Fast Five Q&A: Michael Kauffman, Executive Director of Clio Cannabis
The cannabis space is evolving to look more and more like other consumer-packaged goods. This includes an emphasis on imaginative branding and storytelling that captivates potential consumers and generates awareness.
Michael Kauffman is at the forefront of this progression. As the Executive Director of the Clio Music and Clio Cannabis programs at The Clio Awards, he honors excellence and innovation in advertising, communications, and marketing. The Clio Awards have recognized the best of the creative business in a range of mainstream industries for nearly 70 years, and the addition of cannabis four years ago has helped to move the normalization needle forward.
Kauffman answered GreenState’s Fast Five questions, explaining how The Clio Awards expanded into the cannabis space, some of the favorite work he’s seen so far, and how the accolades have a ripple effect throughout the industry.
GreenState: How did your journey with the cannabis plant start?
Michael Kauffman: Two things got me started: music and health. While in college at Temple University in Philadelphia, I held a summer job working at a Sam Goody record store in the local mall. One of my co-workers LOVED to share her joy for cannabis and for music — and her enthusiasm was infectious.
My first experience turned out to be an inspirational Saturday night sesh enhanced by her selection of music from the Grateful Dead, Todd Rundgren, and Steely Dan. Thank you, Lisa! It’s pretty remarkable that years later, I’m fortunate to work with both music and cannabis at Clio. Perfect combo.
The other thing that piqued my interest was the investigation into the healing powers of the plant. 15 years ago, my Dad was battling prostate cancer, and in his final phases of treatment, he lost his appetite due to the chemo. My close pal Al whipped up a carton of infused butter that we used to bake cookies. Those were instrumental in providing relief for my Dad, something for which I’ll always be grateful.
GS: What is your favorite way to consume?
MK: I appreciate the beauty and aroma of flower — like many people, that’s how I was introduced to the plant. I am appreciative of those who’ve cultivated incredible strains and picture-perfect bud. Lately, though, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying both beverages and edibles — Cann, Klaus, Camino, Rose Los Angeles, Wana…
I love to support and consume brands based on what I’ve discovered via entries in our program: Dosist, Dogwalkers, 710 Labs, Sherbinskis, Puffco, Drew Martin, Bud’s Goods, Houseplant, Missouri’s Own Edibles, and Miss Grass are a few examples where I have become both a fan and a consumer. How cool would it be to host a Clio award-winners consumption lounge someday!
GS: When did Clio add the cannabis category, and why?
The Clio Cannabis Awards, an extension of the world-renowned Clio Awards competition for creative excellence in advertising and marketing, launched in 2019 with the goal of celebrating top creative work in marketing and communications in the space. We were seeing strong creative work from brands and agencies, and we wanted to help set the bar for that work, to recognize it, and to amplify it.
It remains an opportunity to bring the prestige of Clio to the industry and to normalize the creative work being done. We bring a fair approach to award recognition — refined over decades and across multiple industries.
Clios are awarded by a jury of top creative executives (2023 Clio Cannabis Jury) through a democratic and collaborative process. All jurors have an equal say in decisions, and the majority vote rules — with each entry judged on its own merits creatively and no minimum or maximum number of statues that can be awarded.
That first year, the jury celebrated top work from the likes of Dosist, Houseplant, Keystone Canna Remedies, Puffco, and many others. Each year since then, we’ve experienced growth in both entry count as well as in the geographic scope of our entrants: last year’s entries included submissions from Brazil, Croatia, Israel, and Germany.
The 2022 awards were presented last September to a SRO ballroom during MJ Unpacked at the MGM Grand Las Vegas. I was thrilled with the community’s excitement and support, and with the subsequent coverage in Adweek and Muse by Clio, and the Cannabis Marketing Association honored the show as “Best Live Event” during their inaugural Sevens Awards. Grateful for that recognition.
This is our fifth year, and we’re open for entries for the 2023 awards through the final deadline of August 18th. To learn more about our 15 mediums, categories, and entry information, visit the website, download our entry kit, and get entry tips with our Best Submission Practices overview.
GS: How is the marketing of cannabis evolving and moving the industry forward?
MK: Certainly, there continues to be massive challenges due to the federal status of cannabis, the differing state-by-state regulations, the business hurdles — all combining to impact the ability for marketers to engage, understand, and educate.
Our growth in global submissions suggests a growing shift in public acceptance and openness to the plant around the world. Award-winning marketing, design, and storytelling all contribute to fueling this shift — showing a brand or company’s strengths and differentiating yourself is what advertising has always been about. Marketers are doing that now for cannabis on a worldwide scale.
The collaborative nature of marketing in the space is also fueling progress — from Cann’s support for and from the LGTBQ+ community to local brand partnerships like Show Me Organic’s, Missouri’s Own Edibles, and Old Vienna, there’s a communal spirit that’s important going forward.
There’s also powerful work being done to address social injustice: Service Plan Germany & Aroyo’s Freedom Grams, Pax Lab’s “Dennis, The Man Who Legalized Cannabis, GCH’s support for Last Prisoner Project, Besito’s “A Record Shouldn’t Last a Lifetime,” and Mekanism’s “New Normal” piece for Medmen. All are examples of creativity’s ability to cut through the clutter, change minds, and ultimately influence policies.
I hope we see continued movement from the social channels building upon what Twitter/X has rolled out. And kudos to the Cannabis Media Council for the work they’re doing to establish best practices and to the many PR and social media practitioners who are using their creative chops to get the important stories heard. All part of the push forward.
GS: What has been some of the stand-out creative you’ve seen at Clio Cannabis?
MK: Our top honor is the Grand Clio, and looking back at last year, our jury awarded four: agency Jung von Matt’s work on behalf of Berlinerberliner Verkehrsbetriebe (Berlin’s transportation organization), Show-Me Organics’ Missouri’s Own Edibles collaboration, Service Plan Germany’s “Freedom Grams” for Aroyo, and Weedmaps’ remarkable #SaveBrockOllie campaign. All stand out. All are unique. All exhibit exemplary creativity.
Looking at the winners over the years, so many continue to stand out to me: Bud’s Goods, Buy Weed from Women, Cann, Cannaclusive, Charlotte’s Web, Cresco, Garcia Hand Picked, Highsman, Jeter, Kiva, Klaus, Lowd, Miss Grass, Monogram, Pax, Puffco, Sherbinski, Superette, Wana, Wyllow…
A few years back, we received an incredible spot submitted by Zerortrillion and produced for the brand Flowr. From the idea to the execution to the perfect music sync, it’s another one that continues to stand out. The spot was awarded multiple statues, including a Grand Clio in Film & Video. Loved that one. We subsequently added music as a category option in the Film & Video Craft medium because of this work.
I recommend visiting our winners galleries to be inspired. Reviewing winning work is a unique way to discover brands, products, and dispensaries, and via the credits, to see what teams are making a difference creatively.
Michael Kauffman is the Executive Director of the Clio Music and Clio Cannabis programs at The Clio Awards, the premier awards competition for the creative business. Clio Music honors creativity in advertising and marketing for artist promotion and brand collaborations, as well as the use of music in ads, trailers, and film & video. Clio Cannabis celebrates the creative work and creators at the forefront of cannabis marketing and communications.
Prior to his current role, Kauffman held senior marketing and corporate communications roles at YouTube, Google, and RightsFlow, a licensing and rights-management start-up acquired by Google. He also held commerce roles with Universal Music Group’s Verve and BMG’s Windham Hill record labels.
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