CPG Lifestyle Case Study

TO ENHANCE PARTNERSHIP & INVESTOR OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH EARNED MEDIA COVERAGE

THE CHALLENGE

An ambitious CPG brand, previously unknown outside its local area, aims to secure expansion investment and distribution partnerships.

THE KUDOS

“Exactly what we were looking for in PR representation…smart, tough, persistent, and well connected… Consistently able to pitch us to the right outlets at the right times to get the coverage we were hoping for. Tara and her team are great and she came up with multiple really creative ways for us to stand out from the masses. I would highly recommend Tara and I would happily work with her again in the future.”


Ryan H.,
Marketing VP
CPG Marketing | Product Innovation | Lifestyle Branding

THE SOLUTION

Engage business, lifestyle, and vertical journalists on a weekly basis with timely, newsworthy storylines, tied in with announcements, conferences, and media calendars. Storylines encompassed purpose-driven, product-forward, and executive thought leadership,  Ensure national reputation management with media monitoring and on-going strategic counsel. Ensure key messaging consistency through internal training and on-going media training. Develop owned media assets, including video, press kit, and investor deck to stand out from the pack.

NATIONAL REPUTATION MANAGEMENT


Our national brand, competitor and category monitoring informs corporate decisions including partnerships, product development, and U.S. trends in the lifestyle and wellness category. We’re able to zero in on emerging trends before they happen and activate with strategic pitching.

ON-GOING COAST-TO-COAST MEDIA ENGAGEMENT


Activate media calendars with personalized review opportunities for selected journalists quarterly, which increased journalistic coverage as well as word of mouth.

OWNED CONTENT DEVELOPMENT


On-brand owned media, including branded video and regularly updated press kits and investor decks.

EXECUTIVE BRANDING


Reinforce executive thought leadership through media profiles, speaking engagements, and custom content development including paid, earned, and owned content.

WORD OF MOUTH CONFERENCE & TRADESHOW ACTIVATIONS


Ensure on-site coverage with journalists through activations of on-site journalists and sponsorships through engaging experiences and access.

AGENCY & PARTNER COLLABORATION


Work hand in hand with a branding firm to ensure consistent key messaging and partner PR agencies to ensure joint announcements are mutually beneficial.

THE RESULTS


Magazine cover featuring brand name and CEO

846 


Unique media mentions in 12 months.

10


Expansion to 10 additional U.S. states and 1 international destination

$7.4 million


Earned media value in 12 months

1


Clio nominated branded video

9% 


Share of voice against 5 aspirational, better funded, more established, national brands.

PR Firm California
Lifestyle PR Firm in California
Business PR Firm California
Reputation Management PR firm
Consumer Technology PR Firm
Consumer Technology PR Firms
Cannabis PR Agency California
MJ Biz

Cannabis CEOs have challenging jobs. You’re in the fast-moving cannabis business, so you’re also in the business of understanding trends and our industry. For that reason, we put together a shortlist of our favorite cannabis Twitter accounts, tailored for the time-constrained cannabis CEO and C-suite.

Twitter is an extremely useful listening tool, so we’ve curated the list intentionally for listening and we did throw in a few personal favorites as well because even cannabis CEOs need a breather now and then.  But overall, the list we’ve put together is highly curated and designed to give you what you need at the moment without overwhelming executives with chatter and nonsense. Hey, we love the nonsense too, but the point of a Twitter list is to create a curated experience and that’s what we’ve done.

We love Twitter because it’s such a great place to glean insights. We’ve already written about how we utilize Twitter for media relations. While we certainly use Twitter to engage our entire community, we do much more listening on Twitter than we do posting – and that’s intentional. With that perspective in mind, when we developed this Twitter List for cannabis CEOs, we thought about the Twitter uses who stay on topic, talk business, and keep chaos to a minimum. At it’s best, Twitter is a feed of quick snippets of insight, and we think these Twitter feeds embody that perspective.

Make things easy on yourself by subscribing to our Twitter list. In no particular order, here are our inclusions for 2020. 

 

Cannabis Journalists & News Twitter Accounts


Jeremy Berke @jberke

One of the first national business writers to cover the cannabis space from Business Insider, Jeremy’s feed is straightforward and no bull. From his Twitter profile, you can also subscribe to his weekly email newsletter which is a must-read of the week’s news.

Alan Brochstein, CFO @invest420
If industry analysis is what you crave, Alan Brochstein and his site, New Cannabis Ventures are on it. As the industry has changed, so has NCV. Today the NCV focuses mostly on cannabis’ publically traded businesses. But since so many of the industry cues and trends start there, it’s a great feed to watch. Alan’s distinct mix of business trends and insights are unbeatable. From his Twitter, you can also subscribe to his weekly newsletter, which is filled with investor insight and cannabis industry predictions. 

David George-Cosh @itsdgc
David primarily covers Canada’s legal cannabis market, which means he covers some of the world’s largest publically traded cannabis companies. Hailing from the Wall Street Journal, David gets to the heart of the matter with pertinent business issues from unionization to M&A.

AxisWire @axiswire
AxisWire is a newswire dedicated to the cannabis industry. It’s an easy to digest spot to catch up on the industry, by zeroing in on the latest press releases, from product announcements to industry events, it’s a good at-a-glance feed. 

WeedWeek @Weedweeknews
Hosted by Alex Halperin, a long-time cannabis journalist and Donny Alexander of public radio and ESPN, these two have a knack for being early adopters to industry trends, with a keen eye on what it means to consumers. Cannabis CEO and C-Suite executives will enjoy the thoughtful, no-drama approach of Halperin and Alexander while benefitting from their insightful guests. 

Cannabis Business & Thought Leader Twitter Accounts

By sparking your imagination, but these accounts are must-follows for cannabis industry CEOs for their broad perspectives on the overall health of the industry.

 

Andrew DeAngelo @Andrew_DeAngelo
Andrew might not be as well known as his brother, Steve, but these days he’s coming out from behind his operational role at the pioneering Oakland-based dispensary, Harborside, and sharing his opinions with his distinct rebellious flourish. Andrew’s thought-provoking perspective is cannabis industry-focused, with an emphasis on California and its regulatory environment. 

