Setting yourself apart on the sponsorship trail

FLW angler Bernie Schultz demonstrates why differentiation is key to success

"A good pro angler can make a Zara Spook walk; a great pro angler can make a Zara spook sell." - Bernie Schultz

Despite having never won a national tournament, Bernie Schultz is one of the most viable anglers in bass fishing's sponsorship marketplace. The Gainesville, Florida based fishing pro has enjoyed a solid fifteen-year career as a tournament angler and fishing industry consultant.

Before tournament organizations were able to prove the marketing power of tournament bass fishing to non-endemic companies, Schultz was signing deals with clothing companies like Tarponwear and Sebago boat shoes.

Schultz retains a consistent fishing career record and is a common site at the post-tournament check line. He has qualified for six BassMaster Classics and four FLW Championships. But it is what the innovative angler brings to the sponsor's dealing table that makes him such a valuable asset to companies.

From his humble beginnings as a sport show pawn, Schultz got an early education on the tides of the fishing marketplace.

"In the beginning of my career, I was a `gopher' for tackle reps at sports and tackle shows," remembers Schultz. "I would set up booths, transport boats, do demos, and I never got paid a dime. But I listened and learned. I learned about stock keeping units and the importance of product packaging and placement. These are the invaluable tools every angler needs to know to help companies sell products."

As Schultz traveled outside of his home state of Florida to compete in Red Man events in the early Eighties, he incidentally demonstrated an alternative to bass fishing's dominant fashion of blue jeans and polyester tournament shirts. Dressed in shorts, a light colored long sleeved shirt, and his trademark visor, Schultz looked like a saltwater flats guide who made a wrong turn and ended up at a bass tournament.

But it was Schultz's sharp, saltwashed attire that caught the eye of Nina Wood at the 1983 Red Man All- American and helped him land his first boat deal with Ranger.

"I came from a saltwater background," says Schultz. "I grew up on the beaches and coastal flats of Florida. That background allowed me bring something more to a sponsor's marketing plan - an appeal to an alternative demographic."

Along with a vast knowledge of saltwater fishing, Schultz also obtained a degree in drawing and illustration from the University of Florida. That education opened a number of creative avenues including magazine illustration, product drawing, and package design. With his illustrative abilities, the creative angler was able to bring yet another added benefit to the table.

Keeping pace with a changing industry

"Advances in technology are affecting bass fishing and its marketplace on a daily basis," states Schultz. "From changes in the ways the sport is being covered to new developments in materials, astute anglers must keep up with these advancements to provide worthy input to a company."

"We (pros) may sit down in a company's office and meet with the president, the marketing staff or the research and development staff. If you sit there like a bump on a log and do not offer some valuable feedback on product performance or some insight into their consumer base, you are not going to last long."

Schultz says that in this era of corporate conglomerating, it pays to know associative product lines made by a company, even though the products may not be made for bass fishing.

"If you are sponsored by a company that makes bass lures and freshwater trout lures, you better educate yourself on the trout products as well. The same goes for boat and motor companies. You should know all of the makes and models and their respective marketplaces."

Maintaining credibility

Another characteristic that has made Schultz a mainstay in the marketplace is his long-term credibility. He says that his credibility remains true over time because of a belief in the products he represents.

"Don't solicit sponsor deals like a mass marketing campaign," he cautions. "Know and believe in the products you want to represent."

Schultz finds that today's consumers are more savvy than they were 10 years ago. Trying to fool the public with gimmicky sales tactics can erode an angler's credibility.

"Even beginning bass anglers know when they are being feigned to," remarks Schultz. "Such tactics are not only fake, but insulting to the consumer. If you truly believe in a product, you can promote it without pushing it."

Set yourself apart by bringing more to the table

Schultz's advice to anyone looking to grasp the attention of a fishing sponsor is to set themselves apart by giving the company something more than just a list of tournament finishes.

"For me it's a matter of bringing more to the table than casting and reeling," says Schultz. "I have helped companies design packaging and illustrate catalogs. I am proficient in the saltwater market. I can see the similarities in the fresh and saltwater demographics and be beneficial to companies who want to cross or blend those market places. I want to offer a company more added value than just fishing."

Tags: business-of-fishing  rob-newell 

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