Question: "I wanted to ask how you got started in getting sponsorships. I want to get a start at becoming a pro." -Justin
Great question Justin!
Actually, of all the questions I receive-other than people asking me what the Power-Poles are on the back of my boat- is how to get sponsors and how to become a pro.
This is a very simple question, that unfortunately requires a very complex and variable answer.
Just like fishing, the journey to become a professional angler, and acquire sponsors, is different for every person, and is dependent on a broad set of uncontrollable factors just as much as it depends on the things you can control.
However, I do have some advice, from my own experiences, that I firmly believe will help you on the path to becoming a pro.
What is a Pro?
Before we get into the how, I believe it is important to understand the what. What is a professional angler? What makes a person a "pro"?
Understanding the job that you are aspiring to is just as important as understanding how to get there.
My personal-albeit oversimplified- definition of a "pro angler" is a person that makes their full living in the sport of fishing. Under my definition, guides, tournament anglers, television hosts all fall under the spectrum of being a pro, however, all of these also fall under another category- an ambassador.
It is almost impossible to make a quality living, and become a legitimate pro, without becoming an ambassador for the sport. Promoting the sport in a positive way is an essential quality of any pro, and one that is not only good for the sport, but also creates endless opportunities, helps build your own personal brand, and attracts sponsors in the long run.
On the other hand, a pro, is not simply an angler who has a tournament jersey with a bunch of sponsor logos on it.
I believe that a certain level of respect must be given to the title of "professional" and to actually achieve your dreams, you need to focus on becoming the whole package- a product promoter, a conservationist, a good angler, a writer, a photographer, and a salesman. Note how being a "good angler" is sandwiched somewhere in the middle.
In the end, fishing by itself is a pastime, not a profession, however, when you provide a service to the sport as a whole, you promote it so others get excited about participating, you will then start making a living and finally become a professional fisherman.
Meet & Greet
We all have to start somewhere right? When I started fishing, I had a tremendous drive and had a desire to find sponsors.
My first step was to learn as much about sponsorships as possible. I bought books, read internet articles, and listened to instructional cassette tapes (yes, I am that old) on the subject. I then proceeded to create the best portfolio that I could, including as professional of a resume as I could.
No luck. No sponsors. No real leads.
I soon realized that the portfolios and resumes I was sending out were getting lost in a sea of other anglers seeking sponsors, and I was getting no visibility with those companies at all.
I then decided I needed to meet these companies face-to-face, and I started going to trade shows like the Bassmaster Classic Expo, and ICAST. These were the kind of places I could get to meet the decision makers in each company and show them who I really was.
These in-person networking opportunities have proven to be the most important, and effective, approach to seeking sponsors.
My basic approach wasn't to get sponsors at these events, but rather get to know everyone I could and simply introduce myself, understand what their company is about, and make sure everyone knew my name, recognized my face and knew that I was willing to help them out in the future.
Networking is by far the most important part of the process of acquiring sponsors, but like anything else, it must be done correctly, and in my opinion, real networking isn't about immediate results, or gaining sponsors in the short term, but rather building real long-term friendships and business relationships. The networking you do may not directly lead to a sponsorship, but indirectly, more often than not, you will benefit from just staying fresh in the minds of the people in the industry.
I've always been a big fan of reading books that focus on successful individuals, and almost every book I've read on the subject of success has a common thread- a positive attitude.
There is a lot of negativity in the world, but honestly, what good will it do to talk about it?
Yes, venting is good, but when you are trying to become a professional, and an ambassador, your job is to get people excited about fishing, so in today's world of social media, it is your job to be a positive influence on people.
The point I'm trying to make is that your personal life is going to be full of ups and downs, but the only thing that people are truly interested in is the good stuff- the stuff that makes people happy, laugh, or motivates them to do some fishing.
Sponsors don't appreciate negative content, so don't put it out there- stay positive and you will reap the rewards.
In this industry there are many ways to skin a cat, meaning that you can make it to the top doing many different things, but the quickest way to get nowhere is to do nothing, and not follow through with your promises.
Today social media is the "big thing," there is no denying that. There are many opportunities to make your mark and start building your personal brand, and sponsors respond to increases in impressions on these platforms.
Social media isn't the only way you can create value for sponsors. You can do seminars, organize a kids fishing event, take a writer fishing, start a blog- the ways you can provide value are virtually endless.
The best advice I can give in this regard is to always produce that of which you promise, and it is always best practice to over-produce.
This is a small industry, and everyone talks, so don't burn any bridge by not producing. We all make mistakes, but if you are serious about working with a company, you better act professional.
Aside from reiterating the importance of networking, the next biggest piece of advice I can give an aspiring professional is to SLOW DOWN!
Yes, we all want results NOW! We all want sponsorships NOW! However, what I have realized, and you soon will too, is that the biggest partnerships and milestones in your career will happen organically by doing what you enjoy, while you continue networking.
I distinctly remember my desire to have a tournament jersey full of sponsor logos, which is what initially drove me to applying to any and all sponsors, but over time I realized that if I had just slowed down, and focused more on fishing, creating content and becoming the best competitor, and ambassador, I possibly could, that the real sponsorships and opportunities started coming my way. In the end, you are not going to be noticed by the number of logos on your jersey, but rather what you have proven you can, and will do.
In short, slow down, focus on building a foundation and give yourself time to build lasting business relationships in the industry.
This of course is just my perspective on this subject, but I believe if you use these basic lessons that I have learned, you too can start seeing results.
Also, remember that you should never stop learning, I know that I for one am still learning and trying to achieve my goals.