Seven years. That’s how long it’s been since Ricardo Baca founded Grasslands as a Journalism-Minded Agency™ after departing his role as the first-ever cannabis editor at The Denver Post. Amid a tidal wave of downsizing, layoffs and buyouts in print media, he knew it was time to start something new.
We never dreamed all those years ago, when Grasslands was a tiny new agency staffed entirely by newsroom alumni, that we would be celebrating our seventh anniversary with an Emjay International Cannabis Award for Best PR Agency of the Year.
“When I joined Grasslands, it was just me and Ricardo, a couple of cannabis journalists who’d seen way too many typo-filled press releases and lackluster marketing emails hit our inboxes over the years,” said Emily Gray Brosious, Grasslands’ Content Marketing Director. “We knew that by harnessing the storytelling techniques and high standards of accuracy we’d learned in award-winning newsrooms, we could raise the bar for cannabis marketing and PR in a truly meaningful way.”
And that’s exactly what we set out to do. Now here we are—proud and energized by the incredible work of our team of 25 full-time employees who work not only in Denver but also across five other states. Our collective accomplishment has made us feel reflective about how much has changed, not only in our agency but in the cannabis industry and the world at large.
“Working in the modern cannabis industry is far from simple or straightforward, and yet we will always prioritize our work in this emerging market—in part because we’re all advocates who believe these plants, mushrooms and drugs should have never been criminalized to begin with,” said Baca, the 24-year veteran journalist who founded Grasslands to solve some of modern PR’s most glaring issues.
“Strategic public relations and marketing is more than important for these emerging cannabis and psychedelics businesses—they are essential, and my colleagues and I are here for the long haul to help these organizations elevate their brand awareness in front of the audiences that matter most.”
The year Grasslands got started, President Barack Obama had only just stepped down from office. The headlines were full of Charlottesville, the Women's March and the emergence of the #MeToo movement. For the first time, Republican voters gave cannabis majority-level backing, while Nevada and Maine each initiated ballot measures to enact legalization.
Cannabis had yet to be legalized in Vermont, Michigan, Illinois, Arizona, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Connecticut, Virginia, Rhode Island, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, the Virgin Islands or Guam. And the cannabis hospitality industry, currently set to pop off in Las Vegas, was still just a bit of underground futurism.
The Clio Awards were still two years away from launching their annual celebration of the creative work being done at the forefront of cannabis marketing and communications. And the ADCANN Awards were still a year away from making their debut. The industry was still working toward the far greater legitimacy and national recognition it has today.
“It has been thrilling to see cannabis marketers use the regulatory environment as a catalyst to innovation; to push the boundaries of what textbooks say is possible with different media types and make deep, meaningful connections with audiences, and build real brand loyalty,” said Jesse Burns, Chief Marketing Officer.
That’s one reason it means so much to us to have won PR Agency of the Year at the inaugural Emjays—it affirms the Journalism-Minded™ approach to cannabis PR and marketing that has grown out of Grasslands’ strong roots in the newsroom.
Our proven process is informed by strong journalistic standards for integrity, quality and relationship building, and a deep knowledge of what it’s like for the members of the media receiving our news releases, pitches and deskside invitations each day.
“No matter the client, the Grasslands PR team is all about strategy and relationship development first and foremost,” said Pam Lipshitz, Executive Public Relations Director. “We take a deep dive into our clients’ goals, we listen and take the time to understand the most important narratives that will help us hit those goals together, and we keep it nimble so that we can shift as our clients refocus their attention as needed based on the industry’s shifts.”
We’re fully dialed into cannabis compliance regulations, legislation, policy, brand guidelines, our client’s goals and pain points, new product categories and publication mastheads. Cannabis is a highly regulated industry that necessitates technical know-how. But first and foremost, it’s still got those niche, underground vibes that lend themselves to creating a real feeling of camaraderie and community.
As we’ve discovered through our Journalism-Minded™ approach, it’s really those relationships that make this industry, and the storytelling around it, so special. It’s the people who make cannabis what it is, from our clients to their customers to the journalists covering this beat to our indefatigable colleagues.
“Working in cannabis isn’t just an opportunity to advance your career or your relationship to this plant,” said Debbie McHugh, Grasslands’ Chief of Staff. “It requires real, hard work. But it’s work with a purpose. This is a chance to really uplift the communities of which you are a part and make meaningful, genuine connections.”
Here’s to hoping the next seven years are even better, and just as beautiful, as the first.
—The Grasslands Team
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.