Are Sponsorships Not What You Think?

Payne Outdoors
Chad Hoover

Last week when I wrote the “Want to Be Sponsored?” piece,  I heard from people in 32 different countries. Some were mad, some angry, some thought I was clueless, some agreed but what became evidently clear is that the definitions of the different levels were muddy and in some cases not even known. 

Luckily, Chad Hoover who has worn hats as a business owner, tv show host, manufacturers rep, pro staff director, kayak fisherman and brand rep chimed in. He saw what I saw: misconceptions and half truths. Chad wanted to give an outline of what the different levels were from a business and manufacturer rep’s standpoint as well as someone who had climbed through them all. It may not hold true for all companies but it does for a lot of them. Actually most of them.
You want the inside scoop? The real deal from Hoover himself? Here it is.
We’ll start first with definitions.

Level 1- Field Staff

At this level, a fisherman will typically get some stickers, maybe a hat or shirt and a discount. Usually the discount is less than 20%. There are few expectations for these folks except to say good things about the product.

Level 2- Pro Deal

At this level you are doing some significant things for a company. Maybe it’s blogging, videos, pictures, social media and some trade shows. You conduct yourself in a manner consistent with company values and may do a few seminars or speaking events. The discount increases at this level and is usually 20-30%.

Level 3- Pro Staff

One of the most over used terms in the industry, Pro Staff means just that. You are a Pro on the company’s Staff. People that work at headquarters know your name even if you don’t work in that city. They seek out your advice on product development and deployment. You have a public presence and insider information. You know what new stuff is coming down the pipe well before the public and most of the time, you’ve been involved with it in some form or fashion. You get good discounts (30-50%) and some free product as well depending on the company.

Level 4- Sponsored

The pinnacle of deals for fishermen. Sponsored guys get significant amounts to all product for free. They are also compensated for entry fees, appearance fees, stipends for days at trade shows, get travel fees and most importantly cut a check for fishing in a kayak. Hoover says there are fewer than 10 of these folks in the country in kayak fishing. 
Let’s talk about getting a deal. Lots of fishermen want a deal. Who wouldn’t like free product? So can you get a deal? Maybe Field Staff or a Pro Deal? Sure. Can you get sponsored? Sure. BUT… Let me say it again. BUT… you have to work to get there.
Do you want to know the truth? 
If not, thanks for reading, we’ll hopefully see you again next week. 
If you do want the actual truth from the man who has climbed to the summit, keep reading. Hoover doesn’t pull punches. He wants you to know the REAL DEAL.  These were my takeaways from our conversation. 
There is no sponsorship lotto you can buy a ticket for. No fast track exists. I cannot learn to throw a football today and expect to quarterback the 49ers tomorrow. Too many people want to know the shortcut. They will ask, so how can I get there? Should I blog or do photos or shoot video or talk at conventions or work trade shows? The answer is yes. You should be doing all of those. One avenue for public exposure is rarely enough for potential suitors to want to give you a deal. You need to network, be known and also be reputable. You can’t build a good reputation with thousands of people over night. It takes time, public vetting and hard work with no compensation. If you wouldn’t do it for free, don’t try to get paid for doing it. 
Confession time. When I started this blog I thought I wanted to be sponsored. I called Chad and he gave me the same info you are now getting. He asked me what I loved. I told him I loved to write and tell people about kayak fishing. He told me to chase that. He told me to fish and write. He told me to quit thinking about targeting companies and start thinking about developing what I loved. So I did. To this day I have received $0 for writing this blog. What I have received in abundance is an overwhelming network of friends, business contacts, partner companies and fishermen that have found value in what I have worked so hard to develop. It’s very similar to the feeling you get when you catch a big fish on a bait or rod that you have made by hand. 
So what are some keys to getting to a place where companies will ask about you?
1. Care more about the name on the front of the jersey than the back. If your identity is wrapped up in who your sponsors are, you are doing it wrong.
2. Patience. It takes time to become noticed. In some cases, it may never happen and you need to be ok with that.
3. Work.Can’t stress this enough. You have to be willing to put more in than you expect to get out. 
4. Don’t posture. Brand wars, mine is better than yours, acting like a fool in social media and fights whether verbal or physical are bad news. Keep a positive attitude and represent yourself well. You are your own brand!
5. Stop trying to get free stuff. Get in the game, pay your dues, keep your nose clean, be accessible, open and honest and your time will come. People are attracted to others with passion. If you are passionate about pneumatic snowball throwers and blog about it twice a week, shoot videos and hold seminars on how to build your own, people who share that interest will seek you out. It may take some time but once they find you, if you are the real deal, they will tell their friends. Building a following takes time.
You want the formula for a Staff, Deal or Sponsorship position?
Don’t spend your time looking for a loop hole. Spend your time developing your passion. It pays off much bigger in the end.
Do you have thoughts about this article you want others to know? Don’t agree? Fully agree? Let me know on Facebook or in the comments section. 

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9 thoughts on “Are Sponsorships Not What You Think?

  1. A lot of good info in here. As someone who according to this post is on the Pro Staff level with a kayak manufacturer I have found this to be true. Be prepared to do some work. For me that has meant doing demo events, sometimes with a sizable amount of driving, and doing seminars. Personally I find these activities to be a blast but they are still work. Just because they are work doesn't mean you can't have fun doing it. In fact I would argue that if you don't have fun then maybe this isn't the thing you need to be doing. If you are gonna do it be passionate. One thing I do like here is the comment about not posturing and dogging other companies who compete with whomever you represent. I have seen a lot of this lately from other "pro staffers" not just in kayaking but fishing in general. I find it both turns me off to that person as a representative of that company and it turns me off to that company in general.

  2. Thanks for reading guys!

    @Ryan, I can't stand the posturing. Guys fish differently and like different things. What works for Dean Thomas down in Corpus may or may not work for Rob Fort in NZ. What works on the Bird might be lousy on Fayette. You have to find what works for you and respect others choices. I'm a Hobie Fishing Team guy but I'm fishing with Wildy folks tomorrow morning. We share a passion for fishing and that's all we need to have a good time. Hopefully some of this Brand Wars business will be eliminated by the companies running the "staffers" soon.

    @NCP, no problem. Chad saw there was a need after reading the previous article and reached out to help me dispell some rumors. He's always been a great resource for me and he's a straight shooter.

  3. For the most part I have found that kayak companies (at least the big ones) are friendly towards one another. At least publicly. I am referring more to some of the local guys who are "pro staffers" for this product or that and as soon as they represent that company they immediately begin making facebook posts about how crappy of a product the competitor makes. To me that isn't necessary and lacks class.

  4. Also it was cool of Chad to give a little bit of insider info. I do get asked these questions a lot, and there isn't a secret formula. Something else I might add is that unless you are on that sponsorship level you don't have a lot of sway when it comes to getting others on the prostaff.

  5. Spot on with your column this week. It takes commitment, passion and drive to make any dream come true. I know that with building the Kayak Bass Adventures network I have had to call in many favors and spend countless dollars, all out of my pocket. For something that may never happen. That doesn't matter because at the end of the day I love what I'm trying to do. Keep Living The Dream!

  6. Nicely done from ODU Consulting. We We own and represent Rat-L-Trap and Snag Proof. You nailed the basics and the original article is also perfect to the point. We posted a link to your story this morning as well. ODU………

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