I love fishing of all kinds and have caught lots of different species in my life, but my favorite is freshwater bass fishing. Most of my career has focused on the Micropterus genus, and much of that time has been spent working with professional tournament anglers.
I know hundreds of professional tournament anglers and hundreds more aspiring professional tournament anglers. There was even a time — back when I was in high school — that I wanted to be a professional tournament angler.
I idolized Bill Dance, Roland Martin, Rick Clunn, and Hank Parker. I read every word I could find about them and watched every television appearance they made. On the rare occasions that there would be a big-time tournament near my home, I would drive out to the weigh-in with my friends and watch from a “safe” distance, too intimidated to meet them or ask for an autograph. I envied the lives I thought they lived.
As I grew older and learned more about the sport and how the industry works, I still admired them, but no longer envied them. Pro bass fishing seemed like a tough row to hoe.
And now, more than 40 years later, it’s still a tough row to hoe, but it’s a field that’s been worked quite often. The path is not smooth, but it’s well worn. Many have traveled it. A few have succeeded, but many more have failed.
In the past few weeks, a young professional tournament angler posted some videos on YouTube expressing his frustration about the route to stardom and riches that the aforementioned and a few others have cut.
This young angler felt that he had been misled by the industry, claiming to be surprised that the role of a bass pro is to sell product rather than simply catch fish. Truth is, it’s always worked that way. There has never been a time in professional tournament fishing history when catching fish was more important that selling product. In fact, a promotional angler’s tournament performance is merely a means to an end, and that end is to sell product.
To think otherwise is to be very confused.
The young angler made some other controversial statements, the worst of which was that he hates dealing with people. Not surprisingly, the video had repercussions. In a follow-up video, the angler revealed that several of his sponsors had terminated the relationship and that he was “fired for telling the truth.”
But that’s not right. He wasn’t fired for telling the truth. He was fired for being bad at the job. He was fired because his efforts — including those videos — were not helping to sell product.
Yes, it is all about sales, but that doesn’t make it evil … or even wrong.
You can make sales without shameless hype. In fact, most quality companies and their best agents do. They make sales through education and inspiration. You don’t need to lie. You don’t need clickbait. And you don’t need to compromise your ethics.
You just need to get out there and communicate effectively to the right audience. You need to be your best self. And you need to believe in your message.
That’s where a good promotional angler can come in. He educates, he inspires, and he engages. And if a pro can’t do that, savvy companies will look to someone else.
Not everyone “gets” this. Most companies struggle to get the most out of their promotional anglers. Most anglers struggle to effectively spread the message of their sponsors.
Pro anglers make poor billboards. Sponsors need more than that.
Sponsors often fail to provide adequate direction. Pro anglers need direction.
Fortunately, there’s a better way … and I’ll tell you more about it in next Tuesday’s edition of “Duke’s Desk.”