There’s always been a connection between cannabis and music, but how do legal cannabis brands authentically connect with music lovers?
To answer that question, we’re talking to Kieve Huffman. Kieve is the founder and CEO of Engager Brands–a portfolio of cannabis lifestyle brands focused on reaching under-marketed music audiences.
He builds authentic awareness for brands like Heavy Grass and Neon Roots by meeting people at concerts and music festivals. Before launching Engager, Kieve worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, including Apple. Microsoft, MTV, Warner, Universal, and Sony.
Today, Kieve joins the podcast to talk about how he jumped from the worlds of music and entertainment into cannabis branding, what he’s doing to connect with influencers and reach audiences beyond reggae and jam bands, and his vision for a world in which cannabis consumption can happen safely and legally at shows.
- How “stoner dude culture” and terrible branding inspired Kieve to launch a more mainstream cannabis media company.
- The unique challenges of running national marketing campaigns for cannabis and CBD products–and the difference between promoting brand awareness instead of products.
- The elements that make for a successful brand activation.
- Why on-premise cannabis sales and consumption at music events is Kieve’s “holy grail”–and what some people are doing to make this a reality right now.
- Why Kieve thinks we’re still at least one presidency away from full legalization.
- “A lot of these guys come in, they slap their logo on it, they think they’re going to make a quick buck, and they don’t because it takes a while for you to build this up.” – Kieve Huffman
- “Because cannabis is not federally legal right now, it’s a state-by-state game. And so, as a result, most people don’t even really know what brands are successful or aren’t successful at this point.” – Kieve Huffman
- Engager Brands
- Heavy Grass
- Heavy Grass’s Instagram
- Neon Roots
- Neon Roots’ Instagram
- PRØHBTD Media
- CLOWN CANNABIS
- Hall of Flowers
- Outside Lands
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Rick Kiley: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of The Green Repeal. I am one of your co-hosts, Rick Kiley. I’m joined, as always, by Jeffrey Boedges. What’s up, Jeff?
Jeffrey Boedges: Hi, guys. It feels like L.A. here today, which is my softball pitch to you, Rick, on your continued introduction.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We do have a guest that is coming to us from the West Coast, the left coast. Although it’s 64 degrees and sunny and we’re on the eve of Purim if you celebrate. We got that Irish holiday coming up also, St. Patty’s Day. So, spring is in the air, as we say, so it’s a good time. Today, we are welcoming Kieve Huffman, who is the founder and CEO of Engager Brands, which is a portfolio of cannabis lifestyle brands focused on reaching under-marketed music audiences. What’s an under-marketed music audience, you might ask? We’re going to find out. At Engager, Kieve is building authentic awareness for brands like Heavy Grass and Neon Roots by meeting these non-mainstream music lovers in their natural habitat of concerts and music festivals. I like to think of that as one of my natural habitats too, just so you know.
Jeffrey Boedges: It is.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, absolutely. Partnering with musicians like Clown from the multi-platinum band, Slipknot, Kieve has been able to leverage artists’ influence to foster connections that can take brands to the next level. Prior to Engager, Kieve has worked with some of the world’s most recognizable technology media, mobile, and consumer brands, including Apple, Microsoft, MTV, Warner, Universal, and Sony. What, man, no Lego? Gosh, just to name a few.
Jeffrey Boedges: It might be on there. It says, “And more.”
Rick Kiley: It’s not…
Jeffrey Boedges: Implied.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. And with over 25 years of experience under his belt where Kieve is still developing new brands in cannabis, music, video, mobile, live events, Kieve, welcome to The Green Repeal.
Rick Kiley: Question number one, do you ever sleep? That’s a lot going on. How are you doing, man?
Kieve Huffman: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We’re really thrilled that you can join us. I feel like we could pick any one part of your career and probably fill an entire hour. So, we’re going to try to have a greatest hits episode here and try to run the gamut here. I just thought we’d start by you telling us a little bit about your experience in music and entertainment industry and sort of how that bridged into the legal cannabis industry.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Because you don’t really see those industries going together in the music industry. It seems a little odd, you know.
Rick Kiley: Jeff, I did use the word legal cannabis industry.
Jeffrey Boedges: Oh, legal. Legal cannabis. Right.
Rick Kiley: That’s the story we’re telling.
Kieve Huffman: Absolutely. Well, yes. So, I got my start working in the music industry in New York. I was working in a variety of different aspects but I actually slept less in New York than I do now, I will have you know, because I wore multiple hats. So, I was one of the early kind of guys working on the digital side of music. So, I kind of started the new media department and the dot-com business for a company called Columbia House. I don’t know if you remember that one, get your 12 CDs for the price of one.
Rick Kiley: I still get mail from them.
Jeffrey Boedges: I have all my CDs still. I have all of my CDs. I have them all in boxes and I bet you at least 500 of them came from Columbia.
Rick Kiley: Wait. You’re not the guy that came up with the idea that made it impossible to quit, are you?
Kieve Huffman: The negative option preceded me but it was…
Rick Kiley: Alright. We can continue then.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah, that was a… Yeah. It was amazing because you know what, I learned so much about direct marketing, direct response.
Rick Kiley: Sure.