Emily Paxhia @empax1
As a woman in the VC world, Emily is already a notable follow, but as a cannabis VC, watching Emily’s tweets is interesting insight into the headspace of a cannabis VC. As co-founder of Poseidon Asset Management, Emily has been an active investor since 2014. Poseidon has invested in Pax, Juul and Canopy Growth. On Twitter, she’s a positive advocate for the industry, while maintaining a 360-degree view on the cannabis industry’s trends and future, including international expansion and legalization. 

Vangst @vangsttalent 
It’s always interesting to see who is hiring for what. Great CEOs can read between the lines when they see their competitors hiring – or not. Take a gander at the jobs posted and you’ll see a list of who’s growing and who isn’t. 

Cannabis Advocacy & Industry Twitter Accounts

We’ve come a long way, but we’re not finished. Both THC and CBD leaders should keep a close on the announcements from these accounts.

 

Norml @norml
From research to legislative initiatives, NORML is the OG of cannabis advocacy and consumer accessibility.  NORML’s Twitter feed is highly curated and includes information from state chapters too. A quick glance will get you immediately up to speed on today’s THC-related news. 

US Hemp Roundtable @HempRoundtable
The US Hemp Roundtable was formed to take a proactive role in hemp normalization and legislation. Many in the hemp industry credit the 2018 Farm Act to the US Hemp Roundtable. If you’re in the business of CBD or hemp, you’ve got to keep your eye on these tweets. 

National Cannabis Industry Association @NCIAorg 
As a cannabis industry representative at the federal legislative level, NCIA has a national presence and state chapters. The feed is filled with legislative updates affecting cannabis business owners as well as events, podcasts and blog posts written by the industry’s leading thought leaders.

Minority Cannabis @MinCannBusAssoc
If you’re looking for an inclusive perspective, and eh-em, you should be, then look no further than Minority Cannabis who share their perspectives and the latest diversity and inclusion news specific to the cannabis industry. As this movement continues within cannabis, this Twitter feed provides considerations and insights CEOs find helpful when developing diversity and inclusion policies and procedures. 

 

Cannabis Industry Branding Expert Patrick Toste Urges Cannabis Brands to Cherish Your Customers and Rethink Instagram

In an ongoing series this year, we’d like you to get to know some of the fantastic companies and people we’ve had a chance to collaborate with over the years. Our first interview is with an incredibly talented branding expert, Patrick Toste, co-founder of Seattle-based cannabis branding agency, Highopes. 

 

First, a little background about you: 

I’m originally from Rhode Island and graduated from California State University Long Beach with a BFA in Graphic Design. I’ve been designing for over 10 years and have had the luxury of working with both large and small brands nationwide. I am the Creative Director and Co-Founder of HIGHOPES Design. We are a creative studio that focuses exclusively on helping cannabis businesses nationwide unlock their potential through branding, packaging, web design, and marketing services. Our client list consists of over 30 cannabis companies that include Have A Heart, VidaCann, and Nuvata.

 

When did you first start working in the cannabis industry?

Upon moving to Seattle and experiencing the recreational cannabis market for the first time, I recognized an opportunity, and established a passion for, helping cannabis businesses build successful brands. I captured a handful of freelance projects with cannabis clients in Washington and California that I completed some branding and packaging work for. From there, I decided it was best to brand myself as a more established business than just a freelancer to provide more growth opportunities for myself and my clients.

 

What were you doing prior to the cannabis industry? 

Before diving into the cannabis industry, I worked as a designer on the in-house branding team at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf which is a nationwide coffee chain based in Southern California. In this position, I gained experienced managing and expanding a large brand through packaging design, digital advertising, in-store marketing, and other similar avenues. 

After moving to Seattle from Southern California, I decided to explore the world of advertising by joining the team at Publicis Seattle as a designer. At Publicis, I was able to work with even larger brands like T-Mobile and assist in a variety of nationwide digital advertising projects. However, my true passion for branding was established there when I led the design team on the rebrand of the locally world-famous radio station, KEXP. 

 

What lesson did you learn BEFORE cannabis that’s been most valuable in cannabis?

I’d say the lesson I learned before I entered the cannabis space that has been most valuable to HIGHOPES and our clients is the importance of knowing and understanding your customers. This methodology was something I gained over the years of working with larger, nationwide brands like The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, T-Mobile, and even Under Armour. I was able to realize how these companies were branded and marketing was significantly impacted by what their consumers think, want, need, and feel. 

Something I see all too often in the cannabis industry is a rush to bring a product to the market with the idea of targeting all consumers due to a scarcity mindset. Operationally I understand why these businesses feel this is the right approach, but in hindsight, they realize they do not know who their customer is and what delights them which results in an unfocused and unorganized brand direction. 

 

Is there a particular cannabis branding project you’d like to highlight? 

At HIGHOPES we are extremely proud of all the work we create for all of our clients, but I’d like to highlight the project we did for the California-based vaporizer brand, Nuvata. Nuvata approached our team with only a product and a vision so we assisted in establishing their positioning, messaging, branding, packaging, website, and marketing. Each branding and marketing effort we performed was put through the filter of the established strategy resulting in an immensely focused and concise brand for the market. With the Nuvata team’s help, we were able to identify and understand their target customer and then make every branding and marketing decision with the goal to bring them delight. The end result spoke for itself as within the first year they spread across the entire state of California and gained considerable brand awareness.  


What’s the biggest misconception cannabis companies have about branding? 

I think the biggest misconception about branding in the cannabis industry is that your brand is simply your logo when this could not be farther from the truth. In essence, your brand is actually not controlled by you but rather your customers. A brand is the opinion and feeling a customer has about your company based on a combination of your logo, products, packaging, website, marketing, social media, customer service, and so on. For that reason, cannabis companies can only strive to manipulate the emotional response of their customers with the goal of creating a positively recognized brand. 

 

In your view, what is the biggest branding challenge facing cannabis companies today? 

I think the biggest challenge cannabis companies face today when building a brand is the lack of beneficial advertising and marketing opportunities. As mentioned in my previous response, if your brand is simply the feeling a customer has of your company then it becomes very difficult to establish a positive association with customers when you cannot take advantage of the many ways of influencing their point of view. Additionally, customers cannot begin to create that strong bond with your company when you do not have the ability to raise awareness of your brand through advertising and marketing channels. 

What will be the biggest branding challenge in 2020? 

