Public Relations, or PR is an incredibly important tool in the cannabis industry. While the Cannabis Act and Regulation restricts a lot of marketing activities, many tactics that fall in the cannabis PR category are either not mentioned in legislation or explicitly allowed in the case of having your stories told through the media.
Given the many restrictions on marketing, a robust PR strategy is critical to the marketing and communications success of your cannabis business.
Public relations can be defined as a strategic communications process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and their publics. At its core, cannabis public relations is about influencing, engaging and building a relationship with key stakeholders across a myriad of platforms in order to shape and frame the public perception of an organization.
PR in the cannabis industry is simply a must.
Some of the disciplines that fall within the PR industry that cannabis companies should leverage include:
Brand journalism and content creation
Attending and hosting events
Executive thought leadership and communication
While there are other disciplines that fall within the traditional public relations field, those listed above are the PR tactics that are most useful to the cannabis industry. Here is a brief description of each PR discipline and some ideas about how cannabis companies can use them to reach their target audiences.
Brand Journalism and Content Creation
In today’s digital age, content is king. Platforms that distribute content to the masses have become very accessibly and this means anyone can create and disseminate content fairly easily. More and more, companies in all industries see themselves as media companies that provide products or services. Brand journalism, which is sometimes called corporate media is the practice of creating journalistic content for your own company instead of waiting for the media to do it.
For cannabis PR, brand journalism and content creation can help your brand stand out in a noisy environment. However, for the content to be useful, it must be relevant, and it needs to add value to your target audience. Its better to produce one really good piece of content than it is to pump out several mediocre content pieces.
In order for your brand journalism and content to be compliant with the Cannabis Act and Regulation, it must also be informational. This is not about creating a sales brochure or a piece of marketing content – it’s about educating and informing your target audience in a way that build trust and brand loyalty – it’s a slower process that can have lasting results.
According to Wikipedia, corporate communication is a set of activities involved in managing and orchestrating all internal and external communications aimed at creating favorable point of vide amongst stakeholders on which the company depends. Corporate communications help organizations explain their mission, combine its many visions and values into a cohesive message to stakeholders.
The role of corporate communications to your cannabis PR strategy is very important. Your company’s closest stakeholders – investors, partners, physical neighbors and employees are the people and organizations that know your company best and can help you build a positive reputation. But in order for these stakeholders to become your corporate champions, you need to communication to them in a strategic, organized and cohesive way and you must provide them with the messaging and tools to help you spread your message – simply put, of these stakeholders don’t know what is happening in your business, they cannot spread the good word.
Attending and Hosting Events
Another great PR tactic for the cannabis industry is an event strategy. On the event attending side, cannabis companies should seek to attend as many events as possible both within the industry and in their broader community. Is your local chamber of commerce hosting a luncheon? Someone from your cannabis company should be there. Can your team volunteer some time at a local charity and lend a helping hand? You should.
The reason attending events, especially outside of the cannabis industry, is so important to your cannabis PR strategy is because these activities put a human face on your company and shows people that you are a valuable member of the community. Like it or not, the cannabis industry continues to face a lot of stigma – what better way to overcome that than to show people that good humans work in the cannabis business that just opened down the street.
When attending cannabis industry events, its always a good idea to seek opportunities to speak. Sometimes this means you need to also invest in a tradeshow booth. When attending cannabis related events as part of your PR effort, go in with very clear objectives – who do you want to meet? How are you going to capture people’s contact information? Who is going to follow up? The clearer you are about your objectives, the more value you will get out of your investment in time and money.
As important as attending events is hosting them and this is especially important for the cannabis industry and should be a big component of your cannabis PR strategy. Because of the stigma associated with the cannabis industry, you need to be the best corporate neighbor you can be. If you are a cannabis retailer, LP or micro-cultivator, host grand openings, neighborhood meet and greets and info sessions – your corporate neighbors may be a little skeptical about you, so go out of your way to get to know them, answer as many of their questions as you can and have an open door – this will go a very long way in your cannabis business’ long term success.