Kieve Huffman: And that led into sort of my whole career in the music industry of taking off with the digital because I actually understood those concepts, which we weren’t really taught in the music industry. So, it kind of helped launch the digital business for RCA, then BMG, then Sony BMG was there for kind of the whole wild, wild west days of like, “What do you mean people spend money on this snippet of music to put on their phone as a ringtone? And what are these subscription services and all those different things?” And then kind of on the side, I was always also managing bands just because I’ve just always had a passion for music and also because I’m just a huge music fan. I was going and taking advantage of the fact that I could pretty much go to every show I ever wanted to go to for free. So, I’ve probably been to over a thousand concerts in my life. And so, I kind of took that New York experience, the music industry experience as far as it would going to go for me because what ended up happening is when BMG merged with Sony, I came from the BMG side, Sony’s sole philosophy is like, “We got to put this genie back in the bottle.” I was all about like, “The genie is out of the bottle,” and I just didn’t want to be the squeaky wheel anymore.
So, I moved out here to L.A. to kind of work on earlier stage companies like I did my first startups. I was a very-late-in-life entrepreneur and then, eventually, like I’d say about seven years ago, I was like sitting around with a bunch of other entrepreneurs and really, really smart people here in L.A. and we were saying, “Well, what do you think is going to be the next big thing?” And we all said weed. And this was back in 2014. So, we’re like, “Where can we play in this?” And when we started doing it, there’s really three of us that eventually decided to give it a go. And what we recognize is that all of the content and the branding was absolutely horrible at that time. I mean, it was all they kind of focused on what we call like the stoner dude culture.
Jeffrey Boedges: We talk about it a lot.
Kieve Huffman: And we started doing a lot of diligence and research on what we realized is like that’s actually only about 10% of consumers and it’s the most lucrative 10%, which is why that particular time that everyone was going after it. But we were like there’s a big opportunity for us to bring sort of our branding, our advertising experience, our content creation and like bring this professionalism and kind of bridge sort of to the mainstream. And so, we created a company called PRØHBTD Media. We were the first kind of website to really start kind of talking about cannabis in a way that was a bit more accessible to the mainstream audience. We created the first multi-platform network for video content. We had our own in-house video studio. We ended up creating an in-house agency because people would come to us and say, “Hey, we love the way all your stuff looks. Can you help us with our brands? We worked on over 60 different brand projects.” And then we started creating our own brands. And so, I spun off from that at the end of 2019 with a focus on really focusing on kind of bringing together my two past lives. You know, there is an opportunity to connect cannabis brands to music audiences. And what I was seeing was that everyone, if they were focused on music, everyone was focused on rap or reggae, and everything else was being kind of left wide open. So, like, if someone’s going to leave that wide open, then I’ll jump into that lane.
Jeffrey Boedges: And you leave the jam band segment out of that. I mean, that’s got to be top one. I was going to say, I mean, look, nothing against reggae, nothing against rap, but come on. Jam bands?
Kieve Huffman: I know. Well it’s interesting. So, it kind of talks. I’ll give you a little bit of our secret sauce on how we make a decision. So, we take a look at, first of all, what’s the total addressable fan base for this particular style, genre of music? And actually, jam band is not kind of out there.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s not. No, no. You’re right. You just answered my backhanded question.
Kieve Huffman: So, for instance, there’s 28 million hard rock and heavy metal fans in the US alone. It’s not the sexiest style of music out there but they’re incredibly loyal and they also over-index in consumption. So, like 25% of them self-identify as consumers. I actually think that’s probably even low. But that’s still greater than the general public, which I think right now is identifying somewhere between 13% and 15% of the general public consumes cannabis. So, we take a look at that and we’re like, “Okay.” And then I’ve got partners from my experience in the music industry that are able to bring us access to festivals, to concerts, to artists. And so, let’s just take the Heavy Grass, for instance, we’re able to go and market directly to these consumers where they already are, which is at these festivals, at these concerts. And no other cannabis brands are really doing that. Most cannabis brands are kind of marketing within the same bubble, right? They’re kind of marketing where other cannabis brands already are at cannabis events. And so, let’s take it to the people. And so, that’s kind of our philosophy.
Rick Kiley: That’s cool. That’s cool. Good.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sorry. I was just going to ask, so there aren’t that many multistate operators, right? So, how are you scaling that? Because it’s like, “Alright. So, you guys are doing one in one state and doing another in another state.” So, it would be hard to do like a national tour deal right now, right? So, how does it work?
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. So, it’s definitely challenging. Obviously, you’ve got to kind of reinvent the supply chain state-by-state right now, which makes it very challenging. We don’t hold any licenses and we’ve done that on purpose because our goal is we know that this audience exists everywhere. They’re in all 50 states. And quite honestly, they’re in many other countries as well. So, we purposely just wanted to build this intellectual property catalog of brands that we can then go out and license on a state-by-state or a country-by-country basis as needed. But in the interim, what we do is we also offer other products that are because they’re lifestyle brands. So, other products, we have apparel, we have merchandise, accessories. We’re starting, we’re going to start getting into CBD products that we could sell, things that we can sell at the events as well as online, so that even though we’re a cannabis culture-focused brand or brands, we’re not beholden to like, “Okay. Well, where do we have a partnership in place where we can offer these products?”
