SIPA Annual 2017 Opening Speakers Talk Value of Purpose, Print and In-Person

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"We believe in a purpose-led company," said Anne Holland, president, Anne Holland Ventures, describing her initial thought in a stirring, opening keynote address at the 41st SIPA Annual 2017 Conference here in Washington, D.C. "We wanted to be in business to help people—kind of a cataclysm of the conscience. Companies that have a purpose also tend to be more profitable. People stick with them."

Holland and her co-founder and company president, Cassandra Farrington, documented their rise from a new company looking for a third vertical to excel in, to Inc.'s 4th fastest growing media company in the nation—one that sold those first two verticals and now focuses totally on the cannabis industry,

"We were topic-agnostic," Holland said. "She was in Denver, I was in Rhode Island. I saw an article that said there were more marijuana dispensers in Denver than Starbucks. I immediately called Cassandra."

"Medical marijuana met our criteria," Farrington said. This meant that there were at least 4,500 focused professionals in the area, 1,000 companies with employees, 100 potential advertisers/sponsors, "and at least one competitor." There was exactly one. "You don't want to be the only one," Holland said. "It probably means it's a bad idea."

"Lawyers, accountants and others were serving the industry in various ways," Farrington said. "Some of these people had businesses for 20 years but never kept records. People were truly legitimizing themselves overnight."

Other highlights of the keynote address include:

Survey. One of the first things Holland and Farrington did was conduct a survey of businesses in the field. What did people really want from an information company? "They didn't want to know how to run a dispensary better," Holland said. "They wanted a free daily news website that connected them to the cannabis industry across the country; they desperately needed business and financial benchmarks, and industry numbers. And they wanted a conference, with other mavericks who were running dispensaries."

In-person wins. They asked their audience about a virtual conference and quickly got shouted down. Now they have two major conferences that are among the fastest growing in the country. One conference went from 402 attendees in 2012 to 11,000 last year. "A lot of our revenue is driven by the tradeshows," Farrington said. "It's gut-wrenching that huge parts of your plan on based on such short windows. But it works."

Print lives. Based on feedback, "we quickly launched a print business," Holland said. She showed an industry fact book that people keep "dog-eared copies" of. "We always produce a thick and compelling show guide." And there's a monthly magazine. "Just because people you are interacting with believe that print is dead doesn't mean your audience isn't receptive to print," Farrington said. "Be careful about that."

Commit to the water cooler conversation. Employees at Marijuana Business Daily must come to the office for 20 hours a week, from 10 am to 3 pm Tuesday to Friday - no exceptions. This is a long way from the virtual company they began as, but looping in all parties on key issues just got "frustrating and we were not moving efficiently," Farrington said. She also recommends having comfortable meeting spaces—including neighborhood coffee shops.

Seek female representation in your company or division. "A huge amount of purchasing power in households are influenced and/or controlled by women, and at an increasingly number of companies," said Farrington. "Without seeking this, you would be missing out on the viewpoints of a huge portion of your audience." The cannabis industry is wide open space, Farrington added, and the percentage of female CEOs and founders is very high. (She pointed out that 33% of SIPA companies are led by women, which is a very high percentage.) "There is a young crop of females aspiring to reach executive leadership ranks. If you are representing your industry, make sure those people can see themselves [in what you do, including any photos]."

They pointed to an event called the eMetrics Summit where all speakers are female except for one token male who has been tweeting about it, Holland said.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…