For others… as we say in the South, “Bless their hearts!” I now have the opportunity to represent some awesome companies, but it has not been without a few difficulties. There are a few things I wish I had focused on from the start of my journey. Not only do these things make me a better prostaffer, I think they make me a better person. If you ever see yourself in a position to represent a company, keep these few thoughts in mind.
Know what is expected BEFORE you say yes.
I jumped blindly at my first staff offer, and had no clue what I was getting myself into. Some agreements can be pretty vague, and others can be extremely rigid. I have seen some that require X number of social media engagements a week, as well as a blog. They also want you to show up, in person, for any event remotely near you. You have to make the choice of what is or isn’t worth your time or efforts. I have a full time job, family, and church duties, and adding a stringent prostaff position is like adding another job. Sticking with a few companies that have products you use and trust will help keep you from being overwhelmed with extra work. If you use and trust a product, most likely you are already talking about it with friends, on forums, and in social media anyway!
Don’t forget - you started somewhere.
I had this lesson driven home just a few months ago - on a golf course, of all things. My son needed a fourth person for a tourney, and I was the only option. The tough part was outside of a putt-putt course I had never golfed before. I ran to a sporting goods store, bought some clubs, and went to the driving range. The pros there were snobby and hateful, and looked at my cheap clubs with obvious disdain. There was no hello or offer to help, and I finally had to ask a greenskeeper where to even start. I was swinging that danged club like a softball bat, and the pros’ snickers were making my hopeless situation even worse. I resisted all urges to go “Slingblade” on that driving range, and was proud that I spared their lives.
After climbing back in the truck, I pondered if I had ever been that way to a new kayak angler at the landing or on the water. I know I have come a long way in my kayaking experience, but I am still learning each day. The mistakes I have made and the lessons I have learned are all shareable experiences that may benefit someone else. Every time I hit new places or try new techniques, I rely on the knowledge of others to help me out - and am thankful for it! So many times I have been helped by people on forums or on the water, and often it has made the difference between a successful trip or not. I need to remember that I started with no knowledge of the sport and slowly built to the point where I am now. If I can help someone along their path I will gladly do it, and be better for it.
There is no such thing as a “best” for everyone.
This one is tough as part of a promotional staff. I use products I love and will do my best to tell people about them, but no one thing is perfect for everyone. It may not fit everyone in form, functionality, or financially. People come in different sizes, shapes, and with differing physical abilities. We also fish in multiple conditions, from flat water to raging rivers or open oceans. On top of all that, the products we use and love can be extremely expensive, and not everyone can afford to drop an entire bank account on a new obsession. As a part of a promotional staff, one of the most helpful things I can do is to know my products, as well as any competitive products that would fill the need. I may represent brand “X” but have paddled brands “Y” and “Z.” Right now, brand X is selling for $1,600, but if you find a demo brand Z for half that it may be the difference in someone getting on the water or not. Being open and having a touch of humility about the products we represent will benefit all parties involved. It is fully acceptable to promote your brand, but the driving force should be putting people on the water, safe and happy. Those people will spread the word and infect those around them, and it will benefit you and the company you represent over time.
If you can’t or don’t want to help, please say no.
Prostaffers are just that - promotional staff who act as grass-roots level representatives of a company. We are the ones who engage the public and help drive awareness of a product or manufacturer. We do this by being active in the field, on forums, or in social media. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen people sign on as a staff member, get a product or discount and then vanish, never to be heard from again. That makes it even harder for the next person to work with the company, because they feel like it was a wasted investment. Only small amounts of product or discounts are budgeted for the staff teams each year, and it needs to have a good return on the investment. Most teams I am involved with have a reporting system for accountability, or a yearly evaluation to see who stays or who goes. It got that way because of people who should have said no in the first place.
Actions speak louder than words.
This is a lesson I learned in church: I can tell you about my faith, but it is best if I just live it every day. The “seen” example will live a lot longer and stronger than the “spoken” example. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen promotional staff offer to meet someone at the water to paddle their boat, then spend a long amount of time answering questions or going over finite details to help get the right product the first time. The ones I know often carry extra paddles, PFDs or other gear and are more than willing to lend them to folks in need. They are the first ones to a demo day or tournament and often the last ones to leave, staying late to help put up gear or clean up after the event. When it does come time to use words, they are in the form of tips, helpful hints, or answered questions. This type of action speaks more about you than the product or the manufacturer. In time word will spread about your willingness to help others, and all those products you love will be able speak for themselves.
We are all brothers and sisters on and off the water.
These past few years have been an incredible time of meeting new people - from those just starting out, to true pioneers who forged the way to the awesome sport we now share. We have different backgrounds and different thoughts, but all pretty much end up with the same “stuff.” A plastic boat, paddle or pedal, a PFD, and some sort of fly, spinning or baitcasting rod. The differences make us unique, but the similarities make us family. It doesn’t matter what brand of kayak you are in - you have a place at my campfire. Time and time again I have seen members of the plastic fleet come together across "brand boundaries" to assist those in need, those who have suffered loss and those who are just struggling in life. It doesn’t take too many stories about organizations like Heroes on the Water, Casting for Recovery, or Paddle 4 Tomorrow to realize there is a lot of good left in this crazy world. If you are in need, I will do my best to help. If you are struggling to carry your boat, I will grab an end. If you want to get started in this sport, I will do everything I can to help you along the way.
I have had a ton to learn in a few short years on different teams but I am proud to help, represent, and serve in many capacities. I find that if I conduct myself with these few suggestions, I have no need to apologize for what I do. I am a promotional staffer, and I promote kayak fishing!