Public relations has a role to play in every industry, providing value for companies looking to promote their services, announce a recent fund raise or want to plant a flag in their domain as a leader or subject matter expert. Some industries, however, are writing a new playbook for the way PR is done. The cannabis space is a prime example of how PR can – and has – evolved in such a short amount of time. This industry has been a part of N6A’s DNA since 2017 when we created a cannabis-specific client service group. Since then we’ve seen the ups and downs, rapid changes and overall growth in an industry that, at the time, very few took seriously. We knew the potential was there, but we couldn’t be prepared for how foreign this would be compared to our other specialties like tech, cybersecurity and professional services.
We had to forget what we knew as media professionals and develop new plays and strategies for an industry in its infancy – all while bearing in mind the plant’s polarizing past and ambiguous future. With so many lessons learned about the way the cannabis and communications industries operate together, here are just a few key takeaways that have shaped our approach and operations in the marketplace.
Build Relationships Across the Board
It’s often said “it’s not what you know, but who you know,” and in cannabis this couldn’t be more true. While the industry is growing rapidly, it’s still considered a tight-knit community where everyone talks to each other, and leaders lean on one another for expertise and guidance. A competitive nature is inherent in any business environment, but what I’ve noticed about those working in cannabis is that everyone is striving for the same goal: to further legitimize an industry plagued with stigma. Whether it’s developing media contacts or a new business prospect, the foundation lies in building relationships with the key players in the space.
From a PR perspective, this includes working closely with the reporters dedicated to the cannabis beat, whether they write for a trade or mainstream publication. Journalists are shifting between jobs faster than ever before, and this beat favors industry veterans. One day your “friendly” at an obscure cannabis outlet will suddenly be spearheading coverage at The New York Times, Rolling Stone or other iconic publications. For the sake of clients and their desired business outcomes, communications professionals should foster ongoing conversations with any reporter interested in covering cannabis; you never know where it could lead.
Understand the Limitations
Both public relations and advertising have proven to be instrumental in normalizing cannabis businesses within the mainstream media. However, communication in the space can be a compliance minefield due to strict state and federal regulations. While the industry’s growth is nothing short of explosive, opportunities for advertising are extremely limited as the largest digital platforms such as Facebook and Instagram have banned cannabis ads, forcing companies to look for other options.
Paid media has its time and place in every industry, but with so much red tape in cannabis advertising, it provides an opportunity for earned media to take the stage. Aside from a few key trades we all know well, journalists across business, lifestyle, finance and retail verticals are covering the space. Depending on what a business is looking to gain from PR, these initiatives are a great way to get directly in front of the audiences they want to reach without the risk of violating certain advertising guidelines. Companies that are ancillary, and therefore not selling a particular cannabis product, also have a bit more flexibility when it comes to advertising, especially on social media channels. As the industry sophisticates, the demographic of consumers does as well.
Evolve with the Industry
The cannabis marketplace as it stands today is vastly different than when we began to service clients years ago. For decades, this industry operated in the shadows and outside of the law, but as legalization spreads across the globe, the way that businesses position and talk about their brand has had to change.
Gone are the days of reefer madness as consumers begin to see cannabis as medicine or a wellness supplement. With this comes a significant reduction in the use of words such as “weed,” “stoner,” and even “marijuana,” while words like “cannabis,” “medicinal” and “patients” step into the forefront. Both communications professionals and businesses must be hyper-aware of the verbiage we use if we want to professionalize the industry and fuel worldwide adoption.
As the industry sophisticates, the demographic of consumers does as well. What was once reserved for a younger, male population has now been growing in popularity amongst women, baby boomers, and the elderly. Cannabis businesses are now forced to diversify their messaging to appeal to the masses which often includes taking a minimalistic approach to branding and packaging.
Consumers are no longer looking for the lowest prices, but a brand that they know and trust. Recognition, whether it be locally or nationally, can be gained through a strong communication plan and will become increasingly imperative for long-term success.
The COVID-19 crisis is plunging the global economy into recession, changing consumer behavior and the world of business. Cannabis businesses are no stranger to operating in a challenging landscape. The constantly evolving legal status, regulatory hurdles and social stigma has forced founders in this space to be nimble and more financially wise with their capital.
While the market has experienced a seismic shift that has already attracted investors to inject capital into the cannabis industry and seen neighboring industries, including tobacco, alcohol and pharma, come into the fray, COVID-19 will change key industry structures and operations. To succeed and cultivate value, cannabis companies must adapt to the new realities of the marketplace to be well positioned for continued growth after the pandemic subsides.
With social distancing guidelines suddenly forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to move their businesses and customer experiences online and disruptions to the supply chain due to international travel and business directions, some businesses will struggle to stay afloat.
As consumer behaviour and online shopping patterns adjust to a new way of living (affecting B2B sales, online ordering, deliveries and manufacturing), leadership and strategic thinking will be paramount.
By understanding where the challenges and opportunities lie, cannabis businesses can thrive. Here are some focus areas and tactics to consider:
Targeted consumer segmentation through social media
When starting a cannabis business, it is key to understand who your core consumers are and what they want from their products. This has become even more acute because of the pandemic with consumers flocking to all sorts of health-focused products including CBD.
With everybody spending more time online, social media use is on the rise. Executing a social media plan to include influencer outreach can increase brand visibility, build a solid consumer base and create brand advocates.
