You have the talent, drive, and ambition to climb to the top of the professional fishing circuit, but to get there you are going to need help. That’s understandable. Competitive angling is expensive, and most serious tournament anglers require some assistance along the way. Sooner or later, you will have to consider how you might attract some sponsors. The purpose of this document is to help you learn the lay of the land, benefit from others’ experiences, and provide a perspective that will help you pick up sponsors.
Sponsorship involves advertising, and participation. If you gain sponsors, expect to work the shows, help with catalog layouts, visit dealers and appear at their open houses, contribute your expertise to lure and rod designs, accept interviews, and promote the sponsors’ products whenever it’s appropriate. In short, you will devote some of yourself to their success.
In return you will be compensated in a number of ways. Your sponsor may create a signature series of rods and lures that provide royalties to you. A sponsor might pay your entry fees and supply you with product. You might negotiate bonuses for tournament wins… the larger the win, the larger the bonus. Some sponsors will pay you for the hours you spend representing them at seminars and tackle shows.
Seeking sponsors is a lot like fishing. Prepare yourself. Learn the terrain. Take stock of your capabilities – your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Develop a strategy, and then point yourself in the right direction and start casting. Don’t get discouraged if most casts are unproductive at first. Remain positive, observe, keep notes, learn from each cast, adapt, keep plugging away, and eventually your efforts will be rewarded.
The first step toward earning sponsorship takes place in your mind. Before you send your first e-mail or make your first phone call to a prospective sponsor, it is imperative that you have a realistic understanding of what sponsorships are all about, what sponsors can realistically be expected to provide, and what you will have to give in exchange.
The view from the sponsor’s side of the desk
I receive about five hundred requests for Secret Weapon Lures sponsorship each year. Most follow the same pattern. A few stand out. What makes them different than the rest? More importantly, how can you make yours stand out?
Prove by a personalized, focused proposal that you give our sponsorship a high priority. Generic form letters or e-mail inquiries that appear to have been mailed to every tackle manufacturer in the U.S. end up in the trash can.
When I spot a likely candidate who just did a poor job of promoting himself, and I might ask what it was about our company and products that made him think we were a good match, or that caused him to single us out as a company he could effectively promote. I can usually tell if someone is trying to con me when, in fact, they’ve never even seen one of our lures first-hand. A person who requests sponsorship but has never even used our lures has little chance of persuading me that he would be an effective advocate for Secret Weapon Lures.
So, what does persuade me?
Every sponsor is in business to make money, and for you to participate in any profits the sponsor enjoys; you must contribute to those profits. In short…you are paid in accordance to your accomplishments. This is pretty much like every other job, except that you may also work for a variety of other employers (as long as there are no conflict-of-interest issues). In addition, you are pretty much guaranteed to be enjoying what you do. How much you get paid is directly proportional to how good you are, and how you produce. A sponsor’s only obligation is to fulfill its responsibilities under the contract negotiated between the two parties. The same is true of the angler’s obligation.
Secret Weapon Lures exists to make profits. We’re looking for people who can help us achieve that. If a candidate has done a thorough job of preparation, has learned about us, uses our lures, and has already shown some initiative in promoting us, then he has my attention. I’ll be glad to read his mail, take his calls, and even meet with him so he can convince me he will make money for us.
All right. Give it your best shot. Sell yourself.
There are a few points to keep in mind as you try to land a sponsor. You’re coming out of nowhere. You’re an unknown quantity. Your introductory envelope or e-mail will be only one of hundreds that boat, tackle, and fishing-related product manufacturers receive each week. You need to be sure yours stands out somehow and that you make a good first impression. Don’t make them wonder if you’d be a good investment; create a marketing campaign that shows off your credibility, effectiveness, organization, enthusiasm and knowledge of their product, and what you can do for them.
Have you worked in some sort of sales position? At least, you’ve probably seen a bazillion TV commercials, right? Then you should have a good handle on how to market products in ways that convince others to buy. That skill transfers nicely as you shift to the pro fishing ranks. If you like All Pro Rods or Secret Weapon spinnerbaits or Triton or Driftwood Lures and you want to promote them, put together a sales campaign and pitch yourself to them.
Your product in this sales campaign is… you. The only reason a company is willing to sponsor an angler, or even throw him a handful a free product a couple times a year, is that they feel he can help increase sales.
