Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
I became involved in the cannabis industry about 4 years ago when an agriculture company (a bison ranch) I was working for wanted to make the switch from MMAR to an ACMPR so we started our license application. It was there, through the passionate eyes of the co-founders, that I learned about cultivation and the diversity of the plant as they were playing with over 200 diverse genetics. A friend at the time was starting Valens Groworks Corp. in Kelowna, and offered me the opportunity to come home to Kelowna to help build the company of which is when I officially joined a licensed company in the cannabis space.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Everything?! Just kidding. It has been a very interesting road. I managed all marketing/brand development across Valens over the years so I would say the biggest marketing challenge I faced was simply needing to understand the regulations and opportunities applicable in order to develop multiple platforms and brands for Valens at the same time. It was a steep learning curve… and though frustrating it was also very rewarding to build successful campaigns within the rigorous framework.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Within reason, let us post creative work to channels like youtube! The considerable handicap of exposure has been extremely difficult for companies in Canada. It is very hard to justify an expensive campaign proposal when you know you can’t reach a significant audience. And on the other side, even for small campaigns like our “Dear Industry” video at Valens, the creatives behind the pieces do not get the credit they so greatly deserve.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
There seems to be a lot more lenience at tradeshows. Thus having a great presence at these was really effective. Further, being active on platforms like Instagram and twitter responding to and connecting with consumers as often and genuinely as possible.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
The thing I love about this industry is the people, and the camaraderie we all share. Firstly, my CEO/Business partner at Habitat, Rudi Schiebel, for always pushing the envelope and doing things the right way, not the easy way. No one I know has broken barriers like this guy and is now contributing (arguably) some of the best cannabis the industry has seen. Another that first pops into mind would be Dan Sutton, CEO, and founder of Tantalus Labs (my mentor and big brother in all things cannabis), for his advocacy and everything he’s accomplished at Tantalus Labs and for the industry itself and Everett Knight for his expertise in the industry’s finance and corporate development sectors and overall knowledge of the space who has also been a huge mentor and dear friend. Tyler Robson, who has built a team at Valens that proves the test of hard times and achieving big things (and also gave me my start in the public cannabis sector).
For marketing specifically, Mimi Lam for her constant breakthroughs and extremely thought-out brand development at Superette, Imraan Kahn, CEO of Detonate Agency for raising the bar for cannabis marketing with regards to all things promotional (trade booths, company gear, marketing initiatives, label production and more), Marigold PR team for their role in building brands, conferences and events while always celebrating diversity and using an inclusive lens in everything they do, Tyler Sookochoff of Lift&Co and many other initiatives for his decades of public and patient cannabis education, providing positive, meaningful outlets for companies to thrive, and more. Simon Grigenas, CEO of BRNT, for bringing cannabis accessories (and now active cannabis products) into the world of aesthetically-pleasing, high-quality design. Mike Stringle and the rest of the boys at Vitalis for making cannabis processing cool (#MinglewithStringle). As far as up and coming I have to include Chloe Popove, of Another Room, who to me is the most creatively talented and committed brand developer of all time.
Other industry Trailblazers to me include Emma Chasen, cannabis educator extraordinaire from Portland, Oregon, Shawn Ripley for his innovative applications of cannabis science and overall passion turned successful business aids for various companies across Canada (And now very luckily my company’s CCO), Trina Fraser for cannabis law and advocacy, Kype Rowe and Mark Hauk of Shelter Brands for decades of patient advocacy, production and brand development, Jenna Valleriani for patient care and cannabis science, Ivy Zmuda for information security and politics (and general tweets) in cannabis, Deepak Anand for all things cannabis business and regulatory. James Fuerderer, Partner at MNP LLP, for supporting cannabis companies in the professional services industry for seven years.
I suppose I’ll stop there but the list goes on.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Don’t be scared to be different and try new things. The industry needs it. But always do your due diligence and risk analysis before executing any materials/campaigns as your company’s success depends on its compliance and Health Canada doesn’t mess around.
A big thank you to Kayla 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.