This year's edition of the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades (ICAST) show kicks off today, bringing together the latest and greatest in fishing tackle under one roof. For decades, ICAST has been the launching pad for game-changing advances in fishing gear and electronics.
But for all that's sure to be new at ICAST 2017, some things have remained the same. Walk the show floor and peek into the busiest booths and you're sure to see Gary Giudice of Blue Heron Communications. Giudice has been working this trade show for about as long as most anyone in the business.
Thirty years ago Giudice founded Blue Heron Communications (www.blueheroncomm.com) in the spare bedroom of his Colonial-era home in Honyeoye Falls, New York. The outdoor-specialty agency quickly became known as one of the most powerful PR and marketing services available in the outdoor industry. Ask any A-list fishing or hunting editor or writer today and they'll tell you Blue Heron is as synonymous with the outdoor industry as camo and crankbaits.
Blue Heron's Norman, Oklahoma, headquarters has been described as "the ultimate outdoor hideout." But there's a lot of business going on there, despite the occasional peals of laughter
Eventually, New York's oppressive gun laws and brutal winters prompted Giudice to relocate Blue Heron to its headquarters in Norman, Oklahoma, where it has headquartered since 1994. But not even a dramatic shift in scenery could disrupt Blue Heron's successes as it presided over the public relations and marketing efforts of some of the outdoor industry's titans: PRADCO Fishing, Benelli USA, Ranger Boats, Pure Fishing, DuPont, Stren, Smith & Wesson, Boone and Crockett Club – the list goes on and on. Whether it's representing the efforts and interests of conservation groups or connecting with consumers in the tactical markets, Blue Heron presents a case study in what happens when you combine communications proficiency with a true passion for the outdoors.
"Everyone here achieved a true level of success somewhere else before coming to Blue Heron. But our passion is the outdoors. It's what we do in our spare time, what we daydream about," Giudice said. "So, for all of us, working here is doubly rewarding because the outdoors – fishing, hunting, camping, conservation – is so near and dear to our hearts."
Like everyone at BHC, Gary Giudice lives to get out and prove his clients' products work. Sometimes, it's hard to tell business from pleasure.
That passion is central to Blue Heron's legacy of credibility among outdoor writers seeking for ways to connect with readers. They know how to use gear and where in the world to fine the finest trout streams or which baits catch the most bass in nearly every major fishery in North America. The agency is also known for its first-class media events, which help generate the content that dominates the country's outdoor magazines, putting products and places on the map. It all adds up to a staff of highly qualified professionals who remain well connected and closely ingrained into an ever-evolving industry.
"Perhaps I didn't realize how difficult it would be to reach where we are today. Maybe I'm glad I didn't. But as hard as we worked to get things going, we work even harder now to keep going, to keep growing," Giudice said. "It all starts with being extremely responsive and proactive in everything we do. That includes dealing with the changes that continue to come to the way we communicate and the changes that come each year to our industry."
The change, as Giudice described it, centers around technology and the desire to harness its powers to achieve magical results. The problem, however, is that technology is a tool and not a magic wand – and tools must be wielded with skill.
"It's hard for people these days to conceive of how much work used to go into distributing a simple press release: going to the printer, shooting images, developing film, shipping through the mail – it took days, sometimes longer, to get it done," Giudice said. "These days, we can identify, draft and distribute a press release - in the same afternoon if we need to. Technology, whether it's email or social media or anything else, just lets us be faster at disseminating information. The real hard work – where I feel we truly separate ourselves as an agency – is making that information stand out from all the other noise that's available around the clock and plying our resources and relationships to create positive attention for our clients and drive sales. Technology will never be able to replace that."
There will be plenty to see at this week's ICAST. Fancy colors, electronic wonders, space-age materials all designed to (hopefully) catch more fish. Some will work, others won't. And some will still be going strong for the next 30 years and beyond.