Yet another Bassmaster Classic is in the books, and as I leave South Carolina for the warmer pastures of California, I must admit I’m a little bit worn around the edges, yet am also refreshed.
The Classic has always been an exciting event from a networking standpoint, and as a self-proclaimed extrovert, I go into overdrive when it comes to meeting new people and catching up with old friends in the industry.
Networking is an art, and like any art, it requires practice, and a heaping helping of passion, and the Classic always tends to bring the passion out in me.
This year, instead of filling my schedule up staying with a couple of sponsors the entire time at the expo, I instead spent the majority of the three days promoting Sweetwater TV. Now that the show is over, and I find myself saying goodbye to familiar faces in the industry as we part ways toward separate terminals in the airport, I feel like I had one of my best Classics yet from a business point of view, but I still find myself learning some lessons.
Sweetwater Making Waves
When my co-host, Joey Nania, and I arrived in Greenville and met up with the production group, they greeted us with some great news – our Nielson ratings were in for all three of our networks and they were very promising. With some strong numbers in our pockets, we were all very excited to get to the expo and meet fans, as well as look for possible partners for the show.
As soon as we hit the showroom floor, I got into “expo mode,” which is probably clinically referred to as a severe case of ADHD.
Immediately I started seeing all sorts of industry friends and acquaintances, and would strike up conversation after conversation like I was a Labrador digging up bones in a bone yard.
As a group, the Sweetwater clan was on a mission to meet with a list of companies that we would like to partner with.
For the most part companies at these sort of industry shows aren’t there to talk business as much as to meet with the average consumer and show off their products, so with this in mind, we would keep the meetings short, first catching up on our fishing stories (or lack thereof) and then briefly go over Sweetwater and set up a date for some follow-up after the dust settled from everyone’s hectic travel schedules.
Really, there were only a relatively small number of companies we approached, since we had an idea of the companies that we all want to partner with most and know we can provide value for.
In the end we had some exciting dialog and we look forward to our follow-up conversations.
Aside from the business meetings, the really awesome part about the Expo was how many people recognized Joey and I from the show, and how passionate they were while telling us how much they enjoyed it. Both of us were very humbled by the reviews we were getting.
For the show only being on the air for the first month or so, we were all very pleased by the response.
I was also able to slow down a bit and spend some time in some of my sponsors' booths, such as Huk, Navionics, Eagle Claw, Vicious and Z-Man.
As I stated before, networking, or learning how to communicate with people at shows like the Classic, is very important, and I feel like I have gotten much better since my first Classic in 2006.
Things like reading body language, maintaining eye contact, remembering names, knowing when to end a conversation and knowing when you are crossing lines, are all some of the skills that one needs to build, and really my experience is that it just takes time.
The common factor I see with the most effective communicators is that they are very passionate when they talk. I feel like showing passion for fishing, and the industry in general, just seems to be natural for me, and sometimes I admit I feel like somewhat of a "bass geek." I guess I’m just a naturally excitable conversationalist when it comes to fishing.
It hasn’t always been easy for me, however. I can remember my first couple industry shows, and I was a nervous wreck talking with the “big dawgs” in the sport and in the business. After all, I was a minnow in a big pond. I always had the passion, but I would get so flustered talking with industry professionals – people I looked up to – that I would get anxious and probably look rather silly. I still find myself doing that sometimes, including trying to find things to say to my idols in the fishing biz.
In a way, I hope I never get over that feeling of childlike excitement.
Professional Night Owl
Though I feel like I’m a proficient communicator, and my love for the very active social lifestyle associated with going to the Classic is stronger than ever, I know that I still have room for improvement and lessons to learn.
One of the things that I’ve learned over the years is that the “night life” associated with the Classic is one of the things I enjoy the most, but it can also be the place that you can get in a lot of trouble, too.
This year, I really didn’t go out much after the showroom doors closed. My hotel was a bit more than a hop, skip, and a jump away from the epicenter of industry dining and the usual meet-and-greet scene, so I found myself staying back and doing some work on the computer instead of hitting the town.
Sunday evening, however, I decided it was time go out and enjoy myself a little.
I ended up meeting up with a bunch of friends at one of the main watering holes where many in the industry were gathering and had a pretty good time, ended up having some good conversations with some new people and caught up with some old friends, then walked the mile back to my hotel and went to sleep.
As I was sitting there, in the middle of a conversation I was having with a couple I had just met, I looked around at all the people in the room and realized that every single person in that room held an influential position in the industry. At that moment I couldn’t help but recall what I had been told by a professional that I respect: "Have a good time, but when you feel like you’re having too much fun, disappear and go home.”
Fortunately I haven’t been in a situation where I’ve had “way too much fun” at any of the key fishing business shows, but I’m sure I came close a time or two. I’m not sure if I’m getting wiser, or if I just have more reasons to represent myself in a professional manner, but that advice that I was given really starts to make sense.
I’ve learned that the fishing industry is a very, very, small community, and you can easily make a mistake that can ripple throughout if you are not careful, and the night life is likely to be where you can do the most damage.
I’ve seen other people take it over the top and I don’t want to be that guy. You won’t see the likes of Kevin VanDam making these mistakes, because he knows being a professional doesn’t end when the Expo doors close. Guys like him have their fun, but then quietly leave on a high note.
All in all, the 2015 Bassmaster Classic was a success on all levels. Sweetwater is gaining tremendous traction, I’m learning more and more about what it means to be a professional, and the numbers of fans that swarmed into the Expo and weigh-in arena made me realize that the sport of fishing is as healthy as ever.
Though I am a bit exhausted, and I’ll probably come down with a case of the good ol' “Classic crud,” I can’t help but think about next year and what new experiences it might bring.
B.A.S.S., you put on a great show! Kudos.