February 6, 2001 by Rob Newell
A well-spoken angler can turn catches into commodities
You have just made the top five - the coveted quintet and the pinnacle of FLW Tour excitement. This could be the day you have been working towards for years, the day that your dream of fishing professionally finally becomes a reality.
You have sharpened your hooks. You have checked the weather. You are now casting for a top prize of $100,000. Suddenly, a cameraman steps into your boat. The lens locks on you and only you. A voice crackles from a speaker cell phone, quizzing you about your day - the voice asks you something about your strategy, your plan and your bait.
You freeze. You didn't anticipate this. What do you say? Where do you begin? You blurt out, "You don't never know what to expect so I'm just gonna chuck this ol' bait down this bank and hope a growd up un' gets it. If all I snag is peanuts, then so be it."
In case you're wondering, your fishing career just took a turn for the worse. All those sponsors you had hoped to land just shifted their focus to another fishing hopeful - most likely an angler who is well-spoken.
On the business end of bass fishing, not enough emphasis can be placed on an angler's ability to speak in an articulate manner. And, not surprisingly, it is the most overlooked aspect of an angler's quest for sponsorships and endorsements. If you were to ask a company's public relations department what it is looking for when considering a pro staff member, the words "well-spoken" would likely be in the first sentence of the answer - usually before fishing ability is even mentioned.
The fact that companies want well-spoken representatives for their products is indisputable. The truth of the matter is that the sponsor market is very competitive and, consequently, terrific fishing ability can be greatly undermined by an inability to communicate.
Catching 20 pounds is a remarkable feat for any bass angler. But catching 20 pounds and efficiently communicating how you did it is a marketable feat. An ability to communicate adds tremendous value to your catch - value that will interest companies with sponsor dollars. In other words, 20 pounds of fish is 20 pounds of fish. But 20 pounds of fish with a story behind it is a commodity.
But what exactly does speaking well mean? Does it mean you must have the oratory skills of Caesar? Does it mean you need to hire speechwriters from Washington, D.C.? Not really.
Speaking well begins with small doses of effective and meaningful verbal interaction with commentators, crowds and even autograph seekers. Make the best of every opportunity you get, no matter how small.
Jerry McKinnis, the host and producer of the Wal-Mart FLW Tour series, personally watches every minute of filmed action during the editing process of the FLW show. He can attest to the blatant errors anglers make on a continuous basis, not just on camera, but onstage as well.
As a professional in the communications business, McKinnis says that he is astounded by the number of anglers who completely waste opportunities to make positive stage impressions. These exposure opportunities are small but critical. He says anglers should remember that audience members at FLW weigh-ins include representatives from companies that sponsor fishermen. It should be noted that this is true for many other national and regional tournaments, as well.
"Every single person who crosses that weigh-in stage has an opportunity to make an impression on the audience," said McKinnis. "It really shocks me when a guy has a chance to speak onstage and he says something so uncreative like, `I caught them on a hook,' or `I caught them in the mouth.'"
Such trite retorts to the commentator's questions are not only cliche but meaningless. They add no value to your catch or your efforts. McKinnis suggests that anglers take a few minutes outside of the weigh-in tent to get their thoughts together about what they are going to say onstage. There is a time and place for funny remarks, but a better approach is to be straight about your fishing day and answer the questions you are asked. This approach is likely to earn you a follow-up question or two that translates into a few more moments of exposure time and, more importantly, positive exposure time.
McKinnis also offers some golden advice to anglers who are fortunate enough to get a camera on them for the day. "Think out loud," instructs McKinnis. "We are interested in what you are thinking. If you make a change in lures or location, tell us why you made that change. Tell us what prompted the move."
Finally, McKinnis says if you have something important to say, say it while you are catching a fish or right after you put a fish in the boat. Editorially, he pays close attention to the time frame around fish catches. Comments that fall in the long span in between bites often get lost in the shuffle. Comments made during the fight or after the battle can't be ignored.
Keep these pointers in mind and the next time you get a camera on you or cross the stage with a hefty limit. If you do, you will be in a much better position to turn your catch into a commodity.
Rob Newell is a freelance outdoor writer from Tallahassee, Fla. He has been actively involved in tournament bass fishing and the professional bass fishing industry, both as participant and a writer, for more than 10 years. He currently fishes as a co-angler on the Wal-Mart FLW Tour and contributes to OperationBass.com, Bass Fishing and other fishing publications.