Updated: Oct 24
Having a savvy public relations (PR) strategy in the cannabis industry is perhaps more important than establishing strong public relations in any other market right now. This brand new industry has no definitive blueprint, it’s like the wild-west.
When it comes time for you to launch and promote your B2B or B2C Cannabis business, you’ll notice at every turn the many barriers that exist in this competitive, highly-regulated market. But it’s a journey you don’t have to take alone if you can find the right public relations partner.
In this article we consulted with communications expert, Scot Rutledge, to discuss why public relations is uniquely important in the cannabis industry, what public relations can do for your business, the difference between public relations and marketing, and share our top 5 favorite PR tips that you won’t want to skimp on.
As a bonus, stay tuned until the very end of the article where we’ll list the 3 best cannabis PR agencies to start building your brand with.
Why Is Public Relations In The Cannabis Industry Important?
Public relations in the cannabis industry is important because it’s a highly regulated market and you’ll need help creating brand awareness while avoiding common money and reputation pitfalls along the way.
Marketing and advertising in the Cannabis industry is tough.
Maybe you’re thinking about facebook advertising or attempting to create an SEO strategy to out-optimize the competition, but these endeavors can be precious time wasted if you don’t understand the complicated, ever-changing nature of the cannabis market.
Even though you’d think that Cannabis has become more culturally accepted, it still has a ways to go before it’s fully legal. For this reason, the Cannabis industry is controlled in digital and public advertising; many platforms won’t even allow you to promote cannabis-related content whatsoever.
For example, if a platform like Amazon suspects that you’re selling or promoting a product even remotely related to Cannabis on their platform, you risk having your listing taken down and your seller account suspended.
With the help of a public relations team that has specialized experience in Cannabis PR, you’ll save a lot of time and money with a guide that can help get you in front of the right audience to suit your goals.
What Do Public Relations Do For A Cannabis Business?
Public relations helps to get you in front of news stations, magazines, and podcasts; boosting your visibility while overcoming complicated cannabis advertising limitations.
Every Cannabis company you’ve seen in a news segment, advertised in a podcast, or talked about in a magazine has the backing of a public relations firm that has succeeded in getting the brand they’re promoting seen. For example, public relations teams lead certain initiatives, like putting a face to the brand. They’ll pursue this by booking the company’s CEO a speaking engagement at a relevant industry conference to create buzz.
Simply put, Public Relations helps to build and frame the way the public sees your company, while overcoming the obstacles faced by marketing your brand on your own.
What’s The Difference Between PR and Marketing?
Public relations is concerned with maintaining the positive reputation of your business. PR makes sure that you're interacting with your customers and your industry, keeping the conversation going about your business at all times. Public relations teams do this by writing press releases for notable achievements and product releases, as well as interviews for the news, podcasts, radio shows, and more.
The goal of Marketing is to sell or promote your product/business. Marketing gives you visibility so that your target audience can see and recognize your business. A marketing team does this by running product sales, investing in online advertising, tracking and running customer retention initiatives, and more.
5 Key Cannabis Public Relations Tips & Tricks To Get You Started
We’ve compiled a “can’t miss” checklist of the most important aspects of nailing a cannabis public relations strategy by first making sure your business has the right “bones”.
The following 5 critical components of a cannabis PR strategy will tackle important aspects of your business to understand and discuss with your PR agency, but are actionable enough to get you started on your own.
1. Set Your Budget
Public relations can be a pretty big investment upfront, but the return on investment (ROI) is second to none.
When you’re investing in your PR budget, you’re investing in brand awareness, which can take you from a startup company or an unknown company to one that is seen as a legitimate player in the cannabis industry.
If you’re still in the business planning stages of your cannabis adventure, make sure to call some public relations firms and figure out what your budget would need to look like to create a solid public relations strategy and add the cost into your financial plan.
PR is a key expense, because you’ll be competing against a lot of other brands and businesses. It’ll be your public relations team and your marketing team that turn up the heat on your competitive edge.
2. Start With Story
We’ve all been stuck listening to a work or school presentation while watching our minds wander off to our grocery list or our plans for the weekend. If only the presenter understood that the human brain is wired for anecdotes and stories rather than meaningless bulleted lists, they’d be on their way to a memorable presentation.
Packaging your cannabis business for successful PR is no different.
Research suggests that when humans hear a story, both the language processing and experiential parts of our brain are activated . Leverage the wiring of the human brain to create a brand story that is sensory, tangible, and relatable.
The cannabis industry is no special exception to an essential branding rule: Tell a story.
Build a story for your audience and don’t skimp on relatable details. Use some of the following prompts to help dive into the hows, whys, and whats of your brand:
Who are the characters in your business/brand?
Charlotte’s Web was founded by 7 Brothers.
What does the setting for your business feel, smell, and sound like?
Our dispensary is located near a freshwater Lake in Northern Michigan.
What have you learned along the way?
I quit my job in advertising, put my belongings in a Uhaul, and moved across the country to take part in the thriving cannabis industry.
