Paul Octavious for Mercedes
Paul Octavious for

by T. Brittain Stone

We’ve all heard about Instagrammers with huge followings that can bill $5000 a day for clients like American Airlines, Best Buy or the Israel Ministry of Tourism. And when you read interviews with said IGers, they are pretty gushy about “sharing their experiences” or “creating a visual diary” while doing some terrific product placement. And I for one think that’s great.

But what does that look like on the business end of these deals, and how does an agency manage the creative process of these campaigns? Below, artists rep Jesse Miller will give you a glimpse of this burgeoning (big) business. His agency Tinker Street is the first to have created a “mobile” division, and he now has built a behemoth roster of many of Instagram’s most followed talent.

And so perhaps one would imagine that the cozy community fabric is bound to become a cynical business with reps poaching talent, agencies demanding metrics for pricing out ROI, “like farming” and unfathomable copyright issues. But talking to Jesse, is well, rather uplifting, and the organic way that his business has developed is a testament to the fuzzy notion that friends can collaborate and be creatively successful.

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T. Brittain Stone: How did you guys start the mobile division and when did it all happen?

Jesse Miller: I started Tinker street about 6 years ago, because I wanted to get back to my roots. I started as a filmmaker and an artist. Tinker Street was a way to get back to that creative center. It began as a small intimate collective of 6 friends, and it was just 6 folks who were doing photo art shows together and then bringing that whole vibe–which I saw the need for it in advertising. We did well with some youth culture work initially.

We expanded the main roster to be more inclusive of some of the things that I like and am interested in with healthcare and technology.

After a little while we noticed that brands were encroaching on the Instagram community, so it was pretty seamless for us, in the regards that our agency is all about friendship and good creative. Michael O’Neal {ed: 571243 followers} was such a big part of that community and so are some of the other folks on the main roster.

It’s that feeling of friendship and camaraderie, and also working together out in the field and supporting each other. Ultimately our goal is to provide across the board content, and have a bunch of people out there in the field.

TBS: I hate the word collective, but there is a little bit of that aspect.

JM: There is. But I like the word in the old sense of the collective like the Man Ray sort of collective… true artists’ collectives. It was inspired by that spirit and it’s always stuck [with me] along the way.

TBS: with a lot of technology thrown in.

JM: Yeah it’s a hybrid of art, ad collective.

TBS: You were always dialed into the ad world, so you had a lot of contacts there.

JM: Yeah, I’ve been doing it for a long time. (Corbis, Marge Casey, individual photogs). I started way back as a PA for film & tv commercials, while myself studying and making films, shooting stills, and doing street art—so starting my own agency was a to go full circle and get back to the creative that was dear to my heart and try to bring that vision to advertising.

One of the things we pride ourselves on and work really hard at is to make sure that there’s a balance. We’re doing big brands, but we’re also doing Save the Children, we work with UNICEF, [and] we’re doing a lot of music collaborations. A start up label and we love their music? Sure we’ll do it for cheap. I keep it balanced that way, and really push folks too to keep working on personal projects.

TBS: And someone’s getting paid at the end of the day

JM: I think that the brands pick up on that, when there’s good creative energy, they’re attracted to that. [If] that turns then making some money so you can put it back and you can take some time off to do some more personal projects? Yeah it’s great. With Instagram, we look at it like it’s another tool in our toolbox,

TBS: do you have competition now, people representing Instagrammers, possibly trying to poach people from you?

JM: Not so much, not what I’ve seen. From what I’ve been exposed to everybody’s really collaborative. Mobile Media Lab, they’re great. They bring projects to us.
We just worked with Laundry Service… and Niche. Everyone’s been really supportive of each other.

TBS: You have 50 “mobile” artists Is there advantage to scale for your business

JM: I think that in general, the core group, everyone on there knows each other so it like a really big family of friends. So it starts there. Secondly, its happens regionally. That’s the interesting thing about Instagram. The few things that maybe differ a little and harken back to the editorial days,[is that] assignments can be relatively sort of fast and quick, and regional. And then others are bigger projects and location is not such a big factor.

TBS: Like travel photography…

JM: The (Instagram) community really values travel photos, and when you see the level of engagement on the travel pictures alone… they a love good landscape, that’s for sure. I think that it was pretty natural for tourism board to gravitate there, and they were some of the first folks that we saw encroach on that space.

hirozzzz for Alberta 1×1

TBS: How do you refer to your Instagram group? Do you consider them artists, what’s the nomenclature?

