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Victoria Baek: Creating the Influencer Marketing Guidebook for the Cannabis Industry

Despite advances made in the legalization of cannabis, navigating the cannabis influencer marketing landscape requires striking a delicate balance. Influencer marketing agencies have to take the lead in driving compliance with laws and platform guidelines while still realizing the client’s marketing objective.

Victoria started her marketing career at Forever 21.

“I was doing new store openings. So all of the marketing behind it, radio placements, billboards, digital marketing, scheduling all the ads. I was doing all of the brand partnerships so any of the big name talent you saw on campaigns I was negotiating those deals. So whenever we had big brand launches such as Coca Cola, NASA and Kodak, I was the running point for the events. I started the music program at Forever 21 as well, bringing in all of the up and coming artists, doing meet and greets, performances in the stores and running playlists across the 860-odd stores.”

Victoria Baek

She thereafter took up a position at audio electronics firm Harman whose biggest brand was JBL.

“They never really worked in the influencer space before. So we got a budget and created a program. We were seeding to hundreds of artists. Anyone from the dance music scene to pop and then working with engineers and recording artists. We started the JBL master class which brought a lot of educational content. This established it as kind of a new brand that related more with Millennial and Gen Z. It shifted Harman from being this legacy pro audio company to now working with newer genres of music.”

Moving to MATTIO and Confluence

Victoria joined MATTIO mid-2020 as the head of influencer marketing.

“Co-founders Rosie Mattio and Mitch Rothschild are incredible business people. They saw the need in the market and came up with this idea to address the need in the cannabis industry. A great call.”

She moved to MATTIO’s subsidiary Confluence at the start of 2021

“It Was kind of a shock going into the cannabis industry. But there was a lot in common between music and cannabis. We started with two clients and now we’re up to 15. We saw this gigantic need in the cannabis market for influencer marketing.

As CEO, Victoria works to have Confluence align with its parent MATTIO’s corporate culture.

“MATTIO has been an amazing partner. We worked very closely to make sure everything we are operating on keeps up to that very high brand standard that MATTIO has created. We just make sure we put our best foot forward. We just launched confluence and have seen enormous growth. It is an amazing time to be here.”

Confluence started in the cannabis influencer space but the agency has moved into other sectors as well.

“We have seen the need for influencer marketing exploding. So we are starting to take on beauty clients.”

Cannabis Influencer Marketing is a New Frontier

While Victoria says she finds her work interesting, she describes her experience in cannabis influencer marketing as similar to learning how to fly a plane while building it at the same time. 

“Influencer marketing in cannabis is definitely the wild west. I’m thankful we are at the forefront of this movement. We’re able to really shape this industry in how companies interact with influencers and ultimately their end user. Daily we just need to problem solve and come up with unique solutions.”

Victoria acknowledges that influencer marketing in the cannabis industry is more challenging than running similar campaigns in the beauty and lifestyle space.

“We work in a lot of medical markets where cannabis marketing compliance laws are very stringent. So it’s a lot to work around being creative and adapting to the ever-changing regulations. Community guidelines on platforms such as Instagram are stringent. A lot of posts get flagged for sale or consumption of illegal goods. Content is a lot harder to navigate. You have to make sure the influencers are not consuming on their posts, they are not making medical claims and not doing many other things.”

She considers it important to understand an influencer’s level of comfort with cannabis when reaching out to them.

“We always ask them “Do you use it?”, “Do you not?” And of course if an influencer says they are not comfortable with posting cannabis but they use it, we can still get them product to create that relationship down the line when they are comfortable posting cannabis.”

Identifying Influencers to Work With

Confluence works with a wide range of Influencers.

“We work with influencers across the board. You know it is whatever the client tells us is their customer segment. On our onboarding calls, we find who is buying your product and how do we get to that audience. And that is the best part about influencer marketing–you can make it as broad or as specific as you want. If there’s an influencer the client wants, we go and find them.”

In addition to the client’s preference, Confluence looks at the characteristics of the influencer’s audience.

“A lot of influencers will look at their follower count but we’ll also look at their engagement. We might go as specific as what percentage of their following lives in a geographic region because that’s the only place where a client is operating. We work with influencers at the micro scale like really small regions and very specific areas. So during AAPI Heritage Month or Pride Month, we will only cast influencers who are very inclusive. Being a person of color myself, all our influencer lists are very diverse.”

Victoria says fostering a long-term relationship is key and one of the things that gives Confluence the edge.

“We hear it all the time when we work with influencers. They have great feedback like “I’ve never worked with an agency that is so professional or like that actually cared about what I was going through.””

To comply with laws and guidelines, Confluence is careful not to advocate cannabis use. However, the agency sees one of the more fulfilling parts of its work as the opportunity to share cannabis with those that use it.

“A lot of our influencers do use cannabis for medical reasons. Weed is expensive and it is really great to be able to help out our friends. Our job is rewarding because at the end of the day we are giving weed to our friends and compensate them for that. It’s a mutually beneficial situation. Brands are happy. Influencers are paying their bills. Everyone gets free weed.”

Looking Ahead

Victoria sees opportunity on newer platforms such as TikTok but challenges as well.

“Our clients are skeptical of TikTok because they see it, at face value, as a platform whose audience seems very young and therefore not compliant. We have to educate our clients that there’s older people on TikTok. That there are these very niche TikTok creators that create content specifically for older people. 

I think the great aspect about TikTok is the virality where you might just put a video out and have no intention of it going viral. And all of a sudden you wake up and there is a million views. It’s a vehicle we are starting to push to our clients. We are also making sure content creators are comfortable with what they are posting because TikTok’s community guidelines are very stringent.”

Going forward, Victoria is looking to take Confluence into other markets as cannabis laws evolve elsewhere in the world.

“We are in the US. Hopefully, as other countries start to legalize, we might go overseas. Canada is going to be another one for us coming up but we are definitely. We are focusing on cannabis but also looking at expanding into the other market segments as well.”

Victoria Baek is the CEO of Confluence Agency, an influencer marketing agency primarily focused on the cannabis space. A seasoned marketing executive and brand builder, she was previously the head of influencer marketing at MATTIO Communications, Confluence’s parent company. Victoria has a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management of human resources from the University of South Carolina with a minor in advertising and public relations. Both Confluence and MATTIO are on Instagram – here and here respectively.

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David Adler is an entrepreneur and freelance blog post writer who enjoys writing about business, entrepreneurship, travel and the influencer marketing space.

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