“Hey! We would love for you to be a team member for our company! Send us a DM for more information!”
You see this comment pop up on one of your fishing Instagram photos. You have never purchased anything from this company, let alone even ever heard of them. After doing a causal 3-minute creep, you see that this is a small company that makes & sells fishing t-shirts. You think to yourself, “Wow, am I THAT good to be asked to be a team member for a company?! How exciting! I MUST jump on this!” So, you send them a direct message to find out more information. In return, you get a reply back that says something along the lines of, “All you need to do is buy a few shirts from us. Post photos of yourself wearing them while out fishing, and tag us in all of them. In return, you get to be apart of our Pro-Staff team! We will share your photos on our page, give you team-only discounts off your future purchases, and send you a few free goodies” ……
Say whaaaaaaat?! You waste no time and jump on board. You order a few shirts at the price of $100.00 per shirt, you call your Mom so that she can brag about you to all her friends about it, and most importantly — you immediately type in “PRO-STAFF FOR JOE SHMO’S SLAMMIN’ SALMON SHIRTS” on all of your social media handles.
Life is good.
[Fast forward to a few weeks later.]
You start to see the same comment on dozens of photos across numerous instagram accounts, that is asking others to be team members for the same company. What you assumed was an “elite team”, is actually a team made up of dozens and dozens of other people who are all all dawning the same “Pro-Staff” handle in bold letters on all of their social media platforms. You also quickly realize that this company usually offers 30%-off sales on a regular basis to any and all customers — meaning your so-called “team-only discount” really isn’t a discount at all.
You, my friend, just became a full-paying customer to a cleaver sales pitch, an owner of $300.00 worth of cheap t-shirts that will probably shrink in the wash, a free advertiser to a company you barely know, and a team member to a not-so-elite team of 82757824654873 other so-called “Pro-Staffers”.
Oh, and let's not forget that none of your fishing friends have ever heard of this company.
[Jump back into reality.]
I am willing to bet a lot of people reading this have either experienced a similar situation, or they know of someone who caved into a similar trap. Just as I was writing this article, I recieved one of these messages in my Instagram inbox and I had a little laugh to myself. (It’s shown in the screenshot shown at the beginning of this article.) I haven’t read too many blog posts about this topic because I know it can be a touchy subject. I am hoping I can really just nail the truth right on the head with what I am about to say, because someone needs to just say it.
To kick things off, I think it is fair to say that the term, “Pro-Staff” has become a popular phrase in the fishing & hunting industry. The problem is, it has become so widely used that it doesn’t quite have the same meaning as it did years ago. Although I haven’t been around long enough to of experienced it, I can take a pretty good guess that it was once a very honoured title to have, and only given to the very few and far-between, top athletes in the entire industry. In this day and age, so many people are being labeled as “Pro-Staff”, and for companies and products that aren’t even really directly related to hunting or fishing. Most of us are now starting to question who is legitimate in the industry with this title, and who is not. I am so hesitant to use the term anymore and I think many people reading this can relate.
Before I dive deeper into the topic, I do feel it is important to mention that Brandon and I represent a small handful of amazing companies, some who refer to us as “Pro-Staff”. I have a huge amount of love for these businesses who believe in us and who have continued to support our adventures. I also respect their right to choose how they want to refer to us and any other individuals who represent their brand, and I have no issue with it. Regardless of if they refer to us as their “Pro-Staff”, “Ambassadors”, “Crew”, “Possy”, or “Wolf Pack", I have only ever agreed to be apart of any team unless I know it is small, elite, within a company I know I would be proud to represent, and for products I already directly use. After all, partnership programs are a great way to build up businesses and customer relationships. The intention of this article is just to shed some light on the term “Pro-Staff” itself, how it’s meaning has changed over the years, what it should truely mean to represent a brand, and knowing when to turn down or walk away from a brand partnership.
When it comes down to it, I personally choose not to refer to myself as “Pro-Staff” for any company. This is my choice, as I feel that designation should still be reserved for the top, elite fly anglers. While I am not underestimating myself, I am still humble enough to admit that I am not an expert with years upon years of experience by any means. I have been fly fishing for 3-4 years, so to say I am a top professional would be a joke. (Fly fishing takes YEARS of experience to really call yourself an expert.)
Instead, I prefer to use the designation of “Ambassador”. To me, “Ambassador” means we are proudly representing companies who see our potential in the industry, that we love and can truly stand behind. We are ambassadors for a number of companies that we would buy from even without the formal title. In fact, most of the companies we represent, we had purchased from a few times before we became ambassadors. The benefits of being an ambassador include being recognized in the industry for being great role models, going “above and beyond” and taking things to a different level. We also get to be apart of a well-respected, small team of other recognized individuals. Sure, there is usually the perk of usually getting some free gear or discounts in trade for posting photos using or wearing that gear to help advertise for companies. However, we honestly just look at that perk as an added bonus. We don’t promote anything that we can’t naturally rave about. I think that it is super important to look at it any ambassador program this way.