At all times, keep in mind what a potential sponsor wants – and what you want. The trick is to find where those two overlap and concentrate there. Business schools have even coined a term for that: “goal congruence.”
If you’re serious about securing a sponsorship, go all out. Take a lesson from Desert Storm: build up your forces and then go in with an overwhelming campaign. Don’t be timid…. just make up your mind that you are going to win and keep pounding away until they agree.
First, pick your targets carefully. Look for new ground… don’t assume because you want to fish professionally that you need to limit your search to companies in the tackle and boating markets. What other products do outdoorsmen buy? Who makes them? These are your best prospects; whether they are local suppliers (restaurants, auto dealers, sports medicine clinics, etc.) or multinational corporations (tire manufacturers, auto manufacturers, energy drink bottlers, snack food distributors, etc.).
What do corporate sponsors look for?
Simply stated: winners. People whom others respect, admire, and want to emulate.
People who can carry their flag — who exemplify the ideals and values that the sponsor is trying to portray through other marketing channels. For example, if you’re going after a truck manufacturer, project an image of yourself as honest, rock-solid dependable, hardworking, determined, good-looking, strong/vigorous… these are some of the terms I think the trucking manufacturer might use to describe itself. How can you claim those for yourself? The idea here is, when you look at me, you learn something about the company I run with – the sponsor.
Representatives who will be articulate and eager to brag on their great tow vehicle, and who look for opportunities to promote them. “I drove my Dodge Truck all night to get to the lake, and that ride was so comfortable that I wasn’t a bit tired… in fact, I ready to hit the lake as soon as I got there!”
How do you prove you are what they’re looking for?
Your track record with other sponsors. Who is already sponsoring you? Having a boat or other major account will probably be a huge benefit to you here. If you’re so fortunate, can you get referrals or a letter of recommendation from their marketing director? Endorsement letters are gold.
What have you done for your current sponsors? Shows, promotional events, wearing their logos and hats, publicity shots, catalog shots, decals, public speaking, articles you may have written, interviews, articles about you… list them all.
Related to this… become a recognized authority in the field. The quickest way to do that is to get published. The higher your profile, the more influence you can have for your sponsors. Not everyone can write and express himself or herself well; if you’re one of those, then enlist the aid of a friend or spouse who will serve as your editor.
When you get the chance, make a list of five or ten article ideas with a paragraph describing each. These should be on topics that you have a unique perspective on, or that you are well qualified to write about. For example, women anglers might write an article aimed at men, to help them pick out tackle and equipment for their wives or women they hope will join them in their fishing. Or write about differences in some equipment that make them easier or better suited for women than men. Women anglers are more aware of them than most men authors.
Run your ideas by a few friends… especially if any are outdoor writers. Then float the ideas up to magazine and newspaper editors to see if any will bite. If so, write and submit the article, and Presto! You’re an expert. I bet many magazines would welcome the perspective of competitive women anglers. Another interesting article would be how women anglers can go about gaining sponsors.
So, you’re not a woman? Well, what is your specialty, then? Teacher? Coach? How about articles on fishing-related sports injuries, how to prevent them and treat them, and exercises anglers can do to avoid them?
Your grandpa taught you how to use a shuttle and knot your own seines and fishing nets? Cool. You’re probably one in 10,000. Write about that.
There is something you’re better at than most, and that other anglers would benefit from. Discover it, and write it up!
A Web site at this point would be real impressive… something that you could use to promote yourself, but also a showcase to promote your sponsors.
Plan your campaign:
Third party referral note. For instance, ask a current sponsor to write to your prospect to say, “One of the bass anglers we sponsor will be contacting you in a few days. He has done well for us. It would be worthwhile for you to take a look at him. Here are a few things about him….” If you have a really good relationship, it wouldn’t hurt for you to provide the sponsor with a sample note or two so they get the idea what you’re looking for. They might even pick out a few phrases and reword them so they express their own experiences with you. Make it as easy on them as you can. Be sure to set a deadline for getting that letter back from them: “I need this by Thursday.”
Personal note from you to the prospective sponsor (NOT a generic form letter) that briefly explains your interest and a glimpse of what you bring to the table.
- Pay attention to spelling! 30% to 40% of the sponsorship requests we get have the word sponsor misspelled (sponser, sponcer or even sponcor), and/or the name of the company is missing, incorrect or misspelled.