Instagram is essential to a cannabis business building an online presence but it’s important that it doesn’t become a “hard sell, please buy me” channel. Plan and make Insta-worthy content that educates and entertains followers to increase engagement, click-through rates and leads. Brands may want to pair with an influencer on either a gifting or paid-for basis which will mean the brand appears in a potential customer’s feed as they interact with their favourite accounts.
The art is finding key influencers whose audience is one that you would like to interact with. This type of positioning will allow cannabis businesses to reach a new audience or group of people.
Marketing and PR
In times like these, many companies choose to pull back on communication activities and expenditures for fear of spending too much for what they perceive as little return, however, marketing and PR, when executed well, can be the lifeline of any business.
With so much noise in the market about the “next best thing in cannabis”, effective marketing and PR can distinguish brands that are credible and offer a strong value proposition to those that are all smoke and mirrors.
The current needs of businesses and consumers are much different than they were just a few short months ago, so it’s important to understand these needs and spending habits while combatting negative perceptions of cannabis.
As cannabis companies are not able to advertise like mainstream companies, a strong public relations and marketing strategy will enable firms to communicate their identity, build trust, shift perceptions through media coverage, enhance reputations and reach customers, partners and investors.
Businesses in every sector are cutting costs to keep their businesses afloat. This needs to be done strategically and requires senior leadership teams to explore cost reduction strategies and streamline non-essential costs.
This may mean further consolidation of cannabis companies and supply chains to manage cash flow and maximise resources. Companies may even look to create strategic partnerships with complementary businesses in the industry or push some firms towards mergers and acquisitions.
Business models will evolve as cannabis companies identify inefficiencies and reconfigure their operations and messaging. This could range from assessing their R&D capabilities, agricultural assets, manufacturing chains or route to market.
The postponement of countless CBD Expos, trade shows and cannabis conferences are creating new demand and opportunities for businesses. To reach prospective wholesale clients, investors and connect to their customer base, firms are entering the digital marketplace. Digital events, Zoom investor pitch panels and email marketing and sampling is on the rise and expected to grow over the coming months.
CBD brands should work in parallel with their retail partners to influence product samples in digital offers and create a touchless transaction. Buying products online is going to become a permanently entrenched habit, even when restrictions are fully lifted so it’s worth looking at how technology can support and enhance sales while offering a smooth customer experience.
Everyone in the cannabis industry will be affected by COVID-19 so maintaining positive relationships is vital in these tough times. Calling investors or partners to tell them what is going on with your business or checking in on others in your ecosystem means information can be shared to iron out any issues and help generate ideas to future proof the business. “A problem shared is a problem halved!”
COVID-19 is creating incredible business challenges. As we navigate the new normal, it’s important to adapt and grow. As more products come to market and brands/services develop distinguished offerings, expectations will change so cannabis businesses need to be ready for greener pastures.
Although the COVID-19 crisis has halted many normal business practices, that doesn’t mean that high brand engagement rates have to come to a close. In many states, the cannabis industry has been deemed an essential business. This designation as ‘essential’ opens up a prime opportunity for social media accounts to achieve positive gains and educate people about the valuable benefits of cannabis, especially with so many people staying online for longer periods of time.
It’s been clear for years that social media marketing is one of the most cost-effective ways for a business to reach customers and prospects. However, when it comes to cannabis and cannabis-related businesses, serious social media challenges are everyday occurrences. So how are you supposed to effectively market your business when you can’t promote your products and services? As a marketing professional, I know it’s a tall order, but with some smart strategic moves, it can be done.
There are a few ground rules that cannabis businesses should follow during this ongoing crisis to keep their social media engagement metrics as high as their loyal customers, while remaining in compliance with the strict rules for cannabis marketing. While the laws vary from state to state, that pesky federal illegality and Schedule I designator the DEA is dragging its feet on means that you must pay careful attention to even the smallest details. When it comes to CBD products, the FDA has been outspoken on what not to do as well. Slip up, and mainstream social platforms like Instagram and Facebook can and will restrict or even remove your brand pages. Losing all your followers and posts and having to start from scratch is not fun.
You’ll also need to get creative with your posts. Remember, never promote products, or encourage your audience to get in contact with your business, so always review and proof carefully before posting anything to your feeds. Make these simple mistakes, and your business could be seen by the platform as directly or indirectly soliciting use of an illegal substance. Cannabis businesses already have enough headaches to contend with right now without inadvertently adding to them.
So what should you post and how often? Now is the time to double down on educational and lifestyle related content, and for sharing how your business is addressing the ongoing COVID-19 threat. Share any new procedures and precautions to underscore that your business is dedicated to safety for staff and consumers. Post often, but don’t overdo it. Your posting frequency will be a matter of trial and error, but aim for 3-4 times per week per channel, and be sure to tailor your posts for the platform it will appear on.
Educational content doesn’t automatically mean boring! Keep your content easy to read, and choose a single topical focus or benefit. Use a variety of formats – from publishing informative blogs and podcasts that you can share to your social media accounts to direct posts of how-to and behind-the-scenes videos and rich lifestyle imagery (no product photos, please). Posting these types of media with smart captions can help gain the attention of your audience and are easy for viewers to share with their friends and followers. Speaking of which…
Embrace earned media opportunities and social media influencers who can promote your brand. If you’re not familiar with the term, earned media is the bucket we use to describe content that’s being shared and talked about by users, or even created by them. That organic exposure to a wider audience is the highly desirable side-effect of having great content – positive attention that gets shared by others.