Jeffrey Boedges: Got it. So, even if you’re not actually promoting the product directly, you’re promoting brand awareness theoretically, then it has that echo effect later.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. Sort of like laying the groundwork. And quite honestly, the dirty little secret in the cannabis industry is that the margins aren’t that great in Canada. So, it’s like we make more of a T-shirt than we do off like selling a bag of flour. It’s not like it’s a money loser but like, so for instance, here’s an example of something that’s coming up. So, we do collabs with other artists. And so, we purposely build these brands as being the umbrella brands because we don’t want to build celebrity brands because I’ve worked in the music industry. You run a lot of risks building your brand around a single individual, right? Like you do something wrong or they get super excited and the next shiny object comes along and they’re like they don’t pay any attention.
Jeffrey Boedges: Or the band breaks up. Yeah. We’ve been on the business end of that.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. So, you’re aware. And so, we’re very selective. But what we do is we do collabs, right? So, Heavy Grass, we did a collab with Clown, who’s the creative force behind the band, Slipknot, to do what’s called Clown Cannabis. And through that, we’ve been able to do some pretty interesting things and align Clown Cannabis with some other artist brands. And within cannabis, there are very few celebrity or artist-centric brands that have worked to date. And a big reason for that is because, look, at the end of the day, the audience isn’t stupid. They understand whether or not there’s an authentic connection between. And so, if the artist is truly getting behind this, they’re going out, they’re making public appearances. They’re really supporting the brand from sort of the ground up, then they’re supported by the fans. But a lot of these guys come in, they slap their logo on it, they think they’re going to make a quick buck, and they don’t because it takes a while for you to build this up. So, anyway, Clown came to us and he’s a true believer. He’s a believer in the medicinal effects. It’s been an important part of his life. And so, we were able to introduce him in and we did this panel at a conference called Hall of Flowers, which is sort of this meeting of like brands and retailers and different people in the industry.
The first one they did in Palm Springs. We did this thing at Dr. Greenthumb, which is B-Real from Cypress Hill’s retail. And B-Real also has his own brand called Insane. So, they ended up like hitting it off on a piano so well. Well, Slipknot and Cypress Hill are going to go on tour this summer, and we’re going to support the Clown Cannabis brand and the Insane brand throughout the whole tour, right? Because we’ll be able to sell the merch, the T-shirts, and all that because it’s just built into what they already do, right? At all these concerts, we can start to raise brand awareness. And then, unfortunately, there’s only one show in California but we’re going to blow that out. We’re going to have like a VIP setup. We’re using tickets, giveaways, and it’s really a way to kind of just approach it. It’s seeding the market with our brands but also it’s kind of serving two purposes. One, it’s giving something to the cannabis industry that they never had before, which is access, access to tickets, access to a VIP area, access to artists. And it’s giving these fans something that they’ve been clamoring for, which is like I can tell you from being at these hard rock shows, people come up and it’s like, “Oh my God, I’ve been waiting for you. You know, it’s a brand that speaks to me. You’re our people.” And so, anyway, kind of a long-winded response to your answer but I mean…
Jeffrey Boedges: No, but a good one.
Rick Kiley: No, it’s super interesting. And I was going to ask about like the connective tissue between music industry background and cannabis industry and I think I’m discerning an answer that the actual core product is not ultimately always the best revenue stream. And that’s why concert T-shirts are always sold for like $50 a T-shirt. And I’m like, “Why am I spending so much on a T-shirt?” Because that’s how they’re making money. And I think that’s really interesting to just see the focus on the pieces of lifestyle that people will take away to remember that experience to extend that sort of joy and memory of being around the people, the place, the music, the thing that they love and those wonderful moments.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s a good insight, though, and I don’t know if everybody’s really even grasped it yet. You know, I kind of think of the Lululemon sort of thing where it’s like you get all these people wearing Lululemons who never stepped inside of a yoga studio in their life. You know, it’s the lifestyle that says, “I’m healthy. I’m young.” I think it’s actually, again, sort of an underutilized under leveraged insight. So, I think it’s a cool idea.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I’m wondering if you have really heavy containers for Heavy Grass. It’s like 10 pounds instead of like 1 ounce.
Kieve Huffman: We have these really cool road cases that we give out to like VIPs and influencers because we work a lot with a lot of these like different bands. And, yeah, they’re pretty heavy but it’s pretty cool. Everything, obviously, it’s all got to work. It’s got to work within the same lifestyle but it’s kind of funny. Because of my background in the music industry, I’m kind of creating this current company in a very similar manner to like a record label in that I’ve got my brands that are sort of like my bands that target certain audiences. And I basically have 360 deals with all of them, right? You know, that’s the movement in the music industry is to go to the 360 because since the recorded music industry like cratered and there’s less money there, obviously, as you were saying before, there’s more money in the touring. So, the labels now with these 360 deals want to get a piece of everything, that’s just kind of how we work inherently building our brands like we’re taking a piece of everything and we’re focusing on the lifestyle, and as long as the products are authentic and they make sense then it works for us, right?
Jeffrey Boedges: And if you lose money, I’m sure the labels are kicking in their fair share, right? They’re kicking some money back, yeah.
Kieve Huffman: Like labels, they actually pay money?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, I’m joking. Yeah. They like to have it one way. I get it.
