I want to congratulate The National Professional Fishing League before I dig into the topic. The inaugural tournament of The National Professional Fishing League was a great success. For those of us who know the people behind the scenes, we knew it would be outstanding. The fishing community was skeptical before the first event. Since the announcement, the League was met with ridicule and doubt. They had a vision and followed through with it even though 2020 reshaped manyfishing industry businesses. As I write this article, they have finished the second event at Wright Patman Lake and are gearing up for the third event. We have five Elite Anglrs on the trail and many more team members running things behind the scenes. We also have our very own Big Al on the main stage doing what he does best. The skeptics have become fans, and The NPFL is here to stay.
I know the title of this article might trigger some people. It might even turn most people away from reading this, but for those who do read this, I promise you will learn something that will help you further your career goals in the fishing industry. I used to think that the only way to become successful in the fishing industry was to do well in tournaments. I would enter every tournament that was on my local lake. I would travel to the surrounding states to fish those tournaments as well. I spent thousands upon thousands of dollars (that I really didn't have) on competing in tournaments. During this time, I retired from the Marines and started to finish my college degree. I spent the lasttwo years studying marketing and the entertainment industry. The more I learned about these areas of interest, the less interested in tournaments I got. I saw trends in the market that opened my eyes to changes that were coming. When COVID hit, those changes happened faster than most will want to admit. The times have changed, and it seems that tournament anglers have been the most stubborn about accepting the change. The bad news for them is that the companies they want to gain sponsorships from have accepted the new times.
So, do sponsors care about your tournament results? Unfortunately, that answer for the mass majority of tournament anglers is a NO … for the most part. Years back, having a good resume showing that you have many tournaments under your belt and good results in those tournaments were good in soliciting sponsors. You probably had in your resume some shows that you helped with and maybe a few in-person talks you gave at your local lakes tackle shop. All were great and useful. Now, companies won't even look at a resume, most marketing directors I spoke with said if they are handed a resume it goes straight in the trash. They want to know your social media stats—hard, verifiable results of your impression on the sport. Verifiable results that everyone can see, and for companies that need to know the return on investment (ROI) each person they sponsor have, this is the best way to learn who is worth keeping on staff.
Now, I still love fishing a tournament here and there. That early morning breeze right before take-off is unbeatable. Waiting to hear your number being called never gets old. I'd make a wager that most tournament anglers look forward to all the early morning pre-take-off routines more than anything. So why fish tournaments if they don't help your chances at getting a sponsor? This is the part that is hard for most anglers (your average tournament angler) to wrap their head around. Anglers are competitive and want to be at the top of that leaderboard. Whilewinning your local lake weekly derby is a great accomplishment, it does nothing for any company if you are not MARKETING YOURSELF properly.
Let's break down your average angler's, who want to gain sponsorships, local lake win to see the impact they have with no social media self-marketing vs an angler who does not fish tournaments that is consistent on social media:
It's Saturday morning, you and your buddy just paid a $120 entry fee. Your boat 32 out of 120 boats. You hear your number and idle over to have your live well checked. A wave to the tournament director as you idle past the no wake buoy. Your stomach turns as you open the throttle and blast off to your first spot. Today is going to be good.
An hour away our social media angler is standing next to a river by his house, his kayak is loaded and ready for a day on the water. He is talking into his GoPro on what he plans on doing and addressing subscriber questions. After a couple minutes of adjusting his gear and setting up his camera, he launches his Kayak and goes fishing.
Eight hours later our tournament guys return to the ramp. One by one they pull five fish out of the live well. Holding the big girl up a little longer before placing her in the weigh in bag for any wandering eyes to see. At the scales the fish flop in the basket, no need to check measurements, all solid keepers. The fish are bagged and handed off to be weighed. 17.20 flashes on the screen. You're in first place with most of the field already weighed in. The local hammers come up and knock you down a few spots. Typical but your still in the game. The weights are finalized, and you landed in 5th place. Your fourth top ten of the year so far. You and your partner split a check of $400.
Our social media angler had a good day as well. He fished the river for three hours and headed back home. He grabs his laptop inserts the SD card and begins plugging away at a new video. He's been doing this twice a week for a year so he's getting quick. A few hours in and its uploading to YouTube. He checks the SEO cheat sheet he created and makes sure his description is good. While the video uploads he switches to his blog and writes up a breakdown of what he did today. Answers some emails, posts a few pictures taken on Instagram with the hashtags that have been trending this week making sure he cross posts it on Facebook as well.
