation where there were multiple editors, they would use punches with different patterns so you could tell who liked which frame.
The Devil Wears Prada
At this point there would either be a decision that the assignment just didn’t cut it (miscommunication with the photographer, bad weather, model was wrong etc) and would need to be reshot (deadline pressure mounts….) or full sized prints would be made (add a day or two) and candidate images would go in front of the Creative Director or Editor in a tension-laden high pressure meeting (think of “The Devil Wears Prada”…). Modest changes in exposure, contrast and color balance could be made, but they were pretty restrictive. There might, or might not, be a basic legal review (back then there was even a whole industry called “clipping services” that would let you know who published a given image, and you could determine if they had paid for it or if they had snuck it into their publication and you should send them a threatening letter and a bill).
A week or two later the resulting image would be used across all forms of media (basically print, billboards, TV). Finally an archivist/librarian would take the final print, type out caption/photographer information as well as where and when it was used, and tape a note to the back of the print, which would then be carefully stored in a folder (with the negative if they can find it) in a filing cabinet, for potential access later. Generally which folder it went into was known only to the archivist, and all future requests for that image went thru that individual as a gatekeeper. Done.
Digital Changed The World
Of course digital changed all that (initially as scans of film, then as a full digital workflow) but it took time. Along that road images found their way into websites, social media, email blasts, pdf’s, publications, and as elements in video, and a lot of things changed.
No longer was there one Creative Director/Editor: every form of media can have their own imaging context and their own Creative Director. Even when an image is selected, there are file type/filesize requirements, and an almost infinite amount of post-processing to be done to make the image “just perfect” for its intended use. Along the way there can be multiple versions created, with different post-processing treatments, and lots of meetings to discuss and evaluate prior to use. Since the same basic object is used across many channels, some record of where it was used has to be kept. The single image that had a simple existence before is now potentially part of dozens of uses across multiple channels, each with its own staff.
As a result in the early days the pain points of communications and collaboration took a meeting with 2-3 individuals, and a single archivist to guard the asset going forward. The same pain points exist now, just multiplied by ~100!
Today’s Creative Process
Now there typically are more participants in the marketing creative process. Communications is harder: the photographer, for example, might be a known entity or a contracted stranger, and they might be next door or halfway around the world. Conveying the intent of the assignment is harder. Many more images are typically shot per assignment, so instead of 3 or 4 36 exposure rolls of film (100-150 images) you might receive several thousand images (and quantity does not imply quality….).
Multiple people may be editing the shoot for multiple different outlets, so instead of a handful of selects there may be dozens. Creative/editorial meetings may be over Webex with participants across the globe. Comments and notes need to be available to the group, even for people who cannot make the meeting and will look at the images later. Multiple versions will be created of a single image as that elusive look is pursued, and you need to make sure ONLY the right, final version is available to the people who will use it, and earlier versions are only visible to a select few.
Legal needs to confirm rights management. Some outlets might need to edit the captions to suit their audiences. Payments to contractors need to happen. Each publication instance in each medium has to be recorded, and the image should be linked somehow to each object where it is used (the web page it appears on, for example). External sources may need easy access to the high resolution version of the image (journalists looking for a product shot for example). And it all has to be instant, at everyone’s fingertips.
At today’s pace bottlenecks cannot happen, so followup requests cannot go thru a gatekeeper, access to the images has to be democratized and pushed out to all members of an organization. Whereas previously a librarian or archivist would be that gatekeeper, to stay relevant their job nowadays (for organizations lucky enough to still have them) is to add to the metadata of that image enough text that anyone can find it themselves through a search: democratizing access to the images across the whole company.
So what are the three major themes in this evolution?
- Democratizing access to an organization’s images: making it easy to find any desired image, to have it instantly at your fingertips at your desk or on your mobile device
- Collaboration: Enable/empower multiple people to exchange thoughts about which images they like, how they need them manipulated, and to simultaneously put the same image to use in multiple channels using creative workflow management.
- Speed. Elapsed time from image to channel us can be hours. Each step of a workflow has to be smooth, and involve as few mouse clicks or swipes as possible. Content is immediate today!