Donovan Dresti: Leading the Charge in Next-Gen Marketing Strategies

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Donovan Dresti leads as the VP of Marketing at the San Diego Legion. Photo courtesy of San Diego Legion.

In this interview, seasoned marketing professional Donovan Dresti advises on innovative strategies for 360 marketing. A series of prestigious marketing awards and achievements mark Donovan’s career. Donovan currently leads as the VP of Marketing at the San Diego Legion. His expertise has led to remarkable successes in strategic marketing, establishing key partnerships, and driving sales growth.

Can you share with us the beginnings of your career journey in marketing, particularly your experience at Burton Snowboards? 

Donovan Dresti: I started as a pro athlete competing in skateboarding, and I was also an athlete in snowboarding, which later led me to a natural transition into a sales and marketing role within the action sports industry. I then transitioned into a regional sales and marketing role, an exciting change from the athlete side into the business development side of sales marketing. Within my term as a rider, I helped with feedback to shape next-level products, developing better footwear insoles to help with daily impact, and aligning with lighter and more durable materials for a more comfortable and compact fit. I also helped improve premium outerwear and innovative brand accessories, bringing a more streetwear style into the product lines. I looked back at winning the Burton brand’s national sales and marketing internal competition. I attributed it to the intense planning, passion, product development, and hard work it took to accelerate the Burton brands at retail.

Throughout your time at Red Bull, you received several prestigious awards, such as the Red Bull RDC Coaching Award and the Red Bull Sports Marketing Award. Can you explain the key strategies you employed that led to the recognition?

Donovan Dresti: During that phase, there was a heavy focus on finding new ways to market the brand and get the most out of all marketing efforts. For the Red Bull RDC award, I focused on a few key things that led me to that award to take things much further. I ensured the business plan, strategy, targets, and goals were aligned individually and as a team. I was big on team alignment. The biggest thing that was the accelerator was believing in the team, listening to their needs, focusing on their strengths, and being an approachable manager. In terms of winning the Sports Marketing Award, I concentrated on multi-channel marketing to expand one sports activity through the athletes. I turned on all 360 marketing channels to broaden the activation, focusing on sports partnerships to increase reach and awareness. I also looked at the activation as a campaign vs. an event to get the most value, which was the factor that exceeded goals and delivered more sales.

Phone courtesy of San Diego Legion

Photo courtesy of San Diego Legion

As the current VP of Marketing at San Diego Legion, what are your primary focuses and future goals for the company’s marketing strategies? 

Donovan Dresti: The primary focus of marketing is expanding and growing awareness of the team and sport of rugby here in San Diego, which feeds into our national growth goals with the governing body, Major League Rugby. This past year, showcasing our great sport and inclusive rugby culture in the US has been very rewarding. Our goal at the SD Legion is to be the best-in-class organization, lead marketing efforts, and benchmark for the league. For example, we broke the major league attendance record in 2023 by utilizing hyper-local and credible marketing partners within the region, such as the San Diego Zoo, to expand our advertising through their channels to broaden consumer reach. We will keep pushing our 360 marketing efforts and innovative ideas to drive more growth within our organization and in collaboration with Major League Rugby.

With over 15 years of experience in the field, you have witnessed the evolution of marketing. How do you adapt your leadership style to stay ahead in this constantly changing industry? Could you share an example of how this approach resulted in a successful campaign? Furthermore, what methods do you find most effective for measuring the success of a marketing campaign, based on your experience?

Donovan Dresti: Marketing is changing daily; when I started, it more focused on TV, Radio, and Print marketing, and I have adapted my leadership style to the changing industry by allowing myself time to research, be online, listen to podcasts, consume a variety of digital content on different platforms, and, most importantly, collaborate with my network of marketing professionals and alums from Red Bull. That process helps me align with the current state of marketing, and what’s coming ahead that influences my leadership style. For example, learning the effectiveness of a good and well-executed PR stunt has shaped how I view marketing campaigns. For instance, my SWAY Energy skydivers dropped into downtown Phoenix before the first Phoenix Suns home game to drive awareness around our new partnership with the Suns. It garnered over $100K in media value, aired on many TV outlets regionally, and made national news. In measuring success in each marketing campaign, I examine whether we accomplished what we set out to do, hit the targets we set, and or achieved growth. I also look at all aspects of the campaign regarding impressions, targets/KPIs, audience, and investments and evaluate the learnings for the next campaign to improve and refine marketing efforts constantly. The secrets to better marketing are in the learnings.

Looking ahead, what emerging trends or technologies do you believe will have a significant impact on the future of marketing? How are you preparing to leverage these trends in your current role? Additionally, based on your experiences, what advice would you offer to businesses seeking to strengthen their marketing efforts?

Donovan Dresti: AI will change marketing in digital marketing, outbound sales channels, brand creative, and complete campaign generation. Nobody knows how soon, but new AI platforms are being created daily and developing quickly. With AI changing by the day, there will be rapid changes, innovations, and improvements to marketing. I am preparing to use some of these within digital marketing, creating more brand content and personalizing messaging through email marketing quicker, faster, and more comprehensive to specific consumers vs. broad messaging. In current marketing, to help other businesses strengthen their branding efforts. Look at the big picture, not just one marketing channel. For example, look at performance per pillar in PR, Media, Digital, Ambassador, Events, Field Marketing, Partnerships, and Retail and how to bring them together to strengthen your brand’s position. A great example of this is executing the Red Bull Air Race in San Diego; we focused on all pillars of marketing and pushed each pillar as far as we could go to maximize the results as a campaign.

What advice would you give to young professionals aspiring to make a mark in the marketing world, particularly in dynamic sectors such as sports and energy drinks?

Donovan Dresti: Young professionals should get out there and learn marketing from a personal study in terms of how the top brands market to their consumers and in what mediums, understanding their creative and messaging methods and the problems these brands are solving for the consumer. I also recommend an internship in sports or the energy drink category. Also, it’s very beneficial to seek a marketing professional within these industries who can mentor and teach the inner workings of marketing and its role in business in owning mindshare. Many marketing professionals on Malakye love coaching interested parties who want to learn the marketing world; reach out.

Lastly, Donovan, could you share details about the next major project or initiative you are excited about in your current role? How do you plan to ensure its success and make it stand out from other endeavors?

Donovan Dresti: Yes, we have two major projects coming in 2024; the first one is we are hosting the Major League Rugby Championship at Snapdragon Stadium, and a major international sporting event that is also planned for mid-next year (has not been announced yet), with both events being premier sporting events in the US. The execution and framework from numerous prior 360 marketing campaigns will help pave the way for the success of these flagship events. I am very much looking forward to marketing these events in 2024.