By Pam Chmiel
A public relations (PR) specialist knows how to differentiate a brand in the marketplace and make it stand out. They influence consumers to notice a brand, understand it, be loyal to it, and buy it. They do this through event activations, influencer campaigns, and various media channels. They are creative writers and alternative thinkers that craft brand stories to generate interest and excitement around their clients. PR professionals cultivate relationships with reporters, editors, and the media to pitch them newsworthy stories for a shot at a featured article. I interviewed three public relations specialists in cannabis to discuss their experience and strategies for building brands in a turbulent industry. Thank you to Lisa Weser, CEO of Trailblaze PR, Taryn Schofield, Executive at Marino PR, and KCSA Communications Vice President Rich DiGregorio for participating in the conversation. Do You Approach A National vs. Local PR Strategy Differently? Marino: It’s important to understand the interests of national media vs. local media and tailor your approach accordingly. It can be easy to get carried away prioritizing national coverage, but the value local press can have for your media strategy should not be overlooked. There will be angles of interest to local media, but they may be too niche for a national audience. Local coverage is more effective in reaching particular communities and stakeholders. If your cannabis brand or ancillary company operates in multiple states, your public relations strategy in New York will be different than that of Nevada, Oklahoma, California, etc. Additionally, local and trade coverage is how you build up your spokespeople and overall company to garner the interest of national outlets. National coverage sometimes originates from reporting done by local journalists. KCSA: Where you focus your PR depends on the client’s goals. Are they already a national brand looking for greater awareness or a local company looking to influence local consumers and influencers?
A seasoned publicist will always start by identifying the right audience for their message. What resonates with a specific group in Chicago might not do the same everywhere else in the country.
What Is Your Experience Running Influencer Campaigns? And What Type of Influencer? TrailBlaze: We tend to focus on regional influencers that are mid-size to micro-influencers since our clients are THC brands and only sold in a few states. The type of influencer we use depends on the brand we are trying to market and its objectives. If it’s a sleek gummy brand, we might go for a lifestyle influencer, not an influencer who does bong demos. When we launched Martha Stewart CBD gummies, it was for a very mainstream audience. We didn’t use cannabis influencers. We used mainstream lifestyle influencers and food influencers -cannabis influencers are a completely different bag. Twitch is a big place for cannabis influencers. We avoid TikTok right now because of age-gating, but obviously, that’s a huge platform. And YouTube is another one that is increasingly useful for product demos and product testimonials. None of these platforms are super cannabis friendly, but you must get in there and test the waters. Marino: In cannabis, we see success in working with leaders on a local level. For example, suppose a client is seeking a license. In that case, it’s crucial to attract the attention of local influencers who can move a cannabis business forward and make inroads with leaders in that community. An effective public relations strategy for leveraging and reaching local leaders and stakeholders is crucial for advocating for your business to operate in a specific place and educating and correcting longstanding stigmas.
What Sort Of Public Relations Tactic Makes Sense For A Dispensary? KCSA: Dispensaries need customers, so a more consumer product-focused message would likely create the most significant PR impact than a broad company awareness campaign. A successful campaign could include a mix of product reviews in popular local media outlets, influencers, and social media marketing, along with a charitable mission. TrailBlaze: One tactic we use when there is a dispensary opening is to bring out dignitaries from the local community for a ribbon cutting or launch party – journalists and influencers that we think will resonate with that specific community to share our message.
What Does The Mainstream Press and General Public Want to Know About Cannabis? Marino: There is interest from the press on how this stigmatized industry will incorporate into mainstream society. From a lifestyle perspective, there’s a lot of interest in cannabis tourism, the intersection between cannabis and art, and how cannabis-infused dining, entertainment, and party planning is taking off. On the topic of business and economics, there’s frequent discussion about what cannabis can do for the economy, how the industry can create jobs, and the possible impacts of the tax dollars. Many of the public still do not know much about the cannabis plant, the industry, or how a legal market works -but they are curious. This curiosity will motivate the mainstream press to cover the sector more widely. It is advantageous to ensure your media relations strategy is ahead of this so your company and spokespeople can be at the helm of the conversation. KCSA: Cannabis touches many areas of our culture, whether it be medicine, policy, social justice, capital markets, entrepreneurship, lifestyle, marketing – the list goes on. Luckily for cannabis publicists, reporters on almost every beat could be looking for a story.
The general public mostly wants to know how cannabis laws in their state or country affect them. They also want to know that what they’re consuming is safe and might benefit them. Policy, consumer safety, and health & wellness are great examples of areas more mainstream outlets regularly cover concerning cannabis.
What Is Your Approach To Spinning a Client’s Story For a Press Release? TrailBlaze: We look at what the client has going on, and if we don’t think they’ve got a lot going on that’s newsworthy, we work with them to develop a campaign that will help make them newsworthy.
We had a client launching an edible brownie in Massachusetts, in December, in only ONE dispensary, in a small town, and they hired us to do PR for them.
We decided to play off National Brownie Day on December 8th. Our client made a Guinness World Record-breaking giant pot brownie to celebrate the holiday that fortunately took off and went viral. There were a lot of different things that went into play to make it work. It’s hard to hit those metrics, and not something we can do every single time. Luckily, it was the right idea and the right time. And because it’s a non-eventful holiday for news outlets to cover, they jumped on our story. Reporters need a reason to write a story on a specific day. Marino: Generally, press releases are not a centerpiece of our communications strategies and do not necessarily need to be a key asset in garnering media coverage. We typically reserve press releases for announcements that we’d either like to amplify over the wire and get on the record or to improve SEO and produce content for the client’s website.
It’s important to know what your target outlets and reporters are writing about and interested in to see how your client can uniquely contribute to the conversation. Invest the time and effort to identify what story within your client’s business has yet to be told.
Start a conversation with reporters to pique their interest in telling a larger story about your client. But this will most likely come from a well-thought-out and highly targeted outreach, not the wide dissemination of a basic press release.