A Journey of More Than a Thousand Miles, the Story Behind Dewayne Hankins

By: Travis Gorsch, @tgorsch3

Dewayne Hankins, SVP of Brand Strategy & Digital for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Dewayne Hankins, SVP of Brand Strategy & Digital for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Dewayne Hankins, SVP of Brand Strategy & Digital for the Portland Trail Blazers. Dewayne was gracious enough to have offered up his time and insight into what it takes to be successful in the digital space and social media. Dewayne has experience working in the NHL, NBA, and MLB. He highlights his willingness to move, knowledge of the digital space, and making his organizations stand out for his success.  

You received your Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2002 from Iowa State University. What were your career goals after receiving your Bachelors? In your opinion what is more important in your career path, education or experience?

“For me it’s been experience, but I would say that education is becoming more and more important for a career in sports. When I started, most people were excited to hire someone that was passionate and wanted to work in the industry. Now you have to bring something to the table that’s beyond a passion for sports, whether that’s analytics, getting an MBA, etc. When I look for people to hire I’m looking for that something extra.”

“I thought just how you think when you’re young. All my high school knowledge was in engineering and coding. I went to college set to do Computer Engineering. I figured out I wanted to be around people and use my creative skills. I changed to journalism thinking maybe I’ll be a magazine writer. My specialties became digital media and digital marketing. It wasn’t until I started to get serious about what I wanted to do around my senior year of college when I saw some posts for minor league sports teams. I was always a big stats geek so that seemed like a great industry. They didn’t sound like jobs to me- they sounded awesome.”

Your experience started with an internship in the Media Relations Department with the Kane County Cougars. What advice do you have for students and young professionals when seeking an internship? How can they get the most out of their experience in their internship?

“Today there is no excuse for not knowing everything about a team, entity, or company. That does not apply to just sports but across the board. Don’t just apply because it’s a team. Understand their history, turmoil, challenges, and stuff like that. Not just the team side but what are they doing on the business side. When you write a cover letter or talk to someone in the organization, they’ll know you did your homework. Being really personalized in your approach and doing your homework is important.”

Your path in Media Relations continued with stops at the West Michigan Whitecaps and Florida Marlins along the way. How were you able to continue making moves up the career ladder?  

“That’s definitely one of the challenges. We have internships here and most teams do. We have our top interns and we talk to them and let them know how they did at the end. I did three internships. It’s tough to break into the industry. In Kane County I was offered a job in group sales to stay on board after my internship but I didn’t really want to do that.”

“I went to the Winter Meetings and found a position with the Whitecaps. I stayed there until the position opened up with the Marlins. It was tough to leave a full-time job for another internship. There was an opportunity to work full-time for a bit because of people leaving for other positions. A lot of that is just luck. You can have an incredible internship experience and knock it out of the park with your skills but if there aren’t open positions what do you do? If you want to work in sports you’ll find a way to make it happen. It can take one, two, or three years to make it happen.”

“Going from an internship to a full-time position takes a lot of networking. It requires you to learn a lot about the organization. You have to go beyond the job description and take extra time to know the organization. Again, you have to make yourself stand out from other people. A lot of it is luck, skills, and being in right place at right time.”

You started to get more involved with Internet content while working for the Minnesota Wild as a Creative Services Coordinator and eventually as Manager, Web & Creative Services. What was your experience like in the beginning of the Internet boom?

“It’s one of those things that was a no brainer. We didn’t have a Facebook page. No one told me to set it up. The executives asked if we should be doing it. I said absolutely. At that time it was setting up social media and having a vision for what it could look like. Our website was mostly marketing and tickets. Teams were finally turning their websites into content portals. Sponsors and their partners were interested in being a part of these platforms. It definitely led to my promotions within the Wild. That ultimately led to my position with the Kings. I was able to bring some radical ideas to the Kings that the Wild weren’t as open to.”

After over five years with the Wild you moved on to the LA Kings. In a year and a half with the LA Kings you drew the public’s eye during the playoff run in 2012. What were you doing differently than everyone else?

“Luckily LA is a huge market. The Kings are a small piece of the people’s attention in LA even after two Stanley Cups. I was very lucky to have a boss there, who’s still my boss today, Chris McGowan who believed in what we were trying to do to engage our fans. We didn’t have the following that the Lakers have or the Dodgers had and that’s what we kept hearing, but we knew we could be the most engaging sports team in LA with our strategy. We tried some different things. We didn’t take it too seriously and we had fun with it. We were biased about our players and our fans and that was new at the time. We had been doing it for a while but it wasn’t noticed until our 2012 playoff run. Everything was a perfect storm with the team succeeding. It was a different look and different take on how to approach social media.”

