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It’s the Grow Business, Not the Bro Business

C for Cascade!

C for Cascade and M for Mary.

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend a networking event put on by the Portland chapter of Women Grow along with my client, Mary Babitz, the CEO of Cascade Botanical, which was one of the sponsors. This particular event featured three women who played a huge role in making Measure 91 (which ended marijuana prohibition in Oregon) a reality. They had a lot of interesting things to say, some of which we touched on over at the Cascade Botanical blog.

I’ve been to a number of cannabis industry gatherings, but never anything like this. This event was packed to the rafters with women who have built impressive careers in a variety of industries and who are already taking leadership roles in this one. Every attendee I saw (women and a few gents) talked, looked, dressed and acted like the kind seasoned professional you’d typically see at any mainstream industry get together where movers and shakers move and shake.

Event co-chair, Sara Batterby, opened by explaining one of the main reasons Women Grow came to be was that a lot of women just aren’t comfortable going to some of the other major Cannabis industry gatherings. That really struck a chord with me. I didn’t get the feeling she was talking about women being uncomfortable simply because there happen to be more men than women at a lot of these gigs, which is something most professionals can quickly transcend. I got the feeling it had more to do with the vibe generated at a lot of these events, which can often feel more like a celebration of “thug life” and “bro culture” than a gathering of dedicated business people who are working to build a legitimate industry worthy of being taken seriously by the masses.

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Leah Maurer and Sara Batterby

Part of the joy of working in the cannabis industry is having the ability to inject a little fun and personality and not being bound by the shackles of pusillanimous and milquetoast corporate suckitude. However, if the primary goal actually is to build a legitimate industry worthy of being taken seriously, that fun and personality should be manifested in a way that creates an environment that is not repellant to women.

The majority of my career has been spent working in PR agencies. In Silicon Valley in the early 90s where I got my start, it was very common to work in firms that were owned, managed and primarily staffed by women (as in about an 80/20 split). I’ve had some incredible experiences working with and for strong, smart, powerful women (along with some really bad ones). But at the end of the day, the best, most effective teams I’ve ever been a part of — by far — consist of a mixture of men and women in an environment where the potential for success and upward mobility was determined solely by the value individuals brought to the organization. The reality is that men and women are different, but those differences, when leveraged properly in the right environment can be tremendous assets.

The cannabis industry — like so many others — will eventually evolve to the point where there is less of a need for a women’s networking group to be created. What’s more, the current members of Women Grow will surely be among those who drive that change. In the meantime, it is in everyone’s best interest to help make that happen.

Can Trey Anastasio Pull Off The Impossible? Yes. He Already Has.

Warning: This post has nothing to do with cannabis industry marketing, so it doesn’t really belong here. However, it does touch on a few bands that some in the Cannabis industry enjoy, so please excuse the interruption.

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The metamorphosis has begun

There are a lot of story angles to explore regarding the official last hurrah of the Grateful Dead, where all four surviving members along with Bruce Hornsby on piano, Jeff Chimenti on keyboards and Trey Anastasio on lead guitar have come together for the five concerts that will bring the band’s 50-year run to a close. As of this writing, there are only three left.

Unlike the numerous projects involving various members of the Grateful Dead since Jerry Garcia’s tragic and untimely passing in 1995, the purpose of this tour is to honor the legacy of the band, to write the final chapter of its long strange history and to end it all on their own terms. Finishing on a high note would make for a very happy ending (and who doesn’t love a nice happy ending?). Of course, when it comes to highly improvisational jam bands — particularly one that’s missing its most important player and one that many argue peaked several decades ago — there are no guarantees.

As a long-time fan of both the Grateful Dead and Phish, one of the most interesting story angles for me when it comes to this iteration of the group has been the selection of Trey to replace Jerry in the lineup. Up until a few days ago, I would have referred to this as an unenviable task due the complications and risks involved with trying to do something that probably can’t actually be done.

