I'm Sponsored Bro!

Gimme, gimme free stuff...

Cheech's failed attempt at pro-staffing prison camo-wear
So Cheech's latest rant the other day coincided with a some thoughts and grumbles I've had rumbling (and I'm not a "ranty" type guy, so take that FWIW). But I see a trend in the fly fishing and tying industry, and most other industries, that's changing the approach to marketing and collaboration -- mostly for the better but also with some downside. I call it the "social media influencer" ecosystem and it more effectively matches up companies who want to get their products in front of potential customers by virtue of partnering with content creators on the interwebs who these potential customers trust -- primarily via social media, but also blogs, podcasts and forums as well. You might know this better by terms like sponsorships, pro-forms, pro-staffers, ambassadors etc. But regardless of what you call it, like most things, it comes with good and bad, so I'll start off with one of the biggest negative side-effects I've seen.

So to take it a step further from the standpoint of our PRP* from Cheech's last post -- and if you're not familiar with that term, check out the aforementioned rant -- let's pick it up from the next couple of entries in his diary:

8/15/2015: I've literally spent the past few weeks emailing all the fly industry homies I can think of and I've finally nailed down my first legit sponsor! (cartwheel, selfie, post, selfie, rally, post again).  ACME Fly Rods is gonna totally hook me up with a brand new fly rod. Finally, I can retire the rod/reel combo my Aunt Gertie bought me from the Piggly Wiggly. I always hated how the reel was permanently attached to the rod. At least it had that nice plastic protector around the foam grip.

8/25/2015: The ACME fly rod came in the mail today. I wiggled it in my living room and it's such a sweet stick! I'm gonna post this sucka! (posts to all applicable social media outlets, creates a blog entry and a video review touting the sweetness of the rod). 

So what's the harm in some dude with a computer, collecting social media followers and scoring some SWAG? First off, as with many industries, there is a blossoming in the fly fishing industry (well, let's just say "sprouting" instead) with respect to social media engagement and adoption. Companies are finally starting to realize the value of this grass-roots social media influencer marketing and the PRP's are front and center. And we're not only talking PRP's on the Instagram or Facebook side, we're talking bloggers, Youtubers, Snap Chatters, Forum posters and anything in between. With the abundance of pictures, articles or otherwise public content, anyone with even a modicum of tech savvy can throw together a decent presence online and act the part of a person well-connected in the industry having years of experience.
Limited Edition Gucci Fly Fish Food cap

That, in and of itself, isn't the issue. The issue is when our PRP friend here turns into what we call the "Insta-Pro". Or maybe it's the "Pro-Tuber". All of a sudden, with hardly any real experience with other products, the ACME rod outfit becomes the best thing on the planet. Or when ACME starts to sell hooks, those hooks get an "A+" rating with a snazzy review to boot. "Best hooks I've used!", says our Insta-Pro advocating for his goodies as he ties his first ever dry fly.

Mr. Insta-Pro is happier than a clam, as he gets some good SWAG. ACME is happy because their online presence just shot up for a few days or weeks. And the Insta-Bro's (Insta-Pro's pro-staffers), run it full circle tagging, liking and Insta-Spreading the good word. Before we know it, Insta-Pro comes up with a line of flat brimmed gucci hats and some super-sweet beer cozies made from recycled coyote testicles and ACME is "the" rod to own.


Ok, so rant aside, there are two important points here regarding this social media influencer model. First off, from a consumer standpoint, there are a LOT of really great dudes and dudettes in the fly fishing and tying world. You can get a lot of value from unbiased and fair product reviews, features or opinions from a lot of people -- even people who may be compensated or who might be pro-staffers for said products. And while even the legit dyed-in-the-wool experienced people will have some pretty strong opinions, you can usually glean some good information about products or services you might consider using by listening to what they have to say. Just beware of superlatives (basically most anything ending in "est") whenever you hear someone describing a product they use/like/advocate. And most importantly, use your judgment, compare what others say and ultimately consider the source.

