Your Right To Party
Apr 05, 2019 11:24AM
● By Ricardo Baca
Ideating, producing and hosting events is a legitimate artform. Throw cannabis into the mix a newly legalized substance with ultra-restrictive rules governing all aspects of dissemination and consumption and the artform requires an even higher level of skill, forethought, and refinement.
So how does one throw the perfect cannabis event? Truth is, perfection doesn’t exist in the event production space. Events are living, breathing, multi-tentacled beasts that rely on a team of collaborators, and while we event producers strive for perfection, it’s more of a lofty goal than it is a concrete possibility.
That’s why the best event producers plan ahead for the missed deadlines, the sick staff, the wayward subcontractors, and the venue limitations that are inevitable.
But how does one throw the best possible cannabis event the kind of outing that celebrates an important milestone, subtly communicates a brand’s messaging, pampers its attendees while also leaving a memorable impression? Here are some tips to consider but first, a bit about my background with creating meaningful events and activations.
You see, long before I was lucky enough to stumble upon the cannabis industry, I was embedded in the music industry as the longtime pop music critic for the Denver Post. I got into the event production game early by creating a multi-venue music festival, The Underground Music Showcase, which continues to pack Denver bars, clubs and parking lot stages every summer. My work (and curiosity) also took me coast to coast in those years, from the CMJ Music Marathon in Manhattan to the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California but my annual highlight was regularly South by Southwest, the behemoth music festival taking over Austin, Texas, each Spring Break.
I learned the art of the renegade party at SXSW. While the big event brings the masses together, the renegade parties add to the vibe. And as I would board my flight back to Denver each March, exhausted and likely hungover, I would think back to the festival’s most memorable moments and oftentimes those experiences were produced by NPR, Pitchfork, IFC, or even Taco Bell.
I’ve since produced a number of renegade music parties at SXSW, but my team at my marketing agency Grasslands and I have also produced our signature networking event The Grasslands Party at multiple MJBizCons in Las Vegas and New Orleans, at the last few New West Summits in Oakland, at O’Cannabiz in Toronto and we even hosted a renegade cannabis event at SXSW 2018. Outside of these piggy-backed events, we’ve also produced thoughtful stand-alone events for clients including a cannabis-infused farmers market that celebrated mainstream exhibitors alongside educational and experiential opportunities for our client, a leading marijuana-infused topicals brand.
Of course the proof is always in the pudding, and so here are a some tips to consider before starting to plan your next cannabis-infused dinner, 420 event, industry networking gathering, or renegade party.
PENCHANT FOR PREPAREDNESS
There is no such thing as being too prepared for a cannabis event. Be it a simple happy hour at the office or a large-scale activation at a conference, your guests’ experiences as well as the quality of your sleep in the nights leading up to the event will directly relate to how prepared you and your team are.
So whether you’re self-producing or hiring an events partner, do yourself a favor and nail down your vision and objectives a few months out; secure your vendors one month out; have a functional run-of-show document at least two weeks out; and check in with all hired staff, vendors, and subcontractors in the days leading up to the event.
STAYING LEGAL AND RESPECTFUL
Because we’re specifically talking about producing cannabis events, you need to fully comprehend the local rules, regs, and laws surrounding the distribution and consumption of marijuana. In these early days, event producers don’t have a lot of leeway in most localities but there are generally options in each market, and if you’re not 100 percent confident on local laws, call a local attorney to protect yourself and your clients.
At Grasslands, we’re also careful to communicate clearly with the venue owner, ensuring that we’re on the same page for which spaces are friendly for consumption and which aren’t.
I’ve discussed the need for responsible distribution of cannabis before in this column, but it’s worth repeating, given this subject matter. But let’s say you’ve checked with the attorneys and are confident your infused appetizers or THC-packed gift bag are legal, now it’s time to distribute the marijuana products responsibly.
This is simple communication, and it will set all of your guests up for a better experience. For your servers passing the appetizers infused with 5 milligrams of activated THC apiece, they need to communicate that to guests before the platter is offered to them. For the door staff handing out gift bags at the end of the night, they need to communicate the presence of THC to exiting guests, as that will change the handling and storage of the bag once they get back to their car or home.
You never want your event to be the cause of someone’s bad experience with cannabis, so an informed, communicative staff is a necessity.
SUBTLE BRAND ACTIVATION
It’s rare a company throws an event without intention. If you’re footing the bill or joining a party as a sponsor, you’re going to want to measure your return on investment (or ROI) after the fact and that includes an idea of how many people encountered your brand and its messaging throughout the event.
Brand activation is a tricky one at cannabis events. It’s easy to go overboard, thinking that more is more and branding anything and everything. But my events team and I at Grasslands are of the belief that simple, subtle brand activation is a more meaningful method of connecting to your target audience.
An easy example: A thoughtfully assembled deck projected on a prominent wall is more powerful than a hard copy of that same deck (or brochure) in the gift bag. With the projected deck, your branding and messaging becomes a part of the decor and experience, something that embeds itself into guests’ psyches as they continue to see it throughout the event whereas the hard copy brochure is a likely unwanted piece of marketing collateral that may or may not make it back to the office.