All Green Podcast Ep.7- Regulated Tourism; Interview with Jennifer Mason from JLM Strategic Marketing and New Heights Summit
Founder and Co-Owner of Eco Four Twenty, Michael Ghazal, recently had the opportunity to interview President of JLM Strategic Marketing and the New Heights Summit, Jennifer Mason.
Jennifer is a trailblazer in the recreational/regulated market and has a vast experience in curating unique and creative marketing campaigns for businesses in the industry. Jennifer is also a strong advocator and leader in the developing Canadian cannatourism industry. The All Green Podcast was honoured to have the opportunity to interview Jennifer on the show.
ALL GREEN PODCAST EP. 7- 10 QUESTIONS WITH JENNIFER MASON
1. You’ve done marketing with some of the biggest brands in Canada. Canadian Tires, Coors Light, Ontario Tourism. I’d love to give our listeners a brief synopsis of that. What would you like to share?
Jennifer: I went to U of T and Ryerson, I did both degrees at the same time. I added Ryerson to my degree because I really enjoyed marketing. I started in University as a Brand Ambassador, so going in the field. Sampling Diet Pepsi was one of my very first roles and driving around the city in branded vehicles. I worked for Q107; I was on air doing the community cruiser a couple of summers. So I really, truly fell in love with marketing and while I was doing my university degree I decided to supplement it with the Ryerson degree and I’ve just kept down that path. I worked for advertising agencies, marketing agencies my whole career- servicing big brands and I’ve worked with some big advertising agencies and some smaller ones. I’ve even worked in an ad agency in Australia as well when I was travelling there for a year.
Now I run my own agency, we’ve been around for about five and a half years, that’s JLM and as you’ve mentioned, I worked with the tourism industry for the better part of 20 years. That includes Ontario Tourism, Destination Toronto, Destination Ontario and the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario; we’re currently their marketing agency. We’ve also worked with, not just the associations, but a lot of the businesses within tourism, and many of the businesses within tourism are small businesses. Family owned or operated. There’s actually a huge mix. There are some really great parallels between the regulated industry and the tourism industry in terms of landscape of size, and scale of business.
I also have two boys, teenage boys. I also have a dog and live in the beach and I love to travel. I’ve travelled around the world, I attended school for a year in France, and as I mentioned, I worked in Australia for a year. I also lived on a scuba diving boat in Israel and worked on that for four months in the Red Sea. I think I’ve been to about 33 different countries, and travelled coast to coast across Canada and a lot of different destinations in Ontario. I mention this because I’ve travelled quite a few places in the world and I continue to have the travel bug, but, having seen all that and a lot of Canada, I realize how wonderful Canada is, and that we really do have world-class tourism here, and experiences in the warmest and most wonderful people as well. I’m really proud to work with Ontario tourism and to represent Cannatourism for Canada, so you know the regulated marketing is bringing together a lot of my passions into one place.
2. If we can use Coors or Canadian Tire, what is something that a small business could learn to benefit themselves, in terms of marketing, from these giant brands?
Jennifer: Every brand has the same challenge. It’s really understanding who you are, what you stand for, what you’re about, your mission, your values. It’s knowing those and owning them and articulating it. Putting it down on paper. Big brands understand the value of a brand. The ones you see grow to that level really have a good sense of who they are and they create a design for themselves that’s based on their value proposition that then needs to be received by people. If you really understand who your customer is, and what they care about and what they’re looking for, you can speak directly to them from the heart- it doesn’t matter the size of your budget. It’s really just about knowing what you stand for, who you are and who is your product for? It’s not for everybody.