Rick Kiley: I’m just wondering what the new like the Van Halen rider that asked for like the green M&Ms. I’m wondering what the now like cannabis industry version of that’s going to be. You got to get yourself inserted in some of these riders like, “I must have Heavy Grass in my green room for the entirety of the festival.”
Jeffrey Boedges: In a road case.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, absolutely. Well, look, I want to ask about this celebrity piece to it because I think we would do a lot of work in alcohol beverage and I think we’ve seen a lot of celebrity alcohol beverage brands with varying degrees of success come to light recently. So, I mean, obviously, you have a lot of relationships in the music industry. You spoke a little bit about the connective tissue really needing to be there from an authenticity standpoint, meaning that this is something that’s incorporated into the artist’s life in a real and meaningful way. But beyond that, can you talk about the process of creating that deal? In alcoholic beverages, a lot of it is based on ownership, right? Equity and ownership. And that’s part of the reason like someone will stay behind it and stay with the brand is because of that. You think about very, very visible ones like Ryan Reynolds and George Clooney and those guys have actually…
Jeffrey Boedges: P. Diddy and Cîroc.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. They’ve done amazing jobs, right? But that’s like brands that they’ve been really seriously connected to. So, I’m just curious how if it works in a similar way, if these individuals are not only just partners in the collaboration but are they people who own a piece of the brand? Are you working out a deal on that level as well? And what are you finding is the celebrity recipe for success for you?
Kieve Huffman: Yes. So, look, I think there’s no cookie-cutter deals like it’s a new industry. You know, the legal cannabis industry is still in its very nascent stages. But what I find works the best, so first of all, obviously, there’s a split on the royalties, right, and that’s kind of the most standard sort of deal that you’re going to set up. But the brands that end up kind of working the best are where there’s some level of inequity component to that where there’s an ownership stake, right? Because then it’s really the artists then is just going to be that much more likely to kind of put in all their extra efforts to kind of make it work because they’re an owner and that’s important to them. And I think that’s important and I think that’s probably why a lot of those alcohol deals. So, like if you’re just signing up someone just to lend their name to something and it’s like if it’s just a payday for them, it’s amazing how often it doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about cannabis or anything, I’m sure you guys have seen this, it’s amazing how the audience will see through it, ultimately. It’s like, “Oh, that person…” It’s kind of more so in cannabis because also, ultimately, a lot of people know like, “Well, you know what, I don’t even think that guy smokes but yet he’s got his own cannabis brand? Well, I think that’s just a money grab.”
Jeffrey Boedges: Lord knows we’ve done enough sponsorship activations with celebrities over the years with wine and spirit brands and only go to the post-party and the celebrity is drinking something else. And just like, “That’s not a good idea. Do you mind switching that out?” You know, it’s a tricky situation.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Is there anyone you’ve said no to like has there been any examples of some that don’t work out for when you don’t need to name names but I’m just curious as to like…
Jeffrey Boedges: Barry Manilow weed. Where’s the Barry Manilow weed? That’s underserved, right?
Rick Kiley: That sh*t would sell like wildfire. I’m in on Barry Manilow weed now.
Kieve Huffman: Looks like we made it.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Jeffrey Boedges: All right.
Kieve Huffman: There we go. That wasn’t even a weed pun and there are so many weed puns usually that come up in my conversations.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We’re famous for them. Nothing bad.
Kieve Huffman: It’s too easy. But you know, I’m sorry. I got distracted.
Jeffrey Boedges: What celebrity you said no to?
Rick Kiley: If there’s been like a partnership, you don’t need to name the name but like why. I guess it’s more like, why are you moving away from someone? What would be a deal you walk away from?
Kieve Huffman: So, at my last company, everyone kind of came through our doors because we were working on a variety of different projects and we said no to every single celebrity that came through the door, except for one. And the one that we said yes to was an artist by the name of Shavo, who is the bass player for a band called System of the Down. And the reason we said yes to him is because he was so obviously passionate about the plan, about what he was going to do. It was like it was just clear that he was just very dedicated and…
Jeffrey Boedges: He was all in.
Kieve Huffman: He was all in. And to this day, 22Red, which was the brand that we helped create for him, it’s still in markets today and it’s doing great. And so, it’s you know. And then the other thing that we always try to do is like make sure that in the case that we did with Shavo, it was like 22Red has a personal meaning to him but that became the brand and it wasn’t the Shavo brand, right? It was 22Red that Shavo was intimately, we created a lot of content that really showed him like showed him at the cultivation site, showed him like experiencing everything. But then he just lived the lifestyle and was always talking about it and was always out there. And so, you can sense that pretty easily from sitting in a room with someone or whether or not they’re really into it or not. And luckily for us, we come from the entertainment industry and it was like, “You know what, this person is just not in it for the right reasons.” And we also just know how hard it is in cannabis. It’s really, really hard to build brands and to get shelf space. Just slapping your name on a jar is not going to get it done.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. So, like with Shavo, does he come in and say, “I want something that hits like a truck or I want something that makes me feel mellow?” Do they kind of help you do the formulation in addition to the brand building and brand making?
