Events have been an essential part of the cannabis community long before legalization. Popular gatherings such as Hempfest in Seattle and HashBash in Ann Arbor, Michigan sprung up as ways to protest draconian drug laws and meet with fellow enthusiasts. And once recreational cannabis became legal in multiple states, industry events grew into essential meeting opportunities for growers, retailers, activists, business owners, investors, and more.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 brought cannabis events to a screeching halt. As anyone in the industry knows, especially those involved directly in event planning and hosting, the past two years have been extremely difficult for live, in person events, with many organizations moving online, while others have seen their event itineraries consistently postponed.
Hopefully all that changes in 2022, and with two events already in the bag for us over the past few months (Equity PAC and Interchange), optimism is high. As 420 celebrations are right around the corner, we thought we’d offer up some tips and advice on how to successfully host a cannabis event.
Start Planning Your Cannabis Event Early
It should go without saying, but a ton of planning goes into pulling off a successful cannabis event. This includes the marketing campaign. The sooner you have a marketing plan in place for your event, the more likely you’ll be able to inform your target audience and get a good response, both in terms of the number of people who show up, as well as the larger group of industry people (and/or consumers) who have a good awareness of the event, even if they are unable to make it this time.
When building out a marketing plan for your upcoming event, you need to think in phases. There’s the initial announcement of the event. This is like the Save The Date for a wedding, where you are staking the territory of that weekend for your event. It’s as much for competing event companies as it is for prospective attendees. Ideally, you are picking that date a year ahead of time, though in many cases this won’t be possible. Likewise, if you are hosting an ongoing series of events, such as a workshops series, you will want to have some continuity in your schedule, such as the first Wednesday of every month, or every other Tuesday, so that your followers know what to expect and can plan accordingly.
As your event nears, you want to have a lead up phase to the event. At three months out, we start to do this, and when we’re two weeks out, we’ll do this. You build your marketing around your specific needs. A lot of the early marketing will be targeting potential sponsors, with the focus switching to the ticket-buying public as the event grows closer. And once the event is completed, there's the very important but often overlooked follow up phase (see below).
Obviously, every event is unique, and so you need to adjust according to your specific parameters. But one thing that applies to every event is the more time you have to plan, the better.
Figure In COVID Contingencies
The elephant in the room of any cannabis event in 2022 is still COVID-19. While flexibility has always been an important skill for an event planner, that has never been more true. The uncertainty created by a global pandemic that never seems to end is that the more time you build in to plan for your event, the more likely you’ll end up having to move the date because of unforeseen circumstances (though at this point, it’s hard to call COVID unforeseen).
For example, if you are renting a space, make sure to discuss with them what the options are if the event has to be postponed. With COVID restrictions coming from the state or federal level, it means there should be more protection built in for event organizers that are unable to hold a cannabis event as scheduled.
For many events, a contingency plan will involve moving your event online and ditching the in person component. For other events, this will be a no-go, and you’ll want to have a fall back date already in place just in case. Again, if you’re hosting at a third party venue, you’ll want to go over the various contingencies with them prior to agreeing to anything.
Identify Your Target Audience…And Where To Reach Them
Who are you trying to target with your outreach? You must answer this question before you start enacting any kind of marketing plan for your cannabis event. In the early stages (as mentioned above), a lot of your marketing efforts will be aimed at sponsors and booth rentals. For many events, especially large scale trade shows, this revenue is the most critical for ensuring that your event is a success. But even smaller events will likely want to have a sponsorship component.
This type of B2B marketing is different from advertising ticket sales for an event. You need to understand what types of businesses would benefit from, and are in a position to pay for, event sponsorships. Just focusing on social media for a moment, this phase of your marketing will more likely live on LinkedIn, whereas ticket sales will more likely be promoted through Facebook or Instagram.
Another important distinction that will highly impact your marketing strategy that we haven’t mentioned yet is the difference between marketing a cannabis event vs marketing a hemp or CBD event. The former will be highly restricted in terms of where and how you can advertise it, especially if you plan to offer on site consumption, whereas the latter may offer more possibilities, particularly on social media.
This all ties into identifying and targeting your audience. The better able you are to aim your marketing efforts directly at the people most likely to be receptive, the more likely your marketing endeavors will pay off with a successful event.
Make Your Cannabis Event Page SEO Friendly
Search Engine Optimization is an often overlooked aspect of cannabis event marketing. If you are running an annual or an ongoing event series, then there’s no excuse not to focus on SEO via your event website. The good news is that many of the most effective SEO techniques will also help fulfill some of your other goals at the same time.
For example, one primary option for event marketing is via email campaigns. But the same content that will populate your email blasts can also work well on your website blog, and regularly posting blog content is one of the best ways to boost your SEO. In the same vein, event photography and videography from previous events will do wonders for your website’s search engine rankings.
