Congratulations! You've reached the point where you're considering partnering with a cannabis PR agency. This is a pivotal moment for your business.
You know the goals you want to reach, the timeline you're operating on and the budget you're working with. Maybe you've worked with other PR firms before and were disappointed, so you've got a clear idea of what you don't want. But knowing exactly what to look for and which questions to ask while you sift through your options? That's a bit less clear-cut.
Fret not, friends: We're here to help. But first, let’s dive into the basics.
The Difference Between PR vs. Marketing Agencies, Unpacked
You can think of the difference between a PR and marketing agency in terms of your favorite cannabis strains: A PR firm is like your favorite indica—always there to manage and maintain your company's chill reputation. Meanwhile, a marketing agency is more like a potent sativa strain: Always striving to boost your bottom line with an energetic focus on sales, conversions and revenue.
A solid brand message underpins both, much like the need for good soil and light to grow premium weed. To reimagine Plato as a cannabis marketing expert, “The measure of a man is what he does with brand.”
PR and marketing services go together like THC and minor cannabinoids, each enhancing the other's effect. Some firms specialize in either PR or marketing, much like certain strains are thought to be primarily sativa or indica. Enter Grasslands, the powerful hybrid strain of the cannabis PR world, integrating the best qualities of PR and marketing to elevate a client's brand awareness like a perfectly balanced high.
Owned media—your blogs, web copy, gated content and email marketing content—is usually the province of the marketing department. Think of it as home-grown cannabis: You control the cultivation. But when marketing and PR blend their expertise you get the equivalent of the cannabis entourage effect—this owned media can amplify your brand's messaging, offerings and its reputation.
By building a stack of expertise, authority and trust with your audience, you can smoothly convert leads along the customer journey from curious browsers who stumbled across your brand in earned media, followed a link to your website and eventually saw the value in becoming loyal customers. Like a perfect puff on a well-rolled joint, it's all about getting the balance just right.
What Should I Look for in a Cannabis PR Agency?
A cannabis-focused PR agency should offer essentially the same services as a PR firm serving any other industry. The biggest difference is cannabis fluency—that is, the ability to speak in the complex business language that encompasses a highly technical, highly regulated and highly stigmatized field.
It’s critical that the firm you partner with recognizes that PR for one cannabis company is PR for all cannabis companies. Beyond that super-important caveat, here are more qualities you should be on the lookout for when shopping cannabis PR agencies:
- A customized product menu. A good cannabis PR agency is like a five-star restaurant, offering a diverse menu of services to satisfy your company's unique appetite. You might be craving some succulent media positioning, maybe a side of sizzling thought leadership and a dessert of delectable media training.
Whatever your munchies are driving you toward, ensure that the agency's spread matches your palate, and more importantly, your brand's growth recipe. After all, a tailored communication menu that satiates your business needs is essential, not just an à la carte option.
- Actual expertise. There are two types of people in this industry: those who think they know cannabis, and those who really know cannabis. The latter are the ones you want in your PR agency. They're fluent in both the language of the fast-changing cannabis industry and the intricate dance of PR—but they also know the business of cannabis. They get the nuances of your market, they’re on top of the latest regulations and they probably know the difference between terpenes and trichomes. This is crucial for a company that will be not just writing news releases for you, but introducing you to the wide world of legal cannabis.
- Stellar media connections. Great cannabis PR agencies are like the popular kids at the party: They know everyone, they're always in the loop and they can hook you up with just the right crowd. In other words, they have strong mainstream media relationships, as well as connections to cannabis influencers, cannabis journalists and key stakeholders in the industry. Remember, it's not what you know, but who you know. That’s why we love to host high-level networking events adjacent to cannabis conferences around the country. Marketing and PR are ultimately about relationships. And a good PR agency knows everyone.
- An effective thought-leadership program. In the burgeoning cannabis industry, standing out from the crowd is as important as having a reliable lighter at Red Rocks. This is where cannabis thought leadership comes in. Positioning you as the authority in your field is the heart of what a good PR firm should do—and if they’re successful, it could make your brand a headliner. After all, who doesn't want to be seen as the Willie Nelson of their field? Unquestionable authority, effortless cool and media hits—those are the ingredients of any winning cannabis brand.
- Proven creativity. Let's face it: The cannabis industry isn't the easiest one to promote thanks, among other things, to federal prohibition and a patchwork of state laws and advertising restrictions. That means a great cannabis PR agency should be able to get creative, in multiple ways—and fast. Can your cannabis PR team newsjack the latest water cooler current event and turn it into a memorable moment for your brand? Do they know which cannabis trade publications are hungry for your next op-ed or news release? Are they already pitching your products for holiday gift guides in Q2? You need an agency that's got the goods to make your brand truly shine. Don’t be afraid to ask for examples of their most creative, even Clio-winning campaigns or for reasons to believe like an Emjay Award for Best PR Agency of the Year. You want a team that’s truly creative, fearless and knows why their strategies work.
- Transparent communication. Working with a PR agency should feel as effortless as a gentle buzz, not like a chaotic trip. You deserve a partner that's open, honest and communicative. The team should be able to plan ahead and respond swiftly to the unexpected. In life and public relations—and especially in cannabis—challenges aren’t a matter of if but when. A trustworthy PR partner will always be up front when things take a turn toward the chaotic. Whether it's reporting on media coverage or filling you in on industry trends, a transparent agency will make sure you're never left wondering what exactly it is that they're doing with your precious PR budget. Transparency, authenticity and effective communication will be baked into that agency’s proven process.
- The fundamentals. A PR agency you can trust won’t hide its testimonials or customer reviews. In fact, it’ll post them prominently on its website. It is, after all, a PR firm; its team should know how to brag and brag hard. Make every agency you interview back up their claims with statistics and facts. Your potential partner should be able to support any claims or promises with real stats and results. And just like an architect, artist or graphic designer, any firm worth hiring should have a case-study portfolio of successful campaigns and client relationships.
- The right culture fit. Just like making any other work or professional choice, culture is what it always comes down to. Pick a company that you trust; that you enjoy chatting with; that speaks your language; that knows your business; and that offers the services you need.
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.