If you’re considering working social media influencers, look for those that are already engaged with members of your target audience or that would have appeal to your customers. Be sure they can demonstrate real ROI and that they understand the importance of remaining compliant with FTC and platform specific guidelines for posting, including compensation disclosures – before signing them. Many marketing and PR agencies provide vetting of influencers, and can even negotiate contracts, often at better rates. Before deciding if influencers are right for your brand, you may want to consult with a reputable agency that has experience with hiring (and firing) social influencers.
Finally, if you haven’t yet done so, consider establishing a profile on one or more of the rapidly growing cannabis-friendly social media platforms. These include sites such as Weedable, duby, and CannaSOS. There are also a number of social media platforms focused specifically on cannabis businesses and professionals, such as Leafwire and MJLink (formerly WeedCircles). If you’re still not sure or cannot tackle this yourself, consult with an experienced marketing agency. Now get out there (safely, of course) and conquer those social media platforms the right way! Stay the course, and by the time this crisis is over, your brand could achieve a more solid position on social media, and more engaged followers.
The cannabis industry is not immune from global setbacks. Discussions about how resistant the vertical is to this (next) setback have been widely disseminated, from mainstream news to the blogosphere.
Yes, the UN punted global reform down the pike another 9 months – affecting the international industry. And so far, the entire vertical has been left out of the relief bill in the United States (although there are lobbying efforts everywhere to correct the oversight on subsequent bills now almost inevitably in the legislative hopper).
However, there are signs that the industry is actually gaining credibility if not forging new victories during a time likely to go down as this century’s “Great Depression.”
Here is a look at some of the trends afoot that are already bearing fruit and bringing relief.
Cannabis Business Is Essential Business
Some important battles have been won in many states in the U.S. as well as several other countries (including but not limited to Canada). This starts with the designation of the industry as “essential,” at least on the medical side. The issue of delivery and cashless payments have been on the front burner just about everywhere. And this time, there are few if any objections with a national lobby to voice said concerns.
In Europe of course the conversation is also different depending on where you are, but there are still signs that things are clearly changing.
In the UK, authorities have made it easier for cannabis importing. In Germany, pharmacies are on the front line in a way unseen just about anywhere else.
And in Spain, with most patients reliant on cannabis clubs, the lockdown and subsequent hardship for the most vulnerable has led to widespread calls to make deliveries a possibility. Even if the clubs are not functioning as “lounges,” their operators might not get fined for opening their doors, much less “importing” product from the outskirts of town to a central distribution point.
Pivoting To Respond In Times Of Crisis
It is impossible to forget that the emergent industry has been on the forefront of the medical industry and certified production for a long time, even if that, at least up to this point, has received little respect.
Health Canada has asked testing labs to repurpose their activities for Covid-19 testing.
Canadian and American producers are also on the front lines of providing PPE (personal protective equipment) that can be multi-purposed. Masks, gowns and gloves have all been donated from multiple companies. Others are literally repurposing ethanol used for extraction to make hand sanitizer for vulnerable populations. More than a few, including in Europe, have directly been involved in helping to fundraise for foodbanks.
GMP Licensing and Other Developments Still Cooking
While some companies waiting for certification have been stymied because of a lack of foreign travel (EU-GMP requires German inspectors to travel to Canada for example), there are other indications that global companies are finding the way through anyway.
New deals are being inked all over the planet, including international provision deals from unlikely places. This is in part because new export and sales channels are being forged – literally out of desperation. See the story of Little Green Pharma and Astral Health, an Australian company now exporting to the UK (a first). Or the New Mexico company Ultra Health, which just started to export to Israel. Not to mention the source of Israel’s other international purchase of cannabis this month – from Uganda of all places.
Down under, things are certainly developing in an interesting way during the crisis. Indeed, New Zealand decided to proceed with its own cannabis cultivation, with signs that more reform is on the agenda for later in the year.
Back in the Northern Hemisphere, North Macedonia, home of one of the most developed cannabis economies adjacent to Europe, is literally one amendment away from entering the European and global business with flower as well as extracts (which is on the table this month as the government begins to reconvene.)
In summary, while times are tough, everywhere, the entrepreneurs who have forged their way through laws of man to create reform, are also showing up to battle against this century’s so far most emergent threat.
People talk a lot about consistency when it comes to branding; after all, it’s a feature of the world’s most lucrative consumer brands (just ask Apple, Nike and Starbucks). As a result, companies will spend buckets of money on ensuring that their look and sensibility are uniform when marketing materials are out in the wild.
This consistency makes it easier for customers to recognize your brand. But the most important effect of consistent branding isn’t just that customers will recognize you– it’s that they’ll trust you.
Trust is the product of familiarity and consistency, and it’s far easier to be consistent across platforms when you have a strong sense of who you are as a brand. Strong branding helps you stick out in a crowd, and repeated viewing reinforces who you are to consumers. By extension, a consumer’s ability to quickly recognize you means that when they see your brand in public, they’re more focused on your message than picking you out of the crowd. And one way for consumers to recognize you is through archetypes.
What a Character!
Archetypes are typical examples of a person or concept that appear across different fields of literature, art and behavior; in other words, archetypes are familiar concepts that appear in storytelling. An outlaw is an example of an archetype. If an outlaw appears in a story, you may find yourself immediately drawing conclusions about that character’s motivations and sensibility and imagining how the outlaw fits into the story.
