Competitors get a lot of lip service in public relations, no matter the industry. After all, brand competitors are key for comparison: They’re the value, credibility and personality your customers are measuring your brand against. But here’s one of the biggest unspoken truths in cannabis PR—competitors aren’t everything. Not by a long shot.
With a glut of supply, narrow margins, market expansion challenges and a significant decrease in customers since the early days of the pandemic, conditions are perfect for cannabis companies to go toe-to-toe. It’s not wrong to view this industry as a competitive space; but it is a limited and self-defeating view.
Zoom out a little further and it becomes clear that the biggest opponents in cannabis aren’t the dispensary down the street or the cannabis law firm across town, but taxes, regulations and old-fashioned stigma. And that’s where things are getting interesting. Cannabis operators—whether plant-touching businesses or ancillary service providers—are realizing that competition has far less to offer in the long run than collaboration.
As cannabis journalist Kate Robinson noted after attending MJBizCon 2023, many in the industry are “shifting their attitudes away from viewing fellow operators as competition and instead looking to partner with them to find synergies.”
Interest in potential synergies was a growing trend throughout 2023. For example, two California cannabis distributors formed a coalition to help businesses across the state. Nabis, a wholesale marketplace with over 300 partner brands, joined Kiva Sales & Services, which is the distribution arm of Kiva Confections, CannaCraft, Calyx Peak, Glass House Group and The Parent Co, in co-founding Financial Stability for California Cannabis (FSCC). This new coalition is dedicated to finding and implementing solutions to the Golden State’s complex industry debt and taxation problems.
Or look at the remarkable example set by Minnesota’s cannabis industry, which took a “grass tops” rather than grassroots approach to legalization legislation. Minnesota has a long history of grassroots activism, particularly when it comes to cannabis legalization. But despite that groundswell of public support, collaboration between major stakeholders at the top of the legislative food chain was also necessary to turn the North Star State green.
Working together under the MN Is Ready campaign, the advocacy group Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation (MRMR) teamed up with Minnesota NORML and Sensible Change for Minnesota, as well as House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler to get HF 600 through a divided legislature. The result is a unique market that is focused on in-state craft suppliers, new entrepreneurs and equity more than opening doors for established MSOs and state tax gains.
How Cannabis Brands Can Think Outside the Box
Cannabis brands are also creating other outside-the-box opportunities. As stigma has decreased, more companies outside the industry have been open to crossovers with plant-touching partners, or with the industry itself.
Here in Colorado, for example, beloved burrito restaurant Illegal Pete’s teamed up with vape company o.Pen for National Queso Day, offering Illegal Pete’s famous chips and queso free with each purchase of o.Pen’s special UK Cheese strain vape pen.
On a larger scale, when longstanding New York nonprofit Housing Works opened the Housing Works Cannabis Co on Dec. 29, 2022, it was a resounding affirmation of cannabis as a viable extension for brands that are firmly rooted outside the industry. It was also a commitment to the notion of “cannabis for good,” sending a resounding message that cannabis retail sales can be used to support important, meaningful work like housing, mental health, substance use treatment and harm reduction services for New York City’s most vulnerable populations.
“Collaboration amongst cannabis brands is important but we are energized by the challenge of partnering with brands outside of cannabis to help win over new brand loyalists,” said Pam Lipshitz, Grasslands’ Executive Public Relations Director.
The Magic of Strategic Partnerships for Cannabis PR
The momentum behind these kinds of collaborations between cannabis brands and other business sectors is one reason Grasslands has rolled out a new cannabis PR service—Strategic Partnerships. We recognize that the emerging culture of collaboration must necessarily shape PR strategy.
“The value of a well-executed and well-timed partnership goes beyond additional earned media opportunities for our clients,” said Lipshitz. “As critical as a complementary PR strategy is, the benefits extend to borrowing audiences from like-minded organizations and creating opportunities for fun user-generated content for social media and owned channels.”
Although the Strategic Partnerships product is a new offering to our clients, it’s long been an essential part of our ethos and core values. We couldn’t pull off The Grasslands Party each year without collaborating with our sponsors—brands that have the kind of core compatibilities and alignments that make any proactive PR and marketing strategy successful.
It’s the creative input and support of sponsors such as Advanced Vapor Devices, Bud & Mary’s, Nabis, Ripple, Allay Consulting, Salal Credit Union, Messner Reeves LLP, FlyWheel240, Medisca, Jointly, C1 Compliance, Dykema, Twisted Foot, EventHi, Root Sciences, Grove Bags and The Panther Group that make possible unique activations like the Zoltar Machine, the hot toddy hoop house, photo booth, caricature artist, wandering magician and terpene-infused hand massages that help make The Grasslands Party “the warmest room in Vegas.”
Indeed, our agency’s award-winning, Journalism-Minded™ approach to cannabis public relations and marketing is deeply rooted in relationships—the foundation of any true partnership. We view our work with clients as a collaboration that makes the most of our collective expertise, elevating cannabis brands and the industry as a whole.
It remains to be seen what will come of our cannabis industry predictions for 2024. While everyone has their eye on the potentially seismic shifts of rescheduling and the SAFER Banking Act federal legislation, we are keeping our eye on a far greater certainty—the increasing role that collaboration will continue to play in defining the next phase of the cannabis industry.
At Grasslands: A Journalism-Minded Agency, we know that we’re not the perfect fit for everyone, and that’s OK. But, for a lot of cannabis companies, we’re the One. Reach out today and find out how we can help you achieve your marketing goals.