Earned and owned media, when deployed strategically, can be absolutely essential for cannabis brands as they roll out comprehensive marketing and PR strategies. After all, owned and earned media aren’t competitors, but teammates.
Earned media can help extend your brand recognition far beyond your current audience or operating location. And owned media is the sticky glue that will help sales leads and potential customers learn even more about your brand—and get closer to a purchase or strategic partnership—after learning about your company in the broader press landscape.
Before your company and its leadership team starts appearing in magazines, newspapers and podcasts, it’s important to set up your owned media channels with well-written content that closely adheres to your brand values. Performing an audit of your brand’s owned media presence can help set your earned media pitches up for success. In an industry that changes on a dime, a stale website with outdated messaging can steer consumers away, so it’s wise to stay up to date.
Earned media coverage helps build your brand’s EAT—that’s Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness, three key components of any brand’s ability to win over customers and differentiate itself from competitors. While owned media is an important component of any PR and marketing strategy, the value of cannabis earned media is, well, that it’s earned.
Rather than posting anything you want about your brand on channels that your company controls, earned media pitches must win over journalists, editors, influencers, content creators and other external stakeholders. The earned media market is extremely competitive; successfully securing a placement is a big boost to your brand’s credibility, especially in well-regarded publications of record like The New York Times, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.
What is owned media for cannabis companies?
Owned media, on the other hand, refers to brand narratives published on a company’s own channels. Owned media can be especially valuable for legal weed brands because of cannabis advertising restrictions that limit the industry’s access to traditional marcomms opportunities like billboards and TV ads, but not tools like marketing automation.
Cannabis owned media examples
Owned media coverage can include:
Websites, blogs and landing pages
Newsletters, e-blasts and automated content
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram
Videos, podcasts and webinars
Gated content like white papers and case studies
Some examples of owned media are sometimes categorized more granularly as “shared media” because they are published on platforms that a brand can’t truly own, such as Snapchat or TikTok or a sponsorship opportunity at another organization’s marketing events. This “rented” vs. “owned” media differentiation is particularly important for cannabis companies, which are more heavily regulated by social media companies than businesses in other sectors.
So how can cannabis companies make the best use of earned and owned media to advance their public relations efforts? Here are three proven tips that have worked for brands large and small:
Leveraging the Local News Market for Cannabis Earned Media
Most brands dream of national earned media placements—after all, they have a much wider readership than any one regional or local publication. But the relationship consumers have with cannabis is shaped by geography in ways large and small. Not all readers of national publications live in states where cannabis is legal, for example. And many smaller cannabis companies like dispensaries have a very geotargeted base audience that needs to be thoroughly convinced to shop outside their preferred neighborhoods or for new products.
That’s why local and regional news markets can serve as a great opportunities for cannabis brands. Sure, they don’t always come with the prestige and cachet of the household-name players. But companies can win positive attention by being vocal and supportive of local media and events happening in their corner of the world.
When establishing brand awareness, smaller-scale media such as local news stations, trade publications and alt-weeklies are essential building blocks for establishing your influence. New brands in particular can secure local and regional placements early in their earned media strategy to help earn the credibility and recognition needed to win over editors and journalists at more competitive publications.
Think Like a Journalist
Proactive pitching is fundamental to any earned media component of a PR strategy. But for pitches to turn into placements, it’s important to approach any outreach with the needs of the editors and journalists you’re contacting in mind. Of course your teammates are excited about your company winning an award or launching a new product, for example. But unless you can find a way to make that product launch feel timely and intriguing to a given publication’s audience, you might be facing rejection.
This is why it’s so important for cannabis PR professionals to be fluent in cannabis as well asreportage, and to build strong media relationships. If you only know how to think like a public relations professional rather than a journalist, you might not be as strategic in crafting your pitches as you’d wish.
Start with basic questions that are integral to journalism 101 like who, what, when, where and why. Look for other stories performing well and generating a lot of conversation that you can use as a segue to raising brand awareness—a process called newsjacking. And be sure to provide the person you’re pitching the tools they need to write a quality story—rather than making the mistake of dictating the story yourself.
Diversify Your Narratives
Part of the value of cannabis earned media is that a brand can capitalize on a wide variety of competitive and messaging whitespace by pitching a variety of outlets. For example, Cookies’ earned media strategy not only includes pitches about new dispensary locations opening up and fresh strain drops, it also focuses on spotlighting Cookies founder Berner’s business savvy, the company’s social equity programs, and partnerships with other pop culture figureheads.
Maintaining a proactive pitch cadence for several narrative threads over the course of a quarterly or even yearly strategy can also help keep reporters interested in your company’s latest achievements. That’s especially valuable in an industry where consumers especially prize ongoing novelty, education and discovery.
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.
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.