So you want to make your CEO the star? It’s a growing trend and there’s still room for your celebrity cannabis CEO.
The cannabis industry is ready for you, and you can take some tips from outside the cannabis industry to capitalize on the opportunity. From investment opportunities to increased brand value, to policy influence locally and nationally, and even profit increases, there are a lot of reasons why a CEO can be an important brand asset.
We’re seeing celebrity CEOs in the cannabis space, you know who they are. While it might look like those cannabis CEOs became industry household names simply because they’re so brilliant or successful, that’s simply not the case – there are many brilliant AND successful CEOs in cannabis whose names you wouldn’t be able to name. If you look around, you’ll see that cannabis CEOs and even more famous CEOs whose names you know, with very few exceptions, do these things in some combination. Because I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with some fantastic CEOs as well as politicians, I well know the big and little steps creating a celebrity takes.
So how do these CEOs become celebrities? The answer: extreme commitment to repeated exposure in multiple channels. Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither is celebrity CEO.
Close the C-Suite/Consumer Disconnect with Social Media
Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer said the majority of people (63%) believe CEOs should communicate with the public via social media and even more (79%) say knowing a CEO’s personal values is important to building trust, and that they trust spontaneous speakers more than well-delivered speeches. Contrast these statistics with the fact that 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence at all. No wonder there’s a disconnect from the C-suite to the Consumer.
These are interesting statistics for cannabis CEOs, who run businesses in an industry not yet federally recognized.
Increased Industry & Brand Trust
Yet this is EXACTLY the reason cannabis CEOs should be using social media. Even more than most industries, we must create trust with the general public. Summer 2019’s vape crisis did not help the cannabis industry’s reputation with the general public. Social media offers cannabis brands the opportunity to speak directly and consistently. Because social media offers the opportunity to be spontaneous, here’s the ONE THING you can’t get past with social media: if you’re CEO is tweeting or engaging on LinkedIn, she absolutely must be directly involved and engaged on the platform herself, at least sometimes. And she should be using social media as a listening platform too, it will help her feel more connected and more engaged with her clients.
Balance Strategy with Authenticity
Whatever objectives you have to this strategy, there are reasonably straightforward systems that can be employed to overcome them. Regardless of your strength as CEO, there’s a way for social media to work. Ghostwriters have a place in social media and many executives and celebrities rely on them, but the truest opportunities come when it isn’t exclusively outsourced, where there is a natural balance that remains authentic AND strategic. Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo does this very well, he uses Instagram to showcase his boundless energy and willingness to engage with the cannabis community. By intelligently committing to a platform he’s comfortable with, he’s able to work it into his daily life. DeAngelo has also been very consistent with his key messages, he comes back to the same topics time and again and he uses social media to reinforce those messages while also adding a sense of fun and celebration to serious industry discussions.
Pick A Format That Celebrates You as CEO
With social media, there are many, many formats and opportunities. For example, you can balance authenticity with strategy with serialized content. Serialized content allows for consistency and systems to be in place while maintaining flexibility enough to jump into action when there’s a particularly timely opportunity. From podcasts to video forums to tweetchats, serialized content offers a direct opportunity for CEOs to showcase their personalities and warmth, which according to Chris Malone of The Human Brand, is an essential factor in increasing trust, “There are two basic dimensions that we judge people on: competence, which is all about how your abilities are perceived, and warmth.” If your CEO is particularly witty or opinionated, live formats offer CEOs an outstanding opportunity for enhanced brand recognition.
Go where your consumers are. What cannabis CEO is going to make waves by being the first to create engaging content on TikToc or even one of the e-sports platform? There are all kinds of digital places where your consumers roam, be there, where you can actively enjoy the people and space.
Open the Kimono To The Press
Simply BEING a CEO isn’t enough to develop ongoing coverage. In order to become a celebrity CEO, there’s groundwork to be done.
Show up for the interview on time and prepared. Be clear on what you’ll say, identify a couple of key quotable statements you don’t want to miss and yes, review the journalist’s past articles to get a sense of their voice and depth. When the article is published, be sure to send a thank-you note and make sure your social media outlets share them. Get yourself ready with a variety of professional headshots and lifestyle shots that showcase how your CEO embodies the brand.
As CEO, you should be ready to share your availability with marketing and PR. When traveling for business, strategize with your team about how you can capitalize on the time your in that city. If you’re traveling for pleasure, stay a day or two extra and give your team ample time to set appointments for you.
Invest in media training, get really good at driving the conversation where you want it to go. Learn how to handle the toughest of questions with elegance and grace. Learn what circumstances produce the best outcomes for you and make yourself available for those oppotunities. For example, some people just don’t do well in person, so pursue opportunities that are over the phone, get comfortable with industry journalists so you can develop some mutual trust. Develop in-person opportunities over time and in settings where you feel comfortable.
Don’t Buy Into Your Own Press
“Fame is other people’s perception of who you are,” said Oprah Winfrey. “In order to remain true to who you are, you have to be aware of it, but you can’t buy into it.”
Stay grounded. For CEOs starting out on the celebrity endeavor, take a step back and treat all journalist opportunities like they are the most important you’ll ever do. Remember that journalists are a tight-knit crowd and if your cannabis CEO isn’t warm or inviting and interesting, word gets out. More importantly, you never know where that journalist will land. Be kind. Be respectful. Be humble.
Lean In on Warmth & Wit
CEOs don’t have to be flashy, they DO have to be open and wise. Linton wasn’t a particularly dynamic speaker, but he always had something interesting to say and he said it with the confidence and authority that left everyone hanging on his every word. He knew his strength and he exercised it.
An excellent example of this is Bruce Linton who was famously ousted from Canopy in July 2019. Linton had been making the speaking circuit and made himself available for comment to press, for the better part of a year, and it seemed no publication or conference was too big or too small for him to share his perspective.
Linton’s availability worked in his favor as his ousting was big news, but Linton wisely got out ahead of the story and used his visibility to tell his side of the story. It’s not just that he got out ahead of it either – he handled the entire situation with class, he was forward-looking and resisted any temptation to slam his former employer. All this worked out well for his next employer Vireo Health who got a healthy 26% stock bump after naming him CEO.
What’s interesting is a good look at this Google Trends report, which starts in 2016. You can see that Linton was already taking his position as CEO seriously even then, the groundwork was being laid. Even before his firing, you can see that the hard work is starting to pay off. The spike is obviously the news that he was let go, but most interesting is that Linton never took his foot off the gas and searches for him remained high even after his firing:
The Number One Tip for A Celebrity CEO
Planning. Don’t launch a celebrity campaign without using all your resources in marketing and PR. It’s a great idea to have a mix of trusted resources and new people who can see the forest through the trees. By now, CEO, you know who you are, lead your team of advisors by being transparent with them about your strengths and weaknesses. There’s no one who wants you to flop and starting out on the right foot will enable you all to succeed in this very exciting opportunity.