So really understanding, “Okay, well who am I marketing to?”, and being very specific in talking to them directly. That’s something I think that people can learn from. When it comes to marketing, again, it doesn’t matter the size of your budget. If you’re not efficient and effective, then it’s a waste. I know that when you’re a small business that every dollar counts, on a different level then, let’s say, an enterprise. But enterprise companies are looking at their bottom line and their share and everybody’s gone through some trauma over the economy fluctuations. We all have to look at every dollar we’re spending and making sure that it’s delivering against the desired results. So how little do I have to spend in order to get the desired results? Everyone needs to ask themselves that question, big or small. Then, what are you trying to accomplish? Making sure that you’re brief. When you sit down and say, “This is what I want to do,” that your brief is good. What are you trying to accomplish? How much money, and what is that ROI? What are those key performing indicators, KPIs, that you can measure during post-event or program, to say “Did this work?”. If you don’t know exactly what those desired outcomes are before you go into it, you’re not going to know if it worked or not.
So really defining that and taking the time to develop that strategy will save people a lot of money and time and mistakes. As a regulated brand, I think you get a lot of great ideas thrown at you all the time, so how do you filter? How do you know which ones are the right ones for you? If you haven’t done that work, everything looks good or everything looks bad. But if you’ve done the work you can say this is good for me or not good for me because it doesn’t fit into my plan or my strategy. Again that’s not about money, that’s really about honing in on what you’re trying to accomplish.
3. Do you find it was a similar model working with Ontario Tourism and the government? Like, big corporate versus big government projects. Was there any differences you found?
Jennifer: I think government, corporate, everyone’s facing the same challenge. You have a certain amount of money, you’re trying to accomplish a certain thing and you’re going to be held accountable. Really knowing what you’re trying to accomplish, making decisions on how you’re going to do it to get you the desired outcome. There’s many different ways to go about something, right? We’ve all learned we have to do a lot of things differently and some of it works and some of it doesn’t. If you’re going to test new things, don’t throw a huge chunk of money at it. You can test and learn in a smaller scale. But if you’ve tried, tested something or you know it’s going to work then you can go a little bit bigger. Sort of that walk before you run. I think every brand, whether you’re a government organization, big or small, should be doing that similar kind of thing. When you speak of Ontario Tourism, and what a lot of people don’t realize, is that Ontario Tourism is made up of tons of these small businesses. Yes, there are government officials that are there, but they’re representing the businesses and they’re representing the sector at the same time. So they really have to consider many different voices at all times, and then any time I’ve worked on behalf of those parties, I find it to be a big responsibility to represent all those businesses, so we want to make sure that we really understand what they’re trying to accomplish and then make sure we can accommodate businesses and voices of all shapes and sizes…
… The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario is a great association for small businesses and tourism, and I encourage anyone who is interested in cannatourism. whether you’re a regulated business or tourism business, to join. I think if you join before the end of the year it’s free, it was a Covid benefit, and they are the voice of the tourism industry, to the industry itself, but also to the government. They put out a ton of surveys, they lobby the government for recovery dollars- for the tourism recovery- they’re behind a lot of the work that get’s done there. They’re in there talking to the government and the industry association heads, on behalf of all these small businesses. So, you don’t have to look very far over the last couple of years to see some of the great work they’ve been doing. Not just in times of crisis, but also in good times as well.
4. Do you think a lot of these government projects are thinking about the cannatourism 10 years down the line. or do you think it’s more short-term?
Jennifer: Obviously I can’t speak for the government, quite honestly. I don’t think that there’s a government entity focused on cannatourism, right now, that I am aware of. I think that the Tourism Industry Association is not part of the government, they’re an association that works directly with the government. They are enthusiastic about it, so there’s different parties that work together that collaborate and that are interested in it. But, I also think that there’s not a full appreciation and understanding of cannatourism, across the board. It’s so new, and really defining it is step number one. I think even a lot of people in the recreational industry don’t understand what cannatourism is. They might have an inkling, or they might understand an aspect of it, but it really is all-encompassing and can really touch almost every aspect of the recreational ecosystem, and represents revenue-generating opportunities, which I think LPs and retailers need right now.
