June 4, 2001 by Rob Newell
Experts cite need to keep expectations realistic
For anglers embarking on professional bass fishing career, the search for sponsors can be as illusive as skittish bass after a severe cold front in Florida. In the bass fishing industry there are no standards or conventions that give the acquisition of sponsorships any predictable structure. Yet, due to the extreme expense of professional fishing, sponsors are a must for almost every professional angler.
During the last several weeks, The Bottom Line has been interviewing fishing industry experts from Ranger, Mercury, Yamaha, and PRADCO to determine what these companies look for in a sponsorship relationship.
These industry experts hold national level marketing and public relations positions and have seen literally thousands of cover letters, resumes, and portfolios from bass fishing hopefuls around the world. Over the next several editions of The Bottom Line, these experts will dispense valuable advice on everything from resume writing to the importance of dealership networks.
Since first impressions are always the greatest, the first edition of this series is dedicated to the initial tact with which an angler approaches a sponsor. This initial stage cannot be overlooked, as there are several approaches that might get a resume tossed out before it even gets through the front door.
Taking the first step
By far, the most common criticism these witnesses of introductory solicitations have is the tone of expectation in which they are written. Many anglers approach potential sponsors as if the fishing industry owes them something. Consequently, when anglers initiate communication with a company it is often with a what-can-you-do-for-me tone. This is a blatant mistake.
"A lot of people act like we owe them something just because they win a tournament," says Bruce Stanton, director of Public Relations for PRADCO. "Not to sound blunt, but fishermen are a dime a dozen. Sponsorship relations are not about what a company can do for a fishermen anymore, they are about what a fishermen can do for a company."
Bart Schad, the vice president of sales and marketing for Ranger Boats, offers the same observation.
"So many times the way an angler approaches me is to say, `I want a boat sponsor, what can Ranger do for me?'" says Schad.
Demonstrate an understanding of the product
Schad, who worked for NASCAR before coming to Ranger, says that going to any company in any industry and beating on your chest while bragging about who you are is simply not a very acceptable way of selling yourself to a potential purveyor.
"A better approach is to go to a company and prove to them you know something about their product," suggests Schad. "Tell them why you like their product and how you can be a benefit to the company."
Bruce Stanton of PRADCO has a very simple and direct formula for what he looks for in initial portfolio content.
"What I want to see is how the angler gets press for the products he or she is promoting," says Stanton flatly. "I do not care how many times their name has been in the paper. I do not care how many pictures they show me. If I do not see logos or product mentions of the companies the angler represents, in my opinion, the portfolio is worthless."
Another approach that Schad cautions sponsorship seekers about is coming across like you are mass marketing yourself or just shopping for a deal.
"I am much more willing to work with an angler who has used our product with sincerity and is not just shopping our sponsor program against other programs in the industry," says Schad.
This is a phenomenon David Simmons, the field promotions coordinator for Yamaha, has experienced as well.
"I would not recommend the, `I will use the company that will pay me the most because all motors are the same,' approach," advises Simmons. "I would ask that anglers think carefully about who they want to align themselves with and then pursue only that company."
Simmons says he is especially interested in why an angler wants to become involved with Yamaha.
"Anglers who have done their homework can tell me exactly why they want to use and promote our product. That connection and belief is very important. My rule of thumb is if you would not sell a product to your own grandparents, do not try to sell it to the average consumer," he says.
Think team first
Schad says that anglers should think of sponsorships as joining a sales team of sorts. He advises anglers to come to grips with certain business principles such as "return on investment" and "value added" in relation to the company the angler is pursuing.
"When you are a sponsored angler, you must show a return for the company's investment in you. You must show that you have added value to that company in some way," concludes Schad. "An angler who demonstrates an understanding of those principles up front instead of just seeing what he can get from a company stands a much better chance of becoming sponsored."
The next edition of The Bottom Line will explore the most direct and efficient way to approach industry sponsors.
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.