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Cannabis PR

From Stoner Stereotype to Corporate Credibility: Cannabis PR Goes Professional

October 27, 2020

The total addressable cannabis market is absolutely huge—as of 2023, PEW Research found that 64% of Americans have tried weed at least once in their lives. Despite how common and even pedestrian it is to consume cannabis, however, many cultural narratives saturated in stoner stereotypes belie the professionalism of the industry. 

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—PR for cannabis brands is public relations for the cannabis industry as a whole. That’s a challenge cannabis PR professionals face every day, and why a consistently professional narrative on cannabis is crucial.

We’re not saying that cannabis companies shouldn’t pursue branding and marketing tailored to a classic stoner demographic if that’s their steeze. Stoner stereotypes don’t preclude professionalism, after all. But when it comes to building industry relationships, communicating with editors and journalists, preparing for interviews and thought leadership with media training and tackling crisis communications, it’s imperative to put your best foot forward.

That’s a lot more straightforward than you might think. But straightforward doesn’t mean easy.

At Grasslands, one of our core values is to sweat the details. Communicating in a clear, accessible and respectful way is a key part of our Journalism-Minded™ approach to cannabis PR. 

Professionalism in PR Means Deeply Understanding How Reporters Do Their Jobs

When public relations professionals can work with journalists in a strategic and Journalism-Minded™ way, it goes a long way toward improving the perception of both cannabis brands and the communities they serve. It’s important for publicists to demonstrate to journalists that they know how to be good partners and solve routine pain points.

For example, publicists can respect busy reporters’ time by sending only well-researched pitches that are relevant to an individual journalist’s beat and writing history. Sure, it takes a little bit more time than sending out a mass email blast with a news release. That’s a tactic known as “spray and pray,” and it’s used by many agencies that play a numbers game to secure media coverage. But taking a more strategic approach is time well spent.

A glossy fashion magazine probably isn’t looking for the same angles as a cannabis trade publication, even if a timely cannabis story has genuine appeal for both readerships. Nor would a consumer reporter be familiar with cannabis industry jargon like “MSO” for “multi-state operator” or “shatter” for a type of concentrate. 

Turning off a journalist by failing to speak to their level of comfort and expertise is a surefire way for them to ignore your messages. You’d be surprised, however, how many PR reps don’t strategize to make sure the pitch is relevant to the writer in mind and the publication. 

Knowing how and when to cold call, the right cadence with which to follow up on a pitch, how to strike the balance between efficiency and personalization and what times of the month and year are best for queries are all skills good PR reps must possess. A good PR rep will know, for example, when a morning show producer will be done taping in their time zone and when to reach out before that producer goes into a standing assignment meeting.

It takes time and good instincts to hone those skills, and even longer to build up quality media relationships using tools like desk sides, networking events and happy hours and brand activations. And sticking the landing on each of those communications tasks is essential to setting a professional tone for cannabis news and lifestyle stories. 

Senior Account Executive Casey Echols and Associate Account Executive Breanna Lopresti facilitate a media tour of a Arizona cannabis cultivation facility.

Professionalism in Cannabis PR Means Understanding the Media Profession

Not only do cannabis PR professionals need to know how to help journalists do their best work, they also need to understand the ins and outs of the media industry. 

For example, a CEO might know how to write a functional news release. But they might not know that print publications are planning their end-of-year holiday season content as early as June and July. It’s not particularly professional to send out, say, a gift guide pitch in November. At best it’s a waste of time, and at worst it makes it all too easy for a skeptical editor to think a little less of “flaky” cannabis executives. Proactive PR is all about timing.

Newsjacking is another great example of how cannabis publicists can demonstrate their professional value. Turning around a story angle or pitch on a tight timeline tied to breaking news or a topic of hot conversation before it goes cold on social media isn’t for amateurs. But newsjacking is what great PR professionals do best, and the results can be a huge boost for any PR or thought leadership strategy.

In both of these examples of long-term and short-term cannabis PR tactics, success depends on what Encyclopedia Britannica attributes to professionalism: “the skill, good judgment and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.”

How Cannabis PR Professionalism Improves Expertise, Authority and Trust

The cannabis industry is expanding every day, with legal markets opening up in some very different states. Cannabis marketing in Florida is not necessarily the same as cannabis marketing in Vermont or cannabis marketing in Oklahoma. The same is true of media markets and PR. And how cannabis PR professionals talk about their clients will vary depending on the audience at hand. With a skillful PR strategy, it’s possible even for brands as steeped in regional culture as Cookies to resonate on a global scale. 

Another key component of PR strategy is to know what will build up a given audience’s sense of expertise, authority and trust in a particular cannabis brand. The audience includes not only the readership of, say, Forbes or Cannabis Times or the Alexandria Gazette, but also the journalists receiving a company’s news releases. Knowing what information to include—and what to leave out—can establish a PR professional and the brands they represent as a real-deal resource for hardworking members of the media.

Giving journalists the resources they need to represent the cannabis industry warmly and accurately is a necessary component of changing public perception of the plant, its producers and the community and culture around it. When consumers get accessible, reliable information on cannabis, they have more trust and positivity toward the brands that helped them better understand what they’re consuming. 

Those brands not only include makers of edibles, tinctures and hash, but also media brands like CNN, The New York Times and Denver Westword and the individual brands of writers, editors and executives. At a time when Americans’ trust in the media is near an all-time low, every little bit of earned trust goes a long way. It also means, however, that journalists and PR professionals alike have to work that much harder to win over potential and existing consumers with a consistently professional message.

Are you ready to set a higher bar for your cannabis PR strategy? Reach out today to find out how we can take your messaging further.