How to Approach a Potential Sponsor - Major League Fishing

How to Approach a Potential Sponsor

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Randy Blaukat Angler: Randy Blaukat.
November 24, 2014 • Randy Blaukat • Angler Columns

For a lot of FLW anglers, it’s crunch time in regards to sewing up sponsorships for 2015. Whether you’re fishing at the high school or college level, in BFLs, the Rayovac FLW Series or on the Walmart FLW Tour, gaining some form of sponsorship is critical to enabling you to make a profit from competitive fishing.

Awhile back, I penned a blog that addressed the realities of sponsorships. This time, I’d like to give you some tips on how to actually approach a potential sponsoring company. Going in, there are a couple of things you need consider.

First, put on your thick skin, because you will be turned down more times than not. The important thing is that you don’t get discouraged and lose your determination. Second, realize and remember that you have promotional abilities that are uniquely your own. This quality, along with honing and using your creativity, are the keys to securing sustainable sponsorships.

 One of the realities you’ll be dealing with is that there are more tournaments and tournament anglers right now than ever before in the history of professional fishing. Sometimes it seems that there are more “pro” anglers out there than bass to catch.

 You see tournament jerseys on all anglers, from the club level to the pros, and there’s no clear definition of what a “pro angler” actually is. The recent phenomenon of social media even adds to the confusion, as anyone who has a fishing rod can claim to be a pro.

When the stock market and the economy tanked in 2008, many companies endemic to the fishing industry cut back their sponsorship programs tremendously. Anglers who had received good compensation for years prior to the crash were forced to take what the companies offered them, which was – in many cases – next to nothing. 

As a result, a precedent was set: Companies realized they could attain and keep pros for less, and many of them took advantage of the situation. That mentality remains embedded in the fishing industry to a substantial degree today. It only adds to the challenge of securing a sustainable, fair relationship with a potential sponsor.

Before you jump into the frequently cruel world of sponsorship acquisitions, one of the first things you should do is to gain an understanding of a potential sponsor’s marketing manager; that is, the person who calls the shots.

There is no stereotypical marketing manager in this game. Depending on whether you are approaching a non-endemic or endemic company, the marketing manager can range from someone who is actually a tournament competitor himself, to a person who might not be able to identify a bass if he saw one. 

Marketing people are just like any other professionals – some are better than others. The best ones respond quickly to any and all inquires, regardless of their judgment of the angler’s potential or value to the company.

Of course, if you contact a company’s marketing manager about the possibility of a sponsorship, it only takes about two minutes for him to reply in an email. The response might be something on the order of,  “Thanks for your inquiry, but we are not in the position to meet your request at this time.” It’s not the answer you want, but it is a respectful answer, and that’s the least you should expect. I know, because I’ve worked for a company in that position, helping it with pro/field-staff activities.

Above all, a good marketing person understands the “potential” of an angler’s proposal, even if he doesn’t know anything about fishing. It doesn’t take any knowledge of fishing to know that a wrapped truck and boat, travelling 30,000 miles a year, will generate millions of impressions for any company’s product line.

As for the nature of the companies that you might approach for sponsorship, the best piece of advice I can give you is to look outside the industry. For the most part, the sponsorship dollars from boat and motor companies – or the biggest tackle companies – are already allotted to a minority of “marquee” pros. These are the guys that have won major championships or qualified for the Forrest Wood Cup or Bassmaster Classic numerous times.

Where do you find potential non-endemic sponsors? A good place to start looking is by checking the Fortune 500 list of companies. Go through the list, and identify the companies that seem to have the greatest potential as far as benefitting from the unique promotional opportunities that you, a professional angler, can offer.

After you’ve made a list of, say, the top 50 companies that you think are good possibilities, your next step is to identify the marketing person in charge of the sort of brand promotion you represent, and then obtain his direct contact information. Many times, this will be one of the most difficult parts of the puzzle as a lot of major corporations make it hard, on purpose, to contact the person who can help you. Still, the prize is worth the effort.

Once you actually identify the marketing person, your first step should be to compose a short email requesting permission to send him some unique promotional ideas that can help build his company’s market presence to a very targeted audience. Depending upon the product his company sells, your ideas might help him reach a very specific market, or a very broad one. Help him understand why he needs to talk to you.

Don’t make the email too long. Make sure your spelling and punctuation are correct, and thank him for his time. Be a professional; you’re dealing with a professional, and he will judge whether to continue the conversation based in part on his first impression of you.

At that point, your waiting game begins. Again, remember that marketing employees are like other employees; some are better at their jobs than others, and the ones that don’t take the time to respond are not the sponsors you want to be associated with in the first place.

Once a company’s marketing person responds with some interest expressed or requesting more information, the next step is to formulate a specific proposal or blueprint based on what you know about the company. The proposal needs to be targeted specifically: How you can help build the company’s brand name, increase visibility and impressions, and benefit from making friends – through you – with a “new” audience of potential customers who are very loyal to the sponsors that help support their sport.

Everybody hates homework, but this is the part of the process that might make or break the deal. This will require you to study the company’s product and its market, and use your own creativity and experience to demonstrate to the marketing person how a partnership with you will provide his company a good return on its investment.

This is your sales pitch. Make it factual, and be specific. Once you provide the marketing person with your proposal, it’s just a matter of waiting to see how it was received. If the answer is no, and the marketing person goes into detail about why he turned you down, use this information to help strengthen your next sales pitch and move on. Turn his negatives into positives for you as you prepare to approach the next potential sponsor.

Of course, you can use this same approach if you choose to deal with an endemic company. Whether endemic or non-endemic, a smart company doing business in the real world of today will realize that the three biggest assets a pro can possess that potentially will increase sales are as follows, and in this order of importance:

1. The angler has an aspect of his personality, creative ideas or marketing savvy that makes him stand out in the horde of tournament anglers

2. The angler is active on Facebook/Twitter and other social media accounts. Soon, if not now, an active “social media angler” will be the most valuable member of any pro/field-staff team. All other strengths an angler has – including lots of face time at weigh-ins – are secondary to having a strong social media presence. Creating impressions and product visibility to the widest audience possible is the name of the game.

3. The angler has proven that he has the capability to qualify for year-end championships on at least a semi-regular basis in the major national circuit he fishes.

Those qualities are essential in an aspiring pro. A tournament win has a short-term effect, but those other qualities can deliver value constantly, over the long term, to any company. Again, a savvy marketing person knows this; a poor one might focus only on the short-term benefits of partnering with the “flavor of the month” or a “hot” angler.

Try to stress this to the marketing person when you’re making your pitch. You want him to know that you’re solid and you’re in it for the long haul. Another important piece of advice I would leave you with is that you shouldn’t try to “force” a relationship with a company. More times than not, sponsorships are like friendships; you and the marketing person will know if you “click.” That’s the beauty of sponsorships. A bond is forged as you prove to the marketing person over and over again that he made the right decision when he signed you to the team.

Here again, the combination of creative thinking, hard work and the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time are usually the keys to landing a sustainable deal in the first place. Above all, stay determined and focused, and don’t give up.