This demonstrates how archetypes can serve as a kind of shorthand when you’re telling your own brand story. We’ve created 16 archetypes–brand characters, if you will–for the cannabis industry, such as the Activist, the Doctor and the Stoner, among others. These archetypes all have a specific look and tone that you can use in your communications to keep your messaging consistent and effective so that people are focusing on your message rather than sussing out who you are and what you stand for.
For one thing, this makes your marketing efforts easier on you because you’ll be able to tell what makes sense in the context of your archetype. For example, the Doctor Archetype wouldn’t be sharing a 4/20 playlist, and an Activist Archetype wouldn’t be arguing the merits of different CBD bath bombs. You don’t want consumers scratching their heads, and having an archetype helps to determine what kind of behavior is appropriate for your brand.
Moreover, it helps to establish consistent behavior that your consumers see. Consistency helps to build trust because it helps customers build expectations. When you build expectations and you act in a way that immediately feels familiar to them, they’ll feel more comfortable with you. Imagine your closest friends; you have a strong sense of who they are. You know that your friend will refuse to order their own fries and then pick at your own. But there’s some comfort in this because when a person acts exactly as you expect, it makes you feel as though you know them deeply. And when there aren’t any mysteries, you can focus on what lies ahead in your friendship.
Brands operate the same way. When you see an Apple ad, you don’t have to rack your brains for context before you absorb their message. You know that Apple stands for sleek design and innovation, so when you see an Apple ad, Apple doesn’t have to keep reintroducing those values. Instead, you can focus on the new product or idea being featured, knowing that the sleek design and innovation are already baked in– and it’s because Apple has done decades of legwork making sure that that’s the case.
Archetypes make that legwork even more efficient by giving you those values as part of a character. If you think of your brand as a character, it immediately makes your communication more human. For instance, like Apple, the Scientist Archetype also values innovation. But when you write social posts as a Scientist Archetype rather than a brand, it makes it easier to connect with folks because you’re writing from a particular person’s perspective rather than a bulleted list of company values.
It also grants you more structure in your brand strategy because it allows you to envision a whole person. When you’re writing a post, for example, you can ask yourself, “Would the Scientist say this?” You can envision this Archetype’s mannerisms and sensibility, and being able to do that makes it far easier to know what will feel real to consumers– and by extension, trustworthy.
That ability to build trust is what will ultimately decide how successful your brand is in this burgeoning industry. You’ll be facing more competition than ever and you may eventually find yourself facing companies selling near-identical products. The brands that will win out will be the ones that know how to build trust with consumers with a cohesive brand strategy. With the right strategy, that could be you.
There’s no denying that the cannabis industry is experiencing a boom. While it feels a bit like the wild west, many organizations are riding a wave of (mostly) positive publicity as opportunities increase for cannabis products and distribution.
From a public relations standpoint, relying on this initial excitement, however, is shortsighted at best. As regulations allow for increased competition in many markets such as cannabis dispensaries, manufacturers and distributors, we must find new ways to creatively garner positive attention while staying compliant with regulations.
But what do you do after the initial excitement fades? How do you individualize your company to make it stand out and sustain within the market? For many, the solution is held within a strategic community relations program.
No matter the size or reach of the organization, we encourage many of our clients, especially those in the cannabis industry, to engage with their immediate communities. Not only does this demonstrate that you’re invested in the well-being of your neighbors, but can provide long-term benefits, such as brand loyalty and improved public image.
Here are four reasons why businesses in the cannabis industry should be investing in community relations outreach:
1. Initial Publicity Only Lasts So Long
Like the gold rush, businesses are looking to help themselves to a slice of the cannabis pie. And understandably so. In 2018, the industry earned nearly $10 billion in the U.S. last year, creating 64,389 jobs, according to CNBC. With the newness of the industry comes a lot of excitement and media attention. While this attention is great for those first-to-market trailblazers, as competition increases, the newsworthiness will dwindle.So, what’s the best way to gain awareness without blatantly advertising? The answer is giving back.
For examples of this, look no further than the tech industry. Remember when apps (or websites if you want to go way back) used to be a big deal? In order to stand out in a crowded marketplace you must be different and have a story to tell. Making a meaningful connection through outreach will help you succeed long after the first wave of publicity fades away.
2. Regulations Rule
In many ways, your hands are tied when it comes to advertising or promoting a cannabis business versus a traditional retail product or location. In some states, it’s almost entirely off the table. So, what’s the best way to gain awareness without blatantly advertising? The answer is giving back. Community outreach programs through philanthropic efforts will help build your business, create brand awareness and bring people together. Community relations is a critical part of getting the word out even in the face of strict regulatory guidelines. And the best part – it can be inexpensive to do. As an added bonus, you make friends and create advocates in the process.
3. Combat the Stigma
In some states and communities, cannabis still faces a bad rap. Currently only 33 states have legalized medical cannabis, while 11 states have legalized cannabis recreationally. And even with growing legalization and acceptance, the industry must still combat outdated stigmas and misgivings. By making your business a reputable part of the community you will build trust and loyalty. Take this as an opportunity to educate the community about the facility and meet staff members.
4. Stay in Good Graces
Community relations is a great way to create ambassadors out of community leaders and influencers. Simply put, people are more interested in supporting an organization that supports them in return. Show that you’re invested in your neighbors and ingrained in the success of the local business community. As an added bonus, community involvement will also help boost public image and build the morale of employees. This is important for long-term success of your company as well as employee retention.
No matter what your reason for implementing a community relations initiative, you’ll find it to be a great addition to your public relations strategy.
