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Sponsorships: The Tackle Industry Perspective

Some days you can't give it away, other days phones ring off the hook with fishermen, tournament directors, and charity groups wanting it for free. Don't hang up! Providing samples to pros, local tournament fishermen, guides and events, is the basis for grass roots marketing, one of the most cost-effective advertising programs. Steve Smith, Field Services Manager with Pure Fishing says product education starts with getting your product in the hands of those who use it, to gain and maintain sales. To maximize your success, your company needs to establish guidelines and define your expectations. In other words, what's in it for your company?

In the early 1970’s, professional bass fishing was evolving and so was the concept of product sponsorship. Companies like Creme Lures penetrated the market through a network of pro staffers. Today there are many “programs”, but few are formalized. The role and effectiveness of product sponsorship is fuzzy; but, today's' economic times dictate that companies get the most bang for their marketing buck. Product sampling gets results!

There are generally two levels of product sponsorship: paid pro-staff including free product, and team membership offering free or highly discounted products. While paying for a pro’s endorsement can be effective, it may be expensive. Advertising in the many publications is confusing and expensive. Today’s budgets are being spent on pros who can provide endorsements and "ink". Promotional sampling can help stretch the marketing dollar.

Tackle newcomer, Lucky Craft Lures offered thousands of free baits to pros on tournament trails. The product took off and sales went up. Before sampling, Lucky Craft was just another lure company. Even tackle giant, Pure Fishing gives credit to sampling as a key generator of sales.

Tournament fishermen and guides are very visible and can help you sell more product if they are personable and professional, and have "stage" presence. Winning a big tournament is often not as important as consistency. A bad reputation can wipe out any other positives that an angler might have. Bottom line: Can they move product?

Wayne Kent, President of Creme Lures, also uses tournament fishermen and guides to field test new products. "We ask them to be totally honest with us…We would rather be insulted than have a warehouse full of these (baits)." Lucky Craft Lures has designers spend time with their sponsored pros to develop and improve lures. Mann's Bait Company has a formalized quarterly feedback form.

"We expect a lot from our pros and our tournament anglers, holding them both to the same high standards", according to Smith. "This comes from being successful with product, getting mentions in the press and on stage, and field support in sampling and consumer events." Pure Fishing doesn’t jump on board with this years' "flash in the pan", they seek long-term relationships that build credibility. Pro staffers identify local anglers for the Pure Fishing team.

Only top pros garner paid endorsements along with products. Then the field gets larger and choices get tougher on whom to support with product. "Guides are invaluable", says Pure Fishing's Smith. "I could make the argument they are they most influential group out there. Experienced to casual anglers will use our product under controlled circumstances with pro guidance…guides are very critical to us." Pure Fishing leaves the decision on sponsorship up to their regional managers.

Jerry Tully, Sales and Marketing Director for Frogg Toggs evaluates resumes and checks references. "I want them to wear the product and be visible…your best salesman is the one who has tried your product under real conditions…because the consumer sees our product in action and asks questions…it makes a believer out of a lot of them".

Guides should be licensed and usually only ask for product. Kent checks their sponsors and equipment, exposure in publications, and other evidence of marketing, credibility and presence. Lucky Craft General Manger Ted Sakai agrees. "That's more than just wearing a patch on their shirt, we want a local speaker who can provide a local endorsement". Lucky Craft’s written agreement requires the wearing of a patch on their shirt and hat and displaying a decal on their boat and truck. He also wants them to identify opportunities to get Lucky Craft into local stores. Sakai says the retailers are more likely to listen to local pros than salesmen.

While choosing who to sponsor with product is difficult, providing product for tournaments is equally challenging, "...because there are so many of them …if you sponsor one and not another, then you get into trouble", says Kent. Creme considers the geographic location of the trail, number of competitors, and recommendations of his contacts. Skipper Burns with Jack's Juice says, "We do well handing out samples at Top 150 tournaments, but don't forget the local tournaments. Your biggest customer is not necessarily the pro, it’s the weekend angler who is just trying to catch fish." Burns adds that it is more effective if you can be at the tournament when providing samples. Lucky Craft always sends a banner with samples.

Most manufacturers provide samples according to season and geographic location. Inventory is also a factor, most sending what is available. When it comes to packaging, smaller "sample" packages are effective for maintenance, but don't always provide an opportunity for success. Regular retail packages promote recognition and can help avoid confusion at the retail counter. Variety packs are sometimes effective at tournaments, but better at shows for purchase and give-aways.

Charity events are also part of the sampling strategy. Sakai says, "Fundraisers benefiting children like the St. Jude tournaments, are a priority for us." Dana DeLong, regional representative for St Jude Children's Research Hospital says, "The more product we get, then more cash can go directly to the research for childhood catastrophic diseases." Others add that it is very difficult to turn down any charity who calls.

While difficult to track, promotional sampling is a cost effective marketing tool, if used with a plan and with expectations in place. "You have to do it!" according to Wayne Kent. "The more people throwing your bait at the same time on the same lake enhances the odds of success with your bait." Steve Smith sums it up. "I can't tell you exactly how much sampling produces, but I can tell you what it will cost you if you don’t do it…your business!"

How to give it away

*Establish a budget
*Consider options, sponsorship, tournaments, shows
*Identify specific goals: product introduction, maintenance and
geographic penetration
*Get a map to track of your geographic representation
*Establish specific qualification guidelines for sponsorship, check out prospects!
*Establish a formalized written agreement, include your expectations
*Prepare a regular feedback form, at least twice a year
*Don't overlook the pros, they will negotiate based on your size and needs
*Include hats, shirts, patches, decals, order forms, catalogs, and banners with sampling
*Seek advice of buyers for which tournaments and fishermen to sponsor

*Have a "NO" policy in effect to avoid being overwhelmed.

Written by Steve Chaconas as a special feature for the ASA. Steve is a free-lance writer and bass fishing guide. He can be reached at

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