March 6, 2001 by Rob Newell
Savvy pros parlay strong fishing and communication skills into winning formula
Last month, communications expert and FLW Tour show producer Jerry McKinnis provided some valuable advice about exposure. This month's column features two anglers who have heeded that advice and launched fishing careers by making the most of exposure opportunities.
The bottom line in the fishing industry is a game of balance. In the sponsor market, fishing ability is meaningless without well-spoken delivery and presence; however, great speakers are worthless without a solid fishing performance record that commands credibility. Anglers who are sharp enough to enhance a respectable fishing performance with efficient communication are the ones who get sponsor contracts.
David Walker, 35, of Cannon, Ky., and Marty Stone, 35, of Linden, N.C., are anglers who have demonstrated an ability to turn their catches into commodities. Both anglers boast a tournament fishing record that is hard to deny as credible. Walker has made 10 top-10 appearances since joining the FLW Tour in 1996. Stone, who began fishing FLW events in 1997, has seven top-10 finishes. To add to their fishing credentials, Walker won Kellogg's Angler of the Year on the FLW Tour in 1999 and Stone has claimed a B.A.S.S. Top 150 victory.
Five years ago, the names David Walker and Marty Stone would have brought blank stares from most guys at a bass club meeting. Today, they are household names on bass fishing's most elite tours.
Both anglers have used the unique FLW format to jump-start their fishing careers. Long before they had paying sponsors, they recognized the value of stage and film exposure offered by the FLW Tour and took advantage of those opportunities. Demonstrating an ability to speak well during those first impressions paid dividends when these anglers sat down at a sponsor's dealing table.
What Walker and Stone have in common is an ability to describe fishing in a language both non-fishermen and fishermen can understand. In doing so, they have captured two audiences.
Both anglers avoid long-winded technical orations littered with fancy fishing jargon. They are not blatant product pushers; consequently, their fishing does not sound like an infomercial. They do not attribute their catches to dumb luck or happenstance.
Instead, these two effective communicators talk about the importance of strategy, decisions, lure choices, weather circumstances and other variables that affect their catch. As a result, their fishing has merit and legitimacy. Bass fishing becomes a clever craft of their own design and that is what gives their activity value to sponsors.
Stone and Walker claim that developing speaking skills in front of crowds and cameras is not something that comes with ease. Both anglers have worked hard to enhance their presentation styles.
Marty Stone admits to being terrified of crowds at one time, but he sent his stage fright packing when he was forced to speak in front of crowds during college. Stone, who has a degree in public recreation and park management with a minor in communication, says that presentations were part of his studies. After 20 major presentations, public speaking had become second nature.
Stone also has a personal presentations coach who critiques his moves - Robin Stone, his wife. Robin Stone has a degree in communication with a minor in media advertising. Since 1997, the Stones have watched Marty's camera performances repeatedly to find areas that he could improve on when speaking on stage or camera.
"She has helped me a tremendous amount with my delivery," admits Stone. "She is very objective about my actions and the signals they send."
Stone also pays particular attention to his autograph-signing interactions.
"To have some one ask you for an autograph is the greatest compliment in the world," says Stone. "As pro anglers we should be respectful and humbled by autograph seekers. That is what separates our sports from all others, one-on-one interaction with fans."
Stone believes the fear of public speaking can be overcome with practice. He recommends that anglers, who are serious about pursuing sponsorship, but are afraid of public speaking, seek out community college courses in public speaking.
While college experience is becoming highly favored among sponsors, it is by no means mandatory. David Walker has received his public speaking education through a hands-on training program, not a college classroom. Walker says being a camera boat driver whenever possible during the FLW Tour's early years made him a quick study on the art of presentation.
"Being around Jerry McKinnis and his camera crews has taught me an incredible amount about the importance of appearance and presence," says Walker. "When you watch a guy fish all day (as a camera boat driver) and then see what ends up on film, you start to get a feel for what effective communication is about."
Walker has also been a student at the weigh-ins and has made meticulous mental notes of how the crowd responds to each angler's comments.
"I like to watch the weigh-ins to see how the anglers present themselves and how the crowd responds," he says. "You would not believe how many of the same goofy catch phrases and one liners are said over and over again. Watching the crowd's responses to such comments taught Walker to avoid them and develop his own style and tone.
"I just answer the questions honestly and directly," comments Walker. "If I catch a big string and want to keep it quiet, I just say I do not want to disclose a location or a bait, instead of telling some gimmicky lie everybody else has heard a thousand times that day."
If you are serious about your bottom line, take a page out of the notebooks of David Walker and Marty Stone. Find creative ways to turn the smallest exposures into positive impressions.
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.