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Cannabis PR
5 min read

How Newsjacking Can Take Cannabis PR Stories Further

Published on
November 1, 2022
A piece of newsprint flying out of a printing press is blurry from the high speed.

Meghan O’Dea is writer and editor with over 10 years experience, focused primarily on travel and cannabis journalism as well as digital and content marketing. Prior to joining the Grasslands team, Meghan was on staff at publications including Fortune magazine, Uproxx and Lonely Planet. She has earned freelance bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Nylon and Civilized, amongst others.

Meghan holds a master’s in creative nonfiction from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and was a visiting participant in the international MFA program at City University in Hong Kong. She has also taught writing at the college level and guest lectured on topics such as literary citizenship, urban history and professional development for writers.

Three media outlets I check every single day: The Cut, The Atlantic, The Washington Post

Super inspired by: Women like Isabella Bird, Uschi Obermaier and my maternal grandmother, who dared to travel the world even in eras when global adventures went against the grain.

My monthly #GrasslandsGives donation: PEN America’s Prison Writing Program

When I’m off the clock (in five words): Books. Long walks. Architecture. Mixtapes.

It hasn’t always been easy to secure earned media placements for cannabis brands. For years, federal prohibition and stigma kept the business of cannabis out of national publications and sequestered in niche cultural staples like High Times

Things have changed dramatically with mainstream media. It started in 2013, when The Denver Post named future Grasslands founder and CEO Ricardo Baca its first-ever cannabis editor. These days, even traditional, more conservative publications like The Wall Street Journal and Forbes regularly cover cannabis companies as they continue to make waves with product innovations, and new legal markets come online.

There are a few tactics cannabis PR professionals use to make sure their clients get a bigger spotlight on their stories. Earned media placements and proactive pitching in particular help to propel cannabis narratives into the national discourse and give founders their due. But what’s an account executive to do when editors feel stories about cannabis trends just aren’t relevant outside of the industry? How do you pitch a story that would be exciting for, say, commodities or travel brands, but just doesn’t have enough oomph coming from a sector stigmatized for decades?

That’s where newsjacking comes in. 

What Is Newsjacking?

Newjacking is a technique PR professionals use to persuade and convince editors and journalists that cannabis is relevant—right now. The term was coined by David Meerman Scott in his 2011 book of the same name to describe a technique for inserting companies and their leaders into viral conversations while also helping journalists gather more information on buzzworthy topics.

When there’s big news that’s dominating the conversation like the psychedelics renaissance, for example, PR professionals can tailor their proactive pitches to move the story forward

By contextualizing clients such as cannabis brands in terms of a broader narrative that everyone is already talking about, everyone wins. The cannabis brand suddenly has more relevance in the eyes of journalists who are looking for new angles and expert viewpoints. The PR professional has proved their value to the members of the media in their network. 

Audiences who might not otherwise read a “weed story” get a fresh perspective on the industry, and might shift their estimation of cannabis for the better. And this all makes it that much easier to get a cannabis story placed as the news cycle perpetually spins forward.

How to Perform Newsjacking Effectively

Newsjacking can’t be the only tool a PR person pulls out of their kit. To work effectively, cannabis newsjacking must be done judiciously and at the right time. Journalists and editors are already inundated with tips and pitches on a daily basis, and no cannabis PR agency wants to dilute its credibility by offering up pitches that are weak, irrelevant or offensive ways to capitalize on a big, important news story.

That’s especially true in an era of social media, when breaking news gets shared on springboard platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. If a brand’s new product and its relationship to a broader cultural narrative or event comes across as tone deaf or opportunistic, that’s not just a faux pas—it could become an exercise in crisis management. No one appreciates someone inserting themselves unwelcome into a conversation, particularly one about sensitive events. 

When it comes to surfing the wave of buzzy news stories, you have to move fast. That’s simply not possible without journalists who trust your expertise. Public relations, especially for a still-controversial field like cannabis, requires finesse. However, when you have confidence in what makes a great cannabis narrative, in what your audience is ready to read about, and in the ability of the journalists to present the facts, suddenly newsjacking looks…well, not easy, but at the very least smooth.

That’s just one reason why it helps to have a PR team that’s fluent in cannabis as well as the inner workings of the media machine, the communications pros who know when to be bold and when to tread lightly. Many cannabis PR agencies, including Grasslands, pride themselves on hiring former journalists, newsroom editors and broadcast staff who understand this unique tightrope act and can produce results accordingly. 

To effectively pull off a newsjacking campaign, it’s crucial to not only have a strong sense of tact and strategy, but also to have deep media relationships that ensure your pitch will get a swift reaction and be taken seriously. 

Ready to talk more about how you can get your cannabis brand at the forefront of the latest conversations? Let’s chat!

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