I believe the biggest branding challenge in 2020 will be establishing and solidifying customer loyalty. Most cannabis markets, both medical and recreational, are seeing a surplus of emerging brands which provides customers with an overwhelming amount of options to choose from. Additionally, product innovation has not kept pace with the number of companies entering the market leaving customers with a plethora of brands essentially selling the same product. These two factors combined prove the importance of understanding your specific customer and catering everything about your brand to what brings them delight. When that emotional bond is created with a customer it creates a sense of loyalty and trust in your brand that becomes invaluable to your success. 

 

What can companies do to alleviate their branding challenges?

When it comes to navigating the regulations around advertising and marketing in the cannabis space companies can look to outside-the-industry partnerships to alleviate these challenges. When a business understands their brand outside the lens of cannabis it allows the possibility of partnering with non-cannabis companies that share the same mission, vision, and values. Through these types of situations, cannabis brands can advertise and market indirectly through their partner to an audience that is similar, if not exactly, their type of customer. For example, Plus Edibles recently partnered with Casper for their line of CBD gummies as both brands can benefit from each other’s audience.

For establishing customer loyalty, cannabis companies simply need to take the time to understand who their target customer base is and either build or shift their branding to align with that audience. The more focused the ideal customer then the easier and more efficiently a brand can market to their wants and needs. Every move a cannabis brand makes should be filtered through the lens of their consumer. 

 

In your view, what is the most under-rated tool in the cannabis branding toolbox for cannabis companies?

I believe the most under-rated tool in the branding toolbox for cannabis companies is their brand website. This goes for cultivators, manufacturers, dispensaries, delivery, and ancillary businesses. With all the regulations surrounding advertising and marketing, your website tends to be the only platform where you can comprehensively communicate to your customer all the details of your brand. Additionally, depending on your business type, it tends to be a major channel in driving sales. For these reasons, the proper investment should be made in creating a website that is aesthetically attractive, engaging with content, and functions as a conversion tool for your business. At the end of the day, no matter who your customer is, people tend to take brands seriously that look like they take themselves seriously and your website is the perfect platform to communicate that. 

 

In your view, what is the most over-rated tool in the cannabis branding toolbox for cannabis companies?

Although still an important cog in a cannabis companies marketing plan, I believe the most over-rated tool in the branding toolbox for cannabis companies is their Instagram profile. Many of the cannabis brands we speak with feel that Instagram will drive a majority of their sales and the data just doesn’t support that theory. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s very critical for cannabis brands to have a consistent Instagram presence to communicate credibility to customers but I don’t think it requires a premium-level investment. The customer journey from Instagram to purchase is long and complicated resulting in frequent drop-offs, especially for CPG brands. Additionally, with the algorithm changes in Instagram, it’s most likely that only a small fraction of a cannabis brand’s followers are even getting fed their posts. My recommendation to our cannabis clients is to invest in their Instagram as a way to raise brand awareness but don’t throw all their marketing dollars at it thinking it will drive sales.

 

What’s the BEST piece of cannabis branding expert advice you give everyone you work with?

Focus on a target audience. Your brand doesn’t need to alienate customers, but it needs to understand who is going to hear you the loudest.

6 Free Ways To Maximize Brand Value During a Cannabis Industry Correction

Now is the time to maximize brand value with things that don’t cost extra.

You’ve seen the headlines, the cannabis industry is experiencing its first correction. Consolidations abound. Business closures are making headlines. Capital markets are all but frozen to anyone besides the big guys – and even to them in some cases.  So surviving this time is likely front and center in your mind.

Corrections are quite literally a matter of time – it’s just part of capitalism, and it’s literally just physics. But what is also physics, is that what goes down will also come back up. When it does come back up, it will look different, no doubt about it. Look, the cannabis industry isn’t going away, the market hasn’t even come close to peaking. According to Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics in 2020 alone, we’re projected to be a $16 BILLION dollar industry and next year, in 2021, over a $19 billion dollar industry.

Yes, absolutely, tighten up your books, reduce inventory, keep a tight eye on your cash flow and finances. All those things are 100% legitimate and important. But since we’re a cannabis PR & branding firm, we’d like to suggest ways you can still excel in this market that maximizes brand value.

 

arcview cannabis industry projections 2020

Image from Business Insider’s Cultivate Newsletter. Subscription link at bottom.

What should cannabis businesses do to survive and possibly even flourish during this time?

Those who survive this phase have a great opportunity to emerge even stronger. Certain efforts, particularly in marketing and PR, will actually provide you more ROI than they would have even a year ago because when panic sets in, balls get dropped, budgets get cut.  Branding and PR are inside-out jobs. There is so much more to branding than a sexy logo. Look deep inside your company for opportunities to distinguish your brand-many of these things won’t cost more and could save you millions.

Double Down On Relationships

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” -Maya Angelou

Join and Participate in Active Industry Associations

Right now, we need to commit to the industry associations who are actively working to improve and defend our industry on the local level and the national level. When you join, ask how you can more actively support the organization. By supporting the organization, you’ll not only strengthen its mission, you’ll be able to get to know the people better too.  Double down with your time and you’ll find the returns are immeasurable. Take full advantage of the membership benefits, if there are ways to share your point of view, maximize those. As the industry consolidates, people are looking to do work with people they trust and the best way to encourage trust is to be present, participate, show your commitment to the organization, it’s mission and the people who are contributing to the industry At Primo PR, we’re big fans of the way National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) treats its members.

When It’s Time to Say Goodbye

If you have to separate from employees or partners, do it with class. Be communicative and as a fair as you can possibly be. Anything you do when severing a relationship, especially when it’s abrupt, will be especially remembered. So take a hard look at what your brand is worth and treat goodbyes with respect and dignity. If you’re letting employees go, be sensitive to timing. If you’re canceling a contract, have a real discussion with your partner about how to do it fairly. It’s easy to feel shame about these conversations, but don’t hide from them.  Yes, these conversations are the worst kind to have, but during the tough times, it’s what you do more than what you say that people will remember.