The best part- community outreach doesn’t have to be extravagant, either. Coat drives, food drives or volunteering time with local events are all great ways to show your support for the community while raising your own profile.
As the cannabis industry continues to grow and competition increases, you’ll feel good about setting the bar high as a responsible and thoughtful invested member of your local business community.
The German cannabis cultivation bid may be mostly done and dusted (although the last four lots are now up for legal challenge) but the drama is only intensifying on the ground in Germany. Namely, where is the cannabis being consumed on the ground now actually coming from?
For the past several years (in fact since 2016 when a Frankfurt-based start-up called Medcann imported the first Canadian medical cannabis into the German market in partnership with Canopy Growth), the conventional wisdom has been that Holland and Canada were the only two countries allowed to import medical cannabis into the country.
As is usually the case in the cannabis industry, when it comes to such things, there were also multiple and highly creative explanations about this strange state of affairs that sounded oddly exotic enough to be plausible. This is after all, the international cannabis business.
These explanations also usually referenced conventional industry “lore” including such tall tales as these two countries were not signatories to an international drug treaty (not true), to being European (nope) or even a member of the EU (also completely false).
Yet there was always something strange with such urban legends – perpetuated by insiders across the German industry. Starting with a deliberate vagueness about details. Especially as in the summer of 2017 when Tilray announced grow facilities in Portugal, and by the end of it, Canopy was moving into Spain, and later by early 2018 Denmark and more. Italybegan to appear on the radar of multiple big Canadian companies. Clearly all these big companies seemed to know something that those outside did not. See Greece. Not to mention the teeth-gnashing of the Israelis– repeatedly shut out of the German market by not being allowed to export by their own government until Christmas Day, 2018.
The mystery deepened in March in fact, as a furore rocked the German-based cannabis industry over the last weeks. Farmako, a new, Frankfurt-based distributor, not only announced that it was importing 50 tonnes of cannabis into the country– and from Poland (where production of such bulk has not even been seeded) – but then gave additional details on a Bloomberg appearance that appeared to indicate that in fact the medical cannabis they were already selling (sourced from other places) had come from Macedonia.
Certification, and most certainly paperwork are the name of the gameIn fact, no such transfer of cannabis had occurred from the Macedonian side (yet), although the firm in question at the other end of the deal was subjected to considerable harassment in the German canna-specialty press in the meantime.
The news, that occurred right at a time when Tilray is clearly training pharmacists for the German market, the first bid is concluding, Greece issues even more cultivation licenses, Canadian companies are clearing still stepping up their production game, and South Africa is also getting into the formal licensing act, with all sorts of interesting things afoot in Uruguay, also set off what appears to be an official investigation of the firms involved at the governmental level.
Insiders are tight lipped and nobody is willing to talk on record. However, the distribution firm, Farmako, has subsequently reported that in the month of March, they became the top selling cannabis specialty distributor in Germany. And since they are not out of business, it is also clear that while their PR may have been a little premature if not easily misunderstood, the broader message is very obvious.
What is also very clear at this point, in other words, is that the German door for cannabis and the international industry appears to be opening to product sourced from many places. Further by extension, the German government is in the process of recognizing foreign GMP certification processes from multiple countries all over the world as being equal to its own – at least on the cannabis front.
In fact, this has been going on relatively quietly for the past six months or so.
What Are The Standards, Certifications, and Qualifications?
A press release from January of this year, issued from an Australian firm called MCA, announced they had accepted the first letter of intent to ship to a German firm (in 2020). The company is currently accepting pre-orders as it finishes construction and achieves EU GMP certification. The same (female founded) firm was also present at the ICBC in Berlin this year in March, reporting that German demand from a universe of local distributors was already greater than they could fill. The news that their first sale went to German firm Lexamed, the controversial German wheelchair distributor who helped bring down the first German bid, was also largely unremarked upon at the time by most of the industry press and in fact, ever since.
In truth, it appears that the countries and companies that have the right to import to Germany must first have their own national GMP certification recognized as being equal to German standards – or a so-called Mutual Recognition Agreement (or MRA) must exist between the importer and exporter nations. It still means that to be really EU-GMP compliant, inspectors have to walk your cultivation floors. But first your country has to have the MRA. And that is a matter for lawyers and regulators to decide.
In the Australian case, the GMP equivalence for cannabis production apparently became reality within the last six months although no one is giving exact dates. In the case of Macedonia, this is pending, with German inspectors now apparently scheduled to begin inspecting domestic cultivation facilities within the next month to six weeks.
The biggest news, of course, which makes even more sense on the heels of Canopy’s latest “record breaking” U.S. acquisition, is that the EU and the U.S. will enter into an MRA in July that was finally agreed to in February of this year. This will also mean that cannabis “medicines” potentially even beyond CBD, produced via U.S. GMP processes, will be allowed to enter Europe if not Germany in the near future – and from the U.S. for the first time. Ahead of federal legalization in the U.S.
It also means that Israeli and American firms will be allowed to enter the European and thus German market for the first time (on the ground with product) by at latest, the third quarter of this year.
Caused By The Bid….and Likely Shorter Term Outcomes
What the events of the last several weeks make clear is that the bid is not only insufficient for demand, but the authorities are officially, if quietly recognizing the same. There are already rumours about the next cultivation tenders in Germany, and there is a high likelihood that other countries (see Poland in particular) may also follow suit shortly.
