Industry Insider: Who the hell is Joe Prebich?

I sit down at a small table in the back of the Unseen Bean—a quaint Boulder coffee shop—where I can go unbothered. Having finished about half my coffee and a muffin, I gaze down at my iPad, checking the various social networks, when the door flies open and in walks Joe Prebich.

I catch a glimpse of his high-class looking boat shoes, similar to the Sperry Topsiders AO. He’s rocking a loose fitted collared shirt with a pair of skinny jeans. His hair hangs far beyond his shoulders, which is adorned by a perfectly fitted hat that could be his favorite or part of a large collection at home. He’s no Don Draper, but I’m sure he could drink that smug bitch under the table.

Joe had just left Oakley to become the Director of Marketing at Zeal Optics when I first met him a couple months ago at the Snowboard offices. I had heard his name mentioned numerous times in connection with Red Bull, Shaun White and Oakley, but who was this kid from Minnesota, who, at 15, didn’t even know a snowboard industry existed, and somehow became one of the most talented, sought after marketing directors in the snow sports industry?

I caught up with him to find out.

State your name, any embarrassing middle name, nickname and job title.

My name is Joseph Martin Prebich, no embarrassing middle name there, but I go by Joe. I don’t have any nicknames but I’ve been trying to get one for years. When I was in college I was like dude I want a nickname, like something different. All my friends were like no, you’re Joe. So there’s that. As for my job title I’m the Director of Marketing at Zeal Optics.

What here you doing before you got your hands in the snowboard industry? What was your first real job?

Before I even had a real job I was living in the small town in northern Minnesota. We had a small mountain around 400 vertical feet. It had one rope and you would just lap it all day. I had played other sports like hockey and tennis but snowboarding provided something more. It was that drive of going every day that made me feel like I was a part of something more.

I know the feeling. You just wanted to shred as much as possible and it is the only thing you think about day in and day out.

Absolutely. It’s funny, because in school we had to take this welding class. So my friends and I would build features. Everyone was like what are you working on over there. They just didn’t get it.

Then I told my dad I wanted to buy a bus. He was like, what for? I want to take all the seats out, bring it on hill, make it a lounge area and have a cool place to chill. So snowboarding was that creative outlet for me as a kid.  I was never the best rider but I wanted to be a part of it.

So I started my own magazine called 218, which was the area code of my town. It was basically my manifesto of what I thought life should be like. We threw launch parties at the local coffee shops with local bands and so on. Then I came to a crossroad and had to make a decision as to what I wanted to do with my life.

I had sent my magazine to Snowboarder and was like check me out this is sick!  Then randomly I was home sick one day and I got a phone call from Bridges. I was like no way. All I asked him was, what do you do? You make money snowboarding and writing? A light went off – there’s a job out there for this? I had no idea there was an industry. Snowboard journalism is what Pat called it. So we kept making the mag and I was the editor at the school newspaper and figured journalism might be a good fit for me. The deciding factor, as I looked around, was mountains. So I headed to Montana.

Snowboarder was my in and I’ll always be thankful for that.

How did that help pave the way to your next gig at Red Bull and the rare opportunity to work with Shaun White?

Well there was a job that came up at Red Bull and Bridges had a lot of connections there. What’s funny is that he actually brought it to me. Pat was like, “Dude I think you might be really good for this.” Which I thought was really cool. It just happened to be the job to run Shaun’s brand at Red Bull.

What does that mean, exactly?

Well I came in and started off building Shaun’s brand on an online side, which quickly evolved into the physical side. From building trips to brand marketing as well as the action sports online strategy that included snow, surf, skate, wake, bmx and mountain bike. By being involved with all these Red Bull action sports assets it was a great way to hone my marketing skills. But yeah, it was insane to be part of Shaun’s team.

I needed to build this infrastructure for him. His social brand was lacking and that’s what I helped create. From Facebook to his website and overall social and online brand strategy. But it wasn’t like I was on the cutting edge of shit; I was just listening to the chatter to figure out new ways to market him.

Shaun throwing down at his private halfpipe in the Silverton backcountry

With all the success at Red Bull and with Shaun White’s brand, did you ever think about branching out on your own instead of going to Oakley?

Of course, but I look at it a little bit differently. I’m really driven and I want to learn as much as possible. So instead of going out on my own I got the opportunity to head to Oakley to learn their entire process from product design to marketing and promotion. The full cycle, if you will.

