The Undeniable Importance of Strategic Partnerships in Marketing

When I think about the most powerful and impactful strategic partnerships I’ve been lucky enough to experience, my friend and client Bob Hampe is always near the top of that list.

I’ve been fortunate to have some truly meaningful strategic partnerships in the cannabis industry, but with Bob, our content marketing and content strategy work has long been focused outside of cannabis—where Bob’s company, Actall, specializes in real-time location system (RTLS) technology created to thrive in challenging physical environments, such as mental health facilities.

Bob and his team not only create best-in-class technology like RTLS for hospitals, he’s also the kind of inspiring, progressive, forward-looking CEO we prioritize working with at Grasslands. While Actall’s RTLS technology is used in corrections facilities across the U.S. and Canada, Bob spends considerable time encouraging his partners in this space to, as he wrote recently, “think creatively about the ways we can use technology to reduce recidivism and make the transition ‘back to society’ smoother for formerly incarcerated individuals.”

After knowing each other for a decade-plus of rock shows and music festivals, I’ll always remember a conversation Bob and I had over beers one night, right before Actall signed with Grasslands over two years ago. I opened up to Bob about my drive to be a better, more inclusive, more community-minded CEO—and when he started nodding along, it told me that he too was focused on being a more thoughtful leader. 

Bob at the 2021 Actall-Grasslands Pride Party

“Let’s do some of this together,” Bob told me. And that’s when Bob and I’s friendship turned into an agency-client relationship—as well as a significantly deeper strategic partnership.

Before that night was over, Bob and I agreed that our small businesses should co-host a Pride Party together that June. And less than a few months later, Bob was also dedicating resources to help support the first cohort of our agency’s Diversity-in-Marketing Internship Program.

Bob and I speak the same business languages in our official work together. But we also prioritize the same kinds of extracurricular initiatives outside of our day-to-day dealings.

Take the Pride Party as an example. Bob was already hosting a very special renegade Pride Party in the alley behind his house, which was just off what had been the Denver Pride Parade route in normal, non-pandemic years. He always invited his entire community—including family, friends, neighbors and colleagues—and that’s how I ended up there in June 2020. 

When we first talked about Grasslands  supporting his Pride Party the following summer, it was a no-brainer. Our thinking: We could bring our personal and professional networks together, to build more strategic partnerships among our communities—while also creating something that is greater than the sum of its individual parts. I asked Bob how my team and I could help with the event marketing and production. He asked if we could bring a bunch of breakfast burritos and mimosa-makings and rent some infrastructure to accommodate the larger crowds. 

Of course we were happy to—the larger the crowd we could draw, the greater the number of community connections we could cultivate and the more money we could raise for a good cause. We accepted cash tips at the breakfast bar and raised nearly $500 for The Center on Colfax, the largest LGBTQ+ community center in the Rocky Mountain region. 

Ricardo and Bob at the 2020 Actall Pride Party, which originally inspired their collaboration on another Pride party the following summer

As for Bob and Actall’s support of Grasslands’ Diversity-in-Marketing Internship Program, that collaboration was equally organic. Grasslands’ Chief of Staff Debbie McHugh and I developed and implemented the program out of our Indigenous-owned agency’s commitment to attract, develop and retain diverse, high-potential early-career marcom talent. One day, Bob asked me, “How can I help?”

Debbie and I knew that one day we’d develop a framework that would allow our partners and clients to support our DEI-centered internship program—but before we could develop the opportunity deck and put that out to our community, Bob beat us to the punch. And one week later he’d committed to supporting our internship program in a way that would also benefit his business. The Grasslands marketing and PR interns would each work on a project for Actall. That way, Bob and his team could be hands-on with these young professionals whose work would elevate Actall and its mission. 

The collaboration was a win-win for everyone involved, including our interns, who had the opportunity to be client-facing and present projects on which they had taken the lead—and receive feedback on their work from a client who had a vested interest in their success. Thinking back on this powerful collaboration still gives me goosebumps, especially because it was so successful.