Treat Your Partners & Vendors Like Gold

When was the last time your CEO made an effort to make budtenders feel special? Now is a great time. Budtenders, like it or not, are the face of your brand to the consumer and trust me, they feel stressed about the cannabis industry’s challenges too. Why not do something no one else will do for the front line during a correction: treat them with respect. Small efforts can go a long, long way right now. I’m not talking about training, I’m talking about thinking of ways to thank budtenders right now, genuinely show your appreciation. It could be as simple as a surprise visit to every dispensary with gift cards. Sure you can go bold and that’s fantastic too, but if you can’t be bold, that’s not an excuse to do nothing. Everyone else will do nothing, do more and get more.

While we’re at it, let’s talk vendors. Sure, go ahead, negotiate good terms – AND uphold your end of the bargain. No one will forget that you drove a hard bargain, but that’s business. But go the extra mile and hold up your end of the deal as if your life was on the line because, from a brand perspective, it is. The last thing you want right now is lackluster partners or partners who don’t really love you, what you want right now is passion, the vendors who are going the extra mile for you-but to do that, you need to treat them well too.  Any partner who will go through the craziness of a correction while looking out for you is worth their weight in gold, treat them that way. Pay on time, acknowledge their efforts and the importance of the relationship. Put a little free-but-important muscle into it and watch how that pays dividends.

Celebrate Your Most Passionate Customers

Customers are the obvious driver of revenue. Now is a great time to make being your customers more fun. Think about what’s REALLY important to your customers. What drives their motivations?  Reward cost-conscious customers with small incentives like purchase cards that can be turned in for promotional products.  If your customers are creative, how can you encourage them to spend their creative energies on their brand commitment? It could be making the inside of your packaging a game, it could be encouraging them to share your brand through social media. And by the way, track your most passionate brand advocates on social media and never forget to celebrate them and acknowledge them. No cannabis brand is too big to thank its customers right now.

 

Don’t Stop, Won’t Stop

“When they go low, we go high,” -Michelle Obama

Emphasize Your Strengths-More

You might not have had the time last year to really see where your best success stories were, but now is the time to look – and celebrate – what worked by actually increasing the heat of what’s doing well. Invest in things that are working well. Increase ROI of the things that are already returning value by committing to them at a whole new level. If your brand is great at social media, keep at it and make it better. Issue a special version of your most popular product line.  Really taking a stand and focus on something you do well will make you stand out from the pack and return more ROI as your competitors struggle to figure out how to manage the dynamics of this marketplace.

Maintain Quality

Consumers know, especially your most passionate consumers, they can tell when you’ve made substitutions and formulation changes. As tempting as it may be to cut corners on the product right now, don’t. Keep your customers happy by maintaining quality while your competitors decrease theirs. Keeping the quality up doesn’t cost extra, but decreasing quality will cost you in the short and long run.

Keep Your Chin Up and Your Numbers Up Too

Incentivize your sales, marketing and PR teams & vendors with trackable KPIs and hold them accountable. Self-serving as this sounds, if you devest cannabis PR, marketing and sales now, you’ll struggle to regain market share when the market starts its inevitable upward tick. Resist the urge to reduce these expenses because the hidden costs are ginormous and tend to extrapolate themselves in silent but deadly ways over years, not months.   I’ve seen this happen over and over again, eliminating these roles, or worse, hiring someone for cheaper, costs companies more. Instead, attend sales, marketing, and PR meetings and show that you’re in touch with the marketplace and work collectively to address issues early. Make sure you’re keeping a close eye on benchmarks and competitors so you have a real idea of how you’re faring in comparison.

In Short

Kindness, professionalism, and time don’t cost extra, but in a cannabis industry correction, they can be the difference-maker.  Now is a great time to really make your brand stronger.

PS: By the way, I grabbed this image from Business Insider’s Cultivated newsletter (link). If you’re not reading it, you should. 

So you want to make your CEO the star? It’s a growing trend and there’s still room for your celebrity cannabis CEO.

The cannabis industry is ready for you, and you can take some tips from outside the cannabis industry to capitalize on the opportunity. From investment opportunities to increased brand value, to policy influence locally and nationally, and even profit increases, there are a lot of reasons why a CEO can be an important brand asset.

We’re seeing celebrity CEOs in the cannabis space, you know who they are. While it might look like those cannabis CEOs became industry household names simply because they’re so brilliant or successful, that’s simply not the case – there are many brilliant AND successful CEOs in cannabis whose names you wouldn’t be able to name. If you look around, you’ll see that cannabis CEOs and even more famous CEOs whose names you know, with very few exceptions, do these things in some combination. Because I’ve had the opportunity to work directly with some fantastic CEOs as well as politicians, I well know the big and little steps creating a celebrity takes.

So how do these CEOs become celebrities? The answer: extreme commitment to repeated exposure in multiple channels. Rome wasn’t built overnight and neither is celebrity CEO.

Close the C-Suite/Consumer Disconnect with Social Media

Edelman’s 2019 Trust Barometer said the majority of people (63%) believe CEOs should communicate with the public via social media and even more (79%) say knowing a CEO’s personal values is important to building trust, and that they trust spontaneous speakers more than well-delivered speeches. Contrast these statistics with the fact that 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence at all. No wonder there’s a disconnect from the C-suite to the Consumer.

These are interesting statistics for cannabis CEOs, who run businesses in an industry not yet federally recognized.

Increased Industry & Brand Trust

Yet this is EXACTLY the reason cannabis CEOs should be using social media. Even more than most industries, we must create trust with the general public. Summer 2019’s vape crisis did not help the cannabis industry’s reputation with the general public.  Social media offers cannabis brands the opportunity to speak directly and consistently. Because social media offers the opportunity to be spontaneous, here’s the ONE THING you can’t get past with social media: if you’re CEO is tweeting or engaging on LinkedIn, she absolutely must be directly involved and engaged on the platform herself, at least sometimes. And she should be using social media as a listening platform too, it will help her feel more connected and more engaged with her clients.

Balance Strategy with Authenticity

Whatever objectives you have to this strategy, there are reasonably straightforward systems that can be employed to overcome them.  Regardless of your strength as CEO, there’s a way for social media to work. Ghostwriters have a place in social media and many executives and celebrities rely on them, but the truest opportunities come when it isn’t exclusively outsourced, where there is a natural balance that remains authentic AND strategic.  Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo does this very well, he uses Instagram to showcase his boundless energy and willingness to engage with the cannabis community. By intelligently committing to a platform he’s comfortable with, he’s able to work it into his daily life. DeAngelo has also been very consistent with his key messages, he comes back to the same topics time and again and he uses social media to reinforce those messages while also adding a sense of fun and celebration to serious industry discussions.