Secondly, then what do (or should) companies look for in an influencer they want to work with and is it something you could conceivably do or even want to do? First and foremost, any company that has an ambassador, pro-staff or associate type program usually has some sort of requirement in order to become a part of the team. Here's a summary of three things commonly expected from industry companies:

  1. An established background and role in the fly fishing or tying world. They often look for guides or outfitters, media members, people working for a living in the industry or people who can really speak to the product and with whom a given marketing segment might have good rapport. Insta-Pro probably doesn't qualify here.
  2. An outlet or ability to showcase their company's products to as wide an audience is possible and be an "influencer". Even though this influencer concept is still relatively new, companies nowadays are starting to realize the value of social media and other non-traditional marketing methods. But here's where our Insta-Pro can leap-frog the two other points in our list. A company wanting to get as wide a marketing coverage as possible, might decide that it's more important to get quantity coverage as opposed to quality coverage. But, on the other hand, if you just started a blog, throw a few videos on Youtube or have a modest Instagram following, don't expect a company to give you products just because you tell them you'll tell all your friends and post things on your blog or social media for them. We probably get at least 5 emails or DM's a week asking for free stuff just because the dude will post pictures using our stuff on Instagram (right next to the photos of his buddy blue-darting it across the driveway in the dark). The biggest thing here is that key word -- influencer.

    Also, as part of this marketing arrangement, most companies -- especially ones in the social media world -- like to have you provide quality original photos and videos related to their products. The PRP or Insta-Pro typically cannot hang when it comes to providing that original content. Did I say "original"? Yes. Yes I did.
  3. Provide accurate and useful feedback on the products. This means you'll need to use and know how to objectively analyze the performance and hopefully compare to as wide a range of competitive products as possible. We had an instance where our feedback lead directly to the cancellation of a specific model of product from the company we were working with. Just because it's free, doesn't mean you have to like it and give glowing reviews. This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of any pro-staffer or sponsor program. And for some reason, often when people get something for cheaper or free, they tend to throw out a lot of their objectivity and end up convincing themselves how great a given product is. I call this a "lose-lose" scenario. As an example, I once agreed to tie on a new cutting edge vise for a couple of shows a number of years ago. I sub-consciously overlooked some serious flaws in its design just so I could have the newest coolest vise at the show. It wasn't until Cheech tried it out and flat out said "this vise sucks!" that I realized...yeah it sucked. And guess, what....that vise went the way of the Dodo bird.

Most companies that we work with (and most people who work with us on the flip-side) realize it's a two-way street. Cheech and I spend a lot of time and money getting to the locations we fish, buying materials and working on flies that we tie and feature and ultimately taking the best photos and videos that we can muster. There are also a lot of other people we know that do excellent jobs representing the product lines they are teamed up with. As part of that, here are a few things you might consider if you ever work with a company as a pro-staffer or influencer (assuming you can fit their needs as outlined above):

  1. Reduced price (or free) gear. Probably the most obvious of all pro-staffer or influencer benefits is the ability to score some great gear at a price below what it can be purchased at retail. If you've met the requirements above and a company still isn't willing to part ways with some gear, move on. They still probably shove most of their marketing dollars into print magazines or old-school internet ads.

    You also need to calculate your costs in this deal. Considering their product cost is still less than what you're paying, you need to come out at least even in terms of the ROI here. And even more, a company who's interested in utilizing you for some of the reasons above, it means you'd should not only see gear discounts, but you should also see new gear when it's available. We've worked with more than one company who sent us old or sub-par gear (to save money??) and expected a reasonably positive review or representation. On the other hand, we work with some good companies that will look to use us for feedback and new product development on the latest and greatest. These are the companies that will survive the social media marketing revolution here.
  2. Cold Hard Cash. I still find it hard to believe so many companies consider social media or grass-roots marketing as something for which they won't necessarily budget marketing dollars. They'll pay $5000 for a passive non-personal magazine ad that maybe sees a grand total of 10,000 people, but don't see the value in paying someone who helped get their product in front of 100,000 people in a more influencer role. So while the fly fishing industry is still behind the times as far as social media influencer programs go, there are a few companies out there that are "getting it". In fact there are businesses out there in the marketing world who actually make a living matching up social media influencers with brands or companies for them to represent. That's how you'll see mommy bloggers or Instagram hot-shots from the fashion, beauty, cooking, crafts and other industries making a lot of money from their social media efforts.
  3. Cross Promotion. While you may be the person providing the exposure and the content for a given product, it's also important that you work with your sponsor to send that same love back your way. See that they tag you in posts, blog about you or have you listed on their pro-staff if that's applicable. Again, it's a two-way street.

In the end, social media is revolutionizing the way all companies need to approach marketing. And for those people and companies out there who want work together to embrace the new ways, there's a lot of hay to make together. And for those companies who are still stuck in the dark ages of marketing and working pro-staffing relationships like they did in the 90's, then I wish them good luck and very likely goodbye.

* PRP = Pure Re-Poster