3. Drive Home Your Value Proposition
If you’re new to business, the term value proposition might be new to you. A value proposition is the “why” behind your brand that answers the question, “Why should a customer choose your product or service?”
To put it into context: Why are people rushing to buy the new shoe brand, Allbirds?
At $125 a pair, one would wonder why someone wouldn’t just buy a $30 pair of shoes to serve the same function of protecting their feet. But it’s Allbirds value proposition that keeps customers coming back. Allbirds capitalizes on creating wearables that are sustainably sourced, always keeping the environment and climate change in mind.
With that being said, developing a value proposition is one of the top ways to stand out in the cannabis industry. To figure out your value proposition, you want to identify what sets your cannabis business apart from the rest.
Check out the queries below for ideas on value propositions you may be able to identify and maximize with the help of your public relations team:
Does your leadership team contain minorities or members from underserved populations?
Do you use sustainable practices for your product or business? (recyclable shipping materials, no use of styrofoam, etc.)
Is your cannabis grown or extracted in a way you’re proud of? (supercritical CO2 extraction, outdoor grown, or organic)
What’s your company like? (family owned, small business, seed to shelf).
By driving home a strong value proposition, you’re boosting your chances of customer retention and letting your customers know that they’re putting their dollars in the right direction.
4. Educate, Educate, Educate
An unavoidable aspect to consider when creating your brand story is the stigmatization the cannabis industry faces.
Cannabis sales and growth have been made legal in certain states for medicinal or recreational use and the 2018 farm bill made the cannabis plant, hemp, an ordinary agricultural commodity . But while great strides have been made, legislators and politicians still denounce cannabis/cannabis products although the scientific community at large recognizes its considerable health benefits.
For this reason, marketing and public relations for cannabis are a delicate topic and you have the power to take control of the narrative. Utilize a PR team to help do your part in contributing toward the greater efforts of reshaping the public perception of cannabis - both for your brand’s success and the industry at large.
An experienced Cannabis PR agency can help you to promote cannabis as the world class wellness alternative it truly is. By creating a PR campaign surrounding the positive aspects of cannabis for agricultural and recreational use, your team will be helping to demystify and free the cannabis plant, providing your audience with better resources and education for understanding a historically misunderstood plant.
5. Go Local
There’s a saying in marketing that the most powerful form of advertising is word-of-mouth.
According to Forbes, 92% of consumers are most likely to place far greater trust in recommendations from family than from advertisements .
An important part of a good PR strategy is focusing on connecting with your customers, rather than collecting customers. In fact, gaining 75 enthusiastic supporters of your business or brand is far more powerful than collecting an email list of 400 people who could care less about you or your business.
Partner with a cannabis PR Firm to catch the attention of locals in your area, using yourself as the test audience:
Which local publications do you read?
Which local instagram accounts do you follow?
What local events are you interested in attending?
When you’re showing up in the public eye and gaining the attention of local media in a positive light, you’ll begin to see that your target customers and audience begin to feel like they can trust you. On a local level, it works as a very similar effect to that of word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM).
Our List of The 3 Best Cannabis PR Agencies
It’s important to us that you feel equipped for success. We scoured the internet and asked our exclusive industry network to recommend the top public relations firms that are specifically skilled in the cannabis industry.
Each agency has a different culture and different feel, giving you both the option of high-end and boutique. There’s no one-size-fits-all public relations firm, so we chose a variety of company cultures for you to take a look at.
Marino is a holistic strategic communications firm delivering data driven, fully integrated strategies focused on changing perceptions, amplifying impressions and fostering high-level relationships to build brands in multiple industries, including their cannabis specialty. Marino serves a broad client roster and is home to a talented, committed and diverse team of communications professionals and digital strategists in New York and Los Angeles. Visit Marino.
Grasslands is a journalism minded agency founded by Ricardo Bacca, the first cannabis specialized journalist for a major publication, the Denver Post. This gives grasslands a unique perspective as they understand what journalists are looking for and how to make their lives easier. Grasslands is a well known firm known for their authenticity and passion for what they do. Visit Grasslands PR.
3. Mattio Communications
Mattio is a female owned PR agency founded by Rosie Mattii in NYC (and now LA). Mattio has become a household name because of their proven success working with some of the largest and most well known brands and operators in the cannabis industry. Visit Mattio.
Let’s Build Your Cannabusiness
Public relations firms do best when they truly believe in their product that they’re selling and the services that they’re promoting. Be sure to interview with a few PR agencies to suss out a strong partnership that can last and become stronger over time.
Once you’ve leveraged the power of public relations to sell your story, build your brand, and bring people to you - the last thing you have to do is follow through on the quality of your service and product.
Whether you’re in the application phase for licensure or aiming to be the first trailblazing community leader, CANN Strategy is here to help. Our team of industry experts can turn your business’ CSR goals into actionable strategies that truly make a difference in the world.
Ready to work with us?