When first approaching cannabis SEO, it can be quite daunting, but it really boils down to two main considerations. One, as already mentioned, search engines are specifically interested in promoting sites with regularly updated content that is on topic. Two, effective SEO also depends on how many links you have pointing to your website. Take this into consideration as you coordinate with your sponsors, speakers, partners, and third party media. All of them have the potential to boost your SEO with links to your website and event pages.
Lean On Your Event Sponsors, Speakers, And Other Partners
Speaking of working with third parties, one of the best, and most cost effective ways to market a cannabis event is through partnerships with your sponsors and speakers. All of them have a vested interest in the success of your event, as the more attention you get, the more they will get as well.
When picking out speakers and headliners for your event, you should always take into account how big of a following they have. Of course, if possible, you will want to have celebrities (whether national celebrities, or cannabis-specific celebrities) prominently featured in your event, but this is outside the realm of possibility for many smaller events. But the truth is that a lesser known speaker might make an even more effective partner because they will be more motivated to help you promote their appearance.
Naturally, it’s not just about free publicity. Many events will work with their sponsors to share the advertising costs associated with the event. You’ll likely build event promotion into their sponsorship package (and if you haven’t already, strongly consider doing so), so that part of the cost of their sponsorship goes towards various ad placements, in exchange for their logo being prominently featured.
Remember, every company and individual participating in your event is an opportunity to increase your event’s exposure.
Leverage Event And Cannabis Journalists To Market For Free
Another great opportunity to get free publicity for your event is via the press. Depending on the scope and type of event you are hosting, there may be built in interest from particular segments of the press. If you are an industry trade show and/or have prominent cannabis policy experts or state governing bodies speaking at your event, then it’s likely to be covered by industry-focused magazines, newspapers, websites, and podcasts. If you are hosting a party or experiential event, then you will want to check in with area lifestyle magazines.
Public relations, while related to marketing, is an undertaking pretty much all of its own. Working with a PR specialist to generate magazine and press clippings is a great way to generate free coverage of your event (though it’s not cheap hiring that PR person). Absent that, there are a number of things you can do on your own to promote your event via the media without spending a dime.
First of all, identify the publications, blogs, and podcasts that you think will be interested in your event. Then find out how to get in touch with the journalist(s) associated with them. For smaller outlets, this should be relatively easy, whereas for larger magazines and papers, you may need to go through a generic submissions email or contact form.
Pro Tip: If you invite a local journalist to speak at or MC your event, then you are much more likely to get positive coverage from them.
Unlock The Potential Of Social Media
In 2022, there’s no excuse not to be using social media to publicize your cannabis event. First off, you’ll want to pick an event hashtag that’s short and unique to your event. If it's an annual event, you might use the year at the end to distinguish it from previous and future editions. Pick a good one (easy to remember, not too long), because you’ll be including it in every post moving forward.
You’ll want to update all of your account bios with links to your website, tickets, or registration page. This might be an Eventbrite page for instance, or a special landing page on your website.
Now, coordinate with all your sponsors, speakers, and partners to push out the event info on their accounts as well. Make sure they are using the correct hashtag, have the right links, and preferably are sharing graphics that you provided them. Also, you’ll want all of your event signage and posts to feature your social media accounts and hashtag. You will want to have an account for each of the major sites, because your guests will probably vary in what their preferred social platforms are.
I know that Instagram has tended to be the most popular platform among cannabis consumers and influencers, with TikTok coming on strong, but in our experience, LinkedIn and Facebook tend to be the best for promoting events, especially those with a strong industry or B2B focus. If you have thought leaders speaking at your event, they will probably get the most traction promoting on Twitter.
Capture High Quality Photos And Video To Market Your Next Event
It’s amazing how many events fail to capture high quality video and photography of their event. It’s understandable I suppose when you think about all of the logistics they need to worry about that they will overlook this crucial element. But as soon as it comes time to worry about event follow up, they will lament not hiring a professional.
We haven’t mentioned this yet, but one essential element of event marketing is always the post event wrap up. Many event organizers fail to realize how effective the event follow up can be, but by sharing photographs or video as part of your wrap up, you will generate interest not only from the attendees, who will want to see if they are featured, but also the people who couldn’t make it and want to see what they missed.
But perhaps even more importantly, event photography and video are incredibly important for marketing future events. Working with a professional photographer and/or videographer will ensure that all of your content is not only top-notch, but that it’s saved and organized in a way that will make it easier to access for future marketing.
Partner With The Hood Collective For Your Cannabis Event Marketing
The Hood Collective is a professional cannabis event marketing agency with an experienced team of photographers and videographers. We strive to elegantly document your cannabis event, providing you with sharp, high-resolution images and video that showcase the best moments. Best of all, because we are familiar with working cannabis events of all sizes, we can anticipate your needs without needing our hands constantly held.
Our photographers and videographers have the expertise, equipment, and proven track record to work with you through the entire event planning process.
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.