Further, the difficulties in making sure that not only countries but the companies based in the same remain compliant with EU and further German sanctified EU- GMP processes (for one) is likely to be an issue that continues to bubble. Why? It is a problem already in the broader pharmaceutical market here.
The Plusses and Minuses of The News
The first thing that is also obvious is that even Wayland cannot source the entire German market with the product it has begun to grow here no matter who ends up with the last four cultivation licenses this time around. Further, that the other winning bid firms (Aphria and Aurora as known at this point) without cultivation on the ground, are sourcing from somewhere that is also probably at this point, not even Canada. No matter how much expansion is going on in Canada, in other words, what is now entering the German market may bear a Canadian brand but could just have easily been sourced from almost anywhere in the world.
That also means that enterprising firms (see Australian MCA) can skip the Canadian introduction to the German market and sell directly to local producers before they even have crops on the ground, as well as the burgeoning German cannabis distributors across the country.
For such firms now wanting to enter the market, however, it is not all clear sailing. The events of the last few weeks clearly show that the government is watching, including reading English language industry press, and willing to pursue any firms it deems are breaking the rules on both sides of national borders.
Certification, and most certainly paperwork are the name of the game, as well as greater accuracy in company intentions (even if in the near term).
Disclaimer: Nysk, the Macedonian firm referred to in this story, is a sponsor of the MedPayRx pilot to market program
Building brand loyalty should be a goal of any business. However, before a business can build brand loyalty, it has to have a brand. Before beginning our discussion on branding, let’s spend a moment speaking the same lingo. A brand is usually built around a trademark. A trademark can be a name, a logo, a color or a sound for example, something that inspires a consumer to think about a product originating from a particular business. The Feds won’t let you register a trademark for cannabis on the federal register because of its Schedule I status. However, most states where cannabis is legal will allow businesses to register a trademark on the state registry. Now that we are all using the same lingo, let’s get to the interesting stuff.
What Not to Do
The cannabis industry has been known for piggybacking on the trademarks of other brands. And, when cannabis started becoming legal, shoppers where able to find strains like: Dirty Sprite, Candyland, AC/DC, Trapitio, and Starbucks, to name a few. Boy were those brand owners mad- suing over trademark infringement. Not getting sued is a good reason to find your own, unique trademark. There are other reasons.
First, a trademark is an intangible asset having value. A strong, registered trademark will have more value than one that is not. A strong trademark is one that is creative and/or fanciful. Descriptive trademarks are not creative or fanciful. So, for example, “Seattle Canna” is not a strong trademark. Seattle is a geographic identifier and Canna describes the product. Really, do you need to use the word cannabis in your trademark? Be creative here.
One of my favorite canna trademarks belongs to Tumbleweed Farm a grower here in my home state of Washington.
This trademark is creative using the quintessential denotation for a useless weed, Tumbleweed, for something that brings pleasure and happiness.
Second, a business should not tie itself to another brand. What if that other brand has a public relations nightmare as we’ve seen happen periodically in 2017? Does your company really want to be associated with that?
What to Do
Register your trademark. Register your trademark. And, in case you didn’t hear me the first few times, register your trademark. Why is this important? A business having an unregistered trademark only has rights to that trademark in the region it sells products. A cannabis retailer contacted me recently about a store on the other side of the state using the same or similar trademark. Under common law, trademark rights within a certain territory are based on priority of use of a mark within that territory.
If you are like many in the cannabis industry, you are preparing for the day that its use becomes federally legalized. One strategy to protect your brand is to get copyright protection on your trademark; that’s right ladies and gentlemen, the US Copyright Office is not restricted by the same arcane laws the USPTO must function under.
As a Side Note
Any company who does not have hands on a cannabis plant may register their trademark at the USPTO. For example, a company selling a vaporizer, grow lights, fertilizer, etc., are selling legal products. Get your federal trademarks.
The end of the year is often a time for reflection when people look back at their accomplishments over the last year; and those in the cannabis industry are no different.
2017 was a year of monumental change for the cannabis industry. Riding high on a wave of electoral victories and changing public sentiment, more states than ever have legalized cannabis in some form or fashion and nations like Canada are headed down the path of full legalization.
Part of the thanks for this seismic shift in public policy and consciousness has to go to the countless women and men who have tirelessly campaigned for cannabis reform for years; but a sizable portion of that thanks must also go towards the unsung heroes of the cannabis industry: the cannabis PR firms.
Fighting on the front-lines of the war for public perception, cannabis PR firms have been essential in the reversing decades of Reefer Madness and, through constant branding and re-branding, have helped make the cannabis industry the billion dollar industry that it is today. While helping their clients achieve the branding and marketing they need, PR firms have also helped considerably in normalizing cannabis and bringing it into the mainstream lens.
So in reflection of this past year, and in thanks of those that made it happen, here’s a look at some of the top PR firms in the cannabis industry for 2017 in no particular order.
Evan Nison, Nison Co.
Evan Nison is the founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co. and Co-Founder of Whoopi & Maya. Nison Co. has over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis. In 2017, the company grew to over 30 industry leading cannabis clients and 7 full time staff and 8 part time staff focusing exclusively on the cannabis industry.
Nison is the youngest member of the board of NORML, and sits on the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. In 2016 he helped launch Whoopi & Maya, a women-centric medical cannabis company with actress Whoopi Goldberg and edible maker Maya Elisabeth and currently acts as its chief financial officer.
During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Evan pressed Hillary Clinton for her stance on marijuana legalization on Good Morning America during a live town hall event.