From a purely technical perspective, Jerry might not have been the best guitar player to have ever lived and he certainly wasn’t the finest vocalist (unless you’re comparing him to Phil Lesh). But when you mixed Jerry’s style with his passion and knowledge of music and the way he interacted with his band mates, there was a certain honesty and purity and authenticity that came through that made his performances magical. When he was in the zone, it felt as if he was emanating a special something that oozed over the rest of the band, spilled out onto the audience and filled every crevice of the room (or stadium). Call it energy or vibrations or love in its purest most unfiltered form, it had the power to simultaneously connect everyone within its reach to him, the band and each other. It was real and it was beautiful and I’m sure if you were there you know exactly what I mean. You can catch glimpses of it when you listen to recordings, but even the best recording is a poor substitute for experiencing it live. It’s one of those things where you just had to be there. That’s what kept the faithful coming back and that’s why Jerry was and will forever be the the heart and soul of the Grateful Dead. In most ways, there simply is no substitute.

However, I believe it is still possible to have a genuinely top-shelf concert truly worthy of Jerry’s memory and the full Grateful Dead moniker. It has never successfully been done before, but this weekend we saw enough to know it could be. Making it happen will require everyone in the band to bring his A game. For Trey, it requires much, much more.

All the other actors get to play themselves in this movie. Phil has got to drop the Phil Bombs for which he is known and loved, but the end of the day, Phil just needs to be Phil at his very best, which is something he does all the time. Bobby just needs to be Bobby, Bruce needs to be Bruce and so on. Trey just being Trey won’t be adequate. In some ways, Tray quasi-literally has to “play God.”

©Jay BlakesbergHis job started months ago. He has had to not learn, but to MASTER a huge catalog of songs he didn’t write and hasn’t spent a lifetime playing. To succeed completely, he needs to significantly modify his unique playing style and signature sound — which may be part of the same genre, but is a LOT different from Jerry’s. He has to be Jerry-like enough in his performances to embody Jerry’s spirit and make the songs sound like Grateful Dead songs while adding enough of his own rocket sauce to give his solos life and vibrancy. If he just tries to just be a Jerry clone, he runs the risk of turning the Grateful Dead into nothing more than a Grateful Dead cover band or a caricature of itself. To me that’s exactly what The Dead and The Other Ones and all the other post-Jerry iterations I’ve seen have been (what some would argue is what the Grateful Dead had become in the later years just before Jerry died). This might be acceptable in some instances, but not this one.

Beyond that, Trey needs to step in and lead a band that has been playing off and on together for a half-century — all while checking his ego and hanging back just a bit so Bobby can think he’s actually the guy charge. Finally, as if all that wasn’t enough, he has to do it all while a bunch of nerdy armchair critics, skeptics and haters dissect every move he makes and every note he plays.

It’s kind of like adding a new quarterback to a pro football team in the middle of playoff season and ask him to take the team to a Superbowl victory.

Can he do it? At this point, I’m certain that he can, BECAUSE HE JUST DID IT. He did it for an entire show on Sunday and for parts of the show the night before. He’s not simply doing a passable job, he’s CRUSHING IT to an extent few could have dared to hope or expect. Need an example? “Hell in a Bucket” was a genuine show highlight thanks to Trey’s solos (which Bobby eventually successfully ended prematurely, but it took him several tries). Have you EVER heard anyone refer to that song as a show highlight back in the Jerry days? I sure haven’t.

Moreover, it looks like Trey’s having the time of his life playing Dead. The man is beaming. It’s clear that none of this is lost on everyone else in the band based on how they were acting at the end of Sunday’s show. They were beaming too and it’s quite possible that Micky might have felt some of the same feelings he had while playing with Jerry, which could well have been why he said what he said at the end of the show.

I’d imagine Trey’s performance is also convincing a lot of the people who like the Grateful Dead but somehow aren’t already huge Phish/Trey Band fans to take another look at that body of work as well. I don’t really understand how someone could love the Grateful Dead but not care for Phish, but apparently some do. The cool part for the new converts is that Trey and Phish are still on their way up — pretty cool for a band that has been around as long as the Grateful Dead had been when Jerry died (and when Jerry died, the Grateful Dead was a far cry from being on its way up).

Phish may have had a number of less-than-stellar years, but right now the band is at a high point and exuding the same type of joy for music Jerry used to exude. They’re also expressing it in a very bright and uplifting way. Trey’s sobriety (another huge accomplishment of his that deserves respect and recognition) seems to have taken him and the rest of the band to new levels of awesome and that’s something fans old and new have the chance to experience today. It’s nice to be able to think nostalgically about the good old days while enjoying the good old present days with the prospect of many more to come.