5. I would love to talk about your favourite, regulated marketing projects. Is there an event or a marketing project that you think has been really exciting or successful?
Jennifer: I love the Sessions store launches, let's do that one. When Covid hit in March of 2020, I really thought a few months into it, “When am I ever going to do a live event again?”. This was our core business so it was a very difficult transition, so when I started working with Sessions that summer, they wanted to do these in-person events, I couldn’t have been more excited. We were still early within the first 6 months of Covid. What was cool about it is that Sessions and Stephen Fry and Darryl Allen were very open to exploring and pushing a little bit the grey lines, because there is some things there that aren’t really quite set up well for small businesses. So they were game to try a few things that had never been done before.
The first thing was having live events and making sure that we were following Covid protocols and the number of people you can have in a store at a time, and having a “press conference”, when you really couldn’t have that gathering. So, just navigating how we were handling that, which we did, and then having the in-field staff that were going and doing the consumer intercepts with people out on the street. So making sure they were targeting an adult, most definitely an adult, and also following the Covid protocols so wearing gloves, social distancing, and to be able to hand out some of the elements. People loved it, you know? They were thrilled to get the t-shirt, or we had postcards we were handing out with offers to go back to the stores, and we had a mobile truck driving around that had big video screens on three sides of it playing a video and went around with the brand ambassadors. It just made it very festive and fun, and the music was great, people were excited and their locations were near malls- in strip malls. There were adjacent businesses, like the one in Cambridge had an LCBO right beside it, and there was a big lineup. It was a compliment; so people were excited, they could get their product and their drinks in the one-stop-shop, and there was a huge line outside the LCBO because the capacities in the stores were so small that they were happy to engage with the brand ambassadors outside the store. Also, next to one of the stores was a Pita Pit, and the employees there were super excited that, you know, now you got the munchies right next to a licensed retailer. It was a very friendly launch into those markets.
The other thing we did is we had an SMS contest, so you could enter through your phone and through an SMS code, and the codes were posted on the postcards, the signage and in-store. There was an in-store activation with Ace brands as well, they had a brand ambassador in the store, just talking about some of their new products. The final element was a helicopter that flew over one of the stores and was pulling a banner and it said, “TEXT ‘HIGH’ TO 8888” and then you get a discount. So we had over 120 or so people, or more, come into the store and say “We saw the helicopter!” It was only flying for 2 hours so we got a lot of traffic and excitement around that. Not only Covid, not only a recreational brand, highly regulated, we still did some really innovative, unique stuff that pushed the envelope. Hopefully that just says to people that even under the craziest, most difficult circumstances, if you’re creative you can do stuff. Sometimes I think the most creative things come from out of the most restrictive conditions because you have no other choice but to be really creative.
6. We’d love to get your opinion on the incident at Astroworld that happened recently. How do companies plan these massive events safely? What are your opinions on everything that happened?
Jennifer: It’s a tough one. Anytime I hear of a situation like that, and there’s been a few of stages collapsing and people dying or things like that. I always feel ill for those event people, because I just know how devastating that would be to those people organizing it and nobody would ever want such a thing to happen and I do believe that they would have had a strong risk management plan. These aren’t rookies putting on concerts, but even the best planning can’t prevent things from happening. You can mitigate risk and that’s why we call it a risk management plan because you can manage the risk. It’s unfortunate that that happened, it’s unfortunate that people died. It seems to me like they were planning for a large crowd but some of their security measures weren’t strong enough. I saw a video of people pushing down barricades. So that looks a little shaudy, but again I don’t want to judge from a distance cause I wasn’t there and I didn’t see it. I would just say that anytime there’s huge crowds of people, and you’re riling people up, stuff can happen.