Pick A Format That Celebrates You as CEO

With social media, there are many, many formats and opportunities. For example, you can balance authenticity with strategy with serialized content. Serialized content allows for consistency and systems to be in place while maintaining flexibility enough to jump into action when there’s a particularly timely opportunity. From podcasts to video forums to tweetchats, serialized content offers a direct opportunity for CEOs to showcase their personalities and warmth, which according to Chris Malone of The Human Brand, is an essential factor in increasing trust, “There are two basic dimensions that we judge people on: competence, which is all about how your abilities are perceived, and warmth.” If your CEO is particularly witty or opinionated, live formats offer CEOs an outstanding opportunity for enhanced brand recognition.

Go where your consumers are. What cannabis CEO is going to make waves by being the first to create engaging content on TikToc or even one of the e-sports platform? There are all kinds of digital places where your consumers roam, be there, where you can actively enjoy the people and space.

 

Open the Kimono To The Press

Simply BEING a CEO isn’t enough to develop ongoing coverage. In order to become a celebrity CEO, there’s groundwork to be done.

Prepare Yourself

Show up for the interview on time and prepared. Be clear on what you’ll say, identify a couple of key quotable statements you don’t want to miss and yes, review the journalist’s past articles to get a sense of their voice and depth. When the article is published, be sure to send a thank-you note and make sure your social media outlets share them.  Get yourself ready with a variety of professional headshots and lifestyle shots that showcase how your CEO embodies the brand.

As CEO, you should be ready to share your availability with marketing and PR. When traveling for business, strategize with your team about how you can capitalize on the time your in that city. If you’re traveling for pleasure, stay a day or two extra and give your team ample time to set appointments for you.

Invest in media training, get really good at driving the conversation where you want it to go. Learn how to handle the toughest of questions with elegance and grace. Learn what circumstances produce the best outcomes for you and make yourself available for those oppotunities. For example, some people just don’t do well in person, so pursue opportunities that are over the phone, get comfortable with industry journalists so you can develop some mutual trust. Develop in-person opportunities over time and in settings where you feel comfortable.

Don’t Buy Into Your Own Press

“Fame is other people’s perception of who you are,” said Oprah Winfrey. “In order to remain true to who you are, you have to be aware of it, but you can’t buy into it.”

Stay grounded. For CEOs starting out on the celebrity endeavor, take a step back and treat all journalist opportunities like they are the most important you’ll ever do. Remember that journalists are a tight-knit crowd and if your cannabis CEO isn’t warm or inviting and interesting, word gets out. More importantly, you never know where that journalist will land. Be kind. Be respectful. Be humble.

Lean In on Warmth & Wit

CEOs don’t have to be flashy, they DO have to be open and wise. Linton wasn’t a particularly dynamic speaker, but he always had something interesting to say and he said it with the confidence and authority that left everyone hanging on his every word. He knew his strength and he exercised it.

An excellent example of this is Bruce Linton who was famously ousted from Canopy in July 2019. Linton had been making the speaking circuit and made himself available for comment to press, for the better part of a year, and it seemed no publication or conference was too big or too small for him to share his perspective.

Linton’s availability worked in his favor as his ousting was big news, but Linton wisely got out ahead of the story and used his visibility to tell his side of the story. It’s not just that he got out ahead of it either – he handled the entire situation with class, he was forward-looking and resisted any temptation to slam his former employer.  All this worked out well for his next employer Vireo Health who got a healthy 26% stock bump after naming him CEO.

What’s interesting is a good look at this Google Trends report, which starts in 2016. You can see that Linton was already taking his position as CEO seriously even then, the groundwork was being laid. Even before his firing, you can see that the hard work is starting to pay off. The spike is obviously the news that he was let go, but most interesting is that Linton never took his foot off the gas and searches for him remained high even after his firing:

The Number One Tip for A Celebrity CEO

Planning. Don’t launch a celebrity campaign without using all your resources in marketing and PR. It’s a great idea to have a mix of trusted resources and new people who can see the forest through the trees. By now, CEO, you know who you are, lead your team of advisors by being transparent with them about your strengths and weaknesses. There’s no one who wants you to flop and starting out on the right foot will enable you all to succeed in this very exciting opportunity.

You know it: CBD beauty marketing is competitive.

We’ve all seen it, it’s a thing, especially in the beauty industry: big-name players with big budgets purposely confusing consumers with hemp seed oil to take advantage of the CBD beauty marketing trend. Except for one thing: hemp seed oil, while perfectly wonderful, does not contain CBD.

Want to know why this is so important? Check out Google Trends  .  CBD beauty & CBD skincare leads the pack, but hemp beauty is in the mix and gaining momentum.

Consumers are confused.

You can blunt this confusion with a couple of strategies that we think are really important for the cannabis beauty community to embrace.

Make CBD Your Lead Message

In ads, in content, in every interview, help consumers understand the differences between hemp and CBD. The benefit of this is two-fold. Certainly education, but if you’re smart (and we know you are,) it also gives you a talking point that leads to benefits without making claims.  Use PR to illustrate the story, give the back ground of CBD and address the confusion head-on. Use marketing and branding to highlight CBD, which is increasingly accepted and the reason why beauty marketers are even embracing hemp again.

Incorporate Sourcing Into Your CBD Beauty Ingredients Messaging

Help consumers understand what they should be looking for in CBD beauty products. Explain over and over again in your PR and in your content that appropriately sourced CBD is important and provide ingredient information on your site. Consumers are conditioned to ask about sourcing more and more. Lead the CBD marketing pack by sharing sourcing details for your CBD.

P.S. did you know that products with ingredients listed sell better? Consumers increasingly care about what’s in their skin care products. Big skin care companies know this, that’s why they always feature particular ingredients. But since you’re competing with big budgets on this, go the extra mile and include all your ingredients along with a beautiful description of why they’re included.  This strategy not only engenders consumer trust, it helps consumers understand what to look for when they want CBD beauty products.

