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Cannabis PR
5 min read

Leveraging Earned Media and Owned Media for Your Brand's Cannabis PR Strategy

Published on
October 19, 2020
A desk of notes discussing leveraging earned media to grow a brands digital presences

Meghan O’Dea is a versatile writer with nearly a decade of experience covering the travel, outdoor and cannabis industries, as well as in digital and content marketing. She prides herself on finding the exact right voice and angle for any given project and on research expertise honed from her years in academia. Meghan specializes in both big-picture content strategy and detailed technical skills like search engine optimization, all without losing sight of distinctive and creative brand messaging.

Prior to joining the Grasslands team, Meghan contributed to publications including Fortune magazine, Uproxx and Lonely Planet. She has also earned bylines in The Washington Post, Playboy, Bitch magazine, Nylon, Willamette Week, Yoga Journal, Subaru Drive Magazine and Different Leaf, amongst others. Meghan holds a master’s in creative nonfiction from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and was a visiting scholar at 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 at conferences and universities throughout the United States as well as Madrid, Spain.

Three media outlets I check every single day: The Cut, New York Magazine, 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.

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.

What is earned media for cannabis companies?

So what’s the definition of cannabis earned media? Earned media is “the buzz.” It’s the word-of-mouth coverage that cannabis PR agencies secure brands in a variety of media outlets through proactive pitching, newsjacking and other techniques. 

Cannabis earned media examples

Earned media coverage can include:

  • Print media placements like magazines and newspapers
  • Mention in newsletters, podcasts, blogs and other third-party owned media
  • Broadcast coverage like radio interviews and commentary
  • News segments and on-air thought leadership
  • Product reviews and gift guides on digital media sites, in print publications and on third-party owned media channels like YouTube, social media or blogs
  • Social media posts from third parties, including media platforms and influencers
  • Snippets and SERPs on search engines

You can review more examples of earned media in our cannabis PR case studies, which detail how we used strong public relations strategies rooted in acquiring major media placements to generate brand awareness for organizations from USCC to Cookies.

The value of cannabis earned media

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
  • Event marketing

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 as reportage, 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.

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