July 3, 2001 by Rob Newell
Local dealers provide anglers with best chance of landing national sponsorships
In last month's The Bottom Line column, we discussed the most common mistakes anglers make when approaching sponsors. This edition focuses on key strategies for approaching sponsors in the most efficient manner.
The truth of the matter is that the marketing and public relations professionals at the national level of marine and tackle companies get swamped with resumes, portfolios and other solicitations on a daily basis. A bass angler trying to get a resume in the door at the national level is like a writer trying to get a New York book publisher to read a manuscript. In sum, it's very difficult.
The answer for most writers is an agent - one who can command the attention of a book publisher. However, in the bass fishing business that agent is the "dealer-rep network."
Almost every marine manufacturer and major tackle manufacturer works in a three-tiered system. At the top level are the national corporate offices. The middle level is comprised of a regional representative or representative group. On the ground floor is the local dealer. This ground floor, where the selling of product actually takes place, is commonly referred to as the dealer-rep or dealer network.
The dealer network is the agent, the direct line so to speak, of the bass fishing business. Since this is where the heartbeat of the industry is, corporate headquarters often lend the dealer networks a generous ear.
Consequently, when anglers send "cold call" requests for sponsorship directly to the corporate headquarters, they are going around the direct line to the national level.
"I get dozens of resumes a day," says David Simmons, field promotions coordinator for Yamaha. "But the ones I get that have a letter of reference from a dealer with them are the resumes that go in the top drawer. Those are the deals I go to work on immediately."
Pam Behnke, the personal endorsements manager for Mercury, says that an angler should already have a good relationship with their local dealer before soliciting corporate sponsorships.
"I like to get a cover letter from the dealer with the angler's resume," says Behnke." The first thing I look for in a portfolio is the dealer reference or the reference from that angler's boat rep."
Bart Schad, vice president of sales and marketing for Ranger Boats, says that he puts a great deal of trust in the voice of the dealer network. Schad contends that anyone who demonstrates "sweat equity" is miles ahead of the game when resumes pour in at Ranger.
"We really listen to what our dealers have to say about anglers," says Schad. "If a dealer calls me and tells me that he has an angler that has worked three boat shows and helped sell two boats, I will be looking for that angler's resume. The angler has proven sweat equity. He is willing to help us out before asking for anything in return."
In the end, the dealer holds the key to getting in the door at the national level anyway. The corporate office is always going to check with the dealer or regional representative about an angler's background.
The same structure holds true for tackle companies. Tackle companies use local tackle stores and regional sales groups as their dealer-rep network. Although the products are different, the network functions in the same manner. An angler's time would be much better spent courting tackle dealers and contacting sales groups to help with promotions than bombarding the corporate office with leather-bound portfolios.
But what if a local dealer is skeptical about using anglers as sales and promotional people?
"We are currently working hard to bridge that gap," says Dave Simmons of Yamaha. "We want to help promote the promoter. We are making documentation available to all of our dealers that shows how local anglers can be a tremendous help in selling product."
Pam Behnke says that Mercury has a similar program.
"Mercury has drafted a set of guidelines for promotional anglers and for the dealers using those anglers. The guidelines explain how to best utilize the dealer-promotional angler relationship. There are many ways that anglers can help dealers, from towing boats to boat shows to providing demo rides for potential customers."
David Simmons often asks anglers not to send him anything at the national level, but instead to go through the dealer network.
"When something comes to me in a blind, prospecting manner I have to go back and track down a dealer and a rep. It is like working backwards," reports Simmons. "But when something comes to me routed through the dealer, the package is already 90 percent complete. It is much more efficient."
Simmons says that bass anglers are often shocked when he asks them to start with the local dealer.
"Sometimes I think anglers might take offense or insult when I ask them to work with a dealer because the angler feels that they are at a higher level than that," reveals Simmons. "I can assure you that the highest people in our company, all the way to the president, work for a dealer. Make no mistake about it, we all work for the dealer because that is where our customers are."
Finally, Simmons says the way to hit a home run in the Yamaha home office is to get credit for a sale.
"If you are indirectly responsible for a sale because you provided a demo ride or introduced a customer to the dealer, make sure the dealer makes a note of it on the paper work," he says. "That gets you the biggest high fives in the corporate office."
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.