Kieve Huffman: Well, it depends. I mean, look, we go through and I’m sure you guys are well aware of just what it takes to kind of build a brand from scratch, right? Either, you’ve got to kind of start from the core of just like who is the audience and what does this brand represent and how are you going to connect? And then you start to figure out, well, what products kind of make sense to reach that audience? And then obviously, because it’s tied to an artist, it’s like, “Well, what speaks to that artist and what’s important? So, every artist typically it’s like it’s got to be a product that they are into that they would use, right? So, for instance, sometimes artists are like, “Look, I only like uplifting like I only want the Sativa-leaning kind of strains. Like, I don’t really care what the form factor is but it’s got to be Sativa.” Others are like, “I don’t like vapes. It’s got to be flower.” So, it depends on who. There are certain things. And then there’s ones like, “Look, I just really want a beverage. That’s important to me. And the beverage needs to have these kinds of characteristics. And I’m actually more interested in the flavor than I am like what terpene profile it has.” So, it depends on the artist. And there’s again, there’s no like…
Jeffrey Boedges: There’s no rhyme or reason. Yeah.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Kieve Huffman: And it’s not like you can point to these successful alcohol campaigns that have happened. You know, it’s been such a long history there of like kind of what’s worked and what hasn’t worked. It’s like because cannabis is not federally legal right now, it’s a state-by-state game. And so, as a result, most people don’t even really know what brands are successful or aren’t successful at this point.
Jeffrey Boedges: Right. So, are there artists out there that you would like to work with? Good chance for you to plug, try and recruit some people here. Who are we trying to get next? Can we say? Because if not, Rick and I are going to start guessing. That’s not going to go well.
Kieve Huffman: Well, so our next brand that we’re launching and we’re just going into market actually now with is a brand called Neon Roots, and it’s focused on the EDM and rave scene. There are definitely some big DJs that I think could be very good with this brand. It’s kind of interesting, like when I first thought like because I haven’t been to a rave in a while, I was like I kind of associate other products being consumed at raves more so than cannabis.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I’m like how do those products go with cannabis?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yes. Slightly more sparkly kinds of…
Kieve Huffman: Well, what’s interesting is that when we actually did the research, cannabis over-index is 30% over with the EDM crowd because it’s just part of like, first of all, like my friend who helped us conceive of the brand, he’s friends with the types. He’s like, “Every DJ I know smokes.” It’s like they all smoked. And then in the audience, it’s one of the things that’s just part like there’s always wafts of smoke at these raves, right? So, it’s just part of it. It’s whether it’s like a mood enhancer or a mood – it’s kind of funny. So, for these particular products, we actually have three infused pre-rolls. And so, one is for the pre-party, one’s for during the party, one’s for after the party. And they all have a very specific formulation to kind of help replicate and enhance that part of the evening or at the end where it’s just like, “I just want to go to sleep.” And so, that’s kind of the thing with these raves and these DJs. There’s definitely and I don’t want to name a specific one, but there are definitely DJs that I think would make a lot of sense for us to do some collabs with. And then there are other music genres that we’ve identified as well. It’s like kind of take a dartboard out and you throw it like going for that like 70s soft pop. The Barry Manilow crowd, I’m going to have to put that one up on the board now because you’ve got me inspired.
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s the only way I can listen to it. I got to be honest with you.
Rick Kiley: Hey, you started with start in Vegas with some of these acts and there’ll be some fun events to do just out on the street, launch the brand there. I don’t know. There’s something going on.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. There are some really weird things. I think that might bring a whole new audience in too though. This is how we help some of these guys that maybe are over the curb, so to speak.
Rick Kiley: Well, you go see the Beatles Love Show out there in Vegas and that goes very well with a cannabis partnership, just that experience. There’s definitely a lot of live entertainment and music entertainment like that’s out there that I think you could have fun. Barry would just need a little different show. That’s all.
Jeffrey Boedges: Here’s your moneymaker for the day, Broadway weed. I mean, like this is the Miss Saigon weed. You know, this is what you got to have. Let’s get into it. Let’s start breaking those down.
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Kieve Huffman: Super excited about New York. I mean, have you lived in New York for so many years and it’s like, yeah, there’s going to be a lot of opportunity.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. We got a little tagline. You know, you walk down the street and it’s, “New York smells fun again,” because it’s just every city block, 24/7 now it’s there. And what’s cool is, and this is not related to what we’re talking about but the governor said that the first people who are going to get licenses out there are people who have served time for being prosecuted for marijuana offenses. I think it’s a really cool thing. So, I’m excited to see how it happens. It’s going to be great. But let’s come back here. So, I love going to shows and Jeff through that jam band comment at the beginning probably for me who’s probably been to a few Phish shows in his day. And I love the live concert experience and I just think it’s just a place of almost pure joy as long as your sleeping situation is okay to deal with. And I’m curious as to what – you talked about selling merchandise at festivals, but do you think and like in California, in places where it’s legal, are you incorporating a festival dispensary, a weed garden for lack of a better word? Do those opportunities exist? Because I really want to talk about how to create a really fun experience in that space that’s enjoyable for people, that’s safe but also does all the things to help build the industry and give access and education and fun. I’m curious if you had any experience with that yet. And then, if not, I just figure, let’s just use this time to come up with what it should be and just do it.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah, exactly.
