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Traditionally, cannabis companies have faced an uphill battle when trying to market their products. Facebook, Google, Youtube and others have consistently shut down pages, removed ads and censored messaging that had anything to do with the industry. Because of this, Public Relations (PR) has become one of the industry’s most powerful tools to build brand awareness and drive sales.
On the forefront of cannabis PR, Rosie Mattio has quietly built one of the longest running and biggest PR firms in the cannabis industry. Founded in 2014, Rose Mattio PR now serves 17 cannabis clients including Canndescent, Headset, Papa & Barkley, Ascend Wellness, FlowHub, and LeafLink.
Below, Rosie explains how she and her team have secured more than 1,000 media placements for her clients, and she shares some do’s and don’t’s in the often confusing world of cannabis PR.
When you first started, cannabis was only recreationally legal in Colorado. What attracted you to the industry?
When I started in 2004, my firm’s focus was on food and technology, and we maintained clients globally in these sectors. In 2014, I was approached by the Stoner’s Cookbook (now HERB) to do a campaign around a crowdfunding initiative for the launch of their first hardcover cookbook called HERB: Mastering the Art of Cannabis Cooking. They hired my firm because we had extensive expertise in food and tech, not because we had cannabis experience. Back then, there were a few firms that specialized in cannabis marketing, but none of them were doing PR in a mainstream way. We took this campaign and garnered major national media including The New York Times, Mashable and Fast Company, to name a few. After the success of this project, a lightbulb went off in my head that we could bring our mainstream approach to the cannabis sector and help emerging cannabis companies garner impactful media for the growth of their companies.
What were the challenges you faced during those early years?
While there was a fascination by what was starting to happen in the cannabis space, Colorado and Washington had just adopted adult-use programs, and the industry was still centered on the West Coast. Not to mention, there was still a lot of confusion and stigma around the plant. Some of my more mainstream national media contacts would not come near any stories that dealt with cannabis, as their publishers were concerned about the legal ramifications around the topic. Fast forward five years later, and while many outlets still won’t allow cannabis advertisers, we have hundreds of media contacts we work with on a daily basis for our clients. The landscape just continues to grow even wider with who is covering the space.
What were some lessons you learned quickly once you started in the cannabis industry?
How passionate people were about the plant, how many health benefits cannabis has, and how important it was for so many people in their daily lives. When you start to hear the stories about the positive impact, you can’t help but become an advocate for the legalization of cannabis. You want to help educate as many people as possible about the power of the plant and help destigmatize the subject.
What would you say are some of the main differences between executing PR in a traditional industry vs cannabis?
While cannabis is becoming accepted and legalized throughout the country, it’s still a hyper-regional industry. Even things as simple as getting a product sample to an editor aren’t possible with cannabis-based products. When we worked with a popcorn company, we could FedEx a sample to Shape Magazine so they could try the product for review. We can’t just put cannabis in the mail, though. How is a reporter supposed to write a story about a product they have not tried? Also, there are a lot of regulatory issues surrounding cannabis, so navigating ever-changing laws can often be a challenge. However, one of the positive differences is that this is new and changing subject matter, so it’s fresh and exciting to pitch to reporters. We are all learning something new as the days and years go by.
Assuming a company has never worked with a PR firm before, can you describe what cannabis companies should expect when engaging someone like you?
When hiring a PR firm, a company should expect the following: The firm will want to do a deep dive into their business and learn about the value proposition, as well as get to know the strengths of the management team. Once everyone is aligned on messaging, the firm should create a media strategy, timeline, messaging map, and calendar of events and then execute with media placements and visibility. There should be regular check-ins, as well as KPI ( key performance indicators) to make sure everyone is on the same page with goals and execution.
When should new companies start working with a PR firm?
Most companies should engage a firm when they are ready for the world to know their story or product or service. This can be when the brand is ready to launch, or start fundraising, or get their product to market. There are also few things a company should have in place before hiring a PR firm or launching a campaign. They should have their company/corporate branding in place. They should have great images, a functional website, and have a social presence up and running. Without those items in place, a PR campaign can have a false start and the company won’t be able to maximize efforts, gain SEO or following.
Can you give us an example of a recent successful campaign you ran for one of your clients?
A few months ago, we invited 10 editors out to Eureka with our client Papa & Barkley to experience a cannabis harvest. We were able to show them their best-in-class manufacturing practices and treat them to a beautiful farm-to-table cannabis dinner at one of the farms Papa & Barkley sources their cannabis from. The result was the media not only learned about the company, but also about cannabis farming methods and food preparations as well as the history and industry in Humboldt County. The event led to stories that covered various angles for the company and the industry as a whole. We were really gratified to see the different ways one trip could be covered by different members of the media.
What’s an example of a campaign or PR effort that failed in the cannabis industry?
Most campaigns that don’t succeed are ones that don’t look holistically at the industry. When a company just tries to tell “their story” and doesn’t tie it to what is happening globally in the cannabis industry, it can create a disconnect and won’t gain traction with media. Using data to show large trends is the best way to garner media and make sure your campaign is successful.
Any predictions changes we’ll see in 2019 in regard to traditional media and building a brand in cannabis?
I’m hopeful that in 2019 we will see more publishers and the social networks open themselves up to cannabis advertising. Consumers want to be able to access cannabis brands like they do every other product or service. I also think we will continue to see the explosion of “brand” in cannabis. Products and retailers looking more like Apple and Hermes than the “stoner” culture branding of yesteryear. Additionally, I think we will really see curated cannabis experiences through both technology platforms as well as retail experiences.
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January 23, 2019 at 02:04PM