If you’re an aspiring angler, just starting out, full of hope, determination and confidence, potential sponsors have a message for you. If you’re a successful up-and-comer who’s had some success on the pro tour but feel you need more sponsors to reach the next level, potential sponsors have a message for you. And if you’re a successful pro competing at the highest levels, consistently placing in the top 10 percent at many events, respected by fellow pros and media alike, potential sponsors have a message for you as well. In fact, the message is the same for all three groups.
“We are not here to fund your dreams,” said one tackle company marketing official. “We don’t care who you are, what you’ve done, how many fans you have, how much people love you. It’s not about helping you.”
After the feedback from my two earlier W2F blogs, I reached out to several tackle company marketing officials””each of whom has pro staff management duties””to get their opinions of the scuttlebutt and try to get a feel for the strategy employed when deciding who is accepted as a pro staffer and who is not.
To my surprise, they were all willing to talk, even openly, candidly. However, none would go on the record and only two would allow me to use their words in any form. [Ed. note. The folks who agreed to be interviewed would do so only under the condition that their names, titles or companies would be protected. For the sake of avoiding confusion, I’ll refer to them as Official I and Official 2. Also, in some cases, I show only one of them answering a question.]
RS: When you hire a pro staffer, especially a young pro staffer, like a college guy, what are you looking for?
Official 1: “Obviously you want someone who is clean-cut, articulate, humble, well-liked and a solid angler. He needs to be able to make a good impression during an interview, and he also has to be able to get along well with the other pros. Right now, the best example of the perfect young pro is Brandon Palaniuk. He’s very humble, he does well in the press, he gets along with the other guys and he is having a lot of success. If young pros want an example to follow, Brandon is it.”
RS: Do you feel like there is a lot of selection out there that fits that mold?
Official 1: “Ronell, let me tell you what I get every day. Every day. “˜Dear Sir, I use your products. I fish several tournaments a year. I could win more tournaments if you sponsored me.’ That’s an (excerpt) from an actual email. So, no, there aren’t enough folks out there fitting that mold. Are there some? Yes. But they have issues as well.”
RS: When you say issues, what do you mean? Can you be more specific?
Official 1: “Sure. I’ve managed the pro staff for…years, and what you find is that everyone has moles. This guy might be the best on the tour, but no one likes him because he’s a jerk. Or this guy, well, he might not catch them, but he can promote. What you really, really want, what you hope for, is to find someone who is very passionate about your brand, someone who has used your product for years and who contacts you and says””first, he knows my name, not some Dear Sir. He ain’t getting anywhere with that, I tell ya’. But he says “˜I have used your product for years. I have great confidence in it…’ It needs to start something like that.”
Official 2: “Let me comment on that. The No.1 thing we’re looking for is a passion for the brand. Look, if someone calls me and spends 15 minutes talking about what they need, that person is not getting sponsored. But if someone calls me and is passionate about the brand, they’ll get sponsorship. They might not get money. It might be product-only. But they’ll get sponsored.”
RS: What about the pro who is a good, a consistent high-finisher, even an occasional winner. You are going to sign him no matter what right? I say that because all I hear from anglers is “If you can catch ’em, you’ll get sponsors.”
Official 2: “That’s absolutely not true. It might be true for non-endemics, because those companies aren’t committed to the sport and their personnel aren’t at events. I can think of several very, very successful pros who, to this day, struggle with getting tackle industry sponsors. It’s about more than wins. Can they speak well during interviews? Do they have a large following? Do they stick around and sign autographs. Also, and this is a big one that debunks the myth of what the pros told you: Are they dynamic? Is there something interesting, exciting, distinctive about them? If you’re talking about signing a pro today, there had better be something that makes him unique, and that has nothing to do with his fishing.”
RS: What about the contention, voiced by some pros, that their job is not to help companies sell products. From your perspective, do pros help sell products to a significant degree.
Official 1: “Well, if that pro is KVD, yes. Listen, Kevin isn’t even on my staff, but I know the numbers. I know he moves product. Him and””. No, it’s just him, if we’re talking pros. Bill Dance moves product, too, but that’s a different demographic. (KVD) has won enough, he’s won everything. Anglers trust that if he’s using a product, it’s something they can have confidence in. But the biggest thing is, so many young anglers want to be like him, so they identify with products that have his name on them.”
Official 2: “Overall, the reason you have pros, especially the Elite Series pros is that it adds to your brands aura. There’s only 100 guys on the Elite Series, so if one of those guys is using your product, it adds to the allusion that your product is the best, or among the best. But, no, consumers aren’t going out and purchasing a product because an angler uses it or because he sees your patch on his shirt.”
RS: For those anglers reading this, what can they start doing today to increase their odds of getting on your pro staff?
Official 1: “I say, just go out there, be yourself, fish hard and achieve a level of success before you start reaching out to companies. Then, when you do reach out to them, make it clear that you are willing to work hard for the brand. You’ll sign autographs, shoot videos, travel during your off time.”
Official 2: “I keep a short list of 5 to 10 anglers that I’d like to sign. Over the course of a season, I talk to folks””tournament officials, other anglers, even officials at other companies””to get a sense as to the reputation of each angler. I pretty well have an idea of who is a good fit for my team. So if an angler is looking to join my staff, he needs to keep his head down and work hard, but he also needs to be a good person, have some humility, works well with the press and try to cultivate a following. That’ll get him noticed, and he won’t have to look for sponsors.”