The hunting industry has changed big-time in the last 20 years but those trying to become a part of it have not always changed as quickly. Many who are striving to be a part of pro-staffs and work with outdoor companies in various ways simply have the wrong ideas and wrong approach. The purpose of this blog post is to offer advice and food-for-thought to anyone striving to be a part of the hunting industry through pro-staff sponsorships.
I have had the unique opportunity to see the pro-staff situation from both angles. I have been part of several pro-staffs since starting my career as an outdoor writer and now as the co-owner of a business in the outdoor industry I have hunters coming to us with pro-staff requests. I had my first magazine article published in North American Whitetail in 1996. It is hard to believe but it has been 20 years ago now. Soon I had companies sending me free products on a regular basis, many times without even asking for them. I was like a kid at Christmas just waiting for the UPS man to bring me my next gift. That parade of free products to my door slowly dried up despite the fact that I put out more and better articles and had them published in more magazine titles and also wrote 2 books in the process. The fact is, the trend of giving out free products to every Tom. Dick and Mary slowed way down for almost everyone in the outdoor industry. Sure, there are still free products being given out by most outdoor companies but on a much more limited basis than 20 years ago. Even so, most companies do still have pro-staffs and will either give free product to a select few people or offer product at a reduced price.
When my business partner Kevin Boyer and I started Real World Wildlife Products 8 years ago I got to see the pro-staff situation from the other side. We soon started getting pro-staff requests and requests for free products from hunters on a regular basis. I could literally write a book on some of the people who requested to be on our pro-staff. There was the guy who called about being on our pro-staff and used the F-bomb in nearly every sentence and another guy that I wasted multiple emails on who kept wanting to argue that our pro-staff pricing was not good enough. I can only imagine what some of the bigger companies must go through in regards to pro-staff requests.
I am still on the pro-staff for a few select companies so I am very tuned in to the current situation regarding pro-staff positions in the hunting industry and want to offer you some advice to help you get on pro-staffs and then stay there once given the opportunity.
The first bit of advice is to prove yourself BEFORE you seek a pro-staff position. The world is full of people who are “going to be successful” so save your sales pitch for the day when you truly have done something to gain a companies interest. You are actually competing with thousands of others for these pro-staff positions and no company out there cares what you are going to do some day. Build your resume BEFORE applying for the job. You wouldnt apply for a job requiring a college degree by telling the company that you plan to start college in the fall but that is the very approach you are taking when you tell a company what you are “going to do”. Do it first, then apply.
Think about how you are going to help a company increase its sales. Nobody cares that you have killed 5 bucks over 150″. Believe it or not, there are a lot of hunters out there who have killed more and bigger bucks than you have. Your value to a company is not in how many bucks you kill or how big they are. Your value is in how you are going to help them increase sales and build their brand. Remember that!
Actually use a companys product before you contact them about being on their pro-staff. Lets face it, you cannot really promote a product you have never used and believe in. At Real World Wildlife Product we get a lot of copied emails from people wanting to “be part of your pro-staff”. These emails are obviously templates with the exact same email sent to many companies as they never mention our company by name or any of our products. I personally send these kinds of requests right to the trash can. If someone cant take the time to write a specific email or letter to one company at a time then they are obviously just shopping for free stuff. Sorry that aint happening and that person just branded themself as someone no company wants to work with.
Loyalty is priceless. If a company thinks enough of you to put you on their pro-staff show them that they made the right decision. Dont be out shopping for “better deals”. Think of it as you should your marriage; do you want your spouse just hanging on to you until something better comes along while always looking for something better? If a company commits to you, you should be committed to them. A perfect example is my relationship with Mathews. I was extremely blessed when Mathews sent me my first bow more than 15 years ago. In the years that have followed I have been approached by 3 other bow companies about jumping ship and shooting their bows. I politely declined each time. This may be hard to believe but from the day Mathews sent me my first Solo-Cam bow over 15 years ago, I have never shot a single arrow from any other brand of bow. They didnt ask me to do that; I simply felt like I owed them something for their support. To this day I promote Mathews bows at every opportunity and even though I am on great terms with the folks at Mathews I dont take our relationship for granted. I continually strive to earn my keep.
Sometimes the best way to become a part of a pro-staff is to look to newer companies who are not yet well established within the hunting industry. That is exactly what happened with me with Vortex optics. Several years ago I walked into the ATA show on the first morning and saw an eye-catching display of optics at a booth manned by 1 gentleman and with nobody else looking over his products. I introduced myself to Shamus Terry and that started a long and loyal relationship between myself and Vortex optics. In fact I think I am the very first pro-staffer ever for Vortex. I use the same loyalty with Shamus and Vortex that I do with all other companies and our relationship just grows with each passing year.
At Real World Wildlife Products our pro-staff requests became so numerous that we had to come up with a program to address it. We feel it is a program that is very fair to potential pro-staff while also helping us sift the good folks from those simply looking for free stuff. Basically, we offer our products at reduced pro-staff pricing for just about anyone with a connection in the outdoor industry. Once they have our products in hand it is up to them to show us how they are going to promote us with it. This starts a relationship and how far it goes is up to the person getting the product at reduced price. We have had plenty of people take advantage and then never hear from them again and we have had others grab the opportunity and build the relationship to the point where they now get free product and in some cases we even pay them for advertising. We feel it is the ideal way to find the right people for our pro-staff while giving nearly everyone connected to the indiustry an opportunity to prove themself.
The hunting industry is really very small and everyone is closely connected through friends. If I wanted to contacted anyone at all within the hunting industry, I am certain that one of my personal friends knows them and could make contact for me. My point is, when you start burning bridges word spreads fast. You can slowly build a good reputation and have doors start to open for you or you can quickly shut them all by your own actions. Start by building your resume BEFORE approaching companies by buying and using their products. When a company gives you the opportunity, show them they made the right decision by looking for unique ways to build their brand and increase sales. Finally, be loyal to them; most of us appreciate and respect loyalty.
Best of luck this hunting season and God Bless!
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