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Thought Leadership

Five Key Tips for Becoming a Cannabis Thought Leader

April 20, 2020

It can feel like everyone is getting into thought leadership these days, from columns in newspapers, magazines and digital media, to speeches at industry conferences and trade shows—not to mention household-name events like TEDx Talks, South by Southwest and the Aspen Ideas Festival.

While there’s certainly strong ROI when a cannabis marketing strategy includes thought leadership, there’s a lot to be gained from these efforts and it goes far beyond simple brand recognition.

Thought leadership is a chance to connect with audiences in a powerful, authentic way, and to shape the discourse around important topics. That can be a valuable thing for cannabis brands. After all, this is a relatively new industry still saddled with stigma from decades of a War on Drugs, not to mention generations of racial injustice.

Thought leadership is a potent opportunity to not only change the conversation about cannabis business, policy and culture, but shape how the industry will move forward.

How To Become a Cannabis Thought Leader

The change in public perception not only reduces barriers for aspiring thought leaders to stake their reputations on the future of cannabis, it means there are increasing opportunities to share industry expertise.

Dedicated cannabis journalists and established news coverage have become the norm, and trade shows and conferences focused on cannabis and psychedelics are riding serious momentum. For example, between 2018 and 2019, MJBizCon grew by almost 10,000 attendees and saw a 38% growth in the number of exhibitors on the floor. And the number of panel proposals submitted for SxSW’s Cannabis Track doubled between 2019 and 2020.

So how can you throw your hat into the ring and establish yourself as a cannabis thought leader? Here are five steps you can take to get in on the conversation:

  1. Audit your public persona. The best place to begin is understanding what you’ve already accomplished. Ask yourself some questions: Where does your reputation in the industry stand? On which topics have you already established expertise? How can your background help your proposal stand out in a stack of conference applications or column pitches? In which geographic locations is your name easily recognized? Performing an audit of your public persona can help focus your thought leadership aspirations.
  2. Get ready to network. Event marketing and high-level networking opportunities can be excellent ways to get the most out of industry conferences and trade shows—especially post-pandemic after two years of reduced opportunities to mix, mingle and learn. Attending industry mixers can help you meet fellow thought leaders and event organizers, build relationships with media, and get a better sense of what’s missing from the conversation—and where you could best contribute. Networking is also an excellent way to get your name out there and raise your public profile.
  3. Study up on publications and speaking opportunities. Like any aspect of cannabis marketing and PR, thought leadership is best approached strategically. Doing your homework on which conferences, events and publications might be the best fit for your expertise can help you be more efficient in your pitches and applications. Keep in mind that smaller-market events can serve a dual purpose for productive B2B networking as well as building confidence in speaking to an audience.
  4. Create a content plan. Not only should you strategize about which events and media outlets are likely to accept your submissions, you should also plan the topics on which you’d like to focus. Spend some time following other thought leaders’ work to see what subjects have already been covered or are overly saturated. Then you can map out the topics you’d like to cover and which earned media opportunities might be the best fit for your goals.
  5. Monitor results and ROI. Keep track of each thought leadership submission so you can assess and learn from the rejections (they’re inevitable). Sometimes a revision is all that’s needed; sometimes a full pivot might be necessary to get a winning pitch. Approaching thought leadership in an organized way will also help you visualize ROI over time, and tweak your thought leadership strategy to build on your wins and minimize those rejections.