Both had a successful day but who made the biggest impact and who actually made the MOST MONEY? Our tournament anglers finished in fifth place. The tournament only paid 10 spots. Out of those 120 boats 70 weighed in fish, 20 had a limit and 15 were in contention for a check. Those who were not getting a check left. Those 10 that got checks smiled for a picture for the tournaments Facebook page then everyone loaded up their boats and headed home. Out of those 120 boats, 240 people if everyone had a partner, 6 people MIGHT have noticed you. You won $400, after the split you got $200. You went in half on gas in the morning, $40, and your half of the entry fee was $60. Your profit is $100 for the day but no impressions were made that would put you on a sponsor's radar.
Now our social media angler made no money on that day but the next morning he wakes up and checks his pages to see what the analytics are at. The new YouTube video has 1,000 views so far and steadily climbing. Instagram pics have got tons of likes and the companies that you tagged commented on them, putting you on their radar. Your blog had a few hundred views as well. You check your YouTube impressions and for the last 30 days you have had over 100,000 impressions. On your blog your running Google AdSense alongside a few affiliate links. Your estimated revenue off of those for the month is $1800. Though last month was the same and you ended up making $3800. A few companies are reaching out to have their links added on your blog.
Now I know that was a long-drawn-out description of two different scenarios. Though it is not far from the reality of our sport in this time. The tournament angler might seem successful with a good finish, but the social media angler is reaching hundreds of thousands of people daily by putting in a little extra work. Now you're probably thinking, how accurate is this scenario? Well, the tournament anglers probably made a lot less money when you take in the other tournaments that they didn't cash a check, boat payments, gas in the truck, boat insurance, etc. Those are things we try not to think about as we dream of winning the next tournament.
WHAT DOES THE TOURNAMENT ANGLER NEED TO DO?
I have reached out to a few marketing directors and asked them. Here are a few tips that they gave me.
1. Have a strong social media presence.
Companies look for people that can help them turn a profit. It is a business at the end of the day. If you want to be sponsored, then you need to work for it. Build your social media presence. Comment on post of the companies you stand behind. Share their content, like their post, tag a friend. The people running the company's social media accounts notice this. If you don't have social media accounts, they will never see who you are. Get your name on their radar but don't be overwhelmingly annoying either. More on that later.
2. Know the ins and outs of the sport.
Being a good angler is not enough. Winning tournaments is not enough. You need to know everything about a company you want to work with. You need to know who is in what role in whatever company you are interested in. If you don't know who the marketing director is, you are already on the wrong course. Who is the owner? How long has the company been around? What all products do they make? How do those products work? Where are they located at? Who do they sponsor? Things like this are the bare minimum of information you should know. LinkedIn needs to be your best friend.
3. Don't burn bridges.
Don't hit up every company out there and hope one bites. The marketing directors talk to each other. If you are soliciting yourself to everyone, they will notice this as well. If they are interested in what you have to offer the first thing, they will do is check your social media pages. If you are submitting the same post with different tags to different companies then you lost. If you are posting or saying things that don't align with the company's views, you lost. If you talk bad about a company, you lost. One person I spoke to said it best, just be a good person. Talking down to other people or companies is the easiest way to be blacklisted.
4. Don't ask for free stuff.
Nothing is more annoying or as my kids say 'cringe', than having someone reach out to a company and say, "If you give me X product, I will use it and let you know if it is good."Companies do not make money by giving away their product. They especially don't give free products to those who ask. Those people that do tell companies to give them free products get one thing, put on a list of people to avoid.
5. Put in the work.
If you want to make it, you have to put in extra work. You got to show your worth. As mentioned before being a good angler is not going to cut it anymore. An ok angler who is consistently working to market themselves and volunteer to help companies will be more successful than a great angler who just fishes' tournaments.
SOCIAL MEDIA TIPS TO MARKET YOURSELF PROPERLY.
By now you should get the idea that you absolutely need to step up your social media game if you want to advance beyond the local level in this sport. So how does one do that if they know nothing about it? Here are some tips to help you get started with making yourself more marketable and maybe even making some extra cash on the side.
1. Focus on content.
Be yourself. If you are genuine and unique then your user base will grow naturally. The biggest mistake people make is mimicking another person. For example, Jordan Lee posts a picture of a bass with a lure hanging out his mouth. The caption says, "I couldn't have caught this without #X lure using #X rod on #X reel with #X line." This works for Jordan Lee because well he's Jordan Lee and people are going to go out and purchase those products he tagged. Now if you do this it won't get the type of traction as a back-to-back Bassmaster Classic winner gets. When people scroll through their feed, they will go right pass everything that is the same. We have all seen a person holding a bass with a lure in its mouth. Show me something I haven't seen. Stand out from the crowd. Don't use the same format everyone else does. BE YOURSELF!
