The sponsorship pool is heavily oversaturated right now, and without getting into if that’s good or bad for the industry, anglers and companies, it’s just how it is right now and it’s not likely to change so perhaps it’s more productive to take that as a given, and discuss how to deal with the market as it stands right now.
There are a lot of articles on how to get sponsorship, and it seems that more and more people who apply for sponsorship know the right things to say, and put in their resumes. There is still a pretty good contingent of people who apply starting with “hey bro” in messenger or spelling “sponcership” in their email, but overall more people have read the articles out there and stepped up their game. This means that the price of admission is changing, with more people saying the right things how do you stand out from the crowd and get noticed? How do you provide value to your sponsors once you get them?
Let’s jump to the side of a company who is looking at you after you’ve submitted your resume seeking sponsorship. I personally have done a lot of angler vetting and in the past when I would vet an angler I would start by checking the authenticity of an anglers tournament history, which I still do, but that is usually last on the list now. Today when I get a good looking resume or other contacts from an angler, my first move when vetting is to go to social media and find the person’s profile, fan pages etc. I can usually quickly get a very good idea of how they will perform based on a very quick review of their Facebook profile/fan page. A quick scan down the timeline will reveal several things.
- Does this angler have any influence or attention? I’m not speaking purely of numbers of friends or followers, but interaction and a sense of community. With a quick scan of their social media accounts, you can quickly see if this person has any influence in the industry or even within their own circle. I’ve seen some people maxed out on friends that get 1 or 2 likes per post, never reply to their followers/fans comments, if they even get any comments. It may not be easy to swallow for some, but the days of not having a social media presence in the fishing industry are dead.
- Do they post in a manner that you would expect for someone representing your company? Do they keep away from controversial topics? Too much Profanity? Do they like to fight with others on the internet? There are many things that can show up as red flags.
- This one may seem too simple, but do they post fish pictures? You’d be surprised how many accounts or pages I review that either report a few key fish photos or even have no fish photos at all. While it may seem simple, some people don’t realize how much fishing fans and followers want to see fish pictures, but more importantly, it usually means that they are not fishing very much.
- Do they type legibly and seem to know what they are talking about with relation to fishing? I’m not talking about grammar and spelling being perfect, although there is a certain level that needs to be achieved to communicate your ideas with the community.
- Do they mention their other sponsors in a meaningful way, is what you see what you’d like to see from someone representing your company?
- Do you get the same feeling when looking at their Social Media as you do when you look at their Resume?
It’s very simple, there are far too many people who have absolutely no influence or attention who can get a discount deal with a few companies that are only using them as free brand awareness and a repeat customer. As I stated before we’re not going to debate if that’s good or bad in the long run for the industry, but I’m sure this will change over time as well. Will you be complaining about the good old days, or will you embrace what’s actually happening, position yourself where the consumer and industries attention is actually at, and put yourself in a position to see where it’s going and be a pioneer in that attention stream?
At one time it was the standard advice that you fished tournaments and when you got “good enough” or had enough wins that the sponsors would come to you. First of all, being good should be a given if you plan to get anywhere in the sport, and the average person will never get very much without putting themselves in the position to build relationships with companies instead of just sitting back and waiting. So both parts of that advice are bad, and probably what sponsored anglers gave as advise to keep the competition for sponsor dollars low. I mean it’s a great narrative, it keeps people focused on fishing, and not on the business side of things where they might just split the pie into smaller pieces. Of course, you need to get good at fishing if you want to play this game, but don’t let your fishing skills come with a sense of entitlement that anyone owes you anything. This is not if you build it they will come scenario, because even if you do get a big win and attract a few sponsors that way, if you haven’t put in your time to learn the business side of things you’ll quickly lose them as soon as your attention goes away because you don’t know how to represent them, and help them achieve their goals.
So lets fast forward to the present, and try to figure out what works now, for sponsors and for anglers. First, let’s talk about what sponsors are seeking from the deal, sales and brand awareness. A sponsor ultimately wants sales of their product or service, and they seek the best ROI (return on investment) for the least money spent. They also seek brand awareness and to build positive brand associations. It’s just a known fact that people buy brands like Nike and Gucci because of the name and the association of their name with quality. This is not to diminish how they built their name, branding is very important, and while it’s easy to mock it the fact is the majority of people buy based on brand every day. Are you the kind of angler that a brand would want to be associated with, do you have enough attention that anyone cares what you’re fishing with or the products you use? Would associating their companies brand with you further their brand awareness to a large audience?
Lets double back on Sales, and throw the anglers in the mix now. In the age of the internet companies have options they can pay a lot of money to one big name pro who has a great deal of attention on them and get sales using that pro anglers name and reputation, or they can get a lot of lower level anglers for a lot less money that together theoretically bring in the same number of sales.
Brand awareness is very similar in that you can get a big name pro to build a brand quickly, but you also have to pay more for this. You could get several lower level pros, or many grassroots anglers to get the same thing usually cheaper.
Alright, so now back to the angler, and now I’m going to give you the biggest thing you need to develop for your quest to gain sponsorship, self-awareness. If you’re honest with yourself about what you offer and what you want, then you’ll know what you need to do to close the gap and make it happen. Be honest with yourself are you trying to get some sponsors for your jersey to impress your friends or others? I’m not judging, but if that’s what you’re trying to do those are easy to get and you’ll fill up your sublimated jersey in no time with little to no effort, but for those of you who are trying to eventually become a pro fisherman, or at least offset some of the cost of fishing tournaments with actual money paying sponsors you probably have a lot more work to do.
