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 Forbesregularly 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 isrelevant—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.
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!
CONTENT STRATEGIST & COPYWRITER
Meghan O'Dea has honed her skills as a writer and content strategist for over a decade. She cut her teeth writing film and music reviews and a weekly opinion column on the 20-something experience. Early success in personal essay led Meghan to earn a Master's degree in Creative Nonfiction at UT Chattanooga, during which she attended the international MFA program at City University in Hong Kong as a visiting scholar. She has served as a digital editor for Fortune Magazine and Lonely Planet and earned bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Yoga Journal and Subaru Drive Magazine, amongst others. Meghan began writing cannabis stories for Willamette Week, Nylon and Different Leaf while working in the travel and outdoor media industries in Portland, Oregon. In addition to covering the intersection of travel, hospitality and cannabis, Meghan's work as a travel journalist took her from Los Cabos to Yellowstone, from San Francisco to Jamaica. She has also taught composition and travel writing at the college level and guest lectured on topics such as literary citizenship, urban history and professional development at conferences and universities throughout the United States as well as Madrid, Spain.