Tijana Tamburic is the co-founder of creative agency Female Narratives.
Once every blue moon, when Mercury is in retrograde, a brand will think I'm a micro influencer and commission me to make and post some content.
After the immediate flattery wears off, I'm reminded time and again why I wish I'd said: no thanks – keep the money. Maybe it's the brands and their respective agencies that I've dealt with, but one made me rewrite my caption almost a dozen times and tweaked it to a point where it no longer even sounded like me. Another requested me to change my socks in the photo I put forward – from a shoot I'd done the day before. Perhaps I don't have a big enough following to stand my ground more, but the endless feedback rounds and changes felt exhausting and sapped the content of any original creative magic it may have had.
So when we started working on Merrell Hiking Club, a female hiking community for outdoor brand Merrell, I definitely didn't want creators having that experience with me as commissioner.
We'd been working with Merrell for several months and identified that existing outdoor content creators would be our ideal ambassadors. We called them Trailblazers and reached out to women across Europe to share their favorite urban, suburban and adventure hiking trails, along with stories of how they got into hiking and what it means to them.
No one knows their audience better than they do, so it was essential that they did this in their own way. I created a style guide, a simple contract and the key things to bear in mind, but the rest was up to them. I didn't ask to check their captions before posting and I let them style the Merrell pieces as they wanted, shoot with whoever they wanted and go wherever they wanted.
Through this trust, digital creative magic happened. By being less prescriptive, we allowed them to be more creative and to take great care and pride in what they made.
One woman created a reel that I can only describe as like a trailer for a movie about exploration. It was cinematic and beautiful, mixing drone shots with 4K camera content.
An Irish female hiking community took the shoes we sent them and did a giveaway that more than 300 people applied for. We received TikToks from a Parisian Trailblazer, organic press usage of images of a Spanish Trailblazer in Runner's World magazine and sharing way beyond agreed deliverables. The Trailblazers became keen members of the community (integral to our Facebook group reaching over 500 members in three months), with several of them hosting in-person hiking events with us and one of them even joining our team as Facebook community manager.
A few months into starting the project, one of the UK Trailblazers, Catherine, sent us a message: ‘So the payment for the Merrell collab has paid for this…’ and added a photo of an adorable puppy! Little Monty is now the official Merrell Hiking Club mascot and joins Catherine on her hiking adventures.
Could I have planned for something like that? Absolutely not – which is why I like to let creators create.