So if you’re in that second group and looking for sponsorship at the next level you need to have an honest evaluation of what you’re worth to a potential sponsor, and if it’s not what you’d like to be worth form a plan on how to get your value to meet your expectations.
Let’s make another little list, this time showing some of the tangible skills that you should have or be building to help you in your quest for sponsors.
- Developing your fishing skills. Be honest about this one too, if you’re not someone willing to put in the time to continue learning and honing your skills you may not ever reach a level where you’ll get this part of the puzzle dialed in. Does that mean you can’t get sponsorship? Not really. I’ myself have said I’d rather have someone that can sell like crazy but sucks at fishing, than someone who sucks at selling and fishes great. The problem with that statement today is there are plenty of anglers to choose from who can do both, so why would you choose someone missing either skill in today’s over-saturated market? Learn on the water, nothing beats time on the water, but also in the internet age you can eliminate a lot of wasted time by learning off the water too, and maximize that time on the water to milk it for all it’s worth.
- Start building your accolades. To be respected, and have the attention of people you will probably have to get a few tournament wins or find some way to be known for your knowledge and skill in the fishing world.
- Be yourself, if you try to make a character of yourself you’ll likely lose, people today have access to unlimited amounts of content and they are more savvy and cynical than ever and will sniff you out in a second if you are fake. An exception to this would be someone like “Fat Cat” Newton, who is all in on a character, but I’m sure there is a lot of his real personality in that character or it wouldn’t work for him either. What if you’re boring? Well, most people are not, they just haven’t been self-aware and found what it is about themselves that they need to get out to the world. I don’t want to call this one out, but there’s an angler who’s pretty low key, but he’s known for his charity work, and that’s his attention. This works for him because it’s not fake, he really cares about this charity that he’s promoting and being who he is he feels much more comfortable speaking about this charity than he does about himself. Perhaps if you’re quiet or boring, you feel more comfortable being the voice for something else, like a brand, maybe because you’re humble people listen to what you say, but you just haven’t found what you’re passionate about to find your voice to the world.
- Be heard, get your voice, pictures, and videos out there. In the old days this meant getting on the radio, magazines, and TV, which are still great avenues, but today you really have some great platforms to find an audience on the internet, and it’s not controlled by a handful of people in the industry. It could be doing a podcast or being a guest on podcasts, running your social media channels like Instagram and Facebook, and having a YouTube channel. To gain a following you have to have some content out there for people. You may not make quality content at first, but until you make a lot of content you won’t know how you need to improve. I’m not going to get into how to do these things in this article but will tell you that the information is free and can be found with a few searches, and then some time spent studying. Everyone doesn’t have to do all of these things, but if you have the drive, and the time you should at least taste each of these and try to figure out which one is the best fit for you. You may want to build an audience on each platform, as many people get stuck on one platform and will never be exposed to your content if you limit yourself to one avenue. At the same time, if you really enjoy creation on one particular platform and have limited time, then you should learn everything you can about how to use that platform and go all in with that one based on the limited time you have.
- Become part of your community. If you’re fishing bass tournaments, become part of that community both in person and online. If you’re choosing to be a YouTube star and get sponsorship that way, become part of that community. Figure out where the attention is and inject yourself into that community. This is the first place many people will notice you, and you’ll get their attention. Once you have even one person’s attention, make sure that they know that you’re thankful for it. Reply to comments on your social media, go fishing with people, answer questions and help people learn. Don’t get a little bit of a following and then stop doing things for the fans, even if you’re too busy, they’ll take it as you got “the big head” and stopped talking to your fans. Stay humble remember where you came from, find the time. This one seems so obvious and easy, but it’s one of the most overlooked aspects of this game.
- Become a practitioner of the current attention platform. I made that a little vague, because while right now it’s social media such as Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, but any day something new could upset the market and become the new platform with all of the attention. Right now I would suggest you become a practitioner of and learn everything about running a Facebook page and profile, as well as an Instagram account, and a close third would be learning YouTube if you’re ok with being on camera, or think you can be with practice. Being a practitioner means that you are actively engaged in the platform, not just learning but also doing. Learn, apply, repeat what works, learn more and repeat. If lots of fishermen start moving to a new platform don’t abandon the old ones, but start learning the new one as quickly as it seems to be where the attention is, and figure it out before the average person does so you can adapt as the times change. Follow the attention, always be learning, make great content, and be patient.
This is the end of part one, but I promise to continue my thoughts soon in part 2 of the article. In the meantime help me by sending questions and comments you may have by contacting me on instagram @dwainb8e, or my facebook page Dwain Batey – Kayak Angler. Please share this with someone you think could benefit from this information.
About the author: Dwain Batey is a tournament Kayak angler from Siloam Springs, AR. While fishing for years from a bass boat, he’s now focused on Kayak fishing and competing in Kayak Bass Fishing tournaments. With 12 first place finishes, and 29 top tens including two KBF Trail Series wins, one on Bella Vista Lakes in 2017, and another KBF Trail event on Beaver lake the same year Dwain has quickly established himself in the ranks of Kayak tournaments. His sponsors include Hobie Kayaks and OMTC, and Skirmish Baits. You can follow his tournament results and adventures on social media on either his facebook page “Dwain Batey – Kayak Bass Fishing” or on his Instagram @dwainb8e