Cannabis Marketing 101: What is Thought Leadership?

How to be a thought leader in cannabis: It isn’t about selling your brand, it’s about sharing powerful ideas with key audiences

Cannabis Marketing 101: What is Thought Leadership?

Editor’s note: Curious about Cannabis Marketing, Public Relations and Thought Leadership? We’re sharing intel about what works and what doesn’t in this special Grasslands video series. Get the inside story about the best ways to deliver messaging that resonates with B2B and B2C audiences, as well as getting the right media placements for your brand.

John Svoboda:

Hello, and welcome to “Cannabis Marketing 101,” a show where we take your questions about cannabis marketing and marijuana PR and break them down with the experts. I’m John Svoboda of Grasslands, and, as always, feel free to email me your cannabis marketing and PR questions directly to John@mygrasslands.com. And, of course, as always, I’m here with my colleague, Ricardo Baca, a.k.a. two-time veteran of the TEDx stage, as well as the CEO of Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency. Ricardo, what’s up, man?

Ricardo Baca:

John, good to be back here with you, man.

John Svoboda:

As always it’s good to see you. We have another question. As we have mentioned in previous episodes, we are gathering questions and concerns from our colleagues and friends throughout the cannabis industry across the country. These are to do with specifically cannabis marketing and PR. So, we’re trying to spread the word and give some education out to our network. So, let’s just jump into this first question. It’s from Bev in Colorado. She asks a very-to-the-point and specific question: What is thought leadership? What is it? What’s going on?

Ricardo Baca:

Everybody’s a thought leader these days, right?

John Svoboda:

That’s what we all say we are.

Ricardo Baca:

I think everybody interprets that a little bit differently, but at Grasslands, we do have thought leadership services. And I’ll explain them first before I talk about what I think thought leadership is. We have two specific thought leadership services. One positions you in front of target audiences in the speaking arena, whether that is virtual opportunities like this produced via conferences and events and media publications, or live opportunities in front of stages at those events, MJBizCon, NCIA, etc. The other is thought leadership columns. And that is just helping our clients make sure that they are writing pieces under their own bylines and then placing those in real media outlets, and showing that thought leadership, showing your straight-up leadership through the written word there. You’re being published in outlets ranging from the International Business Times to The New York Times to MJBiz, whatever that might look like.

So, when you think about it, if you break that down, thought leadership is just a way to display your knowledge, your expertise, and your specialty with a community that really needs it. And I will say there’s a lot of peculiarities about thought leadership, John. So much so that we’re actually working on a book right now, and we’ll be releasing it here in the next couple of months. And it’s entirely about thought leadership. It’ll be a lot of fun. But one important thing to understand about thought leadership is that it’s not overtly self-promotional. You are out there providing value because if you want to write an article about how great your brand is, great, do that. And you can place that via sponsored content where you are paying a media outlet and they are running it in exchange for the money. It’s advertising. It’s paid media.

Thought leadership, though, should be earned media and it should provide value. And you’re just not out there saying this is how great our brand is. You’re out there providing value to your target audience. You’re giving them some education and hopefully whetting their appetites so they might want more or they might be interested to pick up the phone or drop you an email. And technically, John, what you and I are doing right now is some good thought leadership. Hopefully, we are sharing quality information with our colleagues, maybe whetting their appetite and making them a little bit curious. And maybe some of these folks are going to call us and say, “Hey, I want you to help us with our thought leadership.”

John Svoboda:

That is the hope, right? Well, just going back from my own experiences in the industry, I’ve been to hundreds of different trade shows and met people virtually, online, in person, etc. And I’ve seen over the last six, seven years that it does seem to be that the brands that are getting their executives out there in front of people and talking about what they do, why they do it, how they do it, etc., those are the brands that I’ve seen over the years escalate and rise above the rest. And just subconsciously maybe in my own mind, those are the brands I think of when I’m trying to figure out specific answers to questions about the industry. I’m going to just tend to lean towards the brands I’ve seen and heard the most from. So, I think there’s definitely a psychology to the whole thing. You just keep implanting your subject matter expert in front of people and get those people in your consumer’s brains and they will gravitate towards you.

How To Be a Thought Leader in Cannabis

Ricardo Baca:

And that’s what it is. With thought leadership, you really do need to nail down what is your core expertise, and then how can I get this core expertise out into the world through a mix of owned, paid, and definitely earned media. Because when you see people speaking at NCIA’s East Coast summit in Boston, they fought hard for that slot. And in many cases, they had an agency partner like Grasslands out there fighting on their behalf, drafting a really compelling speaker abstract with an idea that is relevant to their market and relevant to their expertise. And then, you’re right, people see them speak. And I know you’ve spoken at conferences as well, John. It’s a thrill when you come off a great panel and there’s a couple of people there who want to chat with you.

John Svoboda:

Yeah, it is. It’s great. And it feels good because you’re spreading good information and doing good for the industry. So, it is. It’s definitely a thrill. One thing … I’m really curious about it — and it’s just because of the stigma of our industry, the stigma of cannabis in general: Do you think that’s prevented many thought leaders from stepping up into the spotlight and really sharing their knowledge base?

Ricardo Baca:

I think, in the early days, certainly. You were involved in the industry in Colorado early. I know that you’ve been in Colorado or California, Oregon. I’ve spent most of my time here in Denver. But, early days, without a doubt, the stigma was real. Not a lot of people wanted to be associated with this plant, with this industry. Myself, back in the days, I was The Denver Post reporter. I was the entertainment editor at the newspaper when the editor in chief approached me and said, “We want you to be the marijuana editor and create a standalone vertical,” which later became “The Cannabis.” But, truth is, I told them I needed 24 hours to think about it because I knew if I took that job, forever the SEO of my name and my visage and my personality would always be tied to this plant.

And it was a plant I didn’t know a lot about at the time, but after doing very little research on it and talking to my wife and my mom, it was a no-brainer. Of course I wanted to go out and report on this misunderstood plant, on this developing industry. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and it very much brought me to where I am now. So, I think in the early days, without a doubt, it did prevent a lot of people from stepping up. But now, if you spend any time on LinkedIn and, as you said, people can follow us on LinkedIn at Grasslands Agency, everybody is a cannabis thought leader these days. And it’s like, “Who are you? I spend a lot of time in the Bay Area and I’ve never heard of you.”


So, it is a bit of a dangerous term, too, because everybody thinks they’re one. Inevitably, everybody is not one, but there are some true visionaries out there, some people who are spreading education and engendering goodwill for themselves and their brands and practicing really responsible thought leadership. I love seeing it out there, and I very much encourage people to keep it up.

John Svoboda:

Absolutely. And we obviously love telling their stories and getting them out there to the publications that can get those stories to everyone. So, that’s awesome. Thanks so much, Ricardo. And, of course, we appreciate you stepping forward to be that first editor of a major cannabis publication. It’s led to a lot of education and thought leadership. So, I speak for myself and many others: Thank you. As always, everyone, you can learn more about this topic and so much more at mygrasslands.com. Please, as Ricardo said, follow us on LinkedIn at Grasslands Agency. I’m John Svoboda. Email any and all of your cannabis marketing and PR questions directly to me at john@mygrasslands.com. And we will see you tomorrow for another episode of “Cannabis Marketing 101.” Thanks again, Ricardo.

Ricardo Baca:

See you.

John Svoboda:

Bye.

Got a question of your own? We’d love to hear from you, and are happy to talk shop anytime about cannabis thought leadership, PR and content marketing. Drop us a line: hello@mygrasslands.com

Recommended Posts