The magic of MJBizCon, the largest international cannabis conference of the year, is nearly upon us again. But the 2023 trade show in Las Vegas brings something new to the mix. On Thursday November 30th, the MJBiz crowd will experience the first annual Emjays, an award show created by the acclaimed event production company Farechild!
The First Annual Emjay Awards By Farechild X MJBizCon
Founded by cannabis industry legends David Tran and James Zachodni, Farechild has been making a splash with its immersive events and imaginative tributes to plant, culture, and community. The Emjays offer a new award show building off a long history that Tran and Zachodni have formed of celebrating all aspects of the cannabis space. Collaborating for over 20 years, the two started DOPE Media together and its associated brands, including the DOPE Industry Awards that ran from 2013 to 2018. Now the Emjays takes that evolution to the future, honoring the ancillary brands, marketers, creators and advocates who uplift the ecosystem of plant-touching professionals.
Held at the renowned Pearl Theater inside the Palms Hotel and Casino, the Emjays will gather the best and brightest of global cannabis players for a star-studded ceremony, followed by an exclusive after-party at Vegas hotspot KAOS. Honeysuckle is proud to be a media partner for this landmark event, an official Farechild and MJBiz joint endeavor presented by Advanced Vapor Devices (AVD).
Who Are The Emjays' Brand Partners?
Many outstanding brand partners have come together to sponsor the award show, with global juggernaut Cookies sponsoring the KAOS after-party. The partners include: AE Global, Green Rebates, Advanced Nutrients, STM Canna, Jerome Baker Designs, MJBiz Daily, Cannabis Now, Sensi Magazine, Canna Tech Today, Cronic Magazine, KushCart, Mello, TSR Grow, Marijuana Packaging, Cannabis Golf League, Allay Consulting, Boveda, Clark Hill, Dutchie, Zenco, Dynavap, Fohse, PufCreativ, Blazy Susan, MJ Unpacked, Kairos Insurance Group, Royal Queen Seeds, Marijuana Industry Trade Association (MITA), ActionPac Scales, Canna Spy Glass, Finished Goods, Grove Bags, True Terpenes, Green Mile High, Entourage Oregon.
Farechild Founders David Tran And James Zachodni On The Emjays
Ahead of the Emjays, we sat down with Farechild’s David Tran and James Zachodni for the low-down on everything elevated.
HONEYSUCKLE MAGAZINE: You guys have revolutionized the cannabis space in terms of ancillary brand recognition, what can be done with awards and media. Within that landscape, where did the idea for the Emjays originate?
DAVID TRAN: Well, James and I actually met as bartenders 23 years ago, so hospitality and entertainment and connecting people have always been a part of our lives. We both started Dope Magazine; we also put together a lot of events that included an award show. In the early days, we wanted to recognize the hardworking people in the background that allow us to be able to have these great benefits [of a dynamic industry]. That was always part of what we did.
I think it was James who brought up the idea of an award show and it started to develop there. And when we start to agree on that, that’s when the exciting stuff happens, and that’s when you start creating the brand and the ethos of what the event is going to be. That’s how the Emjays originated.
JAMES ZACHODNI: Yeah, we took our past experience with the DOPE Industry Awards as our template to build this award show, not just for the experience of knowing the fundamental mechanics of running [an event like this], but also looking at the gaps in the award sphere. There’s plenty of great award shows that recognize the products – the Cannabis Cups and all that. They’re awesome shows that have been going on forever and highly support that side of the world. But there wasn’t too much out there that supported the businesses that prop the industry up from the bottom. Those were the people we always felt didn’t get the recognition on such a large stage as the actual cannabis strains and products. To us it was going back to [our] roots and being like, “How can we supersize it?”
TRAN: We also wanted to make sure that we reached into advocacy. And we really wanted to reach into the marketing side [and] podcasts, so spreading those categories in the ancillary and keeping products out of it. We do have a Brand of the Year, but we’re keeping it tight. As we grow, we’ll probably continue to add onto those categories.
The fact that the Emjays has a category for podcasts is unique. You’re tuned into evolving avenues for media and marketing.
ZACHODNI: For sure. A lot of work goes into [podcasting]. It’s not, “Oh, you turn on your microphone and talk about what’s on your mind.” This is real craft, a real media product that people spend a lot of time and energy putting together, and it’s doing work moving the industry forward and normalizing it much like our magazines did and do. Giving them the recognition is super important. [Another category is] Content Creator of the Year, which a lot of people think is walking around taking pictures of weed and stuff like that, but it’s a craft. It takes a lot of time to put those beautiful images together, write the captions and do all the things that you have to do to be a powerful content creator… These are the pillars of our industry that we tend to forget sometimes are just as important as lighting companies or other more traditional ancillary businesses. But they are also businesses within our space, so we got to give them their props.
