For 2015, new Benelli 3-Gun Team Captain Dianna Muller and Tom Kaleta, incoming vice president of marketing for Benelli, set out to reinvent their brand’s involvement with 3-gun. The company wanted to move beyond just supporting terrific shooters.
Company officials recognized that the most influential sports heroes—athletes, coaches, dads—do more than win: They leave a piece of themselves with us. They make us want to be around them because they make us better by being there.
Consequently, Muller and Kaleta set out to find and develop a shooting team that met those high standards.
“We had to fill out an online questionnaire and tell them why we’d be good for Benelli,” said team member Aaron Hayes, a custom gun maker. “Shooters always want to get a sponsor and get free stuff; they think it’s about shooting.”
“I think I’m here because I’m the first to help someone who’s having trouble on the range,” said Heather Fitzhugh, who made the leap to 3-gun after much success in USPSA and IDPA. “You can be the world’s greatest shooter, but it doesn’t mean anything if you’re not willing to help someone who’s fumbling with their gear.”
Jacob “Big Diesel” Betsworth, an outgoing and charismatic sergeant in the Sarpy County (Neb.) Sheriff’s Office, effusively agrees.
“They chose great shooters, but that certainly wasn’t the only requirement for this team,” Betsworth said. “They’re all very approachable ‘people’ people.”
Expert rifleman Lance Dingler also exemplifies Benelli’s “give back” ethic. He helped bring Betsworth into 3-gun, and also coaches junior shooter Nate Staskiewicz.
“His (Nate’s) dad asked if I would be willing to spend some time to work with him, and I said ‘absolutely,’” Dingler said. “My only rules are, he has to be interested and has to have a good work ethic. If so, I’m happy to spend all the time I can with him.”
With the team chosen, Muller pitched an idea to Kaleta for molding members into the brand ambassadors Benelli truly desired. The result was a spring training camp, where the team trained together, shared tips and became acquainted with their new ammo sponsor—Fiocchi.
Muller also wanted to add a component she considered critical: She wanted to train members to win the “Gun Argument.” Kaleta was in full agreement.
“We pay a lot of attention to how our people are equipped to support 3-gun, the Second Amendment and the brand,” he said. Effective brand ambassadors, he believes, need to know how to handle tough questions about firearm ownership with a microphone thrust in their face.
Muller, who is active as a spokesperson for the NRA, brought in staff from America’s 1st Freedom magazine; Theresa Vail, former Miss America contestant from Kansas and host of The Outdoor Channel’s ‘Limitless;” and Stephanie Spika, Benelli’s social media expert. 1st Freedom helped them with critical thinking on complex Second Amendment issues, while Vail taught them how to deliver their answers effectively. Spika coached them on the online skills necessary to communicate in the digital age.
Each day, team members participated in two hours of media training and question-and-answer strategy regarding Second Amendment issues. They had to stand and deliver critical answers as tough questions were fired at them.
“What’s wrong with universal background checks?” “Why does NRA oppose smart guns?” “Wouldn’t ballistic fingerprinting make us all safer?”
“That training was huge,” Betsworth said. “We know the right answers, but it’s hard to articulate them every time. We’re big proponents of the Second Amendment, and it’s important to be able to talk about this fluently. This is bigger than all of us.”
What did Fitzhugh learn? “Be concise,” she answered, showing she listened well in class.
Dingler said that next to the team’s sponsor commitments, the Second Amendment training was the most interesting aspect to him.
“You never know what you’re going to sound like until you’re asked, and it’s easy for your answer to turn into a messy ball of spaghetti,” he said. “When they twist your argument, you have to be able to drag it back into a positive direction.”
Muller agreed that answering the tough questions was a very critical part of the team’s training.
“It planted the seed in our minds that we need to be practicing these conversations, practicing debate, practicing on camera and learning to be comfortable when under stress,” said Muller.
Just like they are at the starting buzzer.