As I have become more involved in the outdoors world, I have to admit I have already learned my lesson on when you need to politely say “No Thanks”, and walk away from any partnership or team offer. The scenario described at the beginning of this article is prime example. I honestly feel like some of these so-called “Pro-Staff” offers from companies are starting become the equivalent to getting spam emails from royalty in Nigeria claiming you are the heir to a large fortune, and all you need to do is give them your social insurance number and bank account information. AKA: You are sometimes being suckered into giving them your money, your time, and your soul. However, the reality is, you are not any more of an actual top, professional angler or hunter than you are a Nigerian prince. You really need to be mindful of the companies and types of products you are associating yourself with. You should spend some time to research if they are the “real deal” and legitimate, and asking yourself if this will help or hurt your reputation, or if you are being taken advantage of. We have never agreed to be apart of any programs that do not have a genuine feeling to it, and we ALWAYS do our research before agreeing to anything. That research includes speaking to other people who I know in the industry who are well-respected, and asking them their opinion on it. I can proudly say I have been described as an authentic person by others, and that has been the best compliment I have ever recieved. Nothing is worth ruining that personality trait that other’s see me as, both as an angler and as a role model.
Equally, I have had to step back from previous partnerships that I originally agreed to, because I felt like I couldn’t stand behind their company anymore for various reasons. I realized that it is so important to value myself, as well as to ensure I am not being taken advantage of. One real-life example of this was when I was asked to provide artwork to be used on a company’s products, who I was also an ambassador for. While I was flattered and very open to the idea, I was also smart and had to realize that this was beyond my duties as an ambassador; this was now a formal business agreement. The problem: sometimes companies try to find ways to blend the line between an ambassador partnership vs. a paid agreement, and will try to ask for things from an ambassador that would normally be a paid job — without paying them fairly. The 2 duties do need to be treated as separate agreements. It’s as simple as that. I ended up choosing to just politely say “No Thanks” and turned down the artwork request for various *red flag* reasons. In short, the line was being blended. I was essentially going to be taken advantage of, and I needed to put myself and my artwork first before the company.
I will warn you, based on my own experiences, that sometimes when you turn down company offers or walk away from existing partnerships, the people behind those companies can immediately turn on you. As much as you try to part ways on good terms, it doesn’t always go that way. It’s like when a person asks you out on a date, and you reject them in the nicest way possible. Sometimes they can take a huge offence to rejection no matter how you word it, and they will immediately turn from being super interested in you, to telling their friends, “I’d never go out with her. She’s ugly and I heard bad rumours about her. She's not a very nice person!” Keep in mind that when this type of thing happens, it gives you a really strong idea of the type of people who stand behind that company and what they were about. Parting ways is probably for the best in those situations. Why would you want to represent a brand that handles rejection in an unprofessional way? In the times it has happened to me, I immediately knew I didn’t want to be associated with that type of immaturity anyways.
At the end of the day, if you are being approached and asked to represent a company in the industry, be real and honest with yourself about it. Make sure you can “walk your talk”. Too many people get so caught up in the idea of being able to put “PRO STAFF” in big, bold letters in their social media profile tag lines. Here are 5 easy tips that I recommend:
If a company approaches you — ask BOTH yourself and the company a lot of questions before agreeing to anything. If you are required to sign a contract, take a few days to read it over. Don’t sign anything without having a close friend or family member review it first.
Be aware of what you are agreeing to, and the things that would normally be paid work. Do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and draw the line between being an ambassador and being a formally paid contractor or worker.
Do not give in & agree to every single brand ambassador offer that comes your way. Some may seem too good to turn down, but you really need to ask yourself if it is going to help or harm your presence in the industry. Try to stick to brands where you know other ambassador team members, or companies you already buy from. Avoid teams that seem to have a lot of ambassadors, or ones that pressure you into purchasing items first before they will consider you.
Don’t change who you are & what you post about just because you are an ambassador. Some people get so carried away and will post about these companies daily, and it turns their social media from a place to view cool pictures of fish or flies, to a place where you are bombarded with a sales pitch about tires. No one wants to see you post 15 posts in a row about tires. Seriously. You really shouldn’t have to change anything about what and how you post on social media. Sure, you can add a few extra tags or promo codes the company gives you to share with your friends; but keep it authentic.
If you have a bad gut feeling or things begin to change, don’t be afraid to walk away from a partnership.
Tight lines + stay wild, oxo.