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Cannabis leaf in a drink
Written by
Alison Joutsi

Alison Joutsi

Canadians for the first time in history have the ability to legally buy adult-use recreational cannabis. This new industry presents many business opportunities, and we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with a variety of different cannabis companies to help build the industry from the ground-up. From a strategic communications perspective, it is essential for companies to differentiate themselves in this noisy market in order to attract a committed group of customers. Differentiation becomes increasingly important as consumers have many choices as to which cannabis products they choose to try.

In order to help cannabis companies succeed, a thought leadership strategy is important. Yet, in order to legally execute a strategic thought leadership program, cannabis companies will need to abide by The Cannabis Act. This article is not to be taken as legal advice, however, it does outline some essential considerations that cannabis companies must understand before they engage in any thought leadership activities.

Navigating the restrictions

The Cannabis Act provides a framework for cannabis companies when identifying what activities are deemed legal and covers activities including distribution, selling, importing, advertising, and labeling, amongst others. What’s relevant from a thought leadership perspective strategy is listed under Subdivision A of the Cannabis Act—promoting cannabis or other related services. Cannabis companies are generally restricted from any promotion considered appealing to young people, promotion through sponsorship, testimonials or endorsements, and not allowed to display any brand elements in a facility used for a sports or cultural event, to name a few. These restrictions are similar to many of the current restrictions tobacco companies face.

However, if the nature of the communication activity is educational and no consideration or monetary exchange takes place, there is room for companies to differentiate themselves, provided that the informational promotion takes place in a location where individuals under the age of 18 are not allowed.

Focusing on business goals

In order to execute and measure a successful communications or thought leadership strategy, we always advise that the campaign objective be taken back to the business goal and determine realistic key performance indicators. A content calendar that breaks down audiences into segments and key stakeholder groups (i.e. Health & Safety, Business & Industry, Insurance Benefits, etc.) is determined through stakeholder mapping. Once audience segments are identified, events and venues targeting each group are determined. Popular venues include The Canadian Club, TEDxToronto or The Public Policy Forum to name a few.

Speaking engagements can further be optimized by implementing a digital strategy. Our data analytics team takes a data driven approach and quantifies each communications activity so we can better understand what is driving interest online. One example of this is geo-targeting, a tactic where individuals are identified by location.

The beginning of this new industry is exciting and presents multiple business opportunities. However, it is imperative for companies to understand the competing complexities and be able to navigate the industry from a regulatory, business and communications perspective in order to communicate one’s value proposition to consumers and shareholders. For more information on how to build a thought leadership program to get your organization and its leaders visibility, reach out to our corporate communications experts.

——— Alison Joutsi is a former Senior Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations


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