Tag Archives: mainstream

The Great Cannabis Branding Conundrum in Europe

By Marguerite Arnold
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Cannabranding is buzzy. In the United States and in Canada, it is a vertical that is developing fast along with the multi-billion dollar legitimizing cannabis market. In both the United States and Canada, digital marketing to promote brands is a hot topic.

Social media has firmly rolled over traditional advertising barriers even as it still remains a landmine. And if there were ever a “fun” brand to be associated with, cannabis carries a lot of plusses. Starting with the rapidly fading stigma. According to Adweek, there were 170 advertising and marketing agencies picking up national cannabis business in the United States, with additional firms serving smaller firms or markets at the beginning of the year.

Yet battles that should be dated with the year 2017 in the mirror, are still raging and underway even in these jurisdictions. No matter what or where, advertising remains complicated. Beyond the American hemisphere, the issue of branding is a still-slumbering giant that may yet awake in the second part of the next decade. For the most part, that will have to await the advent of recreational use, at least within Europe.Are there successful brands already established in the world of cannabis? Of course.

How brands enter the market in the EU in fact, based on their social media and internet influence elsewhere, is very much a part of that discussion. So far in Europe, there has been no federal recreational reform. Medical use is still in front of legislatures. As a result, that means that more traditional social media efforts in particular, are verboten when launched in country.

With foreign firms now entering the EU market, the big question is, can such firms establish a brand presence here (or for any of their products?) Or will that too, be launched from abroad?

And how exactly will that fare in Europe, particularly in places like Germany, where the overwhelming pressure is on to treat cannabis just like another narcotic? And in particular, a generic drug.

A Brief History of Advertising in Cannabis

Hard as it is to believe, just four years ago, there was no legal, functioning recreational market anywhere. Weedmaps and Leafly were the only game in town when it came to advertising, along with growing free press coverage, in particular for small companies who were starting to establish market presence in the legalizing cannabis business. In fact Weedmaps and Leafly can be effectively credited, certainly in the United States, with putting cannabis advertising, along with dispensaries and prescribing doctors, on the map.

The impact of a California media industry on this issue, especially with state recreational legalization imminent, cannot be underestimated. However, these days, it is not the only game in town.

Fast forward to 2017, and the world of cannabranding has exploded, no surprise, in the world of social media. “Bud porn” proliferates on Instagram. In fact, an Instagram account, along with YouTube videos, Facebook posts and Twitter pictures are derigeur for pot companies these days as much as they are for anyone else. Free media is still a force.

However even here, the rules and enforcement of the same, at least in the United States, are still shadowed with uncertainty. Federal Schedule I status means that technically, even the big social media giants are in the same boat as traditional advertising mediums (like print or even internet-based media). Section 843 of the Controlled Substances Act specifically prohibits “communications facilities” from advertising Schedule I drugs. However the internet has never really been brought under FCC guidelines – and on many fronts. See “bud porn”, as the first example. Cannabis “advertising” such as it has clearly developed, is absolutely another one.

And into this gap have poured cannabis-branding initiatives galore. One of the most corporately ambitious so far? Netflix, with not only pot-branded entertainment, but its own brands of cannabis. It is far from the only one. Google Adwords also changed its policies with regard to medical advertising this year. The advent of a recreational market in California will absolutely drive this issue globally. But beyond California state borders, how will more local laws be enforced? And by whom? Is anyone at the FCC or Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department considering the national impact of any cannabis branding launched in California, for example? And where would they start? Would corporate advertising that is present at national conferences be targeted too? Along with the growing cannabisHow will such firms establish branding in a world so totally off-limits to “brand” advertising? conference economy itself which is already multi-state? The situation is already slippery. Abroad, could or would BfArM, the German federal agency overseeing the regulation of narcotic drugs (including cannabis), bring suit against Facebook for distributing California-sourced advertising for an Australian firm now doing business in Europe?

Clearly, there are landmines everywhere one looks. And not just for the big guys. The path is still littered with issues and problems for smaller, U.S.-based initiatives. Accounts can be blocked arbitrarily on social media and have been, such as on Facebook. In sum, however, it is also very clear that the preponderance of a tide is shifting. The industry as well as internet-based branding, is winning.

Especially as recreational reform blooms in Canada and California.

Advertising, in a digital world, has no borders. And cannabis branding is about to test exactly how accurate that mantra is. Or at least how much the location of one’s server counts. And it may be that because of this issue, the entire enchilada is about to jump the shark, if not a few international borders.

The Awakening Canadian Giant

North of the American border, the great Canadian recreational cannabis experiment is more than just in the offing. The train is puffing with steam at the station. The impact of a federally legal, recreational market that Canada will become as of next summer, cannot be underestimated from the advertising and branding front.

First, it means that Canadian companies will be able to advertise and promote their brands to at least a domestic audience. Granted, they will undoubtedly face the same issues as liquor companies in some ways. But promoting specific brands and labels has already hit the Canadian social media universe. See the efforts of all the major pot-producing companies with domestic server and corporate presence.

