The Reality of Sponsorships
Truths and tips for developing strong partnerships in the fishing business
Randy Blaukat Photo by Sean Ostruszka. Angler: Randy Blaukat.
My professional career began in 1984, when I was fortunate enough to qualify for the BFL All-American at age 22.
This was the beginning of my introduction to sponsorships, as after that event I got a surprise call from Nina Wood at Ranger Boats, asking if I would be interested in being sponsored by Ranger.
The world and reality of sponsorships in 1984 are almost unrecognizable in 2017. I’ve seen this transformation firsthand, and have not only been a participant in it, but also a third-party observer with a keen interest in the process.
By far, the questions I get asked the most on all my social media outlets are about how to get sponsorships.
Back when I was starting my career in the 1980s, the fishing industry was beginning to use professional anglers as marketing vehicles over traditional advertising forms more and more. Televised coverage of the tournaments was beginning, and this created a different paradigm than the sport had ever seen before.
As the television coverage of events increased, the sport became nationally and internationally recognized, and the quality of sponsorships rose with the increased promotional value of pro anglers.
One of the biggest differences between then and now is the sheer number of anglers who call themselves “professionals.” In the 1980s, it was easy to identify a professional angler, because prior to the foundation of the FLW Tour in 1996, qualifying for the Bassmaster Top 100 tour and the Bassmaster Classic clearly defined who was a pro. That was the only thing the endemic industry was concerned about.
With the advent of the FLW Tour, the Bassmaster Elite Series and many other AAA-level tours, the number of anglers who classify themselves as pros has skyrocketed. The term “professional co-angler” has even emerged.
Given this, we’ve entered an entirely new world of sponsorships.
Below is a list of tips I’ve put together that might help anglers out there not only understand the reality behind the sometimes foggy world of sponsorship, but also increase their chances of landing some long-term partnerships.
- The No. 1 rule to understand regarding sponsors is that you must have thick skin; fairness does not apply. In a perfect world, if a company was looking to add or fill a position, every pro angler would be notified, and applications sent in and reviewed. But it does not work that way.
- I’ve worked as a pro-staff manager, and I know the number of inquiries companies get. I’ve answered hundreds of them myself. The best companies and best managers will make it a priority to return all inquiries, even if the answer is no. Companies have budgets and agendas based upon the direction the marketing individuals see fit. These directions change with changes in marketing personnel, which makes it very difficult on the pros that have built relationships with previous managers over years of work.
- Sponsorships are gained in a variety of ways. Many times, especially on the non-endemic side, it’s about who you know based on connections or family ties. While not fair, it is a reality in both the business world and the sponsorship world. Meshing personalities, “clicking” with the marketing managers, outstanding performance, strong social media presence and unique promotional avenues all contribute to landing sponsorships. When a partnership is gained with a lack of exceptional on-the-water performance or social media presence, it is usually because of a relationship with the right people. This explains why some companies will turn down or ignore the request of an angler that can offer “the entire package,” but will partner with an angler that cannot measure up to the same extent.
- As with any other position, some marketing managers are better at their jobs than others. You will find that you can lay out the most impressive sponsorship proposal possible to one company, and the people there will ignore it, yet another company will recognize the value and jump on the opportunity. The best marketing managers know our sport, the history of it and the anglers inside out. If they don’t know it going in, they learn and educate themselves on it quickly. They best ones have the ability and interest to see which segment of their market each angler can appeal to.
- As an angler, you can’t be all things to all people. Consumer bases are diverse, especially with non-endemic companies. You must be yourself and market you own abilities that can draw a fan base, create product impressions and reach a target market. If you are in your 20s, use your age as your marketing angle along with your other avenues. If you are in your 60s, use the fact that your demographic has more spending power than any other and pitch that point. In my own situation, I’ve always been outspoken of conservation and environmental issues. The companies I represent know this, and considered it when we developed our partnerships. Each angler has a personality, and it’s important that you allow your personality to emerge and be part of your brand. Few things turn off customers more than a pro angler that is nothing but an empty-suit, predictable-talking-point, product-endorsing robot.
- If you are serious about gaining sponsorships, you must create a strong social media presence. This is not an option but a necessity. Although some will not agree, in terms of exposing products and increasing impressions for a company’s brand, an unknown angler with a big social media platform is more valuable than an angler who wins tournaments and championships but is weak with social media – especially over the long term and with non-endemic companies.
- Go in with a plan. Some of the requests I received as a pro-staff manager were almost comical in terms of their content … “I am a great angler, and you all need to sponsor me. Contact me and let me know what kind of deal I can get.” If you don’t have a plan geared toward helping build the brand name of the company you are approaching, you stand little chance of success. Be creative. Think of things that set you apart from the crowd in how you can reach potential customers. Offer your time and services to the company. The more you do this, the more a company can equal true value and a return on its investment. If you can give a measurement of how many people you can reach, then you can put a cash value on your promotional worth.
- Finally, be persistent. Be prepared to get turned down … a lot. The potential for sponsorships is practically unlimited in the non-endemic side. There are thousands of companies out there that are all potential sponsors if you can deliver more customers to them. If you are considering an endemic sponsorship, make sure you use and believe in the product. And remember the No. 1 rule: It’s all about what you can do for them. Focus your efforts on this in your proposals first and foremost, and your chances of landing good, solid, sustainable sponsorships will go way up.