This week’s Trailblazer is Christian Borys, Managing Director at Black Hawk Digital, an award-winning creative and production studio known for work that features real-life characters and breathtaking visuals. Their progressive roster of directors represents the next generation of storytellers, working across sports, comedy, and documentary genres.
Christian’s company Black Hawk built the brand and manages all the marketing efforts for Hello Cannabis, which was one of the first store brands to launch in Ontario.
Questions with a Cannabis Marketing Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
Well I was just interested in it in general and so while I was solely working in journalism and directing docs, I guess around 2015, I pitched the CBC on a doc about the industry. It had some stupid name like The Green Rush and ultimately didn’t work out but I just remember thinking about how big legal cannabis was going to be.
”I didn’t really get involved until 2018 when my production company created our own doc series called The Cannabis Complex.
We were shopping The Cannabis Complex around as a proof of concept to large streaming services. That youtube series got pretty popular and led to a popular social account which led to some companies reaching out for help with their creative & marketing. So cut to now and we’ve worked with a bunch of cannabis brands and gotten into the psychedelics space as well.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Honestly the only challenges stem from the lack of clarity around the rules. What I mean by that is that the regulations are just so open to interpretation that they leave you staring at your screen sometimes and just wondering to yourself like, “Is this legal? Maybe, maybe not?” and realizing it all depends on someone else’s interpretation.
”You can always ask the lawyers but 99% of the time, they’ll just say “well it depends”.
Then they put it back on you to develop a “defensible position” why that marketing or advertising project falls within the scope of what is legal under the cannabis act.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Honestly, so not to be a dead horse but it would be great to see more clarity and direction from the government on what is actually acceptable when it comes to social posts and messaging because you usually don’t find out until it’s too late. But as far as marketing restrictions, this one isn’t actually a Canadian problem, it’s an American problem that affects us.
”It’s the inability to advertise on Google and Facebook’s platforms.
I know that would open up so much for us because FB has basically zero organic reach at this point, and Instagram is definitely getting there. FB has been aggressively monetizing FB for a while, forcing businesses to advertise to reach anyone, even their own audience on the FB business pages they built long ago, but now they’re doing it on Instagram too.
The organic reach is way down from what it used to be and that’s because they’re trying to make every business pay to reach an audience. That’s fine and totally understandable, but as cannabis companies, you’re unable to buy ads on FB or Google’s platforms because it’s against their internal policies.
On top of that, I would wish that in Canada, we could leverage influencers in a transparent and meaningful way so those creators get paid and cannabis companies get the benefit of reaching their audiences.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Email. I mean relative to other industries, the open rates, and click-through rates on cannabis brand emails are kind of wild sometimes. Plus it’s very cost-effective. I think any company that isn’t focusing on emails is leaving money on the table.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
Tonnes. Patrick at Ethical Image. Peter and Jeff at Abacus. The team at Superette is remarkable. I think they’ve done amazing things with that brand. I think ADCANN is an extraordinary resource and I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, oh this is like FastCo but for cannabis, brilliant.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Learn the regulations so you can realize that there’s actually a lot you can legally do.
A big thank you to Christian for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.
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.