Authenticity matters too. In cannabis, there’s always the issue of “If you aren’t here for the right reasons, you won’t go very far.”
TRAN: You have to participate. If you want to be a part of it, it takes a level of participating [and] a little bit of sacrificing. But if we talk about what the Emjays are really about, it’s connecting with people in a positive environment. I think the most important part is making that special connection for someone and solidifying that event, after going and doing meetings all week long [at MJBiz], it culminates in just a wonderful, spirited night with good vibes and good people.
Speaking of podcasts and good people, the Emjays will be hosted by Mike Glazer and Mary Jane Gibson from the Weed and Grub podcast! That’s going to be exciting.
TRAN: Yes, that is very exciting. These two are so great together, and we’re just so lucky to have an incredible friendship with Mary Jane and Mike. As you know, Mike has a long [legacy] in entertainment as a standup comedian. They’re working on their scripts right now and that whole show will be entertaining and funny. We couldn’t have better hosts.
ZACHODNI: I’m privy to knowing what their monologues are, and people are going to be falling out of their seats with some of the stuff they’re coming up with. We’re making sure that we execute all their crazy, wacky visions as much as we can. It’s going to be amazing.
Do the Emjays have a theme?
ZACHODNI: We didn’t lean much into a theme, but I’ve got to give a shout-out to Ken Loo from Chapter 2, our wonderful PR company. Ken was on a call with me early on at the initial steps of building this out, and as we were thinking about the names that we were bouncing back and forth, he blurted out, “MJs.” I was like, “Yeah, but don’t spell it MJ. Let’s make it sound like the Emmys – something easy to roll off your tongue, that looks good on paper, nice and clean.” Of course, all the social handles and stuff were available, so it was like the clouds parted. Thank you, Ken, for helping get that one to life.
But the theme really is taking Vegas. [The Emjays will be] in one of the nicest rooms in Vegas, the Pearl Theater inside the Palms. This is where Rod Stewart had a residency. You get big names in there. We are super proud to be doing a show in there, especially in a casino where we know there are challenges with anything related to cannabis. Even if it’s just a picture of a weed leaf on a poster, most of the time they’re like, “Nope.” So the fact that we’re able to use our relationships to get access to the Palms – and working with the team there has been great – we are really excited.
I say, “Classic Vegas with a psychedelic twist” [is our theme]. If you look at our branding, it’s touches like black leather in the background. There’s gold and green, we want to feel elegant and elevated, but feel cool and mysterious at the same time. That’s the vibe. So when you get to the Emjays, you’ll see that from the moment you walk in the door to our production onstage.
MJBizCon as a partner for the Emjays adds this important grounding to the awards as well, because for so many people the conference is their first introduction to the industry. At Honeysuckle, we were blown away when we initially attended MJBiz – we were the first cultural publication that wasn’t exclusively cannabis that they allowed in as press.
ZACHODNI: Having MJBiz as a partner is the foundation of [our mission for the Emjays]. We want to give a credible award out that people can then use as a jump-off point to help build their brand and give them more eyeballs and recognition. It’s like when car companies win a JD Power Award: You put that on all your commercials, all your advertising, and it becomes this stamp of approval by the consumers and the industry and everyone who’s part of that process. It may sound very surface level – “Let’s all celebrate each other” – but we’re supporting the industry by giving out an award… This is a powerful tool to get people that recognition to help build their brand further, which hopefully gets them more business and credibility within the cannabis space.
TRAN: There’s this mentality [in cannabis of] “Let’s get out there, be part of the community.” And certainly MJBiz has been a really huge part of our events career too, where we were producing after-events with Dope Magazine called The Golden Ticket Events. Over the last eight years or so, those parties have been more elaborate and a real part of the week. MJBiz has made a concerted effort to support and promote after-events. That’s been an important philosophy change that I saw.
ZACHODNI: Like you said, people go to MJBiz to learn. How cool would it be, as a company, to have a list of award-winning businesses for when you need a lawyer or accountant? [The Emjays help] filter down the best of the best for people who are looking for these services to be able to quickly identify the leaders in these specific categories that they may need for their business.