Evan has been mentioned in news sources such as the NY Times, Politico, USA Today, NBC New York, Bloomberg TV, Forbes, and has been profiled in the Ithaca Times, Home News Tribune, the Cannabist/Denver Post, and the Sun Times. He also received the 2011 NORML Student Activism Award and High Times Freedom Fighter Award for his advocacy.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Co-founder of Whoopi & Maya
Executive Director of NORML NJ, in a state where cannabis could be on the path to legalization shortly.
Drug law reform efforts in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML and others.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Success with public companies across the cannabis space.
Over 1,200 published stories for cannabis clients in 2017
Grew to over 30 clients in cannabis, over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis
Cynthia Salarizadeh, Salar Media Group
With more than 15 years in public and media relations, Salarizadeh has made waves in her short time in the cannabis industry and has helped start multiple successful companies and organizations, such as Green Market Report and Industry Power Women.
As the founder and chief executive officer ofSalar Media Group, Salarizadeh has worked with some of the top cannabis firms in the industry, including the likes of BiotrackTHC, CannaRegs, Inc., Cannabis Benchmarks, Humboldt’s Finest, MassRoots, Inc., Tikun Olam USA, ebbu, Julian Marley’s JuJu Royal, Frontera, Marijuana Investor Summit, Cannafundr, The Marijuana Show, Weed for Warriors Project, CannaMoms, Robert Hoban and 99 High Tide.
In 2017, Salarizadeh shook both the world of cannabis and fast food when Green Market Report published a study she wrote analyzing the fast food habits of cannabis users. The report became a viral sensation overnight, sent up shares in McDonald’s up by .58% (approximately $3.55) and became the topic of discussion in universities around the country and as well as McDonald’s headquarters. Stories for her clients have been mentioned on CNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, Playboy and Fortune.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Launched and assisted in managing full scale event execution for the Marijuana Investor Summit 2014 – the first investor summits of its kind for the industry.
Launched Cannafundr 2014 (editor and chief of the news section and pr director – acquired by MJIC in 2015).
Co-founded Industry Power Women 2017.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Managed the launch of Israel’s, and the world’s, original cannabis company Tikun Olam in the USA as the lifestyle brand Tikun.
Launched the first brand to be recognized in the media as “America’s Craft Cannabis” out of Humboldt – Humboldt’s Finest.
Responsible for one of the largest cannabis news stories of 2017, the McDonald’s-food habits of cannabis consumers campaign, raising their stock price and becoming a viral sensation.
Gaynell Rogers, Bond & Moroch
Twice a cancer survivor, Gaynell Rogers was first recruited into the cannabis industry by Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo in 2009. Since then, she has grown to become recognized as one of the leading voices in the cannabis industry.
As the director and developing partner ofBond & Moroch, Rogers works with veritable list of who’s who in the cannabis industry; including Hoban Law Group, one of the first national law firms to specialize in the cannabis industry.
Although Rogers is perhaps best known for securing the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel, she has also been responsible for countless cover stories de-stigmatizing cannabis that have appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and more.
In 2017, Rogers helped make history when she worked with Hoban Law Group to create the first-ever national cannabis television commercial. Her clients also include the 420 Games, New West Summit, Power Plant Fitness and Harborside.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
First national publicist for Arcview Group, Harborside and Steve DeAngelo.
Responsible for a number of major cannabis news stories in The NEw York Times and Washington Post.
Secured the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Made history with getting the first-ever national cannabis TV commercial on air with the Hoban Law Group.
Success of 2017 New West Summit and 420 Games
KCSA Strategic Communications
KCSA Strategic Communications, a fully-integrated communications agency specializing in public relations, investor relations, social media and marketing, has been working with clients in the cannabis space for more than five years, and has deep institutional knowledge as well as access to decision makers, investors, entrepreneurs and analysts who are writing the rules for this new marketplace.
As a result, in 2017 KCSA launched a dedicated KCSA-Cannabis website as well as launched “The Green Rush,”a weekly, 30-minute show dedicated to the business of cannabis. Hosts KCSA Managing Partner Lewis Goldberg and Managing Director Anne Donohoe speak with reporters, entrepreneurs, lawmakers, investment bankers, CEOs, and investors.
KCSA represents a dozen public and private cannabis companies, accounting for nearly $1B in market cap and $100M in annual sales across the entire supply chain in WA, NV, NJ, CA and CO. The company will also be moderating the “Cannabis and the Capital Markets” speakers series at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo events in 2018. Their mix of traditional PR and IR services has helped professionalize communications efforts of many cannabis business players and has helped move the industry forward in the financial sector considerably.
Cannabis Industry PR Achievements worthy of note:
IR Work with Terra Tech
Key clients also include: Kush Bottles, 4Front Ventures, Medicine Man Technologies and Golden Leaf Holdings
Their client base grew to span the entire supply chain, from growers, refiners and dispensaries, to ancillary product companies and consulting firms.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Launched “The Green Rush” Podcast
Terra Tech’s marked success in expanding the cannabis segment of their business, accounting for 86% of total revenues in the third quarter of 2017.
They have helped their clients secure speaking slots at the major conferences and trade shows.
The Rosen Group
Established in 1984 and headquartered in New York City, The Rosen Group has been working in cannabis since the inception of adult-use in Colorado to bring cannabis messaging to the national stage, collaborating with mainstream and industry media outlets and working with brands to cement positioning as thought leaders.