- If you say you use the company’s products, mention them by name. “I use your products with great success,” smacks of generic form letter phrasing. It makes a stronger impact if you can honestly say “I really feel that your XXXX sets the standard for lures of its type, and have relied on it as my go-to bait for several years.” Or “My last 3 trucks were a _____; folks know I’d never drive any other.” Make sure you’re telling the truth, though. Lies have a way of coming back to bite you in the rear.
- Close by stating that you will call to set up a time for a meeting.
Initial phone call. Brief, professional, businesslike. Convey that you are respectful of the sponsor’s time and would like a few minutes to meet to discuss some ideas on how you might be able to help the company as a pro-staffer. If a face-to-face isn’t possible, set up a time to call back for a longer phone call. If that’s the case, let him know you will send a packet of material that he can review before the call to make better use of the time. He may say let’s go ahead and talk now…. that’s ok, but it would be better to make an appointment, send the marketing kit, and then postpone a longer call for the sales pitch. (Did I mention that you’re selling yourself here? You are…. so think of yourself as the product.)
Meeting or conference call.
- Dress professionally – the way you would when you represent the company at a sports show, maybe, or in business or business-casual attire, if you will be at a corporate headquarters.
- Be on time, well rested, neatly groomed, energetic, and enthusiastic. Assume you are being evaluated from the moment you enter the parking lot.
- Present a business card. This shows you mean business and suggests how you will present yourself to people the sponsor wants you to influence.
- Relay personal greetings from the person who referred you, if the person you’ll be meeting knows him. That establishes rapport.
- Don’t beat around the bush or be bashful. Say, “Thanks for clearing time in your schedule to meet with me. The reason I’m here is because…” and then state your objective.
- Provide an outline or presentation graphics so the prospective sponsor can follow along and make notes. Rehearse a convincing presentation, with visuals, that lasts no more than five minutes. A lot of it is basic sales technique. Ask questions that you know he will answer affirmatively to get the person in the “yes” mode. Mention the things you know he wants (the company’s goals) and how you can make them happen or at least move the ball down the field.
- Convey that you are sensitive to business pressures, and that you will be able to deliver a good return on the company’s investment. Business people love positive ROI.
- Emphasize opportunities you will have to help the company promote their product. For example, “I typically speak at 4 or more bass club meetings each winter, as well as working at sport and outdoor shows. I’d enjoy promoting your products at these events; and of course I would make myself available to assist your sales or promotional staff when the need arises.”
- After you’ve spoken, then hand over your other documentation. Don’t give it to him beforehand, because he may be leafing through it and miss or become distracted from what you are saying.
- Summarize. “And that’s why I think working together would benefit both of us.”
- If you don’t score a knockout in round one – if the answer is no – learn why. What would you need to add to your package to make you an attractive candidate? What are they looking for? It may be that you have it already and it just didn’t come out in the presentation. Learn from the experience so you will be better prepared in round two.
- No matter what happens after that, be prepared with “next steps.” If he says yes, be prepared to say what you will do next. Present a list of resources that will help you be more effective in promoting them (e.g., truck, hats, logo-wear, brochures, business cards, boat decals, etc.). Ask for events or opportunities in your region of the country where you can help promote the sponsor, such as dealership open houses, trade shows, company-sponsored fishing tournaments and events.
Follow-up note. Have a “Thank You” note card in the truck with you. I like ones with a fishing theme, to reemphasize how much into the sport you are. Before you leave the parking lot, write a short, personal, hand-written note expressing your appreciation for the person’s having given you his attention and time. Mention something specific about the meeting so he won’t think it was pre-written, then drop the letter in the nearest post box so it will be delivered the next day, while his memory is fresh. Do this no matter how the meeting turns out. Even if he says forget it… in Sales, “no” doesn’t mean “not ever;” it just means “not now.” Your follow-up letter lays a foundation for your next assault.
Periodic base touching. When an article mentions you, or when you place well in competition, or you get a good photo of you promoting a sponsor, send it with a one or two-line note to your company contact. Just say you’re having fun, doing well, and hope the company’s pros are, too. You might mention that you’re still interested… although the note says that clearly enough.
When you have something significantly new or different about yourself to offer, call again and say you would like to remind him of your continuing interest in the company, and update him on your accomplishments and new ideas for promoting it.