Kieve Huffman: Well, that is the holy grail for us out here, right? You know, there are very few ways to have sort of the three kind of big sort of licenses that you would want at a concert. So, it’s alcohol sales and consumption, cannabis sales, and cannabis consumption. So, there are ways to get around it like Outside Lands has done it now a couple of times in San Francisco. One of the challenges that you have here in California is that you can’t have, you can’t mingle those together
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Drink and some weed, no go.
Kieve Huffman: You need to have a “separate entrance” for the weed garden. And so, that’s kind of how it’s typically done right now. I will say I’ve seen some pretty creative things recently. So, I was at an event here in L.A. where someone, literally, they cut a hole. It was an outdoor event. They cut a hole in the fence and they had a delivery service show up outside the fence and you could order inside and go pick it up from your delivery guy right outside the fence.
Rick Kiley: That’s funny.
Kieve Huffman: There are things. So, what’s starting to happen now and actually, we have some friends that are starting to create this is they are starting to come up with these sort of consumption lounge weed gardens within certain venues that are open to that. And then you put the dispensary right outside the venue. So, it’s usually like there’s kind of a like it’s called an ice cream truck model. It’s kind of the similar model to what I just said where the guys drives up. It’s like they drive up the ice cream truck. You park it right outside.
Jeffrey Boedges: So, we can get an ice cream truck and sell weed out of it?
Kieve Huffman: Pretty much. It’s a great concept.
Rick Kiley: You’ve talked about a lot of things that are a little creepy, though. You get weed through a hole or you get weed from like a guy in an ice cream truck. It’s like there’s a lot of…
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah.
Kieve Huffman: Actually, we experience it. So, we did something similar to that at a Slipknot concert here in L.A. and we did have some challenges because there’s a couple of things. So, one is people were like, “Well, what do you mean I have to go across the street to go to this man over here?” It’s just kind of like what is that? And then because we couldn’t have…
Jeffrey Boedges: We’ve come a long way when you’re b*tching about walking across the street.
Rick Kiley: Jeff, it’s Los Angeles. They don’t walk.
Kieve Huffman: They have to walk a little.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. Get out the shuttle service.
Rick Kiley: We need a tram. Right.
Kieve Huffman: But then what people are worried about is like, “Well, if I buy this, can I bring it inside?” Because it was at a stadium that you’re getting the security is checking you. So, what we’re finding is that everything’s got to be kind of set up in advance with the venue. So, there are a couple of events that we’re going to be participating in this year, where on-site consumption is going to be okay and sales. So, where you then run into the issue is like, are there in-and-out privileges? Because like, so for instance, we did Aftershock for Heavy Grass last fall’s four-day rock festival in Sacramento. Biggest Rock Festival in the world. Metallica this year, last year actually, headlined two of the nights. And we were partnered with Weedmaps. We kind of had this whole weed pavilion there, but we couldn’t sell on-site. So, Weedmaps set up a delivery service right outside the venue. Well, the problem was that there were no in-and-out privileges at Aftershock. So, you kind of either have to like pick it up on your way out or you have to like order for the next day and pick it up on your way back in. And it’s a little clunky still.
Rick Kiley: Is sampling different than selling? I recognize there’s a whole different regulatory deal with that. But is it possible for your brand to say, “Okay. We’re not going to sell. Alright. But we’re going to give away to a select group of VIPs who are going to come to our space or come to our activation.” Is that easier? Is that permissible? I’m not saying it’s advisable or profitable or any of that, but like does that help?
Kieve Huffman: Well, you’re able to do that at private events, so you can give away things at private events, so it’s a “private concert.”
Jeffrey Boedges: Invitation only or…?
Kieve Huffman: You know, I’m not a regulatory expert on this. I don’t know all of the ins and outs but, yeah. I mean, when I was talking before, there were the three. So, what I was saying that there were sales and consumption. So, what you’re talking about is consumption on-site because it’s being gifted and people are consuming. That also a lot of times comes down it’s really on a case-by-case basis with the venue, the promoter, the municipality. So, even within California, it’s on a case. Every event is on a case-by-case basis still.
Jeffrey Boedges: Because you could totally skirt that one. I could see like it’s a, “Come on in. It’s $10 to come on in. It’s $10 entry fee, but weed’s free.”
Rick Kiley: Yeah.
Kieve Huffman: Where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Alright. And so, okay, then having been in this space, so like for some alcohol beverage clients, we’ve been in the world of how to activate a sponsorship in concerts and usually and even non-alcohol beverage. So, like we have financial services clients and whatnot but that’s always about how do I create a VIP experience for people that’s like a step above what’s regular? How do I give them special access? How do I enhance the viewing experience? How do I enhance their concert experience in general? If all the compliance was off, if there were no shackles and you were looking to integrate a cannabis experience, is that the need that you’d be looking to sort of try to fill as well? Or do you think there might be a different goal? And I think the sort of subtext to my question is I think there’s still so much of an education gap in the category that I wonder if you would even attempt to or try to or care about trying to replicate part of the dispensary experience within that environment or just be like, “This is Clown Cannabis. This is what it does. Get on board.” I’m just riffing and kind of curious as to like what you think the opportunity might be within that space and if you would take the same approach as a pretty well-established brand.