JM: I just say photographers really, or artists. Photographers, yes, but a lot of them are working in different mediums. “Content Providers” feels a little technical and stiff, but that’s kinda what we are, and at the end of that day that’s what we’re going for. But we’re sort of “eclectic” content.

TBS: All this sounds much more organic and I was preparing a lot of questions that were a little more cynical… but it all sounds so pleasant..

JM: I’ve been at it for a long time, At this stage of my career, it’s about refinement and being with the people I want to be with, and enjoying life, because advertising can get really stiff as we all know.

TBS: How else do you onboard photographers. How do they approach you?

JM: It’s all of the above. People send me promos, I get a lot of emails from new photographers, both traditional and mobile. I see a lot of people who have seen us on Instagram. Or photographers who know the original roster. So it’s a mix and its pretty constant. We get a lot of taps. I really try to get back to everybody too even if I have to stay up to the crack of dawn.

TBS: Thats noble of you. Is Instagram for business gaining wide acceptance in terms of the agency world. Are they already aboard or still getting aboard?

JM: There is a swath, a range of people who are involved. There’s stand alone digital boutiques; there’s brands coming to us directly, and then there’s agencies getting involved. It really depends on the agency, because some of them have in house boutiques that are very savvy and know what they’re doing, and other ones are asking a lot of questions. It doesn’t matter who it is thats approaching us, the thing that recurs in a good campaign is really well thought out creative, a good solid creative brief… the ability to collaborate, to listen and ask good questions, and for us to do the same.

The Mercedes campaign ( is a really good example of that. Razorfish in NY did an amazing job with that campaign. They prepared very well; it was very early on; it was a very new frontier and they asked a lot of good questions to the people who were in play in that community. It was a great collaboration.

Paul Octavious, Mercedes
Paul Octavious, Mercedes


Michael O'Neal Mercedes
Michael O’Neal

TBS: What do agencies consider when selecting a photographer. Do they value the followers most? How does that chemistry come about?

JM: For our group, the thing that we have to offer is that we are a group of friends and we are familiar. Looking back on the campaigns in the 9 month existence of that division, a good majority of the campaigns are multiple folks on the campaign. It lends itself very well to that community. They know each other, they’re following each other.

TBS: It’s like a road trip

JM: Right, because who wouldn’t want to go on a road trip with their friends? When we send 5 to 7 people out, they all know each other and hang out even when they’re not working.

TBS: So when you get a creative brief, you can assemble a little team….
JM: Yeah it does work that way, where they come to us with some rough creative choices, and a few other (Instagrammers), we’ll just shuffle it around where we know who fits best together and who knows each other.

TBS: it all sounds too good to be true.

JM: For me its highly enjoyable. At the end of the day, we feel super fortunate. It’s such an amazing time — this moment in history for advertising and for media — to be involved in this. It’s amazing to watch. For me personally too, to get the privilege to be a sort of conduit between traditional media where I spent a lot of time with old school way of doing things, and this new guard coming in with all the social and what these young kids are doing. Pretty amazing to be in the middle of it.

TBS:. Do you analyze metrics for your Instagrammers’ followings? Do your clients have numbers they’re trying to reach?

JM: People talk about that. We try not to get too involved in analytics, because at the end of the day the thing’s that is going to be consistent is good creative, smart creative, and something that has some depth to it. So that’s where we’re coming from.

TBS: How many on your mobile division are professional photographers?

JM: About half of our main (professional) roster is on Mobile. What’s very interesting that we’ve seen lately, is photographers who don’t necessarily have a high follower count on Instagram, have been getting hired for social media projects. So for example. Matthew Reamer shoots for Converse Rubber Tracks and SXSW, and a lot of what he’s doing is going to their social channels. So it doesn’t necessarily matter all the time when the projects come in whether somebody has a lot of followers or not.

We have a client right now who wants both. Based on the subject of the activity of what’s happening, they want somebody based on their expertise on that subject AND they want some high count followers. So it’s a combo. That guy who has the expertise is on the main roster. So you really see the old and new media, it’s really morphing. If we’re going out and shooting on a tandem broadcast shoot, me might have one person doing BTS video and another person shooting for Instagram. Some people just shooting for the client feed and some doing to post to their own feed so they can leverage their followers.

Its really become a hybrid of all kinds of platforms and resources. I really like it a lot. I like the idea of people collaborating that way instead of it just being strictly, oh this a film set, oh this is a tv set, this is a photo shoot cool. It brings a lot of different personalities together.

And I might refer ( a client) to the mobile roster and then send then to that person’s site, because a lot of the people who are exclusively on mobile are also shooting DSLR. So they’re crossing over to what traditional media people would be doing. I’m pitching them for traditional projects as well. In that sense it’s kind of one big agency.

