PR professionals always face a challenge when it comes to pairing their clients with journalists crafting timely, informative stories. The media market is competitive, especially in an era of social and digital media that moves at a faster pace than ever. But cannabis PR professionals have an extra challenge before them—the coverage they secure for legal weed brands not only influences consumer purchasing decisions, but public perceptions of the industry as a whole.
The cannabis industry has reached a gray area in terms of legitimation and legalization—it’s no longer an emerging industry, although cannabis does remain federally illegal. The cannabis market is worth $32 billion dollars, but a majority of transactions are still handled in cash. Cannabis continues to grow across the country, both in literal cultivation spaces and as a lucrative business sector.
NAVIGATING EARNED MEDIA AND CANNABIS STIGMAS
Yet there are still massive roadblocks due to societal normalization reinforced by decades of stigma and misunderstanding about the plant and its effects.
Since cannabis advertising restrictions prevent brands from pursuing paid media on platforms like television, radio and Google Ads, public relations offers a way to promote cannabis businesses within legal marketing boundaries. Effective earned media not only helps cannabis brands become distinct in the market and expand business; it also drives the mainstream American public’s understanding and acceptance of the cannabis industry.
Although cannabis public relations professionals dial-in on sharing their own clients’ narratives, every media placement they earn means more consumer and vendor education and less stigma around cannabis. On a macro level, wins for individual cannabis brands in mainstream media are wins to elevate the cannabis industry as a legitimate and credible market.
Many publications lack robust coverage of cannabis outside of regulatory and policy updates, although there are no little to no regulations on earned cannabis media. Cannabis public relations aims to bolster cannabis coverage by earning placements for their clients in both cannabis industry trades and mainstream publications. This is achieved through two main efforts: proactive pitching and thought leadership.
PROACTIVE PITCHING FOR CANNABIS BRANDS
PR professionals employ a variety of tactics, including news releases, event marketing, gift guide pitches, award and speaking applications. All have their strategic advantages. But it’s proactive pitching that presents one of the best opportunities to convey a brand narrative through a trustworthy third-party journalist.
It takes a journalism-minded PR professional to understand how to effectively gain the attention of busy writers and editors to forge relationships and secure earned media coverage. A good, newsworthy pitch should highlight the brand client and align with their strategic communications goals, as well as give journalists the information and narrative foundation they need to craft a compelling, clickable story.
CANNABIS TRADE PUBLICATIONS VS MAINSTREAM NEWS SOURCES
When done right, a client will earn coverage in a publication or other media outlets. But traditionally it’s been easier to get cannabis stories placed in industry and trade publications than mainstream outlets. For decades, editors and journalists alike held limited interest in cannabis stories outside of beats like politics or criminal justice.
As state markets and the cannabis industry as a whole have matured, however, public interest and approval has increased—and media stakeholders are listening. In 2013, for example, The Denver Post, appointed future Grasslands founder and CEO Ricardo Baca as its first-ever cannabis editor. It was the first time a mainstream news organization and paper of record had created such a position. A decade later, there are dedicated cannabis journalists working in-house at numerous publications, as well as on a freelance basis.
Today, cannabis stories can intersect with a variety of editorial niches like fashion, music, parenting, business, travel and more. And that exposure benefits far more people than just featured cannabis brands. When a cannabis PR profession earns a client placement in a mainstream publication, like Forbes or Business Insider, a previously unfamiliar audience has a chance to learn something new about cannabis. If the coverage is positive, that’s a chance to change cannabis’s Reefer Madness reputation of decades past.
Additionally, when cannabis businesses are written about in the same publications that cover socially accepted industries such as health, wellness and technology, or even wholesome family holidays, cannabis gains legitimacy it currently lacks. Breaking barriers in mainstream media shows that cannabis is itself a legitimate industry equally deserving of coverage, consideration and cultural cache.
This isn’t to downplay or denigrate the importance of industry trade publications that speak to audiences familiar with cannabis. But audiences of High Times, MG Magazine or Cannabis Business Times typically already accept the cannabis industry’s legitimacy. The audiences of industry publications consume cannabis media for up-to-date insight on brands and business from an insider perspective—the spell of stigma has largely already been broken.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP FOR CANNABIS BRANDS
The cannabis industry is chock full of passionate executives who know the market in and out. From federal or state-level regulations to market trends, these executives can offer expert, insider opinions. These thought leaders hold an incredible amount of power to direct the cannabis industry’s narrative.
Thought leaders are positioned to write op-ed columns, offer comments on current events, or appear at conferences from MJUnpacked to SxSW and TEDx. Although these executives represent their brands and share their stories, they also speak for the larger interests of cannabis. Just like any other earned media, trust and recognition is transferred to a brand in a way unachievable with paid media.
WANT TO BE A PART OF THE CANNABIS INDUSTRY’S NARRATIVE?
Proactive pitching and thought leadership opportunities are just a few of the services that Grasslands offers for clients in the cannabis space. Our journalism-minded team will help your business flourish, and your business’s narrative will help the cannabis industry continue to proliferate in legitimacy. Interested? Drop us a line any time.
Want to push consumer cannabis education further? The movement starts with vendor and budtender training like that provided by our friends at Learn Brands.
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.