As a shooter, sponsorship is one of the most sought after accomplishments in the shooting sports. There is a sense of pride, legitimacy, and, if you are fortunate, a close-knit shooting family. Some people look for sponsorship from companies for ‘free stuff’. This is the complete wrong approach to working with a company. Product and goods and services are a business cost to an organization. Marketing personnel look to sponsor matches and people to increase awareness of their product offering and increase sales. Occasionally, there are sponsorship decisions made to enhance company image or because they want to give back to the community so future generations can share and love our second amendment rights.
Where do these relationships go wrong? There are no real surprises here: just like any relationship, unmet expectations and lack of follow-through are usually at the core of the root cause. This is why you see more and more contracts in the shooting industry between companies and shooters. Unfortunately, these individuals make it more challenging for shooters who do fulfill commitment to obtain additional sponsorship. Once bitten twice shy. In my opinion, this is why we have seen the jargon change from sponsorship – implying a one way street to Brand Ambassador – implying you are a reflection of the company and ‘work’ for them in exchange for discounted product, free product, and possibly include other forms of compensation.
Let’s first look at Brand Ambassadors from a company perspective. The reality is the majority of well known Brand Ambassadors in the sport are the best shooters in the world. If you look at the top athletes in USPSA, most are company employees. If you attend a level II match, you will see 75-85% of the competitors with a jersey on with logos from many companies. The majority of these companies are providing discounts or free product to these shooters. Some will say that discounts are not really giving money to a shooter, but they certainly are. The shooter would have purchased the equipment anyway the majority of the time. At a minimum, the discount erodes margin from the bottom line of the organization.
Selecting these athletes is a carefully managed task. One wrong move can have an adverse impact on the organization and lost sales. As a Team Captain, I look for the following:
What market is the person in and do I have representation there already?
Are they established in the sport?
Are they on the podium? (Not essential but a team needs a variety of talent.)
How many matches do they shoot, both local and major matches?
What is their reputation in the sport?
What is their social media presence? What platforms? Followers? Engagement? Reach?
What have they done for other companies? How do they give back?
And most importantly, are they approachable, relatable, and able to talk about the product?
The last three are the most important in the industry today.
As a company, you have to have a person who manages the team. This person needs to help set expectations, offer direction, and help answer questions. If you do not have expectations for your Brand Ambassadors, how do you ever expect them to meet them? If you need content, ask! We are in a digital age and everyone has a phone with a camera. This is the content your customers want to see. It is one thing to hear the ‘corporate’ opinion, but customers want to hear from people who are actually applying your product or service.
The sport is filled with people from all different types of careers and employment. Never assume your Ambassadors know what to do or how to handle questions about your product. This is your responsibility to train them. As with any company, the people are the greatest asset! Train them to be the best! If you have a great product, you need people to talk about it with people at the range, trade shows, etc. People in sales have been using the next technique for years… let people try it!
The last point I would like to make, based on my experience, is streamline your method of communication. The best resource I have found is to create a “group” on social media for your team and share important updates, product launches, recognition. This helps create community, and it can help leverage your message. Recently, I created a video which would have netted 250-500 views, but leveraging the team brought in over 4k views through sharing on their page(s)!
Now, let’s talk a bit about the shooter.
Just don’t take any sponsorship, if you don’t believe in the product, you will never be able to share it’s benefits to others. If you don’t believe in the product, how will you be able to develop a relationship with the company? Don’t try to make it work for the sake of wearing a logo; those relationships don’t seem to work out in the long run.
The company you are working with has laid out some expectations. Your goal as a shooter is not to do just the minimum, it’s to bring value! If you are doing something with another company which yields results, try it! Mention it! Do it! Outside of portraying a message to the fellow shooters, tell the company what people are saying. You owe it to the organization to give your all and help it grow.
Winning by itself is not enough anymore. You need to stand out. I met with a company at Shot Show, and we talked about how ineffective it is to wear a logo on a jersey. They find zero value in it. They have a product which is crossing many disciplines. Wearing a logo at a local match is not going to drive sales: social media is. There is not a playbook for social media. What I will offer is even though you don’t have all the answers, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Sometime you just have to kick the ball down the field. See what your peers are doing and see what works. You will find your way. If you are not out on Facebook or Instagram, I would certainly start there.
As a company, what are you going to do different? As a Brand Ambassador, what are you going to do different? If you don’t change anything, nothing will change.
My intent over the past several minutes was to spur thought and initiate dialogue which will hopefully lead to action.
See you out on the range soon!