Is it high time for cannabis PR?
is legal in 29 states, as well as Washington, D.C.; on Wednesday, West Virginia’s governor
signed its medical cannabis bill into law.
Recreational marijuana use is legal in eight states and Washington, D.C.
CNN Money reported
Sales of legal pot grew to $6.6 billion in 2016, according to
New Frontier, a research company that analyzes the marijuana industry. That includes
$4.7 billion for medical marijuana and $1.9 billion for recreational. The
industry as a whole is projected to exceed $24 billion by 2025.
The growing legalization and increased positive public perception of
marijuana translate to opportunities for PR and marketing pros.
Given all that activity, Matthew Karnes, founder of the marijuana financial
consultancy GreenWave Advisors, predicts that the legalized U.S. industry
will grow from $6.5 billion in sales during 2016 to $30 billion in 2021. He
estimates that by 2021, marijuana marketing will total $75 million.
Here are a few lessons communicators can glean from marijuana marketing:
1. Perception is everything.
In October 2016,
Gallup reported that 60 percent of Americans supported the legalization of marijuana—the
highest percentage of support recorded in a 47-year time span:
When Gallup first asked this question in 1969, 12% of Americans supported
the legalization of marijuana use. In the late 1970s, support rose to 28%
but began to retreat in the 1980s during the era of the "Just Say No" to
drugs campaign. Support stayed in the 25% range through 1995, but increased
to 31% in 2000 and has continued climbing since then.
Kaiser Health News
Consumption of marijuana has also increased steadily over the past decade,
with more than 22 million Americans reporting they had used it in the
previous month, according to the
National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Learn best practices for health care communications and PR, and
achieve business goals.]
Effective PR and marketing have made a huge difference in this perception
Matt Rizzetta, founder and president of communications agency N6A,
told Observer that PR efforts are changing people’s feelings toward the cannabis
industry, and as more news outlets are covering industry developments, the
call for subject-matter experts is increasing:
“Business Insider and CNBC both have dedicated cannabis beat reporters now,
and our clients are positioned as thought leaders,” he said. “PR is helping
erase stigma around the category. Reporters began to trust the cannabis
companies and see that they were in it, not for commercial gain but for the
Whether you work for an organization or client that offers products and
services for which consumers have negative feelings, or you’re fixing a
reputational weak spot with a public awareness campaign (such as McDonald’s
Our Food, Your Questions”), perception is everything.
Understanding consumers’ beliefs and self-interests, combined with
effective education tactics and savvy messaging,
can make all the difference.
2. Persistence pays off.
For most PR and marketing pros, social platforms are a crucial part of
As more and more consumers use Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more to
learn about organizations and make purchasing decisions, it’s essential for
brand managers to stay current on best practices and know their advertising
options for social media sites.
For PR and marketing pros representing cannabis organizations, online
strategies face another hurdle.
Adam Steinberg, Flow Kana’s co-founder, told Adweek that a “fair
share” of Facebook ads—especially those with “typical stoner language”
Google’s advertising policies, which include Adwords and YouTube, explicitly state that the promotion of
recreational drugs and products that facilitate their use are not allowed.
Though Steinberg said he still has success using Facebook for his cannabis
clients, PR and marketing pros representing the industry will continue to
walk a tightrope with social media efforts for the foreseeable future.
Let this motivate your efforts on behalf of your organizations and clients.
Just as public perception of marijuana has changed, so will social media
policies adapt to the growing tide of consumer desires (along with
lucrative marketing opportunities).
It’s also a reminder that we all can struggle with social media efforts,
whether it’s in the form of rules and regulations, a
hashtag that goes awry or
decreased reach for your content.
3. Go niche.
Though support for marijuana legalization is growing, why face marketing
regulations and uninterested reporters from mainstream online platforms and
news organizations when you can target interested and passionate consumers?
Most traditional media companies have spurned the industry's ads. But Joe
Hodas, CMO of Dixie Brands, which sells edible and topical products in four
states, reported that new cannabis-focused companies with print and online
opportunities are constantly contacting him. "The No. 1 fastest media
platform in this industry is print," he said.
There’s a plethora of cannabis-related publications, websites and social
media opportunities, too.
In July 2015,
… Mantis [Network] reaches 6 million unique visitors each month, while
WeedMaps has 2.1 million. “Every single month, we’re growing 25 percent in
reach with no advertising, no funding, just natural growth,” Price says,
adding that Mantis is on track for $1 million in revenue for 2015, its
first year in business.
Along with sites such as free sites such as MedicalJane.com and WeedMaps, a quick Google search
for “cannabis marketing” yields seven agencies that provide
communications—and that’s just on the first page of results.
Other agencies and cannabis database sites, including Leafbuyer and Bang Digital Media,
offer “influencer” opportunities and
advice for successful partnerships with influential social media users.
Savvy communicators are fine-tuning their messages and campaigns for local
audiences, as well.
The skyrocketing figures signal that cannabis businesses are only going to
proliferate. From there, with the market becoming more specialized, leading
PR firms like Nison’s will likely need to tailor their messages to local
“I see it maturing to a more local level,” he says. “As more states
legalize marijuana, there’s going to be more need for local press for
things like dispensary openings and local license applications and those
sorts of things. Like for instance in Colorado, obviously, there’s more
local reporting going on, so I think eventually there will be more local
cannabis PR offices.”
You don’t have to promote marijuana products and services to go niche,
Discover where your passionate consumers seek information and share
recommendations, and start building relationships that can yield more
success than pitches to major news outlets would.