We at ADCANN want to thank our cannabis industry Trailblazers who have joined us to talk about their marketing, design, and PR experience. Over the past year, these Trailblazers ignited the industry. Especially during the pandemic, we understand it hasn’t been easy. This blog post is our way of celebrating them. 

We’re highlighting 11 cannabis industry Trailblazers who are setting the standard for the cannabis market in both advertising and design. We believe they are lighting the industry ablaze and taking cannabis to a whole new level. Click their names to be taken to their full Trailblazer interview.

What We Look For

Before we get to it, let’s talk about how one is selected to be a Trailblazer:

  1. Trailblazers work for a cannabis licensed producer, retailer, or an industry-related agency
  2. Been bold in their ideas and used design and marketing to change the stigma of cannabis
  3. Have the willingness to share their experience and inspire others who work in the cannabis industry or want to get into it.

Our Top 11 Cannabis Trailblazers

Innovators

Oscar Bonilla Jr

Co-Founder, and CEO of Herbal Goods, a Vancouver-based accessory company creating 100% wild-harvested hand-tied pre-rolled ebony leaf cones.

Advice

  • Don’t be afraid to offer something different
  • Connect closely with influencers who share your values
  • Use micro-influencers
  • Implement external influence into the industry to add a fresh take/verity on both aesthetics and experience

Create what you would like to see and try to stay as true as you can to it.

Oscar Bonilla Jr

Mel Smith

Innovation Lead at Truss Beverages, a joint venture between MolsonCoors Canada and HEXO that specializes in cannabis-infused beverages. Check out our latest article about their recent local cannabis beverage outlet campaign.

Advice

  • Build long-term strategies for attracting new consumers
  • Continuously look for ways to build an attractive portfolio for a diverse consumer base
  • Constantly re-evaluate your products
  • Bring consumers into the development process

Be prepared to be unprepared. The business and regulatory landscape in cannabis is constantly evolving, and it’s so important to keep nimble and not get too attached to one idea!

Mel Smith

Public Relations

Thaomy Lam

Communications Manager at Superette, an award-winning cannabis retailer.

Advice

  • Corporate social responsibility (CSR) builds trust and is an integral part of their brand’s business plan
  • They launched a recycling program that matches every unit of cannabis packaging returned to a non-perishable item for the Ottawa Food Bank.
  • Put energy into being neighbours in your community

Knowledge is power and wanting to work within an industry that is regulated and new within Canada, it is best to educate yourself on what is happening in the entire ecosystem from licensed producer to customer.

Thaomy Lam

Shaeleigh Afton

Director of Digital Marketing at High 12 Brands, a cannabis-focused Consumer Packaged Goods company to build and operate premier global cannabis brands. Shaeleigh is also the Co-Founder of Ouid smoking blends.

Advice

  • Educate Budtenders by putting together training videos and develop engaging educational materials with e-mail marketing
  • Design your creatives with full-funnel thinking, not just repurpose your organic social content as ads
  • FB/IG aren’t the only social platforms out there

Work smart and you’ll be able to grow your career quite fast. Once you’re in, understand your privilege to work in an industry when many BIPOC are still incarcerated and make a difference.

Shaeleigh Afton

Katie Pringle

Co-Founder of Marigold, an award-winning team of branding, social media & PR experts that have been heavily engaged and connected in the cannabis industry for close to 4 years. She is also one of the hosts of #CandoraConnect and the Womxn, Wellness and Cannabis Conference. Check out the recap article of their recent WWC Conference.

Advice

  • The industry is moving at the speed of light
  • Great storytelling is key for cannabis brands
  • Use traditional and digital PR, leading to great SEO, owned audiences, and compliant brand experiences
  • Have authentic audience connection

I always tell people interested in our space about how much I love this industry because of the opportunities to be creative and impactful.

Katie Pringle

Branding

Nicole Wolff

Brand Director of The Flowr Corporation, an LP that grows consistently exceptional cannabis for those who know what cannabis can be – a tool to balance and enhance our lives.