BN-JD459_0629de_G_20150629084453As for the question of whether or not the Grateful Dead can pull off three barn-burners in a row this weekend, we’ll just have to see. After last weekend I’m cautiously optimistic. It is true that they got off to a rough start. It did take a bit of time for everyone to get in the groove of playing together (and the first day’s first set setlist, while interesting, didn’t do them any favors in that regard). Lyrics and cues have been flubbed including a complete butchery of “He’s Gone.” And they’re “finally” letting Phil sing — if you can call wheezing, moaning and croaking along with the band singing. If anything, that’s what will most likely yank me from Cloud Nine during the show, but I’ll just work my way back up if it does. Perhaps they’ll let Trey and Bruce take over the singing for more of the Jerry songs, which is something they should do if they wanted the best possible results, but egos are obviously a factor and I’m not going to hold my breath.

In Santa Clara, the band gave us enough beautiful and memorable musical moments to warrant the ticket (or pay-per-view) price, and they’re getting better and better as they go. Greatness is within reach.

No matter what happens there will be people who can’t wait to bitch and pick these performances apart and tell you how much better it was in ’72 or ’77. Those unfortunate souls who are unable to “get” Phish will keep carrying on about how Warren Haynes or Jimmy Herring are better choices (but if that’s the case, why aren’t they there?). And some jackwagon somewhere won’t be able to resist the temptation to post this stupid “What Phish Sounds Like to Everyone Else” video to Facebook for the millionth time.

As for me, I’ll be cheering for the team to pull together to deliver the big win and reflecting on how grateful I am for everything that is, was, and always will be the Grateful Dead (and Phish).

 

 

 

 

Building a Cannabusiness for the Long Haul

A solid foundation is key to longevity

A solid foundation is key to longevity

The Cannabis business is in a very exciting place right now. In the minds of many, it’s a nascent industry filled with endless opportunity – and in some ways that’s exactly what it is. Of course many of those who have been in the business for decades (or, in the case of some California growers, for generations) have a much different point of view. Unfortunately for some of these pioneers, version 2.0 of the cannabis business will soon force them to either make some significant changes if they want to remain captains of the very industry they took so much time and risk to cultivate. The good news is that many of these pioneers can and will succeed as the inevitable transformation  occurs.

Like it or not, change IS coming and large corporations will be playing a bigger and bigger role. However, the fact that many facets of the industry are still in a state of legal limbo means change isn’t going to happen overnight. There’s still a little time to adjust to “the new normal.” In fact, there’s still time to help define the new normal.

As Cody Bass, longtime medical marijuana advocate, grower and founder of the Tahoe Wellness Cooperative recently pointed out at the Northwest Cannabusiness Symposium, there are several things those who have been part of the industry for some time can do to make sure they continue to have a seat at the table. These include things like being a good neighbor, being involved with your community and running a reputable organization from “seed to sale.” He also recommends being compassionate and demonstrating through action that you’re in the business not just to make money, but because you genuinely want to help people. This is something an entity that’s only truly interested in increasing shareholder wealth finds difficult to fake.

This does not mean you must become a nonprofit cooperative or even focus on the medical side of the business to come out on top. Indeed, some of the most successful companies will cater to the “adult use” (a.k.a. recreational) market as it continues to grow – and that’s OK. You also don’t need to be an industry veteran – all sorts of people with general business acumen and a diverse set of experiences will bring new perspectives and ideas that are sure to catch on.

Regardless, as is the case in pretty much any industry, those who build the best brands will rise to the top. Building a brand means creating a commonly held perception of you and your organization. It means proactively developing the story of your business and then living that story so that others will reinforce it and build upon it.

How do you do that? For starters, you can do all the things Cody suggests. You also make sure you tell your story in a deliberate and consistent way – through your marketing materials, your social media activities, the way you and your staff behave and what you say to key industry influencers. If that’s something need help doing or if you’d like to learn more, give us a shout. That’s why we’re here.

Dean Rodgers

Dean has spent more than 25 years spearheading strategic communications campaigns for leading and emerging consumer and technology companies nationally and around the globe.

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