I mean, the real reason I was brought on was because of my relationship with Shaun. Which is fine with me. But it was such a great opportunity to join such a great team of sports marketers and learn more about the business. Everyone there is just so passionate about their job.

What was your official title there?

Global sports marketing manager. I’ve been so lucky to always be global and work for global companies. From international travel to places like Austria when I was with Red Bull to different markets when I was with Oakley. You have to be able to check out of your U.S. bubble and understand what the rest of the world cares about. It’s just so different as you would have to market differently and really learn a lot about those different markets’ cultures.

But my main job was to influence the advertising to make sure it was representative of our athletes. I’m a huge proponent of athletes in general and if you have an athlete you want to propel them to the front of you brand. So getting our athletes like Shaun, Eero and Terje to be the face of Oakley Snowboarding.

Another huge part of what I did was leveraging my relationship with Shaun and building that emerging market strategy for the Shaun White Air & Style. It was that unique moment where we took the Air & Style and branded it with a person. It was funny because a lot of people thought it was stupid but the reality of it was that the rest of the world thought it was relatively interesting. Seeing Shaun’s name associated with something that Oakley is doing in China is pretty cool. It’s snowboard, music, culture, fashion – all these different things that for a country like China loved to attach themselves to.

How did you transition to Zeal?

It was funny. A lot of people were like, “Did Joe get fired?” But Zeal was a really unique opportunity and I wanted a lifestyle change. I had worked for huge companies and it gets tiring at times. Anyways, I randomly got a phone call from them one day asking me to change their brand. I was like, “That’s cool. I would love to put my thumbprint on something.”

So you started with a clean slate?

Yeah, it was so sick. I basically showed up and had a laptop and a new logo. That was it. Every piece of marketing was pulled from the market and we started to rebuild the brand from scratch. Oh, and we had to do it in five months.

How much have you slept in the past five months?

About an hour. It was an insane amount of work but when you’re starting from scratch you have to rebuild everything. Every detail within the product has been redone within the past five months. It was very different from what I was doing before but it’s a great expansion on my skill set. Yes, it was tough leaving Oakley. I mean, those are dream jobs. I left three dream jobs but every once and a while you have to ante back in.

One of the things I noticed so far with Zeal, besides the products, are the riders you’ve brought on, like Kimmy Fasani.

Yeah, we are trying to take a new approach to it. We’re a small Boulder-based company trying to rebuild. We have an infrastructure we can grow on so we needed key individuals and Kimmy was that perfect fit. We are an active lifestyle brand who doesn’t necessarily go after the teenager but rather the 25-year-old who knows what they want.

You also brought on Austen Sweetin, right?

Yeah, Austen is just a great young kid with incredible talent. I think he’s going to be a huge part of the program. He’s up in the Pacific Northwest, rides a lot of different terrain and that’s what’s so cool. He can hit huge hips and then he can do a sick pow slash or put a rail in Montreal to shame.

But the biggest thing is that we want to put together a team who wants to be part of the family. I want to make sure they are taken care of and are marketed correctly. We look to our riders for feedback and they are hyped to be involved and help expand the line.

So on the product side what is the biggest difference that Zeal will be offering for next season compared to previous years?

We totally redesigned the line. We went back to the drawing board to make products that simply work.

For the sunglass line we wanted to put lifestyle and function together to make sure that they not only looked good but performed well. Then we utilized bio-based resin to make sure we’re being eco-responsible. Those are the main key features for the sunglass line.

When we looked at the goggles we made sure to have key performance features that blended with this active lifestyle image. So we changed the frame TPU from a 60 to a 90 to make it stronger and more durable. We upgraded the materials in the lenses utilizing an anti-fog fusion process to make sure our lenses never fog. Also, we added a lot of unique technology into the goggles.

We offer lenses in non-polar, polar and photo chromatic to give you as many options as possible. So we take that and offer a whole different side of technology. From GPS technology to an in-frame POV camera (ION), you can have the latest tech right there in your goggle. We wanted to make it easier for you to be yourself and capture your moments without looking like a camera is strapped to your head.

What advice would you have for a kid who wants to get into the industry?

If you don’t go the pro shred route there’s a ton of ways to enter the industry. From merchandizing to marketing and product development, there are so many creative opportunities out there. So if you have a passion for something there’s a job for it. You just have to go out and find it.

People will always say, go find a real job. But these are real jobs. You don’t have to give up on your dreams to grow up. This industry has grown immensely and has huge brands that feed off of people who live for this lifestyle. So the underlying message is to not give up and just keep charging.

Photos courtesy of Joe Prebich

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