What are some good sponsor strategies?
Response by TNBass and RichZ

Editors note: For background, this included entry is a response to the following question:
Regarding tournament shirts, I'm putting mine together for the upcoming season. Of course my sponsors' logos will be featured predominately on my apparel, but my question is this - do you guys think I should also include logos of companies whose goods I use & believe in, but don't actually sponsor me? Examples would be "Stratos Boats", "Team Daiwa", "St Croix" etc... Thanks for your opinions guys. Warren (aka go-bassn)

Response by TNBASS
    Mind if I launch into economics professor mode for a moment? These are just my opinions. I'd be very interested in comments.

    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's 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.

    You're a salesman, right? You own a retail sales business. You know 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 Smelly Jelly or Yo-Zuri or Triton or Mesa Tackle and you want to promote them, put together a sales campaign and pitch yourself to them.

    You're coming out of nowhere. You're an unknown quantity. Your 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 your offering 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.

    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 achievements
  • 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.
  • Invitation to get together in person or via teleconference so you can 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? I've read several hundred requests for Secret Weapon Lures sponsorship this past year. They kind of blend together -- all are pretty much the same. I'd give serious consideration to someone who looked like they considered our sponsorship a high priority rather than just copying me on a generic request for support that went to every tackle manufacturer in the U.S.

    Out of curiosity, I sometimes respond to requests by asking what was it about our company and products that made them think we were a good match for them, or that caused them to single us out as someone they could effectively promote. I can tell from the answer -- if I get one -- whether they had to scramble to figure out what kind of lures we manufacture. I can check our sales and promotions databases, and I can usually tell when someone is trying to snow me when, in fact, they've never even seen one of our lures first-hand. That does little to persuade me that they would be a good promoter for Secret Weapon.

    Other parts of the marketing campaign might include multiple mailings. Give them triple-chocolate nut crunch instead of vanilla. Lead off with an illustrated HTML email rather than a plain text note. Mention that you'll be following up with a packet of information and to be on the lookout for it. Consider a combination of e-mail and letters, starting with a teaser that gets them interested in learning more.

    Be creative. Become a Guerrilla Marketer. (The books of that series will jump-start your imagination. Also see 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.

    I know there are excellent anglers out there who do a terrific job of promoting their sponsors, but 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 good breaks and capitalize on them. If you catch some lucky breaks, great. But don't count on them. You're not competing with the guys who are being courted by manufacturers -- you're competing with the 10,000 other guys beside you in the looking-for-sponsors line.

    I have confidence in both your angling ability as well as your marketing savvy, and I wish you all the success in the world.

Follow-up by RichZ
    I was going to write a detailed treatise on the topic, then Joe did it for me. But in it, he wrote one specific sentence that pretty much says what needs to be said...

> If you can't promote YOU, why should they believe
> you can effectively promote them?

    Still, I am a writer by profession, so I will add a bit of detail. Some of you know that I subcontract a good deal of my time to a couple tackle companies. For one of those companies, dealing with the donation and sponsorship requests is part of what I do. In that capacity, I go through stacks of these things every week, to cull out the 2 or 3 a month that the company actually considers seriously, and from which they will likely select the 6 to 10 a year that they may do something with.

  1. Pay attention to spelling! I would estimate that 30% to 40% of the sponsorship request I read have the word sponsor misspelled (sponsor, sponcer or even sponcor), and/or the name of the company is misspelled.
  2. If you're going to say you use the company's products, mention them by name. "I use your products with great success," reeks of generic form letter phrasing. Better to 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.
  3. Do not bother claiming #2 unless it's true.
  4. Stress the opportunities you will have to help the company promote their product. e.g., "I typically speak at 4 or more bass club meetings each winter, as well as working at sport and outdoor shows. I would relish the opportunity to promote your products at these events, and of course I would make myself available to assist your sales or promotional staff whenever applicable."

    Remember, your selling yourself, and 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 if they feel he can help increase sales.

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