It’s opening up more. But definitely the people on the main roster who don’t have large followings. They’re not as much getting social projects, unless its just content for the client’s feed.

TBS: That following has got to be a very powerful slice of your portfolio. I would think that advertisers would certainly want that. Can I ask about negotiating tactics?

JM: The interesting thing to know about the fee structure is that its structured very similarly to traditional media, in the sense that we factor in everything, the usage, and the usage terms, the scope of the project, the timeline, what the social media asks are, who the photographer is, and what level they’re at, scope of budget… All those factors contribute to the project, and we take it project by project.

TBS: How does the copyright part work on a campaign like Barbour by Finn Beales (

Finn Beales Barbour Heroes
Finn Beales
Barbour Heroes

JM: Again its a lot like traditional media in that we’re licensing the images. As artists and photographers, and me being an artist originally, I’m always fighting for the photographers rights. So we really don’t do work for hire, well It’s a very rare occasion that we do work for hire. It’s all based on licensing.

TBS: Are there other agents building mobile divisions? Or just managing their rosters’ social feeds?

JM: It’s hard to say. I’m sure there’ll be more popping up as we move along. I think everything is swinging in the direction of digital and social. At the end of the day, like you know cycles in history, as much as everything changes, some things always stay the same, and the thing for us that will stay the same is good creative. Good thoughtful creative. That’s what we strive for.

TBS: Do you constantly have to worry about the next thing? What are the things you’re thinking about strategically down the road?

JM: Coming from filmmaking as a background for, me because I’m biased, I speak to video quite a bit because its think it gonna be future terrain. I really believe in video.

But the way that I see it, and the way I talk to my folks is that you should do what you like, because if you don’t like doing it, even if its valuable in a moment, because its trending, what does it matter if you’re not happy? And I also think that if you’re doing something you don’t like, you’re gonna be less attractive as a person, just the energy you put out. We’ll always keep finding different ways to create cool work and do it with our friends and try and do it gracefully. I think theres a lot of possibility with advertising for the future to be less competitive and more collaborative. And for people who are in power in the new platforms to really create a new environment where it can be about collaboration and good creative. At its best, advertising can be amazing.

TBS: Pet theory. Photography itself no longer just a specialized skill, it’s a life skill, that anyone, especially anyone in creative, you need this skill set. You should study photography, take a photo class.

JM: I think you’ve hit on something thats really interesting because if we look to the younger generation, everybody is so computer literate and device literate. Its the development of a new generation. And always there will be these generation gaps. And the people younger than us, they’re learning so much so quickly. So I think in that part of their world, these devices are a big part of it. I think you’re right; picture taking is becoming a very mainstream way of communicating, in general. Not just or ad work. It’s even for little kids.

Its a total new generation, and it all life changes, and obviously advertising follows life and vice versa.

TBS: You need to be able to take good pictures.

JM: We strive to be kinder and gentler. There is definitely a foundation here that has to do with what I learned at traditional agencies, so that’s true. for me change and growth are paramount to keeping things real. And to become fuller people. We want to continue to be involved in innovation and hopefully we’ll do it gracefully.

Paul Octavious for iheartradio
Paul Octavious for iheartradio
Emily Blincoe for Warby Parker
Emily Blincoe for Warby Parker
Withhearts for Warby Parker
Withhearts for Warby Parker
Lucio Bracamontes for Burger King
Lucio Bracamontes for Burger King
Daniel Seung Lee for Burger King
Daniel Seung Lee for Burger King
Paul Octavious for Hermes
Paul Octavious for Hermes
Finn Beales for Barbour
Finn Beales for Barbour
Michael O’Neal for Vogue
Michael O’Neal for Vogue
Michael O’Neal for Mercedes
Michael O’Neal for Mercedes

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  1. If the photographer has a large number of followers, it’s a photoshoot and media buy all in one. It’s not clear from the interview if those two things are broken out and priced accordingly as part of the free structure, but it seems like they should be.

    • Yes, to clarify, indeed the following on is handled as part of a license agreement and is usually broken out. Since the following and the assignment fee are pretty closely correlated as well, the delineation may not be as concrete as a sliding scale based on numbers of followers however.

  2. are the photographers using real cameras or phones?

  3. Other than the photos being shown as squares, and each photographer having a lot of followers to leverage, why is this such a unique “mobile” roster?

    It seems that it’s just photographers being hired to shoot for Instagram. I can appreciate the photography, but if they’re shooting regular campaigns with real cameras and not phones, does mobile simply refer to a built-in audience that is paid for?

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