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Integrated marketing and PR services are one point of differentiation that can help brands choose a cannabis marketing agency.
Cannabis Marketing

What to Look for In a Cannabis Marketing Agency

May 8, 2023

So you’re looking for a cannabis marketing agency—that’s a big decision. You might know what results you want to produce, your timeline and your budget. Maybe you’ve been let down in the past by other advertising shops, so you know what you don’t want. 

Knowing exactly what to look for in an advertising shop and what questions to ask as you vet potential partners isn’t clear-cut, however. That’s especially true when you’re trying to evaluate your options while also attending to all the other supercharged priorities that come with running and scaling a business day to day. 

That’s why we’re here to help you understand what you should expect from a marketing agency, in both offerings and priorities. We’ll start with the latter, and the most obvious: You should be its priority. Simple as that.

But what about the offerings cannabis marketing and cannabis PR agencies have on deck? How do you ensure they’re the right partner for your business’ unique needs? Let’s explore.

What’s the Difference Between a Marketing Agency and a Public Relations Agency?

While a PR firm is mostly focused on managing your company or brand’s reputation, a marketing agency should be laser focused on boosting your bottom line through sales, conversions and revenue. A strong brand messaging campaign is the true foundation of both PR and marketing—like Socrates said, “to know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”

Public relations and marketing services are complementary, but some advertising firms specialize in one service category or the other. Grasslands takes an integrated approach, leveraging the complementary aspects of owned, paid and earned media to super-charge a client’s brand awareness. 

Owned media such as blogs, web copy, gate content and email marketing content is typically the province of marketing departments. With an integrated marketing and PR approach, that owned collateral can be used to expand on the subject matter expertise PR departments promote through earned media and even drive leads from the top of the funnel to a signed contract. 

What Should I Look For In a Cannabis Marketing Agency?

A cannabis-focused marketing agency should offer essentially the same services as a marketing firm serving more traditional industries. The biggest difference is cannabis fluency—that is, the ability to speak in the complex business language that encompasses a highly technical, highly regulated and highly stigmatized field. It’s important that the partner you work with understands that PR for your brand is PR for the cannabis industry as a whole.

Beyond that essential point of differentiation, there are a few other qualities that help any shop focused on PR and marketing in the cannabis industry stand out:

1. A tailored product menu.

Consider the communications products your business really needs. Is it brand design and naming? Message articulation and mapping? Marketing automation and CRM? Website development? Content marketing? Case studies? PR services like proactive pitching, news releases, media training and crisis comms? Thought leadership? Make sure the range of services offered by your potential partner aligns with what your business really needs to grow.

2. Scale matters—to an extent.

Enterprise-scale brands can be well-served by smaller advertising agencies, and boot-strapped startups can benefit from the broad reach of advertising goliaths. Just because a team is small doesn’t mean that it lacks a wide range of expertise, or that it’s cheap. And just because a team is multinational and huge doesn’t mean it’ll have the resources to meet your specific needs.

It’s not about finding an agency that matches the present or future size of your business, it’s about finding one that gives your team what they need. Maybe that’s a more personalized, intimate approach rooted in over-the-top hospitality and communication. Maybe it’s a robust national account team that can save you from building an in-house department from scratch. Or take a page from the  classic, memeified Old El Paso commercial and ask yourself, “Why not both?”

3. Do your due diligence.

Look for a firm with a solid reputation, and make them prove it. Five-star reviews, glowing online testimonials and industry awards are all signals that a marketing firm knows its stuff. But maybe not the way you think—after all, marketing firms are all about cultivating positive online sentiment.

A good, trustworthy marketing agency will show off its testimonials and customer reviews prominently on its website. But most importantly, it also will be able to walk the talk and back up that earned media with real numbers and results. Any firm worth considering should have a case study portfolio of successful campaigns and client relationships.

4. Is the agency as fluent in your business as it is in cannabis?

You want a marketing company with cannabis fluency and you want a company that communicates well and consistently. If you’re waiting too long for a response (and, yes, you decide what’s too long when making this decision), you’re seeing where you are on its priority list. Choose a firm that is smart, friendly and responsive. If team members are like that with you, then you can reasonably assume they’ll treat your partners the same way.

At Grasslands, we bake this into our core values as an agency. When we describe our approach as Journalism-Minded™, that means we prioritize direct communication and accountable activation instead of over-promising and under-delivering. Whichever PR and marketing partner you choose, make sure they can speak your language both internally and externally.

5. Don’t break the bank:

Consider your budget and compare the pricing of different agencies. Make sure you understand what’s included in the pricing and any additional fees the firm may charge for different products and add-ons. Don’t forget to weigh the long-term value of PR and marketing retainers over à la carte services—a retainer can help you pivot and move quickly without scope creep, or expensive in-house hires.

6. Choose the right culture fit.

That’s what all of this comes down to. Pick a company that you trust; that you want to interact with; that communicates with you and speaks your language; and a firm that offers the services you need. Perhaps the famous “beer question” is a better fit for the CEO of the firm you’re considering than it is at the ballot box.

At Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, we know that we’re not the perfect fit for everyone, and that’s OK. But, for a lot of cannabis companies, we’re the One. Reach out today and find out how we can help you achieve your marketing goals.