Any business leader understands the immense value of these kinds of strategic partnerships—a content marketing client that turns into a creative collaborator and a like-minded, values-driven sounding board. It’s impossible to assign a value to this kind of strategic partner, especially because these kinds of relationships can last a lifetime. 

2022 will be the second summer of Grasslands’ Diversity-in-Marketing Internship program with a cohort of three spectacular young professionals. I wanted to take a brief moment to shout out to Bob Hampe of Actall and others like him. My colleagues and I are all the better for these relationships, and we look forward to more collabs with Bob and his team, and more opportunities with other visionary leaders and bold brands in our network.

Ricardo Baca’s 2022 Cannabis Industry Trends Forecast

Ricardo Baca, a man with dark hair, holds a microphone and smiles as he makes a gesture while speaking. He is wearing a plaid shirt over a t-shirt with the Grasslands G logo on it. Behind him is a tree. The photo is black and white.

Editor’s Note: What lies ahead for cannabis? It’s a question many in the industry are asking as we hit the ground running in Q1. From old-school matters like mergers and acquisitions to emerging cannabis industry trends like delivery models that took off during the pandemic and are here to stay, there’s a lot to assess in predicting which cannabis products and services will be pivotal to business success or become a major problem.

Whether you’re keeping an eye on efforts by prohibitionists to limit THC potency in products or how the tech industry treats cannabis on digital platforms, or you’re just curious where the industry is going to go next, Grasslands founder and CEO Ricardo Baca (who was just named ADCANN’s Marketer of the Year!) has a few thoughts on “futurecasting” cannabis in 2022.

The Colorado Model Goes National

Colorado first led the global charge on determining what a regulated cannabis market looks like, and we now see iterations of the “Colorado Model” implemented throughout the world—and I’m so fortunate to have had a front-row seat to Colorado’s historic legalization rollout since my days as Editor-in-Chief for The Denver Post’s cannabis coverage.

Since adult-use sales started in 2014, Colorado cannabis has gone on to show immense profitability, corporate responsibility and worldwide leadership. The Centennial state has been projected to become the third most profitable cannabis market in the US by the end of 2022. And as we started the year, there were 17 other states and two U.S. territories that have followed in Colorado’s footsteps to adult-use legalization. 

This year, Colorado and its veteran operators will become one of the hottest markets for cannabis M&A activity in the country. Sure, out-of-state operators like Columbia Care, Curaleaf, PharmaCann and Eaze made sizable strategic moves into the Centennial State in 2021—but that will not hold a candle to what we’re about to witness in the world’s most experienced legal cannabis market in 2022.

Door-to-Door Weed Delivery

In 2022, we will see cannabis delivery in Colorado and beyond become more normalized, increasingly widespread and lucrative. With this shift, Colorado’s real-life experience will help squash the misinformation on cannabis delivery that has for years been spread by NIMBY regulators and anti-legalization law enforcement. 

Cannabis delivery is not the dangerous bogeyman they’ve made it out to be, and I’m confident this highly regulated expansion of Colorado cannabis will be quietly successful—and like nearly every other aspect of Colorado’s first-of-its-kind cannabis industry, this real-life experience will be a powerful counterargument to fear-mongering prohibitionists.

The THC Potency Problem

2022 is the year the American cannabis industry will need to take prohibitionists’ THC potency campaigns as the serious threat they are. Not only are anti-legalization forces aiming to reduce patient access to clean, tested and proven plant medicine, they’re also attempting to cripple a healthy (and immensely regulated) business environment that is already more restrictive than most other industries. 

The prohibitionists’ latest tactic of trying to implement THC-potency caps, which are becoming increasingly common from Colorado to Vermont, must be stopped—and regulators must insist on legitimate scientific data (and not fear-mongering misinformation) to guide any potential reforms ahead. When alcohol kills more than 70,000 Americans a year and the CDC tells us cannabis has never been responsible for even one death, we need to align our business environments with the reality of the substance in question.

