Know the players

This is part three of a multi-part “More from media” series.

If you’ve ever been to a big-time college or professional sports game, you know it’s more fun and more productive to know something about the teams and their players before you get there. Can you imagine watching the New England Patriots without at least a basic appreciation of Tom Brady … or the Cleveland Cavaliers without knowing anything about LeBron James?

Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam knows the players.

Yes, you could still enjoy the event — and you’d eventually figure out who the best players are — but it’s better to be a student of the game and know something about that sort of thing before you sit down to watch.

Working with the outdoors media is a little like that. You’ll get more and better exposure, do better work for your sponsors and generally have a better career if you know the players on the media side of the game. The best media people know a great deal about the pro anglers they cover. The best pro anglers know just as much about the media people covering them.

When I was the senior editor of B.A.S.S. Publications, I would call all of the Elite Series rookies before the beginning of the season to introduce myself (“Hi, I’m Ken Duke from B.A.S.S.”) and interview them for a profile story. Most had done their due diligence and were familiar with me, but every year one or two would say “What was your name again?” or “What do you do for B.A.S.S?”

I knew right away that these guys were in trouble. They had the fishing skills to get to the big-time, but lacked other skills to keep them there.

Who you need to know

The first step in getting to know the right media people is to identify them. If you’re like most aspiring professional anglers, you’ve read thousands of articles online and in magazines and newspapers without ever noticing who wrote them or took the photographs.

That indifference needs to stop now. From this point forward, you’re going to pay just as much attention to the article and photograph bylines as you do to the anglers featured in the stories and pictures.

Take a look at the most important newspapers, magazines and websites in your career area. Who are the editors? Who are the writers and photographers featured most frequently? Who are the outdoor radio and television hosts in your area? Who is editing and writing for the websites you want to be on? If you can’t answer these questions, get the answers … fast!

Just as you know who the top anglers are in the tournaments you fish, you should know the key media people. You don’t need to catch even one more fish to get more media attention, but you certainly need to know the right media professionals.

What you need to know

Getting to know the favorite food or beer of the key media types in your industry isn’t mission critical (though the latter won’t hurt), but there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Their outlets. Who do they work for regularly — what newspaper, magazine, website, television or radio show? If it’s just one outlet, which one is it? Is it a key magazine or television show or one of the smaller outlets? If the media person in question is a freelancer (working for multiple outlets), it’s probably a good idea to assume they’re interviewing you for the biggest and best outlet they have … just in case.
  2. Their interests and tendencies. If Denny Brauer is leading a tournament after two days, there’s a pretty good chance that he’s on a strong flippin’ and pitching pattern. What does it mean when Louie Stout (senior writer for Bassmaster Magazine) is calling? He’s probably working on a how-to story. (He doesn’t write much human interest content.) The more you know about what a media person does, the more you can help him and the more he’ll help you.
  3. Their shortcomings. If a writer consistently screws up quotes or misspells product names, you need to know it so you can avoid being a victim. Is he lazy? Will he look up the product names or do you need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of them (you should have that anyway). Will he check to see if the reel has a 6.4:1 gear ratio or a 6.2:1 ratio? I guarantee that your sponsor cares even if the writer doesn’t.
  4. Their status. Where are they on the outdoor communicator food chain? The outdoor media market is a small world. Today’s weekly columnist for a tiny newspaper in New Mexico might be on top of the world tomorrow, especially if he or she has some talent. Know where they rate, but be nice to everyone … again, just in case. Jobs in the outdoor media are often based more on connections than ability. You never know whose nephew you’re talking to out there.

How to get to know them

Getting to know the “right” people in the outdoors media world doesn’t have to be difficult, but developing the relationships that will really make the needle move for your career will take some effort. Just as with any other relationship in your life, the more time and energy you put in, the better and stronger it will be.

The easiest way to develop media relations is to start local. Is there a newspaper near your home that has a regular outdoor feature (they’re quickly disappearing)? What about a local outdoors radio show? These people should be easy to find. If you don’t know them already, you probably have a friend who can make the introduction … or do it yourself. After all, you already have something in common — you both love the outdoors.

Do not ask this person for anything. You probably won’t get it. Instead, offer him something. Offer to take him fishing or give him some baits made by one of your sponsors. Ask if you can take him to lunch and pick his brain about careers in the outdoors.

If you work at it, this will evolve into some time on the water or just some face-to-face time that can pay off down the road. You might even become friends.

Once you develop that relationship and establish that you know what you’re talking about in the fishing world, odds are you’ll start to get some exposure — your name appears in an article or you get a guest appearance on the radio. It’s a start!

From there, you want to build on that exposure. Go from local to statewide to regional media. They all need stories, they all need guests and if you do it right, they all need you. But don’t forget that first media friend. You’ll always need that relationship no matter how many titles you win.

Tournament performance counts, of course. But relationships and knowing how to identify and present a good story count a lot more. It’s why some Bassmaster Classic winners get very little ink and some anglers without big accolades seem to be everywhere.

Every year, one angler — and just one angler — wins the Bassmaster Classic. That angler has tremendous media opportunities for the next year. Unless you are that guy, you’d better work on your media relationships.

If things go bad …

Mark Twain once said, “Never pick a fight with people who buy ink by the barrel.” Though he said it more than a hundred years ago, it’s still outstanding advice.

You will not win a battle against a media outlet. They have all of the resources and you have none. If you fight, you will only become distracted, lose focus on what’s really important (your fishing and your career) and do harm to your sponsors and reputation.

If you have a problem with a media person, your first effort should be to repair it — even if it’s not your fault and even if that media person is working for a small newspaper in the middle of nowhere. (You never know where they might be next year.) If you can’t repair the problem, let it go and move past it.

Sometimes you may be misquoted. Sometimes you may not be recognized for something for which you deserve to be recognized. Sometimes a mistake will be made that casts you or your sponsor in a bad light.

Work to repair those problems without laying blame and without harming the relationship you’re trying to build. Maybe the media person screwed up or maybe you did, but pointing fingers doesn’t help. Find a solution that works for you both and that advances the relationship in a positive way. Don’t tell the writer you never want to work with him again. You may not need him in the future, but your sponsors might, and they’re the most important parties in this mix (at least for you) — not you or the media person.

As a longtime editor and writer in the fishing industry, I can tell you that some anglers and some products get “blacklisted” by publications. Every outdoor writer and program host I know has a list of anglers he refuses to work with because he had a bad experience with them. Sometimes blacklisting is deserved, but more often it arises out of a personal dispute that never would have happened if both parties acted professionally.

If you just won the Bassmaster Classic or Forrest Wood Cup, the media might need you more than you need them for a little while, but it won’t last long. Very soon, you’re going to need the exposure they offer, and you’ll want to be their go-to expert. Make sure you stay on their radar in a positive way by always being professional, always being friendly and always being positive.


  1. Know the media “players,” who they work for and the kind of work they do.
  2. Start local and build a relationship with the key media people in your area.
  3. If you have a problem with the media, work to solve it professionally and without causing additional harm or bruised egos.

The professional fishing world is pretty small. Make your world larger and more productive by building key media relationships. Making the world smaller by reducing the number of people who want to work with you is not a plan for success.

Ken Duke is the managing editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer and the author of two books on bass fishing. He has 33 years of experience working in a multitude of media platforms, and he’s arguably the most knowledgeable stat guy in the sport.
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Author: Ken Duke

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]Ken Duke is the managing editor of Fishing Tackle Retailer and the author of two books on bass fishing. He has 33 years of experience working in a multitude of media platforms, and he’s arguably the most knowledgeable stat guy in the sport.[/author_info] [/author]

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