Think you rip? That may make you a good surfer. It’s something else to be a pro surfer. And the good pro surfers are the ones who manage to make their sponsors happy. And how do they do that? By following the Ten Commandments of Pro Surfing Sponsorship. Bill Sharp, who recently became brand manager of the Fosters Pro Surfing Tour, lays down the rules of the road:
1. Understand The Big Picture
Pro surfing did not suddenly appear because God decided skillful surfers automatically deserve to be rewarded for their talents. It’s more like this:
a) The carefree sun-drenched surfing lifestyle is very attractive;
b) people will sometimes purchase products that they feel represent this lifestyle;
c) some marketing gurus feel that if a product is associated with a surfer it can help influence a person to buy it;
d) the profit margins are relatively slim, which means that every dollar invested in an athlete should theoretically propel sales ten to twenty times that investment;
e) no surfer has come close to satisfying that formula.
The more a pro surfer can be charming and easy to work with the longer it will take a sponsor to realize that sponsoring him or her was a poor business decision.
2. An Endorsement Is A Real Job
Being a pro surfer is a hell of a lot more pleasant than flipping burgers, but accept that you’ll be held accountable to accomplish your goals. Your job is not to be cool guy numero uno, it’s to help the marketing director sell more product. If he doesn’t hit his numbers, you could be the one who suffers most. Offer to help out in ways your sponsor won’t expect.
3. Actually Use The Product You Endorse
It goes without saying that you’d better have the stickers on your board and the logo cap in place at the moments it matters. But you also better make it seem like you believe in the product and use it in real life. Remember, you never know who’s watching. As the story goes, the last straw in the collapse of volleyball’s once-lucrative relationship with Miller Lite came when a handful of V-ball legends had the stupidity to order Budweisers right in front of the very Miller execs who had made that sponsorship happen.
4. Have An Act
Personality is easier to appreciate than performance. You don’t have to be a pro-wrestling cartoon, but if there’s something about you that’s interesting — other than the fact you can ride the tube — that will expand your popularity. Some are born with it, but others have created some great personas. And surfing needs a hell of a lot more of them.
5. Learn To Speak In Public
Want to boost your value? Learn to communicate more effectively. The better your victory speech, the better you can describe the joys of surfing to a reporter, the better you can tell a funny anecdote to a packed auditorium, the more attention you’ll gain. And by the time you’re that far along on your career, it’ll be easier to boost your public speaking skills by 25 percent than it will be to raise your surfing performance level a similar amount.
6. Be Reachable And Reliable
If you’re asked by a key sponsor or promoter or media member to do something — large or small — accept the project and show up early and stay late. Give out your cell-phone number. Return calls. If you don’t come through when asked, eventually you’ll be left off the list in favor of others who are easier to work with. Once you miss enough opportunities to create value for yourself (and those who pay you), your market value will plunge.
7. Don’t Be An Idiot In Public
Think it’s quaint when a pro surfer gets drunk on a plane and gets arrested for disorderly conduct and drug possession? Surfing’s rebellious counter-culture image can work for us if it’s portrayed in a charming fashion, but crossing the line into felonies means that when your contract is up (or sooner), you’ll be done and noo one will touch you. Then suddenly you are flipping burgers.
8. Be Prepared To Adapt
The world is littered with whimpering waveriders who got left behind each time the pro-surfing train steamed away from their station — and they’re all certain it’ll back up down the track to let them on again. New opportunities are constantly appearing: now there are career paths for photo sluts, aerial freaks, and senior citizens (hell, today’s tow-in heroes are almost all retired tour veterans who should have been sales reps by now). The advantage will go to those who can recognize the looming opportunities and act on them.
9. Be A Team Player
Riding a wave is a wonderfully individual sport, but the marketing of the sport and lifestyle requires a huge team effort. The fact today’s pros can even pick up a thin dime from sponsorship or contest prize money is built upon the blood, sweat, and tears of a previous generation or two. Some of what you do may be to promote yourself, some may be to promote your sponsors, but don’t forget to promote the sport in general. Chores like hand-holding a clueless newspaper reporter, doing surf-shop tours, or speaking at high school assemblies are important. They might seem like little bricks, but they help hold up a very big wall.
10. Appreciate It
Can you imagine how many middle-America corporate paper pushers would give their left nut to be able to say they make their living as a surfer? Any pro who whines should be put to sleep on the spot. It’s a supremely enviable occupation. It’s an honor. It’s also an awesome responsibility. Every time you walk out your front door you’re representing the rest of us. Make us proud.
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