We saw that, a little bit, when we had the Raptor’s win, and we had that big celebration here. The city did a great job posting that event and planning, but they didn’t anticipate how many people were gonna come. I think there were three times the amount of people they were expecting, and there were shots fired and people were running. I saw it, coming up to it, my kids wanted to go and I said “I’m not taking you because I just don’t feel comfortable in an event that size when it’s too big”. It’s very rowdy and you just knew right away when you saw the masses arriving in the city that there were too many people coming and there weren’t prepared. In fact, I feel like we were lucky something worse didn’t happen, so when you get that size and scale of human beings together, there is a risk. If you go into a venue like the Scotiabank Arena, it’s kind’ve pre-setup like that, that’s why there are the railings there and the sections and there’s so much security around. They know how to control their venue better and those people work in that venue day in and day out, they know it better than anyone. Versus, out in a festival, where you might be bringing on a lot of temporary staff that don’t have that constant. The infrastructure wasn’t a permanent infrastructure, so it’s risky. When people panic all bets are off, you get this herd mentality and that’s what happened, a lot of people were trampled at the concert.
I have a story, when I took my kids when they were fairly young down to the beach to the fireworks on July 1st. It’s getting close to 10 o’clock when it’s going to start and there’s thousands of people down there, it’s pretty packed, and some kids had put those bottle rockets into the sand to shoot them off but they didn’t put it in the sand strong enough so it tipped over and the things started shooting horizontally across the beach. These are like fireballs firing at people so everybody scrambled and I literally had to pick up my kids and run because I could see we were gonna get trampled if we didn’t move quick. It scared me! So, anything can happen, is my point, really anything can happen.
7. I would love to ask about this exciting new survey you are doing. Just so everyone knows, until December 31st, if you participate in this survey you have a chance to win a 3-day getaway for 10 people, courtesy of Canadian regulated recreational Research Survey. Please tell us a bit about it and what you’re excited about for this.
Jennifer: So, I also want to thank Hibnb for sponsoring us for the contest, they’re the ones providing the prize. The research study you mentioned; it’s really important for us to understand the data, and not just talk about it, but what is the business case behind cannatourism? So what we decided to do was just poll Canadians. What do Canadians want? As I said earlier, if we can create something that we are proud of and Canadians are tourists in our own cities and country, so as a tourist, where do you want to go? Where would you go? How far would you travel? What would you do if you could have a cannatourism experience? It’s essentially what we were asking people.
Some of the early results, we don’t have all of the data in yet, but the early indicators I can share now:
- 75% of our respondents said they are interested in going on a retreat or getaway, so that’s really very exciting, and that could be anything. That could be an over night trip, it could be a concert, a show, something to do, they wanna have some sort of retreat or getaway associated with consumption.
- They want to stay in canna-friendly accommodations; 71%. So there’s a case for Hibnb’s service and any other hotel or resort that wants to offer canna-friendly or canna-dedicated experience. I know there’s a lot of spas and resorts looking at that because wellness, relaxation, just goes so well with recreational consumption.
- 70% said they would have an infused dining experience; with the chef and they’re curating the meal or it could be a beverage, so I think that’s really exciting. You talk about the future vision, imagine that as part of your farmgate tour is to get that culinary experience on the same property.
8. What’s one of those experiences that you would be the most excited to do yourself?
Jennifer: I want to do all of them! For me, I love the recreational market, so I go to a concert and I consume. If I go to a getaway or a weekend away with my friends we bring consumables with us. Now, what’s exciting for me, is trying all the new different products that are coming out. I just got some hemp face serum for skin and I’ve been sampling some of the topical creams and whatnot. I also like the cookies, the gummies, the beverages, so that’s what exciting to me right now is all the new stuff. I was also getting educated on extracts the other day so I’ve never tried that before. I think it’s just fun to explore different things. When people go on vacation, they often want to try something that they wouldn’t normally do. This is also a really great thing, if you’re not in your everyday life, you’re not consuming, but you’re canna-curious or you wanna know what it’s all about, why wouldn’t you want to try it when you’re on vacation, it’s a perfect experience. I also think festivals. There are lots of wonderful festivals that don’t have to be at a large scale where you can really have a wonderfully experience, and it could be multileveled.
