On Cannabis PR: Introducing our New Staff Blog, and Why I Just Expanded My Inclusion Rider

Let’s talk about cannabis thought leadership inclusion riders and why they are crucial in this space.

Grasslands Founder and CEO Ricardo Baca discusses his cannabis thought leadership inclusion rider, and why diverse representation matters so much in this space.
Cannabis Journalist Warren Bobrow

It happens daily at Grasslands: My colleagues and I get off the phone with a prospect / client / strategic partner thinking, “That was a strong strategy sesh—and what we discussed was also really, really interesting.”

My team and I have diverse backgrounds and skill sets that are unusual for a strategic communications firm, especially one that counts cannabis PR and cannabis marketing among its specialties. On staff, we have 60-plus years of high-level journalism history at Men’s Health, The Denver Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Beast and elsewhere—and big-agency experience in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco. 

Grasslands’ very foundation as a Journalism-Minded Agency™ (and yes, we own the trademark) demands that we approach every task from the shared perspective of PR and marketing professionals as well as the veteran journalists, bloggers, podcasters and reporters we’re working with each day. 

We co-ideate everything together in-house as journalists and marketers and PR pros, and that singular collaborative approach is one of the strategic advantages that benefits our industry-leading clients. And you’ll read about some of these stories in On Cannabis PR, our new staff blog series.

While Grasslands represents brands across multiple highly regulated industries—including tech, real estate, traditional healthcare, alcohol, hospitality, entertainment and beyond—my colleagues and I will use these On Cannabis PR blogs to discuss our cannabis practice, including the strategies, tactics and scenarios that arise in our Denver-based agency’s day-to-day. 

These thoughtful, quick-hit missives will tackle subjects and narratives surrounding cannabis PR, content marketing, thought leadership, social media marketing and more. Since this is brand new, please share your feedback directly with me—ricardo@mygrasslands.com.

I wanted to start this series by relaying a brief story about my newly expanded inclusion rider—and so yes, this is about cannabis thought leadership. 

And I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what an inclusion rider was before actress Frances McDormand told me (and millions of others) to Google it in an Oscars speech in March 2018.

As that NPR piece illustrates, an inclusion rider is “a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew.” 

“I’m no actor,” I remember thinking. “But I am fortunate enough to regularly be invited to speak about cannabis and drug policy reform and psychedelic medicine and modern journalism at various community events and conferences including SXSW, MJBizCon, Netroots Nation, BevNet’s Cannabis Forum for Food & Beverage, etc.—and so I wonder if it would be meaningful if I created my own inclusion rider that stipulated the presence of at least one woman on these panels alongside me?”

These years later, I will tell you that my inclusion rider has forced many a conference programmer to either add a woman to the panel—or risk losing my involvement in their event. And it’s felt good to do the right thing, stand up for my female peers and do my small part as a feminist who recognizes my role as an ally.

But last week I recognized I wasn’t doing enough.

I was speaking on a panel on cannabis social media at the inaugural Cannabis Marketing Summit on Tuesday when it hit me. We’re living through a historic era, where the murder of George Floyd has triggered an awakening in our collective psyche—and an outpouring of our angst, sadness and frustration in the form of mass protests spanning the world. While I am proudly a quarter indigenous, I am also three-quarters white—and I like other white people have been doing my best to contribute to this national conversation surrounding police brutality and systemic racism.

But outside of protesting alongside my neighbors and donating to NAACP, ACLU and state-specific bail funds and shutting up and listening to the people of color around me, I was desperate to know how I could make a difference as an individual. 

And in a pre-panel conversation with the event organizers and some of my fellow panelists, it hit me. I already have an inclusion rider. I just need to expand it.

And so a few minutes later, after Cannabis Marketing Association Founder Lisa Buffo introduced me as the panel’s moderator, and after I lead my fellow panelists and attendees through a brief moment of silence (where I asked each of them “to reflect on the last week and the decades of systemic racism that brought us to this modern boiling point—not to mention the things that we as individuals can do to remedy this societal wrong”), I made the public declaration. 

I told everyone listening that I was expanding my inclusion rider right there and then, and I will no longer speak on panels that don’t have at least one woman and one person of color. The brief announcement was met with enthusiastic, supportive comments in the conference chat. And while I can confidently say this decision will lead to fewer speaking opportunities, which are an important business development channel for the agency, I also know it’s the right call.

It’s a small gesture, and it’s only a start as I continue exploring how I can help elevate those around me—but as I’ve seen my rider lead to more thought leadership opportunities for women in the past, I am hopeful my newly expanded rider will make for more inclusivity and opportunity in the future.

Ricardo Baca is the Founder and CEO of Grasslands. Learn more about his monthly #GrasslandsGives donation the Marshall Project here.


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