The Secret Life of an Outdoor Adventure Producer: Q&A with Brand Storyteller Aimee Tetreault
Jordan Kelley, Content Director, BrandStorytelling.tv
It's no secret that outdoor adventure companies own a huge portion of consumer attention when it comes to branded entertainment and storytelling. This has to do in large part with the fact that these companies were first in the space, realizing they could let the cameras continue to roll even when adventure athletes weren't on slopes, waves, or cliff faces. Two decades of branded entertainment in this space makes it a robust category all its own.
This, in turn, makes the producers of this content some of the most experienced branded content producers on the planet. Not only are they seasoned veterans of telling brand stories, but they're a completely different breed, traveling to the farthest reaches of the globe and braving some of the toughest conditions all in service of storytelling. And while we may be familiar with the result of their work, the outdoor adventure producer's work itself, the difficulty of capturing story in remote locations, extreme weather, and unpredictable conditions, is often overlooked.
One such outdoor adventure producer is Aimee Tetreault, an award winning storyteller, rock climber, and outdoor enthusiast with nearly two decades of branded content production experience under her (climbing) belt. Brand Storytelling caught up with Tetreault to learn more about being in the industry, the nuances of this particular brand of production, and what the future of content in the outdoor adventure space should look like:
Thanks for chatting, Aimee. How did you get into your particular brand of production?
I hustled. Hard. During my 20’s I juggled up to 5 jobs at any given time, both trying to pay my bills and find some professional direction. I was an avid rock climber at the time and fell in with a group who was producing large scale competitions. I’d use my paid vacation from my corporate job to go work at these events and as a result, met the people who were ultimately able to offer me a role in this world.
What does it take to balance the travel and adventure component of your work with the production component?
I have to stay mobile. Everything I need travels with me and my organizational neuroses ensures my setup is streamlined. The truth is though, that while yes - I get to travel to amazing locations and see the world in ways few do, I’m always working. I’m usually producing what I’m on at the moment and prepping for the next one so my face is pretty consistently in my laptop. My travel printer and I are best friends.
What are the most important factors for you when working with a brand?
The brand has to align with my personal values. I’m not going to take work with a company that compromises the good and decent thing to do to increase their bottom line. I’ve turned down work because of that. Now, more than ever, people want to know where their products come from and who made them. I think that’s fantastic because not only are they making socially conscious buying decisions but they hold the brands who compromise accountable. More often than not, those brands change their ways as a result.
It’s also important to me that the brand not overestimate its own importance. I work quite a bit with outdoor brands so the most common creative angle is ‘man conquers mountain’. While this is all well and good, it doesn’t exactly change the world. So long as the brand recognizes they aren’t re-inventing the wheel and we’re able to put a different spin on the story, that works for me. I’m interested in trying to expand what the outdoor industry looks like as a whole, so let’s find those relatable character-driven stories that everyday people find just as inspiring as the summits. This business reflects so much privilege so trying to find an angle that feels more relatable and emotionally compelling, like the struggles of the human condition, is my goal in telling these types of stories.
How do you mobilize talent and crew in remote locations all while meeting a brand brief?
By not over-directing and over-planning. While I’ve done the fancy commercial work, my heart is in a specialized kind of expedition-style storytelling. It’s verité by nature and when we’re at the mercy of the elements or our subjects, we have to stay flexible and go with the flow. I always make that clear to the client and manage those expectations up front. While we can approach the creative with the right tools and the right team, we also need to stay stringent on safety and be able to pivot should things go sideways.
The other essential is having an all-star team you can trust. These folks are comfortable in the uncomfortable. They are professional sufferers. They are happiest sitting in a snow cave at altitude waiting for a storm to pass and can weigh the risk objectively when they have to. They work hard, they play hard and they take safety seriously. We aren’t curing cancer, so if the creative isn’t worth the risk - we find a different approach.
Do you do your own story finding or do brands bring stories they want to tell to you? In either case, how do you then capture those stories faithfully, especially up against the elements?
It’s a good mix of both. During my time at The North Face, the athletes themselves would pitch objectives and it was up to us to align those objectives with the right production partners, product goals and company milestones. As a freelance Producer, I’ve been able to execute on both completely fleshed-out creative and been given the space to pitch ideas that resonate with me and align with their brand. I enjoy that process - finding balance in the storytelling between traditional commercial work and branded content.
As far as staying faithful to the story, that’s a tricky one - especially those with variables like weather or logistics. I think the most important thing is to avoid making a story something it’s not, just to check a box. If it’s not there, it’s not there. Be willing to try something else. I’ve also had scenarios where things just straight up didn’t go to plan, so again, be willing to pivot.
Can you share an example of brand work that makes you proud?
If I’m talking about my own work, I really love what we made during my time at The North Face. I was lucky to have amazing colleagues and together we built what is now The North Face Content Team, many of whom I’m still close with now. At the time, everyone was still sort of figuring out what ‘branded content’ really meant so we had the freedom to just tell good stories. They didn’t always have to line up with product releases or brand objectives - they just resonated with our audience. No one knew what the metrics really meant, so we just aimed to create something worth investing your time to watch.
As for work I dig right now - the Nike content coming out as of late is GOOD. I really admire their willingness to say what they mean and not be afraid of backlash or a disgruntled stakeholder. They’re Nike - they’re basically untouchable - and it’s refreshing to see them taking a stance and using their powers for good. I just wish more brands were willing to do that. Given how materialistic our world is, the positive change that could come out of brands taking hard lines on issues feels limitless.
What’s your next goal as a producer/outdoor enthusiast?
The world of outdoor product