We’re heading into trade show season. So for my latest Cannabis Business Executive column—where I regularly unpack the art of public relations in the cannabis industry—let’s dig into some smart ways to decide what cannabis conferences are worth your time and money, and how to get the most out of any event you attend.
Trade shows and conferences are the perfect opportunity to learn more about the industry, meet peers and network with potential business partners. But when you walk into a trade show with hundreds of exhibitors and thousands of attendees, you should do so with a game plan in place. No matter where your business is at in its growth trajectory, if you take the time to craft and execute a solid game plan, you can walk away with promising business partner potentials, new leads, hot ideas and a better overall sense of the industry ecosystem.
So here are a few of the best tips I give all of my clients at Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, to make sure they get the most value from cannabis industry conferences and trade shows.
These days, cannabis trade shows are popping up like, well, weeds. But all trade shows are not created equal. Some conferences have appropriate resources and planning to ensure a successful event, while others do not. Make sure you are spending your time and resources on a conference that fits with your company’s mission and goals.
Some of the best events in the industry are happening in the coming months, including the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Cannabis Business Summit & Expo (July 25-27), MJBizConINT’L (Aug. 14-16), New West Summit (Oct. 11-13), Cannabis Sustainability Symposium (Oct. 26), and of course the granddaddy of them all, MJBizConVegas (Nov. 14-16).
Beyond your endemic audiences, look at conferences that speak to your segment in the industry. So if you’re in a technology-focused consumer-facing company, for example, look into participating in events such as CES (Consumer Electronics Show). If you are an edibles company, you may want to participate at Sweets & Snacks Expo. Businesses focusing on horticultural endeavors should look into Cultivate. If you are a pharma / biotech organization, you might want to attend INTERPHEX.
Whether it’s 10×10 or 40×40, booths are locations where you can be seen, make new connections and get business done. In my opinion, the best booths have a private space where you can take meetings. Make sure you have some useful swag on hand, like pens, notebooks, lighters or sunglasses, and examples of your product—non-medicated samples if applicable. Additionally, giveaways and other calls-to-action can be helpful for gathering leads.
Other sponsorship options that can help position your company as a leader include sponsoring receptions, awards ceremonies, lanyards or other signage at a conference or trade show.
Once you’ve decided what conferences are worth putting your resources into, it’s time to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck. Most of the top conferences not only have an expo floor, they also have educational tracks. If you’re an expert in your field, speaking sessions are excellent opportunities to shine and share your knowledge with others in the industry.
If you’d like to speak at a conference, it’s important to plan ahead because most open a request for speaker abstracts at least six months before the event. For example, SXSW has a lead time of eight months. You’ll want to have your conference plan in place a year in advance to ensure you can submit your speaker abstract by deadline and participate in the conference’s educational track.
Once you’re (hopefully) selected to speak, don’t forget that you are there to share knowledge and educate—not to sell. The quickest way to not get asked back is by being too commercial or promotional in your presentation. Alternately, providing real value and service in your presentation will make people want to seek you out and learn more. Be sure to prepare with your fellow panelists a few weeks before the event. And for goodness’ sake, get a good night sleep and don’t party too hard the night before you are scheduled to get on that stage.
So you’ve selected which conferences you’ll be attending, you’ve reserved your booth and you’ve even been selected to speak on a panel—but your preparation isn’t over yet.
Conferences are an opportunity to get some face time with folks you may deal with a lot but don’t have an opportunity to meet in your city. So about a month before the conference, start reaching out and scheduling meetings with people in your industry who live in other regions, but who may be attending this event. This includes business prospects as well as journalists.
Make sure that your schedule is booked from breakfast, selecting not-to-be-missed educational sessions, lunch meetings, dinner, cocktails and, of course, the parties. You may have to be a bit flexible on exact locations, but making sure you’ve locked in your schedule means that at the end of the conference, you can look back on an impressive return on your investment.
Depending on your specific area of business, it might also be useful to post something on your company’s website and social media accounts letting people know you’ll be attending the event. And form a pre-event promotional plan to help you build buzz and generate leads.
Finally, don’t forget to bring lots and lots of business cards. When you get a business card from someone you want to establish a connection with, make a note on it regarding the date and conference where you met, as well as a reminder about why you should follow up with this person. Another helpful tip is to sit down at the end of each day and jot down what happened and who you met. At the end of the conference, draft a wrap-up memo that highlights your connections and your wins at the conference.
With the right battle plan, conferences will never give you anxiety again, and you will easily be able to justify your return on investment to attend. What do you think the pros and cons are of attending industry conferences? Who is doing it right? I would love to hear your thoughts about conferences and anything else you would like to see me address in this recurring column. You can reach me at [email protected]
Shawna Seldon McGregor is the founder of Maverick Public Relations. She established Maverick PR in 2018 after two decades at PR agencies in New York City and Denver. McGregor has deep experience representing a multitude of sectors including biotech, sustainable technologies, renewable energy, associations, the regulated cannabis industry and media companies. McGregor is a member of PRSA, where she has earned a certificate in Reputation Management. She’s also a member of NIRI, NCIA and Denver Press Club. She was named a top PR pro by Civilized (January 2018), Cannabis Industry Journal (December 2017) and MG magazine (June 2017). In 2016, she accepted the Cannabist Award for best agency for work in the cannabis industry. For more information, contact [email protected]
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