Executive Thought Leadership and Communication
Related to the tactic above, seek opportunities for your executives to speak at public events as much as possible, including at small corporate events for your business’ neighbors. There are also other great ways to execute an executive thought leadership strategy as part of your cannabis PR approach. LinkedIn pulse posts are an excellent place for your executives to provide thought leadership. Your cannabis business could leverage the ever-growing podcast community and YouTube channels that exist in the cannabis space and beyond. This can even be as simple as having your executives use twitter in an engaging, thought leadership kind of way.
Because cannabis is such a new industry and many companies are literally learning as they go, there is a lot of room and hunger for thought leadership in the space. And as a cannabis business, you have a lot more to offer than you might think. This activity doesn’t have to be hard – there are many very easy and fast ways to produce high value thought leadership pieces that can help you build your following.
Internal communication is the often-overlooked PR tactic that when done consistently can have a very positive impact on your cannabis PR efforts. Your employees are not only your cannabis company’s more important and valuable asset, but they can also be your businesses best brand ambassadors or your most dangerous critics.
To turn your employees into your champions, you need to create a positive work environment and employee culture and you need to keep your employees informed. Depending on the type of cannabis business and the number of employees, there are several great ways to have an effective internal communications strategy that turns employees into your loudest and proudest corporate champions: An engaging and relevant employee newsletter, employee townhall meetings, a weekly roundup email from the President or a daily team huddle are just few of the tactics that can be deployed.
Whatever you do, be consistent and be transparent, and empower your employees and give them the tools necessary to hello you spread your message.
Telling your story through the media is the cannabis PR tactic that will get your brand the most reach and has the potential to have the most impact. Getting your corporate stories told through media publications through earned media adds tremendous credibility to your brand.
Your cannabis media relations strategy should be long-term and your efforts to tell your story through the media should be continuous. Like any other stakeholder, you will need to build long-term relationships with your media partners. Your strategy should always start local – your local newspaper or radio station is always looking for information about what is happening in the communities they serve, and your cannabis PR strategy should seek to provide that information whenever you can. Once you have gained traction with local media, then you can consider expanding to more regional, national and international media audiences.
When thinking about media in today’s digital environment, make sure not to overlook non-traditional media sources, such as bloggers, podcasters and YouTube programs.
Now that you have put together a comprehensive PR strategy for your cannabis business, you need to use your social media channels to amplify your message, grow you audience and build your online reputation. Every tactic listed above should in some way be supported through your social media channels. Tell your story loudly and proudly and make sure to also engage with others through your social media channels – social media is not a one-way communications medium – make sure to respond to and engage with people who make the effort to engage with your brand through your social channels – it will make you cannabis brand seem more human and will pay dividend in the long term.
Bring It All Home – Add Your Cannabis PR Activities to Your Website
At Cannabiz Social, we like to say that your website is your home and all of your PR and other communications efforts are the highways that bring people to your house. Whichever cannabis PR tactics you use, make sure to always post the information to your website – this will help your search ranking and will improve the visibility of your website for search engines. Its also the place where you have the most control over your message and where your target audiences and corporate stakeholders should be able to learn the most about your company.
Cannabis PR is a Long Game with Lasting Results
Remember that your cannabis PR effort is a long-term approach to building credibility and trust – seeing results from these efforts can take some time but can have a very impactful long-term effect. Your goal should be to turn your stakeholders into corporate champions that can help you to tell a positive story about your cannabis brand. The goodwill you build as part of your cannabis PR strategy will also be extremely valuable in the event of a crisis or should something go wrong in your business. In these situations, your brand champions can be very helpful in defending your brand by adding third-party credibility to what you say.
PR in the cannabis industry is simply a must. But before you start executing on the tactics listed above you should develop a long-term strategy, a monthly tactical plan and corporate key messages. It also important that these strategies and plans are not made by one person in isolation – this is an important activity for your entire leadership team to be involved with. It also helpful to have an external resource to facilitate the strategic planning process and to help you to write your initial strategy and tactical plan – this will take some of the work away from your busy team and will allow the external resource to provide insights and to facilitate agreement in areas where there may be differing opinions.
Cannabiz Social can certainly help your business to think through and plan your cannabis PR strategy and activities and we can also help you to execute any parts or all of your plan. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to lean more – Peter@cannabizsocial.com or 403-462-1160.