TRG partners with brands to expand into emerging markets while educating target audiences and conveying critical narratives. Cannabis clients include infused products producers such as Wana Brands and Next Frontier Biosciences, cultivators and dispensaries such as L’Eagle Services, industry associations such as Cannabis Business Alliance and professional services such as Urban-Gro.
With strong roots in the cannabis, business, technology, agriculture, food & beverage and entrepreneurial sectors, TRG has a tremendous breadth of experience developing and implementing impactful communications plans, strategies and tactics. TRG clients receive customized, personal service and strategic initiatives specific to their goals and objectives via aggressive, 360-degree communications campaigns to maximize coverage.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
Senior Vice President Shawna Seldon McGregor, who founded the Denver office in 2012, was honored with The Cannabist Award for Best Firm in 2016.
TRG has helped to position Wana Brands co‐owner Nancy Whiteman as one of the foremost thought leaders in cannabis. Inc.’s May 2017 issue declared Nancy “The Queen of Legal Weed.”
TRG successfully positioned Urban-Gro in front of cannabis producers, potential investors, and industry and mainstream publications through strategic thought leadership, brand messaging and media outreach.
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
TRG helped to position L’Eagle as a leading voice on sustainability for the cannabis industry through speaking engagements and in over 200 features and articles reaching an audience of over 200 million.
Since signing on with Next Frontier Biosciences in June 2017, TRG helped get coverage in more than 60 news outlets reaching an audience of over 193 million.
For the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), TRG leveraged the 2nd annual Cannabis Sustainability Symposium to secure more than 40 media placements for the Symposium’s speakers, sponsors and attendees.
Jennifer Price, Potnt Agency
Potnt Agency is a public relations and integrated marketing communications agency headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Reno, Nevada and Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm has deep expertise in cannabis and hemp markets with extensive knowledge of cannabis history, products, science, innovations, politics, legal compliance and best business practices.
Potnt is led by Founder and Lead Communications Strategist, Jennifer Price, who has over 24 years of experience in public relations, product promotion and event marketing experience in consumer, tech, B2B and investor relations practices.
Facilitated one of the first multi-page features on cannabis in Playboy Magazine, “The White-Collar Future of Weed” -this article included four of Potnt’s clients and was focused on a new generation of entrepreneurs aiming to revolutionize America’s cannabis industry.
Worked in partnership with HelloMD and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW, former lecturer in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, to promote a groundbreaking study on cannabis use as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid based pain medication
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
Assisted in managing full scale event execution for the New West Summit 2017, the first conference to focus exclusively on the disruptive developments in technology, investment and media within the cannabis space.
These are a handful of some of the most valuable public relations experts the cannabis industry has to offer. There are many more unsung heroes in the cannabis legalization movement that work tirelessly to improve the image of our industry and support businesses in need of exposure. Next time you see a cannabis public relations expert, give them a big thank you.
Marijuana. Mary Jane. Pot. Reefer. Ganja. Weed. Joint. Grass.
The variety of terms used to describe cannabis are as diverse as the potentials of the plant itself – as well as the opinions of its proper nomenclature. A quick web search came up with a number of articles about how we should refer to cannabis, and opinions can be just as annoying and stinging as mosquitoes in the Everglades at the peak of season. Each of these words has an origin with which, having all the facts, you might not choose to align yourself. Words matter, and whether born from racism, xenophobia, or just plain ignorance, one will never go wrong following one simple piece of advice: “Never use a word or a phrase unless you know its meaning.” That said, it is not my intention here to add another opinion, but rather to present the topic from a different vantage. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether or not it is worth your while to learn what you are saying, and in so doing, empower yourself to consider your audience as you consider your slang, just as you would with any other word.
The legalized cannabis industry has opened a plethora of professional opportunities. Thoughtfully considered, these opportunities can lead to new heights of professional accomplishment and financial earning capability. For those with the good fortune to have such opportunity in legalized cannabis, congratulations! You are a member of a very small group of pioneers who have the potential to shape an entire industry (remember that what Henry Ford did by creating the assembly line brought benefit, not just to the automotive industry, but to all industry.)
In this industry we are not just creating medical cannabis dispensaries, cultivation and processing facilities, we are creating new ideas and platforms for compliance, security, financial planning, quality assurance, botany, agriculture, sustainability, packaging, retail, inventory control, human capital – the list is as endless as the imagination – with the potential to influence capacity in every aspect of all types of industry, around the world. In the course of your career as a cannabis professional you will have a chance to interact with legal and healthcare professionals, legislators, regulators and investors. You may attend high profile events, hobnob with those who inspire social change and exchange dialog with thought leaders from all walks of life. As you represent your particular cannabis company, you will recognize that you also represent yourself, and in that very recognition will your thoughtfully chosen vernacular reveal your personal level of professionalism, eloquence and dignity; and irrespective of what, or from whom, any opinion originates, these core values are irreplaceable. Simply put, adults speak like adults.
A colleague reflected that we are not winning a long and drawn out struggle to divest ourselves from outdated prohibitions against the use of medical cannabis because of the words we are using, but because of education. While I agree with that assessment, the use of slang in professional discourse has a tendency to discredit the speaker and narrow the audience receptive to his message. As the scientific community and cannabis industry continues to re-educate society, our efforts will be bolstered by reaching as broad an audience as possible. Education presented professionally, eloquently, and with maturity engenders respect, goodwill and understanding. And that makes for fertile ground upon which to plant new ideas.
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