Look For People Who Understand The Difference Between Hemp & CBD

When you’re looking for CBD marketing partners or CBD PR partners, make sure they know the differences between hemp and CBD. You’ll find yourself explaining it over and over again otherwise. And if your CBD marketing company or CBD PR firm can’t articulate the difference, how will they understand what makes your brand stand out against both hemp and other CBD beauty brands? As an industry, it’s important that we get our messages right and that we use our considerable opportunity to both educate and define our industry and the special nature of our plant.

As of today, there are 108 cannabis tradeshows and expos around the world listed on our conference resource. It’s near impossible to go to them all and more importantly when you do choose one,  how do you turn an event into a PR opportunity?

 

We’re coming up on the annual big daddy of cannabis conferences: MJ Biz. It’s easily the largest single show in North America. If you’re planning on exhibiting, you might be thinking about how you’ll stand out. Lean on your cannabis pr agency to turn your next conference into a cannabis event marketing opportunity. Since you’re spending significant time, energy and money to be at a tradeshow or conference, it’s really important that you maximize the investment.  The very last thing you want to do is walk away from a tradeshow wondering if it will make any impact on your bottom line. There are multitudes of reasons to go to cannabis events and conferences, not the least of which is the networking (more on that later), but be clear on how why your strategies. Little known tip: I used to be an owner for an industry tradeshow, so I’ve seen how even small companies can become great with some elbow grease and creativity. I’ve seen brand leaders come out of nowhere and suddenly be the toast of the town, by simply being smart about how they leverage a tradeshow.

Let Cannabis PR and Cannabis Event Marketing Work Together:

It’s critical to collaborate with PR on cannabis event marketing. Whether you’re doing CBD marketing or THC marketing, each of these cannabis events has a marketing and PR role to play. Regardless of what size your booth is, think about how you can and will activate on and off the floor. The obvious answer is sponsorships, which you can approach from a brand goal perspective. If your goal is simply awareness and you can afford the branding dollars, a major sponsorship can offer many CBD marketing and THC marketing benefits including SEO, industry perception, and usually, some “insider and VIP” benefits. But even if you can’t afford one of the top-tier sponsorships, there are still a multitude of PR-worthy cannabis event marketing options available to you.

Consider sponsoring a notable speaker (besides yourself) for a session that will drive mentions and press for far less.  Maybe sponsoring a section of the floor makes more sense or work with the conference organizers on an off-the-floor event value-add (who is paying for the champagne at the cocktail reception?). For cannabis event marketing to stand out, it’s not enough to sponsor, be thinking about the value of “word of mouth,” and activations which will be memorable and get people talking. This is where your PR agency can help you develop cannabis event marketing strategies that fit in well with your marketing and PR budget.

Employ Big Fish/Small Pond Cannabis PR & Cannabis Marketing Strategies

What if you need to hit one of the larger shows, but you feel overwhelmed by the multitude of choices that aren’t tier 1 tradeshow or conferences? This is a great time to dig deep and choose another tradeshow or expo which you’d like to own. Owning the conference at a regional conference may well provide more cannabis branding and marketing benefits than being in booth 2067 at the largest conference in the country. Don’t let your FOMO dictate your cannabis marketing and cannabis PR budgets – be strategic about what you’re planning on doing at each conference. Be clear on the objectives and stay laser-focused on supporting those strategies.  Bring together your cannabis marketing and cannabis PR firms (if they’re different) to view each conference through an ROI, press, and word of mouth opportunity and stack rank your options.

Host Your Own Cannabis PR-Worthy Event

The cannabis industry loves to network. We’re tied to one another navigating this wild-wild west and we know: personal connections, trusted collaborators, friends, and partners make all the difference.

You don’t need a celebrity to earn media at your event (it doesn’t hurt though), but you do need to consider creative options. Gone are the days that simply providing THC and CBD samples are enough to pull together a crowd.
What can you do that’s on-brand to activate the space?
Is there a space that’s noteworthy in your area?
Can you partner with a nonprofit?
How can you create synergies between your brand and the press?
What access can you provide the press?
What insider opportunities can you give them and your most engaged customers and clients?

Shhhh…My Most Important Cannabis Marketing & PR Tip:

My most insider tip on how to turn your own cannabis event into a PR worthy opportunity? Take a look around at what everyone else is doing – and do something else. Be the first, the original, the most fun. Be something notable, and it will earn you press for days.  PR agencies are usually particularly great at developing ideas that will capture the imagination of the “been-there-done-that press.” If your existing cannabis pr agency is anything like us – they have a few ideas they’ve been dying to deploy. Here’s a bonus tip: if you don’t have a big budget, don’t make your event do the heavy lifting during major seasonal or industry blow-outs. A great cannabis event marketing strategy is to hold an event during a “down time” in the industry, which will invigorate and inspire your stakeholders, press, and customers.

Public relations isn’t new, but cannabis PR hasn’t been around very long. You’ve probably heard that particularly because of limited advertising options, PR is an excellent investment in your company. But maybe you’re still wondering what you should expect from cannabis PR.

Here are 9 reasons why every cannabis company should be investing in cannabis PR. 

  1. Great content inspires trust, creates credibility and increases brand value. 
    There is no greater content than an unpaid third party. Cannabis consumers today are hip to the fact that influencers, affiliates, and advertising are all getting paid to say what you want them to say. But journalists remain independent and adhere to a code of ethics and that’s exactly what makes their content so trusted and valuable.
  2. Allows a company to own its own story.
    Cannabis companies who fail to invest in cannabis PR are basically allowing everyone else, from media to competitors to customers, to create your brand story. Why not author your own brand’s story? That’s what PR allows you to do.

    “PR is not something a CEO can do herself.  PR is a highly specialized vertical with a distinctive set of talents, relationships and experience, plus, it takes an exceptional amount of time away from running the company. An agency allows CEOs to get back to their highest and best use of time.Tara Coomans, President Primo PR 

  3. Cannabis PR outlasts advertising and social media.
    Unlike advertising which turns off the minute you finish paying, PR sticks around indefinitely. We’ve placed pieces which continued to drive traffic and conversation 3-4 years later. What advertising or social media has that kind of longevity?
  4. Amplify and maximize your cannabis message.
    A strong PR program typically involves media relations. Media relations means your PR team is working with journalists who are interested in the verticals your brand best fits into. For example, if you’re a cannabis beauty brand, you’ll have stories you want to tell to each vertical.
  5. Building community capital. 
    As we’ve discussed previously, crisis and downturns happen. Having relationships in the media is particularly important when you need support. An ongoing media relations campaign provides trust both with journalists and the public which you can put in the bank and earn interest on for a rainy day.