Do you have to follow this advice to win a sponsorship? No… of course not. I’ll admit there are excellent anglers out there who do a terrific job of promoting their sponsors, yet who never did what I suggested and probably would have trouble doing so. Things seem to just work out well for some folks; they get a few lucky breaks and capitalize on them. If you catch some breaks, too, that’s great; but don’t count on them. You’re not competing with the top pros, who are courted by manufacturers – you’re competing with 10,000 other guys in the employment line. So pull out all the stops, promote yourself first, and you’ll increase your chances of promoting others.
Q: Should I wear only logos of companies that sponsor me? If I wear a lot of logos, won’t I improve my image as a well-connected Prostaffer?
A: A salesman and successful tournament angler asked me about the appropriateness of wearing the logos of companies whose products he uses, but which do not sponsor him. That trend seems to be as popular among tournament anglers as it is among NASCAR fans. The answer depends on whether you are a fan or part of a company’s professional staff.
To be successful in business, you sometimes are forced to make distinctions between business and personal preferences. If I owned a billboard, I’d be looking for people who wanted to advertise, convince them that my billboard is where a lot of people will pay attention to it, and rent space only to people who were willing to pay me. That way I’d make a profit on my investment. Until I had all my bills paid, I would probably postpone offering free space for public service announcements.
As you enter the professional fishing tournament arena, you are the billboard. There is just so much of you to go around. The better you perform, the bigger you will grow, and the more space you will have to rent. But you’ll be operating on extremely slim margins, especially at the outset, so you can’t afford to give anything away.
Q: What materials should I provide to prospective sponsors?
A: One element of your marketing plan should be a presentation packet that includes:
- Your resume, emphasizing your credentials as a successful tournament angler and evidence of your ability to influence people
- News clippings, club standings, past accomplishments
- Photos that show your camera-appeal (good luck)
- References from reputable people who can convince prospective sponsors that you have good standing and have the virtues they’re looking for in people who will represent them
- Plans for upcoming year(s). Sponsors may not want to lock into a long-term commitment to unknowns, but they are more interested in people who have a plan that shows their intent to be in the running for several years at least.
- A business plan, including financial summary and projections. Outline what they should reasonably expect in terms of ROI. This enhances your image as a businessman, and as businessmen themselves, they should find some reassurance in that
- An invitation to get together in person or via teleconference in order to answer questions, provide more details of your plan, and present your sponsorship proposal
- Just creating the packet, in and of itself, will put you heads and shoulders above 98% of your competitors for sponsorship. It will create the impression that you will put the same energy, thought, and professionalism in promoting them as you do yourself. If you can’t promote YOU, why should they believe you can effectively promote them?
Q: How can I make my presentation or mailing stand out?
A: Be creative. Become a Guerrilla Marketer. (The books of that series will jump-start your imagination. Also see http://www.gmarketingcoach.com and subscribe to their newsletter.)
Present your story in a unique way that makes people pay attention. For example, send an envelope with three smaller envelopes inside, numbered sequentially. In envelope 1, have an empty lure package (interesting, but of no great value empty). In envelope 2, enclose a lure (effective, good quality, but not properly presented to buyers). In envelope 3, present yourself — maybe a good photo of you holding up a winning bass at a weigh-in, wrapped around lure, visible through the packaging sleeve) and make the point that you complete the process that they intended when they put thousands of dollars into packaging design – i.e., establishing a strong, favorable impression of their products. You’re the answer to their problem… not merely a guy with problems of your own that you’re hoping they can fix.
Q: You make tackle… I use tackle… why won’t you sponsor me?
A: I may, if it makes dollars and sense. In most cases, it does not. Let me give an illustration. Suppose I sell a lure for ten dollars and I am operating on a 50 percent margin. If I agree to pay you $100 each month, in one year I will pay you $1,200. To break even, I have to sell 240 additional baits.
240 baits x $10 per bait = $2,400
50% margin x $2,400 = $1,200 (the sponsorship amount)
Until I sell 240 additional baits, I have not made a dime on the relationship.
To stay in business, I have to make a profit. For our illustration, what if my margin is only 25 percent? In that case your efforts must result in incremental sales of 480 lures per year for me to break even. So… can you do that for me? Can you sell 480 lures a year for me? How?
You may be a great angler with many tournament wins and a couple of top-10 finishes in BASS or FLW. By hard work and vigorous self-promotion, it’s possible for you to pick up a number of sponsors. Before you approach a potential sponsor, ask yourself if you can increase sales for this company. Will your influence more than pay for your sponsorship? If not, the sponsor will lose money on the deal. Why would he want to do that?
Contributed by Joe Haubenreich