Is the Enterprise Art Buyer A Vanishing Breed?

Kevin Groome
Jan 31 · 6 min read

For the sake of major brands, we should hope not.

Photo by Rodrigo Bacellar on Unsplash

As we’ve explained previously, In House Agencies are on the rise in major brand environment. According to the Association of National Advertisers, close to 70% of major brands have in-house creative capabilities, up substantially in just the past 5 years.

One of the primary drivers behind the emphasis on in-house agencies, has been cost reduction. In corporations this usually translates as headcount — as in, the smaller the headcount, the better. A big part of that trend has been the distribution of “art-buying” responsibilities — often to people who have little to no experience in the process.

As Lu Howlett, who heads Art Buying for iris London, says, “In the current environment of streamlining resources, many agencies have moved away from hiring traditional art buyers. Many specialists have been replaced by multi-skilled producers taking shape as creative/integrated producers who oversee… project management, art buying, moving image, and digital production.

This drive toward efficiency is, of course, understandable. But it’s vitally important that the most critical aspects of art-buying be executed with a proper eye to process and detail — particularly as it regards negotiation, rights management, and legal protections.

There are at least three areas in which the much-misunderstood role of the Enterprise Art Buyer figures prominently in the effective creation of market-moving creative work. And as experts in enterprise-art buying have indicated, today’s emerging generation of automated solutions can address each of them with a high degree of both effectiveness and efficiency. .

Talent Discovery: The good art buyers start with a creative brief from their client, and then do the hard work to find talent best equipped and experienced to deliver on the vision contained within that brief. Contrary to popular belief in procurement departments, photography is not a commodity that can be procured from the lowest bidder. Every photographer has a unique vision and look; each is at a unique point in her or his creative development; each situated in a place more or less simpatico with the immediate need.

The Art Buyer draws upon an existing community of talent, and seeks constantly to expand and develop that pool. This invaluable (and time-consuming) spade work is one of the vital instruments that the global marketing industry needs to keep fresh and relevant creators coming in.

How do you determine if your organization has an adequate talent network when it comes to marketing art (photography, videography, etc)? Here’s a quick “acid test” you can run. Compare the engagement rates of social media postings that contain photography against those that do not. If you see an increase in engagement between these two posting types of more than 35% for photography posting, then odds are your photography is doing an acceptable job. If the engagement “lift” of photography is substantially less than 35%, then you’ve got room for improvement. If you want to be truly scientific about this, try running A-B tests of the same social media post with and without photography.

If you find that your asset management system has a pool of images that is either too small or in need of refreshing, you should consider expanding your image sources. But before you do, make sure to consider the complexities of Enterprise Content Buying to ensure that increased volume doesn’t also generate increased risk for the organization.

Fee Negotiation: In today’s always-on, omni-channel world, issues of use across or within media types has grown exponentially more complex, and shows no signs of slowing down in the years ahead. The accomplished Art Buyer knows how to negotiate efficiently for the usage rights that best suit the campaign’s and client’s needs, without taking the simple “buy out” approach that less-experienced procurement departments often will recommend. Here again, you find that expertise saves more money — often orders of magnitude more money — than the savings purportedly achieved by skimping on a proper art-buying capability.

Nowhere do we see this unfortunate trend playing out more dramatically than in large, globally distributed organizations that lack a central Art Buying capability. It’s not uncommon in these environments to hear two separate business units or teams procuring the same content from the same vendor on completely independent terms — thereby increasing their procurement costs by up to 100%, with little or nothing to show in return for the added investment. A disciplined art-buying capability, administered at the enterprise level, could prevent these redundant purchases from occurring, only if the executive management team understands the magnitude of waste going on today.

It’s devilishly difficult in large, distributed enterprises, to get a grip on just how much of your photography dollars are going toward redundant buys. For my (usually limited) money, I would recommend going to your single largest source of photography, and ask them to provide you with a comprehensive list of all the purchases you’ve made over a significant time period (usually more than one year). Conduct an audit of this data to see what the duplication rate is. Detecting even a small duplication rate (over 1–2%) can have a meaningful impact, so don’t be shy about pushing your vendors to give you the data you need. And of course, use the results to advocate for a centralized art-buying process to make sure these inefficiencies don’t continue on into the future.

Of course, if your content-buying has reached significant scale (say, more than 10,000 images per year), it’s probably time to consider an Enterprise Content Buying platform that helps to iron out complexity, eliminate duplicate purchases, and increase visibility with regard to content ROI.

Rights Management: Art Buyers, like good DAM managers, know just how much data about any given image or video needs to be at one’s fingertips at a moment’s notice. As such, Art Buyers can function as invaluable partners to the marketing technology stack, helping them to ensure that all assets on the system are properly purchased, and properly deployed. In my experience with major enterprises in the healthcare, travel, hospitality, financial and insurance sectors, the notion of management of creative content rights is often left as “everyone’s responsibility.” And that, of course, means that it ends up being nobody’s responsibility.

As with duplicated purchases, the best way to determine the degree to which your organization might be at risk of copyright infringement claim is to conduct a disciplined spot-check of images in-market or widely available on your enterprise DAM. Review 3–5% of the assets you have under management, and determine the rate of missing, expired, or ambiguous usage rights. Extrapolate this exposure across your entire digital asset bases, and use the resulting number as a way to advocate for two things. First, a top-to-bottom review of all existing digital assets, to bring yourself up to snuff. And second, a centralized rights management process and supporting technology to ensure that the problem doesn’t crop up again (no pun intended) in some surprisingly brief period of time.

Of course, all of this work may lead you to the realization that more and more agencies — independent and in-house alike — are coming to after trying to do without a formalized art-buying function. The expertise in these areas cannot be eliminated altogether — at least not without unacceptable risk to the enterprise. Instead, it has to be replaced with technology that promotes rights compliance, and provides full visibility into asset usage.


In a world where content procurement and deployment is increasing at a rapid pace, it’s clear that expertise in Enterprise Content Buying is more important than ever. Organizations cannot afford to keep the process silo’d in the hands of small number of experts, but neither can they afford the risks and costs associated with distributing responsibility for content procurement without proper controls. These trends indicate that a technology solution — built with the needs of enterprises, content-sources, and content-creators in mind — is essential. Organizations that take this view stand to benefit not only from greater cost efficiencies, but from greater marketing agility as well.

Kevin Groome

Written by

Kevin is the founder and chief evangelist of Pica9—a distributed marketing platform for major brands. To learn more, visit

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