There was one, the Hempfest out in Calgary in September, we partnered with them. I didn’t get to attend due to Covid but I understand it was a great event. Hempalooza unfortunately they had to postpone their event to next year. So I think they're some really exciting festivals that are just consumer festivals that I think I’d love to see more of those. In Calgary there’s another great tour where you can go and learn the history and have part of the experience there too, there are some things emerging right now. But hopefully this research study will give people the ideas beyond just the anecdotal, but the data to support it to say this is the profiles of the cannatourist, these are their preferences, and this is how far and how much money they’d be willing to spend. I think that’s really important because as somebody who wants to invest in a business or add elements/offerings to their business, they wanna make sure that they’re designing it correctly. So back to that discussion earlier on about knowing brands and knowing your customers, this is the insider on what the customer wants and then on the business side or the brand perspective you can say, “Okay, knowing what they have, what I have, how do we create that connection together?”
9. Where do you think the tourism industry is going in 5-10 years? Where would you like it to go?
Jennifer: I’m going to take a different approach to it, because, I look at it and say, “In 5 years where are my kids going to be?” So in 5 years my 15 year old is gonna be 20. It 5 years my 12 year old is gonna be 17. In their lifetime, their awareness lifetime, the recreational market would’ve been existing their entire life of awareness. Other than when they were kids. So they’re going to see it in a completely different way than the adulthood population that is a customer of today. I think they’re going to see a whole brand-new customer emerge and that destigmatization is started already because they don’t see it in the same way. I have a lot of conversations with my teenagers about consumption and what it’s about and keeping them safe, but also just having open conversations so that it’s not just something that is taboo. Obviously they’re not of age yet, just like alcohol, but we’re gonna talk about it openly. So when they get to be consumers in their early 20s and beyond, it will have always been legal in their mind. That’s a very different lens to look at a product, so I think that you’ll see a youth embracing it in a completely different way. In 5 to 10 years, I would like to see spas, I’d like to see a thriving ecosystem around cannatourism and the lounges; to me that is number one.
I think it’s not responsible to sell millions and millions of dollars of consumables in this country and not provide a respectable, responsible place for people to consume- and that is smokables as well as edibles and drinkables or topicals. You can’t pretend that people aren’t consuming it, because they are, you’re selling it and taking taxes and pushing people out into the streets and the alleys and inappropriate places like parks and backyards, where people don’t wanna be around it. You’re bothering other people and most people do not want to bother other people. So we would all want to, and I live in the beach in Toronto and before the bars opened in the Spring where everyone was really pint up and readying to come out, we had people going crazy and partying on the beach and doing inappropriate things. The minute the bars opened up again, that went away. People are going to do it anyway, so it’s a health and safety thing; put them in an appropriate place where there are people there to look after them, there’s security, there’s controls, and they can feel like they can enjoy themselves and have a good time. I think that has to happen.
10. Where is the best place for listeners/readers to connect with you?
Jennifer: Our website is New Heights and you can also find us on Instagram, as well as Twitter, LinkedIn. For B2B, LinkedIn is great, just reach out to me, my linked in profile Jennifer Mason or through New Heights (here). We’re always happy to hear from anyone who wants to talk about cannatourism. We’re always looking for partners too. Tourism is all about partnership, the tourism industry doesn’t exist unless we all connect together. People fly in, so you’re dealing with airlines, border control, hotels, accomodations, people need to eat and do stuff. Everybody is already partnering together in the tourism industry and now I’m just wanting to develop the cannatourism industry and find those great connections and partnerships so that you don’t need to be experts in each other’s businesses, but you need to find the right partners that fit with your brand. Again, going back to who you are, what you stand for, and looking for a great match.
LISTEN TO THE FULL EPISODE HERE