    “When we discuss the value of PR, we often forget about the sales, M&A and partnerships that come more easily because PR drives trust and shortens the sales cycle,”Tara Coomans, President Primo PR 

  6. Compliments sales efforts. 
    Ask any salesperson, distributor, or business development executive what happens when they can reference a piece in major industry or national publications. Suddenly, people start paying attention. Adding your coverage on your website, sales materials and other external communications amplify your cannabis PR.
  7. Creates an opportunity to consider your company’s impact.
    Ongoing PR makes a company and it’s stakeholders consistently aware of its impact on people. This is important because it’s those same people who have perceptions that shape the company’s values and builds (or damages) its reputation.
  8. PR IS content. Content is a big buzzword today, but PR has always been about content, the only thing that’s changed is that there are more avenues to share content. That’s why so many cannabis PR firms also offer social media and/or event marketing services. PR’s perspective provides a well-rounded point of view that makes content more accessible, shareable, and timely.
  9. Enhances digital efforts like SEO. 
    Online earned media is usually chock full of relevant keywords and known publications have strong SEO signals. Consistent media placement helps with organic search results and the best part is, the efforts pay increasing dividends over time.If you’re ready to invest in PR to get all these benefits and more, why not find out more about whether you’re a good fit for Primo PR’s services? 
CPG PR Crisis

For most CPG brands, it’s not a matter of IF there will be a PR crisis, it’s a matter of when, particularly if you’re in an emerging industry where the regulations are ever-changing, the research is emerging, and the deals are getting bigger. This is a perfect storm for a public relations crisis.

Most of the time CPG companies come to us because they want to share their story, appear in the press, create noteworthy and press-worthy activations and add value to their brand, all perfectly delightful reasons to hire a PR firm. It’s the fun side of PR work.


Why Plan for a PR Crisis When One Hasn’t Happened? 

According to Plos|One research, true rumors are confirmed within around 2 hours, but it takes over 14 hours for the average false rumor to be debunked. 


But the fact is, some of the most important work a PR firm can do for you is crisis planning. We recently had an entrepreneur refuse crisis planning because they “didn’t want to even think about it.” That was a major red flag for us because it’s an outright refusal to protect the brand and create a plan in which we can perform our best services in the case of a crisis; we decided the potential client wasn’t a good fit team Avaans PR and opted not to pursue the relationship. PR crisis planning is not sexy. It’s not fun. But it is important to your brand’s value and most importantly, it will help you sleep at night.

The time to manage a crisis is BEFORE it happens, you can’t expect your team to be prepared in a moment of panic. At the bare minimum, cannabis brands should put together a PR crisis plan. Exact strategies for your plan and the triggers to implement may vary, but in the world of rapid-fire news, cancel culture, and social media, having a plan is the most important step.

Step 1: IDENTIFY YOUR PR CRISIS TEAM

Depending on your brand, your cannabis PR crisis team may at the very least include:

  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Chief Marketing or Communications Officer
  • Brand Spokesperson
  • Public Relations Agency and Investor Relations Agency

Depending on the nature of the crisis

  • Law Firm
  • Human Relations
  • Product Formulation
  • Social Media Specialist
  • Customer Service

If that list seems long, that indicates how complicated a PR crisis can be. Not all  these people will be part of every single crisis. But it’s important for every one of these people to understand their role and stick to their role during a crisis. Each of these people represents different points of contact for various stakeholders. They should also have a seat at the table during the second step.

STEP 2: IDENTIFY POTENTIAL CANNABIS PR CRISIS COMMUNICATION SCENARIOS

Some CPG PR crisis scenarios are unique to CPG, others are not. But your key crisis team members need to be involved with the identification of crisis from the start. An important thing to remember is that a crisis can happen just because someone said it did, not because it ACTUALLY happened. We see this happen on social media frequently. For example, if someone accuses your company of fraud and makes the lawsuit public, whether you committed the alleged acts might be irrelevant; if the information is in the press, you may still need to defend yourself against it.  Another unforeseen example of this is the Tide Pod Challenge. When thousands of social media posts started popping up encouraging young people to eat Tide Pods, even though Tide has nothing to do with the challenge, Tide had to respond both in the immediate and long term, and researchers said the entire incident may have helped their brand image because their response was so swift and extensive. 

On the other hand, you should also determine what the trigger points are for responding to a crisis. Some crises’ need an immediate response from a company, some are better left communicated to a small audience and in other cases, in this fast-moving media world, it might be best not to execute a response at all. There is no “one size fits all,” for your response. The old adage of “get out in front of it,” still applies, in specific circumstances, but other situations require a more nuanced strategy.

A crisis that include consideration might be:

  • Injury to staff or public as a result of your product, processes, or location
  • A quality control issue, defect, or product recall
  • A natural diaster that effects your business, such as an earthquake, hurricane or flood
  • Legal action or public claims about an employee, client or customer
  • Emerging research or regulatory investigations that affect your product, your clients or the industry
  • Executive Leadership change

STEP 3: IDENTIFY STAKEHOLDERS AND AUDIENCES

Each CPG PR crisis may have multiple stakeholders who should be notified of a situation; in most cases, there will be multiple stakeholders. Your responses to each audience should be consistent but may vary in technicality, point of view, or details.

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Dispensaries
  • Partners
  • Investors
  • Government Regulators
  • Industry Media
  • National Media
  • Local Media

STEP 4: DETERMINE COMMUNICATION FORMATS

Again, strategies will vary depending on the PR crisis, but you should determine in advance HOW you will communicate your message. For example, will you address to the media or will you issue a press release? Will you comment on social media or will you make a video? Is this a matter that needs to be released to investors and if so, what is the timeline? Press conferences are rare in the CPG industry, but there may be a circumstance where this would be an effective tool.

STEP 5: IDENTIFY WHERE IMPORTANT INFORMATION IS HELD

Your key crisis communication team should have access to important contact information for each other, including emergency contacts and follow-up contacts. Your PR firm should have at the ready multiple pieces of information which will be needed in the case of a crisis. Having information on hand can sometimes be the difference between undesirable media coverage and squashing the coverage altogether.