Social Equity, Diversity and Cannabis

While the cannabis industry has made some progress on social equity and DEI issues, we are far from where we need to be. More cannabis professionals need to understand, acknowledge and act on the history of cannabis and the war on drugs that heavily swayed public opinion and promoted racist ideologies. And I hope 2022 will be the year more cannabis executives prioritize putting this knowledge and advocacy into more widespread action. 

It’s not enough to establish cannabis brands and sell products; the cannabis industry (of all industries) needs to be a more socially conscious space. Making sure that our teams, our boards, our partnerships, our vendors and our marketing campaigns are more equitable is no longer optional. Brands must adapt or risk falling to the wayside.

New York and New Jersey Adopt an Empire State of Mind

2022 will be the all-important wind-up year for two major U.S. markets that are on track to enter the cannabis sphere: New York and New Jersey. These two East Coast giants will likely open for adult-use sales in 2023, and so 2022 is an essential timeline for ensuring the success of these lynchpin markets across the board—from social equity to responsible and reasonable business regulations. 

Like so many others before them, NY and NJ will surely adopt some iteration of Colorado’s first-of-its-kind regulatory model. But it’s also their responsibility to move the conversation forward—and to learn from mistakes and missteps in Colorado, Massachusetts, California, Illinois and others, and create the more equitable and responsible cannabis industry of the future.

Big Tech Warms Up to Cannabis

Could 2022 be the year that social media and tech giants start to play nice with cannabis brands? The wheel is already starting to turn. 

Nebulous terms of use are a broken model that is no longer sustainable for this fast-growing sector, regardless of its continued unjust federal illegality. As we see other tech platforms—including Apple’s App Store, Uber and Google—become more 420-friendly, we will see the Metas of the world start to bend to the overwhelming percentage of the American adult population that believes cannabis should be legal—and therefore reasonably engaged with by Zuck and his ilk.

A More Accessible Cannabis Industry

The cannabis industry is entering a more mature stage in its development. In 2022, cannabis marketers will focus on making cannabis branding and products more accessible in every way––from ADA-compliant websites to Braille lettering on product labels to child-resistant packaging that can be opened by adults with disabilities and more. State-legal cannabis has to be ready for the federal legalization ahead, and brands not planning for that inevitability will be the brands that lose out.

Amplifying DEI in Communications: Introducing the Grasslands Diversity-in-Marketing Internship

grasslands-diversity-equity-inclusion-marketing-internship

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the Grasslands Diversity-in-Marketing Internship, a deeply personal endeavor for myself and my colleagues. Our goal with this program is to change the face of marketing and deepen the diversity within our own agency, and the marcom industry as a whole.

This unique opportunity is open to any students or recent grads who self-identify as members of an historically underrepresented group in marketing, public relations and communications—spanning LGBTQ+ communities and People of Color, including but not limited to Black, Latinx, Indigenous and Asian applicants—who are interested in pursuing a marcom career. These marketing and PR internships will pay $15 / hour and include a $750 / month housing stipend.

Learn more about the Grasslands Diversity-in-Marketing Internship at Grasslands’ Careers page. 

This is a full-circle moment for me. In 1995, I was approaching high school graduation with the uncertainty of not knowing where I was going next—when I got word I had secured a DEI-focused internship at the Rocky Mountain News. The internship would provide me paid full-time work as a journalist, hands-on training in a large newsroom and relationships that would help me after college graduation—a big deal for a lower-middle class Indigineous kid being raised by a single mother. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but that internship would change my life forever.

The Rocky’s leadership recognized their responsibility to introduce people of color to careers in journalism, and after 20-plus years at newspapers, I’m still thankful for their purposeful dedication to representation. And now it’s my turn to make a difference—to give underrepresented communities the kind of transformative experience that could open new doors for them and elevate their professional potential in an industry that desperately needs their voices, their ideas, their perspectives.

My colleagues and I—who have a solid track record of hiring previous interns to full-time positions—cannot wait to get started. Thank you in advance for forwarding this blog to anyone who should know about this marketing internship.