Crimson Trace

April 24, 2013

Between The Berms: Advice Before Going Pro

The other day I listened to Julie Golob's latest podcast on Going Pro. In it she talks about what a shooter needs to consider when seeking sponsorship, especially if they're looking for more than free equipment and match fees.

Since I have shamelessly stolen key concepts and entire column ideas from Julie G. in the past, I figured why not again. What's the worst she could do, right?

Don't answer that.

In her podcast, Julie makes several excellent points and you should definitely give it a listen. What I want to do is expand on what she said but more from the perspective of the marketing department of a potential sponsor.

There are simple mistakes shooters make that tip their hand and tell companies they really don't understand the role they would be expected to play as a sponsored shooter.

1) Know Your Value: Before you consider talking to a company, whether large or small, about paying you to shoot for them you had better know what your value is; what you bring to the table. If it's just 'I compete and win' then that's really not giving them very much.

Yes I know, your winning the regional blast-a-palooza and topping a field of 79 shooters within your division makes you the second coming of Rob Leatham. However, the company you're talking to probably won't see it that way. You have to explain how you can contribute to their marketing effort and help them sell more guns. And that means doing more than just shoot.

Para's Travis Tomasie does a lot more for the company than just compete. Photo: P. Erhardt
Right before Travis Tomasie left the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit we talked about what his value was to a company. While he thought of himself as one of the top shooters in the country - and the world - he wasn't thinking about his role as a trainer, as a product developer, a product tester and a product demonstrator. Shooting and winning only provides so much value to a company, but contributing to both the company's R&D
and sales efforts is a whole other level of value.

If all you tell them is that you've won a number of titles and want to be paid to wear their shirt the next time you win, well, all they're likely to hear is "give me money."

2) Know Who You Are Talking To: Before you run up to Mr. Marketing at Company X and tell them how much value you could bring to them as their new sponsored shooter, you had better know who it is you're talking to.

One of the most valuable lessons I was ever taught came during a young leaders conference in Washington, DC. There a staffer for a U.S. Senator explained how in a job interview the potential new hire voiced their disdain for smoking. All well and good until you realize this was Sen. Jesse Helms' office and the tobacco industry is kind of a big deal in North Carolina. Needless to say they did not get hired.

If you're talking to a company you need to know what they make, how they distribute, market and sell their products. Who are their competitors and where do they see themselves within the broader market.

3) Know What You Know: Know what you know and not what you assume. It is rather breathtaking how, for many shooters, the world view of the firearms industry is based on assumptions and not actual knowledge. It can be jaw-dropping when you hear somebody at the highest level in a shooting sport speak with absolute certitude on a subject but do it without any grounding in reality.

In the R&D department, Rob Leatham provides expert advice and design input. Photo: P. Erhardt
Very few top shooters have the background and experience that renders their opinion as 'expert.' And by 'expert' I mean the engineers pull them aside to pick their brain. I've watched Rob Leatham at Safariland working directly with the R&D guys on a new holster. I've also talked to an engineer at Mossberg who explained how valuable a resource Jerry Miculek is.

Those are two of the most experienced, knowledgeable and authoritative shooters in the world. There are a few more at their level, but only a few. These guys bring tremendous value to a company well beyond their performance at matches.

We all work off of a limited amount of information that requires us to fill in the blanks. Don't mistake your "filling in" for real knowledge. Consider asking more questions than stating "facts." Companies value knowledge and not assumptions, particularly bad ones.

4) Generate Content: Shooters often make the mistake of overestimating the value of their match performances and assume others are as impressed as they are. The "Enough About Me, What Do You Think of Me" complex.

They base their value to a company on how much PR that company can generate around their wins. While part of this is accurate, we're not talking about throngs of shooting fans waiting breathlessly every Monday to read the latest from Blast-a-palooza.

This is shooting, not NASCAR or the X-Games.

PR ends up adding to the amount of work an often overtaxed marketing department has to do, so they look on the prospect of writing about you a little less enthusiastically than you do. Channel some of that enthusiasm into writing your own release, or at least providing the marketing department with all they'll need to get the job done quick.

You also need to consider photographs and video content, as well as writing articles or blog posts for the company's site.

Content is king, but it doesn't appear out of thin air.

5) Try Being Social: Julie addresses this in terms of being a personal representative of a company. At a match, in a company shirt, you are the company. How you win, how you lose and how you compete all reflect on the sponsor. If you're generally a miserable S.O.B. then nobody is going to want to pay you to shoot for them.

After shooting with the staff all day in the rain at the IDPA Nationals, Jerry Miculek sat around to shoot the breeze with those on the range. He had another match to fly out to but instead of heading back to the hotel and a hot shower, Jerry sat and visited.

Are you the shooter that stands off by yourself, or with your clique, ignoring the rest of the competitors? Well, there's a reason people think the world of Jerry Miculek...and his sponsors understand that.

6) Try Being Social, Online: Shooters with an online social personality are more valuable to their sponsors than those without. Expecting others to talk you up on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Pinterest, Instagram and whatnot is not a social media strategy.

It's arrogance.

And if you are already on all the trendy social media platforms, please don't make the mistake of calling yourself a social media guru. For one, you're not. And two, the people that actually are gurus in this area don't call themselves that because they know somebody is doing it better and smarter than they are. The people in marketing know this and are not going to be impressed if you play the 'guru' card.

Companies are looking to converse directly with their customers through social media. (For those of you playing Buzzword Bingo, get ready) It's called engagement. If you can help your sponsor continue the conversation with their customers then you bring them value.

Plan to work with the marketing department and help them feed the content monster that is social media. You need to think in terms of echo chambers and the cross-platform integration (Bingo!) of content.

If you want shooting to be your job then you need to treat sponsorship as a job and it's one that requires an interview. So think about preparing.

- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network

Got shooting sports news? Send us an email at info@shootingwire.com.