LISTEN UP: THE ONGOING STEP

In the day-to-day of running a CPG brand, it’s easy to miss the signals. Be sure someone from your PR team is keeping an eye on industry trends and evaluating how they might impact your overall reputation and any crisis plans in place.  Having your finger on the pulse of these waves can help you navigate changing consumer, political, and investor perceptions more adeptly. From social media listing to media monitoring, when it comes time to decide about response triggers, you’ll have more insight into what kind of response will be well received.

There’s no single solution to CPG PR crisis planning. Your plan will be distinctive to your company culture, values, leadership, and risks. But should a crisis hit, you’ll be grateful for the plan that gives you a path for decision making.

How should companies prepare for cannabis PR in 2020 with an ever-changing media landscape? While the cannabis industry shows no sign of slowing down, the media landscape has seen some dramatic changes in the last year, and that affects even the cannabis industry.

According to Business Insider, 3,200 people in media have lost their jobs so far in 2019. Buzzfeed, Entreprenuer, CNN, and Vice are among the notable media brands who cover cannabis who have also laid off talented journalists. These layoffs are a gut punch to our journalist colleagues, but they also impact the ability for these outlets to cover longer features, which makes it a gut punch to our clients as well. Cannabis PR continues to be an important part of becoming an industry leader, but this pressure on media in general is surely felt within cannabis.

Layoffs aren’t the only challenge PR-seekers will face in the next year. PR in 2020 will be affected by the election. We’re already seeing writer and editor reassignments to cover the race. Brands will be faced with either jumping on the news cycle or defining the news cycle; the answer to that question will be unique to each brand. Breaking news will likely happen weekly in the later half of 2020, that means anything not immediately time sensitive from a truly newsworthy perspective will need a longer lead time and take longer to publish.

Longer Timelines

Journalists and editors are a resourceful bunch and undoubtably, we’ll see some great talent eye the cannabis industry as an opportunity. Numerous outlets are adding cannabis editors and writers, but those writers will be fighting for space and attention because of the news cycle, effecting PR in 2020. Also, for national outlets, the cannabis desk won’t be terribly deep, so if that writer is out sick or there is breaking industry news, there won’t likely be much depth to the cannabis desk to cover additional stories.

Where just 5 years ago, cannabis publications were themselves considered niche, we now have cannabis publications who target very specific and engaged audiences like Broccoli does for women and Double Blind is for psychedelics. Both these gorgeous publications are print forward but do not issue on a monthly basis. Expect to see more super niche publications make their way to our PR in 2020.

Breaking national news will also impact feature pieces and your breaking news. Before you announce something, take a deep look at what’s happening in the industry so you can plan accordingly. Of course, sometimes news needs to break, investor announcements for example. In this case, there are strategies to employ to ensure you’re announcement gets the attention it deserves. It may require a shift in strategy, but Primo PR can guide you through that process.

This means PR planning and collaboration takes a longer lead time, especially feature pieces. Make sure your PR takes into account these timelines and shift your strategies to accomodate these longer timelines and niche publications.

Publications are changing – so is PR.

Freelancers!

Keeping up with the ever changing media landscape means writers and editors are changing careers or writing for multiple publications. Freelancer journalists can be an outstanding resources and great partners in cannabis PR, but keep in mind, they are looking for stories that will get them paid, thier job isn’t to be your marketing coordinator.

Don’t expect a freelancer to spend hours gathering data you should have on hand, make it easy for them to include media (photos, graphics, video) in their stories. If you’re unsure of what kind of content suits you, or what you’ll need, that’s the perfect opportunity to use the perspective of public relations, since we understand what the media is looking for when creating stories.

We’re consistently working with our clients to ensure they have the most media-friendly content available BEFORE we pitch a story. Have some empathy for freelancers who are often working to publish 5-10 pieces a week. We’re consistently working with freelancers, but we also work exceptionally hard to make their jobs easier, knowing they they are hustling for every word they write.

When you do get press, follow our effective media relations strategy to boost effectiveness for everyone. And don’t forget to tag the journalist, they’ll appreciate it.

Have some empathy for our freelance colleagues covering cannabis.

Integrate With Your PR

You can maximize PR by having your agencies collaborate on activations and integrations. Make your paid, earned, shared and owned media work together. Events, advertisements and even your website can often turn into PR opportunities, but only if PR has a seat at your planning table. Keep PR part of your strategic planning and maximize your spends. We’re cannabis PR experts- we often see opportunities that can make your investments work double time.

On a daily basis, we may be collaborating with a client’s branding agency, their media buying agency, and social influencers. Over and again, we find collaborating with agencies creates a better branding experience for our client and better press opportunities for them as well.

This goes for SEO as well. Public relations can have a huge impact on SEO from custom content to news releases, we’re always keeping an eye on trending searches so we can help publications AND our clients maximize eyeballs.

Editorial and Advertising Together

It used to be that it was verboten for editorial and advertising to collaborate. But publications today are finding new and creative ways to help boost their bottom line. Given the media landscape, it’s not surprising. Sponsored content, when well written and editorialized, can be an extremely effective tool for cannabis PR. The key to sponsored content is to think like a journalist and deliver a story rather an a marketing brochure.

Some brands are even taking a page out of MedMen’s strategy and like Ember, creating lifestyle publications for themselves. There are multiple ways to implement this strategy; some publications will, for a fee, run part of or the entire publication on your behalf. Content doesn’t have to be generated in-house, journalists and PR writers can help keep the content on par and on edge, while delivering value to both the brand and the reader. Owned publications are also an outstanding way to add extra value to your business partners while creating an effective newsroom for your brand.

Navigating These Changes

Team Primo PR is ready for these changes and anything else that comes our way. One of our key values is remaining nimble, because dynamic landscapes demand it – that’s our job. We’re already planning on doubling down with strategy and distinctive stories that will set our clients apart in the news, even with all these changes. We’re working directly with journalists on pieces that are slated for publish at the end of the year – RIGHT NOW. As you look forward to your 2020 plans, keep the dynamic nature of industry and the national news in your planning process. It’s not too early to start strategizing for 2020’s PR changes because one thing is for certain: change.

Resources Mentioned In This Post:

Business Insider: Media Lay Offs
Broccoli Magazine
Double Blind Magazine