PR Goes to Pot: Making Green From Repping Ganja

The Reefer Madness days go up in smoke

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The legal pot industry is booming. Photo: Carlos Zamora

You’d have to be high to take on a cannabis client, right?

Not anymore. With legalization spreading and acceptance broadening (60 percent of Americans think pot should be legalized across the country, according to Gallup), cannabis is becoming big, legit business; the investment bank Cowan earlier this year predicted that the market for legal marijuana will hit $50 billion by 2026. And a once-murky “industry” is now embracing PR the way any emerging category would.

“I believe that the opportunity for marketing and communications agencies within the cannabis space will rival the dot-com era,” said Jonathan Bloom, whose San Jose agency McGrath/Power reps Mellanox, Daymen, The Hertz Foundation—and Constance Therapeutics, which produces whole-plant cannabis oils for medical use. “Cannabis will begin to become akin to alcohol relative to social acceptance and then marketing acceptance.”

Matt Rizzetta, founder and president of N6A in New York, agreed. “When we started in the category two years ago, a lot of the coverage was sensationalistic,” he said. “Now, it’s straightforward.”

Rizzetta’s cannabis “adventure” started when a VC,  Poseidon Asset Management, approached his firm about representing the fund, one of the earliest to include cannabis businesses in its portfolio.

“There are a lot of specialist firms that can get you in High Times or Herb.com, but Poseidon wanted a generalist firm with good contacts in business and mainstream press,” said Rizzetta, whose firm works in emerging categories like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and machine learning. “We had no experience or knowledge in the category, and they were fine with it.”

Media coverage failed to light up at first. “We didn’t get a lot of traction,” Rizzetta said. “It was more about educating media and answering a lot of questions. But they were using our clients as experts,” which put n6a in an enviable position once coverage started mainstreaming.

“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 greater good.”

Today, with cannabis clients like online marketplace Tradiv and cannabis agritech outfit Surna, Rizzetta said, “We get calls left and right from media wanting a cannabis expert.”

Seibo Shen, who hired n6a to promote VapeXhale—a maker of high-tech vaporizers—said getting his products in front of “the right media” is another advantage to mainstream PR.

“We’re an upscale product, and we wanted more of a Napa Valley wine country perception than frat house or dorm room,” he said. “It seems like a no-brainer now, but even two years ago you wouldn’t want to raise the profile of your company.”

Shen chuckled recalling media portrayals of pot from his childhood. “It was Reefer Madness and the egg in a frying pan that was your brain on drugs,” he said. “Now, media’s respectful. And we’re getting more questions about cannabis as medicine or as an enhancer of athletic performance. People are genuinely curious.”

PR Goes to Pot: Making Green From Repping Ganja