Not having face-to-face time is what John Mazurkiewicz will miss most about ICAST 2020.
Mazurk, as he’s known to most in the fishing industry, owns Catalyst Marketing Services, a media relations firm that for 30 years has helped companies like Shimano, G. Loomis, Jackall Lures and PowerPro get their messages to media. He’s a people person, and his greatest lament about the industry trade show being online only is not being able to connect one-on-one with people.
“For what I do for a living, that’s the absolutely huge thing I will miss about ICAST,” he said. “There is more stuff done and discussed after hours at ICAST than there is during the actual show hours. The exhibit part of the show might close at 6, but in reality the show goes until midnight.”
This year it goes 24 hours a day from July 13-17. ICAST 2020 got under way Monday morning — Shimano welcomed visitors with an introductory webcast — as the show’s host, the American Sportfishing Association, unveiled its icastfishing.org website populated with products from about 175 exhibitors. While down from around 650, the exhibitors should benefit from a brighter spotlight, as well as allowing the general public in for the first time.
“That’s the cool thing because ICAST has always been this business-only affair,” Mazurkiewicz said. “People do realize that the products being introduced at ICAST doesn’t mean they’re on the market the next day. Basically, the show is for the trade. It’s to get dealers and distributors interested in products coming out. Then they will be out sometime later.”
In this internet age, Mazurk said there’s already a buzz around many products, especially if one visits fishing bulletin boards. Anticipation can be a good thing.
“People want to know what Shimano has new. Everybody knows new products are being introduced, so keeping that hush-hush because they can’t buy it yet really has been a moot point over the years,” he said. “Now everything is sort of instantaneous. We’re opening all these events up to everybody and promoting it that way.”
Groups like Outdoor News in the upper Midwest asked and received an invite for their 6,000-plus members of its junior fishing teams to watch, and Frank Hyla, Shimano’s Youth Fishing Coordinator, has reached out to the B.A.S.S. Nation and its youth programs and is advertising its events on Bassmaster.com. So traffic could be high.
“We do want people to jump on in and view it, but we’re also maintaining ICAST as the business side of the sport,” he said. “Our key efforts are really still being directed to dealers and distributors.”
In preparing for a digital only event, Mazurk said there were plenty of planning meetings among Shimano’s brands and specific groups. He said he’s been busy writing more copy to tell the company’s stories and provide product details.
“We pivoted to what we could do online,” he said. “The whole Shimano team, on the marketing and sales side, everybody started to think how we get the messages on the new products out to the audience. I’ve been more than pleased with the reactions I’m getting.”
Mazurk usually gets hands-on information on products and then relays that information in person at ICAST, but getting around the pandemic required extensive use of technology. In some ways, it has been beneficial to pinpoint strategies.
“My plans are a little bit different than the sales guys, but we all had plans,” he said. “The sales group had Zoom meetings with dealers — the Shimano national meeting was done by Zoom. We had five days with all the various rep groups. It’s funny, everybody is saying they’re getting Zoom meeting withdrawals.
“I haven’t been in that many, but I enjoyed it. It was fun seeing people that you only get to see a few times a year. And it was very good. The product guys did a great job with all their presentations. I learned as much about the products in those meetings as I would have in an in-person, face-to-face meeting.”
The company also has been able to focus marketing efforts for their regional reps, i.e., the Southeast doesn’t need to know about new ice fishing gear, so he said there was inefficiency at times with the in-person meetings.
For the past 15 years or so, Shimano has hosted a huge welcome event in their spacious booth, where all their pro staff congregate and help present the new lineup of items. Mazurk was adamant about keeping some semblance of that.
“It’s always an enjoyable event. I like that we sort of stop everything that’s going on in that part of the show. Our reps are all there, usually a few dealers,” Mazurk said. “It’s a good way to always kick off the show and build up some excitement. A lot of people have just come out of the industry breakfast and leave on a pretty positive note. We just try to keep all that positivity going.”