Kieve Huffman: Well, I mean, look, I think we just would like to be treated the same way as alcohol, right? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s like to be able to have sales and consumption in a similar fashion. Yeah. I think the whole weed garden concept is pretty cool as well, right? Like, you’ve got beer gardens so why not have weed gardens? And, look, there are certain things that are obviously specific to the cannabis experience where it’s like sometimes I just need to like lay down and kind of stare up into the sky for a little bit and just chill out. You know, I just need like kind of that kind of different sort of vibe. But for us, look, we know I mean I can tell you from having activated in a number of concerts in a number of states, every single person wants to know where they can get the weed, you know? And it’s like the fact that you can’t actually sell within is like it’s just that’s the single biggest thing for us. It’s like because then it becomes normalized, right? And then it’s going to look like the same way I can go buy my overpriced beer over here, you know, I can buy my…
Jeffrey Boedges: Overpriced pre-roll, yeah.
Kieve Huffman: Overpriced pre-roll over here and my overpriced T-shirt.
Jeffrey Boedges: I used to buy those overpriced pre-rolls in the bathroom when I grew up.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. There you go.
Jeffrey Boedges: That’s where the loose joints were, dude, if you wanted to find one.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I never did that when I was a kid.
Jeffrey Boedges: What?
Rick Kiley: I was a good boy. Seriously.
Jeffrey Boedges: For our audience out there, Rick sometimes embellishes.
Rick Kiley: No, no, no. So, and then I guess the last sort of question about is, like you mentioned, you can’t sell both within the same space. Do you think there’s an opportunity to create a place that’s got a main stage but a separate weed garden and a separate beverage location? And I guess you would only be able to consume within those two like cordoned-off areas. So, you couldn’t have beer in the weed garden and you couldn’t buy weed in there. Does that doesn’t pass the smell test yet?
Kieve Huffman: Well, that’s what Outside Lands kind of did. You know, the challenge is that, look, at the end of the day, if a venue has to make a decision, they’re always going to go alcohol, right? It’s just more people can…
Jeffrey Boedges: It’s got 100 years on you. I mean, so it is what it is.
Kieve Huffman: It’s like they know what the – and that’s also the other like dirty little secret is like not that, I mean, you guys know this but that’s how these places make their money, right? And it’s like my friends that work in the industry that’s like they make a joke, it’s like we’re catering to this audience that gets willing to spend, you know, they’ll spend $15 for a ticket to get in the show so they can spend $24 for a Tallboy.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We go to Yankee Stadium once in a while, man. We know.
Rick Kiley: I don’t go to Yankee Stadium. Sorry.
Jeffrey Boedges: Sorry. Rick doesn’t.
Rick Kiley: No, no, no. I’m a Mets fan all the way. So, alright. Cool. Well, listen, man, we’ve been talking about a lot of stuff. I do want to ask about one thing, though, before we start wrapping up. And I’m just curious because you’re in the live event space a lot. You know, we’re in live events. COVID really like hurt our business. And I’m just curious, like did not having access to live events alter how you were able to market your brands? Did you have to get creative around that or did it not have as big of an impact because, I don’t know, it helped you don’t have to make your revenue off of concerts?
Kieve Huffman: Well, it made a huge impact, yeah, because that is part of our unique value proposition is that we are going to the concerts. We’re going to festivals. We do a lot of ticket giveaways, right, because we have access to shows. So, if we don’t have those, there’s just less to promote, less content.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. A little less rich.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. Less opportunities and, yeah, so it really hurt us the same way because we do kind of have built these brands with the experiential aspect is just a big part of it. And so, yeah, so it’s been tricky. We had to navigate the waters. It was really challenging but we survived and we’re excited because now, as I’m sure you guys are seeing, it’s like live events are back with, in fact, there’s probably more with any live events because everyone’s trying to make up for lost time.
Rick Kiley: Oh yeah. So much pent-up demand. I will say just I’d be willing to try a concert that was alcohol-free. I bet there be. I say that because I live in Brooklyn. You know, hipster central kind of all around me. And there are stores now, retail stores that exclusively sell alcohol-free versions of alcoholic beverages. So, it’s all like craft alcohol-free beer. It’s all alcohol-free whiskey, wine, et cetera. And people are drinking this. They are. I’m not. But there are people who are, be they health-conscious or whatnot. And I’d be curious. I’d be curious to see how it works. I don’t know how you test the concept in a way that’s big enough to be impactful and measurable but also doesn’t blow your whole wad on something that might not work.
Kieve Huffman: There are events out here in California that are just that but they’re run by the cannabis industry and it’s a different kind of event. You know, it’s just not like – and again, those typically end up being like more of like the reggae show. If they’re going to have live music, they’ll have reggae acts and things like that. So, it just becomes like a different thing, like we’re actually talking because we’re taking our brand into another state. I can’t say which one right now, but one of the things we’re talking about with this operator is creating a rock festival that’s going to be which is going to be alcohol-free because it is possible in this particular state to have cannabis consumption so long as you’re not selling alcohol in the same place.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. I think you do it, you do it like you reverse the situation from 30 years ago when people toked up in the parking lot before they went in. And then you buy beer on-site. You’re going to make them have a few beers in the parking lot and then you give them out like an edible when they walk through the door. It’s a reverse…
Jeffrey Boedges: You search for bags and take their beer.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. You take their booze but you give them an edible on the way in. I think it’s called the reverse tailgate or something, I don’t know, but that’d be fun. And, Kieve, maybe they just don’t have the right guy putting it together yet. I feel like this is something that it might take someone like you to make happen the right way.