TRAN: The market is evolving quickly… Everyone is looking to get more efficient and cut down on mistakes, and that’s where you make the investment to come [to MJBiz]… This partnership with MJBiz couldn’t be more perfect as far as recognizing these ancillary businesses where they do so well in making those introductions for people. That also goes into the idea of the [Emjays’] voting process and transparency.
How did the Emjays’ voting process work?
ZACHODNI: We used a lot of our tribal knowledge [from the Dope Industry Awards] to build it out. We wanted it to be open for nominations to come from anywhere… [We started with] a form for anyone to fill out who they thought would be a great nominee for these specific 24 categories. That phase ran about two and a half months earlier this year, and we got thousands of nominations from all edges of the world. It was very eye-opening to see a lot of companies that may not have even been on our radar. We whittled it down to a top six from that initial nomination period, which was done by both looking at who got the most nominations, but also by using our committee [ourselves and members of the MJBiz team] to make sure there were no red flags. We want to make sure that if we’re awarding someone, they’re doing good for the community, not screwing people over or anything like that. Then we opened up [the top six in each category] to a public vote, which happened from August to October, done on a third-party platform that we hired to be that middle buffer. We used them to make sure there were no bots or shady things happening with the voting. The votes had to come from real people with a real email address.
At the same time, we brought in our media partners to judge the top six. Their criteria was, “Hey, give us a bit of information on what order you would put these companies and why.” We explain it in layman’s terms as, if I was going to a fancy restaurant for [a special event], I want to do some research. I want to see the menu, look at prices and pictures of the food, I want to read reviews, feel them out across the entire ethos of where their brand is out there in the world. So we have the public voting and the internal committee judging, and we create a weighted scoring system which then blends that together to figure out who the winners are.
And how will the weighting system work with the votes?
ZACHODNI: There’s definitely a large chunk based on the public. We do recognize that a lot of these companies did internal voting for themselves, which is totally fine. But we take all that into consideration too, because if 95 percent of your votes are coming from your own company email, that’s not going to count as much as the real random votes out there.
What are you most looking forward to about the Emjays?
ZACHODNI: (Laughs) Mine is a little on the Debbie Downer side, but we’ve been building this since February. It’s a lot of work and energy put into this, and the anxiety builds as you get closer and closer, and eventually the night is there and you’re in the thick of it. Sometimes it goes by so fast that you work ten, eleven months for a few hours of gratitude. Any event producer will tell you one of the best feelings is when your [event] is done and just that feeling of “Wow, that’s an accomplishment.”
I think that’s part of the drug of producing events, that extreme high of doing something that really was special and made people happy and brought them together. Dave and I have been taking that drug for a lot of years now, and we continue to be hooked on it. There’s a lot of work behind the scenes too, and we’ve got to give props to our team for those tireless hours grinding out all the different aspects. As an attendee, you never see how deep the roots go.
But it’s going to be such a good feeling to see… the kind of ripple effects this has for the winners and nominees. There’s a lot of pride to take in being [nominated]. And we’ve got to shout out our title sponsor AVD, because these things cost a lot of money to produce and we can’t do it without support from our industry. Granted, we have a track record and people know who we are, but we have to show them this is something worthwhile. [Thanks to] all the sponsors that have joined us on this inaugural event.
TRAN: Huge shout-outs to AE Global, STM, Advanced Nutrients, Green Rebates, and Cookies who jumped on as our KAOS after-party sponsor.
What else should people expect for the Emjays?
ZACHODNI: We hope that people see the hard work, but also just enjoy the night. You’re going to be in a room with thousands of the greatest people in the industry, rubbing elbows with anyone and everyone you probably ever wanted to meet or do business with. That’s our job as the event producer, to give a great outlet for all this to happen. We create the magic there, and now it’s your job to jump in, dig in, and take advantage of it because there’s going to be no other time in the year where you’re going to be in this kind of environment with people all in one place with a similar mindset.
TRAN: I’m excited too, to watch people dress up. How many times a year do we get super dressed up in tuxedos and cool outfits? Being able to watch that, there’s electricity and the atmosphere is going to grow. And as James says, being able to walk through a major casino and see the beauty of the whole venue and the “green carpet” all the way into the ballroom, that’s something I really look forward to. I think people will be very excited when they feel that energy [and] walk through that door.
The Emjays take place November 30, 2023 at 7PM PST at the Pearl Theater inside the Palms Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. For more information, visit theemjays.com.
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Featured image: Farechild founders / Emjays creators James Zachodni (left) and David Tran (right) (C) Farechild