Portland Trail Blazers’ president Dewayne Hankins has had an interesting career, carving a path from social media management to one of the top roles in the organization. Ben Golliver of the Washington Post recently interviewed Hankins, who had this to say about his journey.
“Never, not once, did I think I would be a team president,” Hankins said during an interview from his Northeast Portland office across from Moda Center. “There had never really been someone with my background that had gotten into this type of role. It never felt possible. You add my lack of self-esteem on top, and there you go.”
As Golliver notes, Hankins’ path took him from what was called public relations on into what became social media. Working for the Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings of the NHL, Hankins is used to dealing with doubters.
“People would always reply that I was going to be fired or that this was going to be my last tweet,” Hankins said. “They would say, ‘Who gave the keys to the intern?’ I’ve been fired by fans hundreds of times, easily.”
Golliver reports that when Twitter first emerged on the social media scene, teams were hesitant to use it, so Hankins created a burner account to experiment.
With its hands tied on the Wild’s main account, Hankins’s team launched a secondary account devoted to a fan favorite, right wing Cal Clutterbuck, and his distinctive mustache. The mustache burner account attracted only 1,600 followers, but it enabled Hankins to experiment with his dry sense of humor and a less formal style.
Hankins then took his sense of humor to the Los Angeles Kings.
Hankins’s team cultivated an over-the-top snarky style, casting the Kings as cocky underdogs and prodding their opponents, such as when they celebrated a 2012 playoff victory over the favored Vancouver Canucks by tweeting, “To everyone in Canada outside of B.C., you’re welcome.”
The tweet did not impress Canadians.
“The greatest hits are usually the greatest misses,” he said. “That tweet really blew up. I felt both panic and excitement. I remember getting positive notes from our executive staff, but the next morning it was turning negative online with people saying, ‘How dare they post this?’ I remember driving into work thinking that this might be my last day. This was everything we wanted to do, but it was a moment of truth. Finally, my boss called and said, ‘It seems like Canada just doesn’t have a sense of humor.’ All my anxiety dropped.”
Former team president Chris McGowan was that boss, who then recruited Hankins to serve as the vice-president of marketing for the Trail Blazers. Hankins enjoyed internal promotions before gaining his current role.
Interestingly, prior to his recent promotion, Hankins and interim general manager Joe Cronin had never met, despite being coworkers for nine years. Cronin had this to say about it.
“We stayed in our own lanes,” Cronin said. “We were great workers and did what was asked of us. It does speak to the lack of cohesion between business and basketball. It just wasn’t an environment where there was much crossover. We’re team-first, competitive people who are quiet and want to see others get the credit.”
Hankins is hopeful that his social media background will help as the team moves in a new direction.
“Everything that could have changed in the last six months has changed,” he said. “People are looking for direction and vision, and it’s a priority for us to have fresh perspectives. Good ideas can come from anywhere. If you have a bunch of people in a room and they all have the same background, you’re not going to get a lot of debate. When the room looks different, you get a much more interesting and better answer for the company.”
As Golliver concludes: nothing has changed much for Hankins since he started out in the business.
Looking back, there was another major benefit to all those years spent on Twitter: Hankins developed thick skin.
“When I got this job, someone tweeted that I should fire myself because of our [local] television deal,” he said. “Of course. Why would it stop happening now?”
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