Advice

  • As we gain new insight and hard data, we’ve been able to make decisions that help us rise above an industry reliant on self-report and anecdote
  • Without an unlimited budget, it’s essential to be as dialed in as possible to make the most impact with my consumer
  • No Stoner Cliches
  • Don’t dress anything up and let the product speak for itself

My advice? This industry moves fast. Be ready to move faster.

Nicole Wolff

Jeff Goldenberg

Co-Founder of Abacus and 2nd and Goal Ventures. Currently, the first Canadian to work with a California-based company, Dodi Blunts. Check out our recent article about Dodi and his collab with NFL legend Marshawn Lynch.

Advice

  • Branding can speak to a customer and simplify the buying experience
  • There’s only so much talking about yourself that consumers can handle. Have something meaningful to talk about
  • When you control the narrative, your brand can add value to the market

Have conviction in your point-of-view on where this big spaceship is heading. Without that POV, it’s very hard to plan for the future. If you plan based on today, it’s too late by the time you figure it out.

Jeff Goldenberg

Sung Kang

SVP Marketing at Thrive Cannabis, a licensed producer dedicated to one mission: cultivating premium quality, small-batch craft cannabis.

Advice

  • Go down the rabbit hole of cannabis education
  • Magic happens in the retail store
  • Solid products that can telegraph to the consumer what they will get in plain language or visual language, plus offer strong in-stock continuity

Strap on your helmet, check your ego and past accomplishments at the door, kiss your car allowance and large staff goodbye, and get ready to take a gamble on yourself and a group of relative strangers. Welcome to cannabis, my friends.

Sung Kang

Marketing

Adil Hirji

Head of Marketing at GTEC Cannabis Co, a licensed producer that cultivates ultra-premium cannabis and has brought highly sought-after brands such as BLK MKT and Tenzo to market.

Advice

  • It’s like a start-up, be ready to take on multiple roles
  • Instagram has proven to be a very effective channel, allowing to easily engage with both consumers and retailers
  • Obsessively try to understand our target consumers and delivering on what they desire
  • Understand the connoisseur as well as the non-connoisseur 

But if you want to be around for the long term, you need to first be able to give consumers what they truly want – a quality product, preferably at a reasonable price.

Adil Hirji

Nikki Thomas

Senior Trade Marketing Manager at WeedMD, a federally licensed producer of cannabis products for medical, via the Starseed Medicinal brand. This also includes adult-use markets sold under Color Cannabis and Saturday Cannabis brands.

Advice

  • Forging a path to “break the grass ceiling”
  • Destigmatize consumption
  • Educate about the beautiful intricacies and effects of the complex plant
  • Seek to resonate with Canadian Budtenders to become (and remain) top-of-mind but it all must start with great quality cannabis that delivers a great quality smoking experience

There will be many instances where you will have to draw upon your resilience, lean into perseverance and showcase grit, but it is fun, and it is worth it.

Nikki Thomas

Nima Fadavi

President of Verticals Agency, a boutique full-service marketing agency, creative studio, and content distributor specializing in music and lifestyle.

Advice

  • Music and streetwear compare well to cannabis culture
  • Utilizing social media platforms by approaching things differently than you’d approach any other industry
  • Use authentic storytelling and influencer marketing
  • Amplifying the message through conversations will drive traffic

If you want to enter the cannabis industry, learn the culture, be part of it, learn it before trying to come into something just because you believe it's the new hot thing.

Nima Fadavi

That’s a Wrap

Be sure to follow our Trailblazer every Thursday or check out all our interviews to learn more on how marketing experts are changing the industry and helping bring great products to the market.

Interested in working with one of these talented cannabis marketers? Check out our Agency Directory for a list of all the agencies that specialize in working with cannabis companies.

Cannabis Marketing Trailblazers

Become a Trailblazer

If you’d like to participate in the cannabis industry Trailblazers segment, please reach out to info@adcann.ca.

Last Updated on April 18, 2022 by ADCANN

Spencer Tropea

Spencer Tropea

Spencer Tropea is a seasoned creative and certified cannabis sommelier with 15 years of experience in PR, design, and photography. He's worked with several prominent cannabis brands across North America, using his unique skills to craft engaging narratives that breathe life into the industry and the passionate people invloved.