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. We got your back. We’ll be your backing band.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. It’s great. Well, look, we’re in the business of building the brands and building the demand for those brands.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Kieve Huffman: So, we’re not in the event business but like we’re always looking to partner with people. So, it’s like when you guys are ready to jump in to the cannabis experience, let’s talk because there’s so much opportunity. And look, there are so many hurdles but the fun thing is that because it hasn’t really been done before, you’re kind of inventing things. You’re making up what it’s going to be for the future.
Jeffrey Boedges: That would be another question I had for you is like, what do you see for competition right now? How many people are taking your model based on what you’re doing? Or do you guys still like the big players now?
Kieve Huffman: Nobody is really kind of taking the same model. Very few. So, we’re starting to see the beginnings of brands starting to kind of license into multiple states. So, that started to happen over the last year or so. But really, these are brands that kind of built their brand sort of at a very local level within a certain state, and then they have to kind of reeducate the audience every time they go into a new state. It’s like what does this brand mean?
Jeffrey Boedges: Yeah. What does it stand for?
Kieve Huffman: So, no one’s really building brands from a sort of a lifestyle approach that’s just easily identifiable that sort of exists on a national level like we are right now where it’s like, “Oh yeah, we got rock fans here. We got EDM fans here.” In fact, they already know about our brand because they follow our Insta and they’ve just been waiting for us to arrive. So, it’s like, it’s not. I don’t think we’re the smartest people in the room to kind of figure out to do this, but we’re still the only ones.
Jeffrey Boedges: I would agree with you, though, that I think you create that more so than anyplace else or as much as anyplace else, music, especially these underserved markets that you guys focus on their badge. And it’s like if you’re walking down the street wearing a Slipknot T-shirt and you run in another Slipknot guy, you guys aren’t going to get in a fight. You’re going to be like, “Dude, high five.” And I think if you can start to create that sort of tribal mentality around the brands, it’s going to make them much more exportable to new states as you go. I like the idea a lot. I think it’s great.
Rick Kiley: Yeah, I think you’re doing great stuff. How if someone is interested in learning more about your brands, contacting you, or wants to become a partner in some way?
Jeffrey Boedges: If Barry Manilow wants to call you, how does he find you?
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Or Mandy? If Mandy wants to find you? Oh, Mandy. All right.
Kieve Huffman: So, the best place to reach me is to find me on my LinkedIn profile. That’s really the social I spend the most time on, and you can just search my name there and you can find me pretty easily.
Rick Kiley: I’m going to spell it because it’s not… It’s K-I-E-V-E. Huffman. H-U-F-F-M-A-N.
Kieve Huffman: There you go. Thank you. So, yeah, so LinkedIn is the best way to reach me. And then my website for the brands is EngagerBrands.com. And then our Instagrams are for each of the individual brands. So, there’s heavygrassofficial is Heavy Grass’s Insta and then neon_roots is the Insta for Neon Roots. And those are the best places to go, to start kind of finding out more about the brands.
Rick Kiley: Nice. Awesome. So, one question we always end with here, and I’m just curious because you did mention wanting to be in other states and I’m sure federal legalization is on your mind. We’re curious if you have any thoughts or predictions as to when you think that’s going to come to pass.
Kieve Huffman: Two years ago would have been like…
Rick Kiley: Kieve, what are you smoking right now?
Kieve Huffman: I got into the industry. So, at the end of 2014, it was like it was before California had adult use, which was 2018 really thought it was going to, yeah, everything was going to happen sooner. If I had to predict, I’m really bad with crystal balls because I would have thought it would have happened already, but at this point with how dysfunctional our government is and how many other things they’re focused on other than cannabis, if you’re going to talk full legalization, I think we’re looking at least probably another four to five years. We will definitely see some advancements before that, even if it’s as minimal as like things like the Safe Banking Act or some of these other things that start incrementally kind of chip away and make things easier. But, yeah, I think for full legalization, we’re probably at least another full presidential cycle away.
Rick Kiley: All right. So, hopefully, one of us will be running for president at that point. We’ll help make it happen. I’m not sure how it’s going to happen otherwise.
Kieve Huffman: You know, it’s like all these like old guys that come from the different generation. It’s like you look at 60, well, I think it’s like 63% of all Americans believe that cannabis should be fully legal, right, 87% medically legal. And you can get 63% of Americans to agree on anything, right? And this is one thing that they can’t agree on and yet the one-third that’s kind of running the company, unfortunately, are still the ones that don’t think it should be legal.
Rick Kiley: Yeah. Get your act together, folks. Cool. Well, look, Kieve, it’s been really fun talking to you. I hope we can come see one of your shows one of these days. It sounds like a lot of fun. And you know, best of luck and let’s stay in touch and let’s make some music happen at some point.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah. You guys come out to Cali, man. We’ll hook you up with some shows.
Rick Kiley: Awesome.
Jeffrey Boedges: Count on it. We’ll be there.
Rick Kiley: Awesome. Alright. Thanks so much.
Kieve Huffman: Thanks, guys.
Rick Kiley: Cheers.
Kieve Huffman: Yeah, appreciate it. Take care.