2. DO NOT DO FOLLOW FOR FOLLOW!
This is a big one that most people fall for. The follow for follow or sub for sub might make your pages seem important but it hurts you in the long run. This will bother people who use this method but subscribe/follower count is not as important as it seems. Sure, YouTube won't let you start to earn money until you hit 1,000 subscribers, but hitting that milestone means nothing if your impressions are low (plus the money made from YouTube monetization is insanely low even for the biggest channels). When companies look at potential influencers to work with, they want to know how many impressions/reach you have. Impressions and reach can get complicated but in a nutshell it's how many eyes you are in front of. If your subscriber count is high but your impressions are low, it's not a good look. For example, if you have 50,000 followers on Instagram and your posts only get 50 likes or comments that’s a pretty bad ratio. If you were giving a demo on a product in front of 50,000 people but only 50 people purchased the product you were selling that wouldn't be a good investment for a company. That would be a failed event. Now, if you had 100 genuine/organic followers and 50 of them purchased a product from you then you're looking extremely good to a company. Companies see this, numbers don't lie. Don't stunt your growth by fluffing your subscriber/follower count.
3. BE CONSISTENT.
Social media companies are huge businesses. They make money by having people on their platforms engaging with content. The content you see on your feed is not just things you liked in the past. It is content from those that are the most active. The algorithms will promote the content that is consistently being uploaded and users engage with. Being consistent is not the only key factor but it is a very important one. Think about the fishing videos you like to see or that is recommended to you. That user more than likely posts videos or pictures daily or multiple times a week. While the person who only post once a month will probably not even show up to the mass majority of people who follow them.
4. KNOW THE SEO STRATEGIES.
SEO or search engine optimization, in short it is the method of making your content visible to the world. When you google "Best summer fishing baits" those top results will not be the actual best baits to use in the summer. What is happening is aperson in charge of SEO for a company made sure their product or page was shown first by watching the trends in the industry and utilizing those trends in their descriptions. Companies hire people solely to watch the trends and optimize their content to appear first when similar products are being searched for. Think of your content as a product. There are countless people making videos about bass fishing or fishing in general. What makes one person's content appear before another's is how they approach SEO. Your video description is what makes your video appear in front of viewers. If your descriptions are short and uneventful then your content will appear towards the bottom. Be honest, when is the last time you looked past the first page on Google or on YouTube?
SEO = clickbait.
Clickbait = engagement/views (unfortunately).
5. AFFILIATE MARKETING.
This is catching on quickly. If I had to bet on what the future of Bass Fishing Sponsors looks like, then I would put it all on Affiliate Marketing. In short this is earning a commission on a product you sold from your content. Think of any podcast you listen to, or a lot of the videos you have watched on YouTube lately, or the adds you see on sites you visit. Does "use code xxxx to save 10% on your next purchase" ring a bell. How about when you Googled "best bait caster to buy" and the website you clicked on had a link that sent you to a company's page? That is affiliate marketing. The 10% or whatever the discount is that a person saves on their purchase is what you get paid from that company if your code is used. Or if you have a blog that promotes a product and user purchases an item using your link. In the video game industry this has been widely successful for companies. It's a smart move as well. Why pay a few people a lot of money to sponsor your product when you can pay a lot of people very little money to sponsor your product. Learn how to adapt this program in all of your content and you will be able to make a little extra cash on the side and if you are a top earner for a company then you have chance of becoming a partner and creating your own product with them.
NEW WAYS TO GET IN THE INDUSTRY
If what I wrote didn't convince you that the industry is heading more on the social media side than tournamentperformance, then maybe this will change your view.
Look up any company that you are interested in and see what jobs are available with them. Within the last few months there was quite a few companies hiring for a new position:
- content creator.
- Influencer Marketing director
- Director of performance marketing
- Head of People and Culture - this one is unique as it involves a lot of recruiting talent.
Those are just a few new positions being placed in companies. If you put in the extra work, you will find a new world is being created in our sport. A digital world. You can see the top-level touring pros are starting to adopt this practice. In 2019 you could count on one hand the pros that had YouTube channels and social media pages. Fast forward to 2021 and they all are trying to make their mark on the digital field. If you also look as to the most successful business in the industry last year it would be one started by a couple of YouTubers.
The times have changed and if you want to make that 5th place finish in your local tournament mean something then you have to put the effort in on social media prior to the tournament and after. The more you work at it the more influence you will have in our sport. It's not easy though. It requires a lot more of your time than it would initially seem. Hopefully this article will give you some tips and a little insight to how to market yourself to the rapidly changing industry we all want to be a part of. If you have any questions or want to pick my brain a little more, don't hesitate to reach out!
Leave a comment on the Elite AnglrFacebook/Instagram page or look me up as well (Fishing_with_Bam). I would be more than happy to help out.
Justin Bamberger is a bass fishing master or at least tries to be.
He is a retired United States Marine and loves to spend his free time with his family out on the water.
When he can't go out and fish he writes about fishing.