“Back when social media really took off in professional sports, I followed all the sports teams in all of the leagues and it couldn’t have been more boring. It was bland PR speak and that wasn’t what those networks were about. You would follow other human beings who were engaging and personal. You have to give the teams a personality and the Kings were willing to try it. Pat Donahue is still there and has done a phenomenal job doing it.”

In 2012 the @LAKings were the only professional sports team listed in SI.com’s Top 100 Sports Twitter accounts. You also won the Best Mobile Entertainment for Sports and Best Interactive or Social Media Campaign in 2012 to name a few. With so much popularity swirling around the account that you helped grow what caused you to leave for AEG?

“The Kings were owned by AEG. My role just became expanded. When I started in LA it was just the Kings. AEG wanted me to be involved with all of their sports properties and that included the LA Galaxy, Amgen Tour of California, Manchester Monarchs, Ontario Reign and other franchises.”

You have worked with professional baseball (Florida Marlins – 1 year 4 months), hockey (Minnesota Wild – 5+ years & LA Kings – 1.5 years), and most recently basketball (Portland Trail Blazers – 2.5 years). What were the major differences? Did you like or dislike one compared to the others?

“There are a lot of differences. In the MLB, MLB Advanced Media actually run the digital platforms for all the teams. They do share some of the duties with the teams but it’s a very different model than the NBA and NHL. You get some more control in those two leagues. The NHL is a little bit more low-key compared to the NBA, which is so huge. You can’t get away with as much in the NBA as we could while working in the NHL. It’s a huge difference. Each team has different rules and processes in how it relates to digital media and social media. It’s constantly changing, for example with Periscope and Meerkat, where the NBA has restrictions against using it and the NHL is able to use it freely. Teams have different challenges depending on their market as well. A new set of challenges is constantly arising.”  

“I’m from Chicago and my parents always ask when I’m coming back to work for the Bears or other Chicago teams. I’ve definitely enjoyed all the experiences. I’ve been able to move as quickly as I have because of that. People will help you with your development but you have to make it happen for yourself and your career if you really want to work in sports.”

How does brand strategy differ as far as marketing a team versus an individual athlete? 

“Luckily we are focused on the brand of our team and organization. The players are responsible for their own brand. We help the players and market them to our fanbase but we can’t rely on that. We can’t put all of our marketing efforts on one player and have them leave the next day. At the end of the day we are responsible for our brand as a franchise and we know what that is based on research we do with the fans.”

What advice do you have for students and young professionals trying to break in to digital media? Does the way they operate their own social media accounts come in to play?

“The biggest thing is making sure you’re knowledgeable about digital media and social media. Learn to walk the walk and talk the talk. It’s important to know the language so you know what you’re getting in to. It’s highly coveted. We had 800 resumes for a job we had open up. We went with someone internally because of the values they brought to the table.

“I made stops along the way before getting in digital media. Make sure you’re willing to move anywhere and take any job you can to get your foot in the door. Our President is a perfect example of that. He started in ticket sales.”

“Your personal social media isn’t something I look at as a skill that will translate to doing your job with a team. Something I would notice by checking your personal social media would be whether or not you have common sense and if you don’t, you probably won’t have any when you’re running the large brand of a team. You have to make sure you’re doing everything. Being on Snapchat, Twitter, Yik-Yak, etc. you have to be thinking how you can use it from a marketing standpoint. Understanding the latest and greatest things in social media, the language and being knowledgeable about the space is important. If you’re young, grab the Sports Business Journal. Harvard Business Review, both publications have a ton of great articles. Educate yourself. Make sure you’re smart on your social media.”

Parting Wisdom?

“My advice is three fold. First off, be willing to move anywhere. I would love to work in Chicago and stay there but it wasn’t going to happen. Not just when you get your first job but the next job.”

“Second would be networking and knowing people and learning as much as you can about a company. It’s great that you know about wins and losses but what do you know about the business?”

“Finally, making sure you bring that one skill set that you’ve honed and you’re the best at. Bring something that someone else doesn’t have. An MBA, experience at a different organization, or a great list of internships.”

We would like to thank Dewayne for his time and insight and we wish him all the beset in his future endeavors!

You can follow him on Twitter here or connect with him on LinkedIn here!

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