In turn, this has further opened another question. If digital and social media has no boundaries, what does that mean for the rest of the world? Particularly those countries now also watching the larger Canadian corporates establish both growing and distribution presence within their borders, and with strict advertising bans on cannabis domestically. That includes bans on advertising marijuana as medicine.

The Most Compelling Cannabis Brand Remains Legalization

Are there successful brands already established in the world of cannabis? Of course. Think only of the many celebrity-backed brands (even for medical) that you have probably heard of in the last few years. There are likely to be more.

However the reality is that in many jurisdictions, starting with Germany, such branding theoretically at least, stops at the border. The many firms who are establishing presence here on the distribution and potentially cultivation side, do nothing more than promote their company names at industry events.

How will such firms establish branding in a world so totally off-limits to “brand” advertising?

For now, one of those answers is to establish a presence as a serious pharmaceutical company. Another of course, is to become more vocal over the need for further reform and patient access. So far, that issue has remained one mostly vocalized by reform groups on the ground. That could change, particularly with further delays in implementing medical programs in Europe. Celebrity-backed appearances in media on this issue go far.

And for the meantime? Branding specialists will have to hope that advertising campaigns developed off-shore begin to meet targeted European patient groups.

Even if the first message is the concept of cannabis as legitimate medicine.

Top PR Firms in Cannabis of 2017

By Aaron G. Biros, William Sumner
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The end of the year is often a time for reflection when people look back at their accomplishments over the last year; and those in the cannabis industry are no different.

2017 was a year of monumental change for the cannabis industry. Riding high on a wave of electoral victories and changing public sentiment, more states than ever have legalized cannabis in some form or fashion and nations like Canada are headed down the path of full legalization.

Part of the thanks for this seismic shift in public policy and consciousness has to go to the countless women and men who have tirelessly campaigned for cannabis reform for years; but a sizable portion of that thanks must also go towards the unsung heroes of the cannabis industry: the cannabis PR firms.

Fighting on the front-lines of the war for public perception, cannabis PR firms have been essential in the reversing decades of Reefer Madness and, through constant branding and re-branding, have helped make the cannabis industry the billion dollar industry that it is today. While helping their clients achieve the branding and marketing they need, PR firms have also helped considerably in normalizing cannabis and bringing it into the mainstream lens.

So in reflection of this past year, and in thanks of those that made it happen, here’s a look at some of the top PR firms in the cannabis industry for 2017 in no particular order.

Evan Nison, Nison Co.

Evan Nison is the founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co. and Co-Founder of Whoopi & Maya. Nison Co. has over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis. In 2017, the company grew to over 30 industry leading cannabis clients and 7 full time staff and 8 part time staff focusing exclusively on the cannabis industry.

Evan Nison, founder & chief executive officer of Nison Co.

Nison is the youngest member of the board of NORML, and sits on the Board of Directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. In 2016 he helped launch Whoopi & Maya, a women-centric medical cannabis company with actress Whoopi Goldberg and edible maker Maya Elisabeth and currently acts as its chief financial officer.

During the 2016 US Presidential Election, Evan pressed Hillary Clinton for her stance on marijuana legalization on Good Morning America during a live town hall event.

Evan has been mentioned in news sources such as the NY Times, Politico, USA Today, NBC New York, Bloomberg TV, Forbes, and has been profiled in the Ithaca Times, Home News Tribune, the Cannabist/Denver Post, and the Sun Times. He also received the 2011 NORML Student Activism Award and High Times Freedom Fighter Award for his advocacy.

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Co-founder of Whoopi & Maya
  • Executive Director of NORML NJ, in a state where cannabis could be on the path to legalization shortly.
  • Drug law reform efforts in Students for Sensible Drug Policy, NORML and others.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Success with public companies across the cannabis space.
  • Over 1,200 published stories for cannabis clients in 2017
  • Grew to over 30 clients in cannabis, over 1,800 active relationships with reporters and reviewers that cover cannabis

Cynthia Salarizadeh, Salar Media Group

Cynthia Salarizadeh, founder and chief executive officer of Salar Media Group

With more than 15 years in public and media relations, Salarizadeh has made waves in her short time in the cannabis industry and has helped start multiple successful companies and organizations, such as Green Market Report and Industry Power Women.

As the founder and chief executive officer of Salar Media Group, Salarizadeh has worked with some of the top cannabis firms in the industry, including the likes of BiotrackTHC, CannaRegs, Inc., Cannabis Benchmarks, Humboldt’s Finest, MassRoots, Inc., Tikun Olam USA, ebbu, Julian Marley’s JuJu Royal, Frontera, Marijuana Investor Summit, Cannafundr, The Marijuana Show, Weed for Warriors Project, CannaMoms, Robert Hoban and 99 High Tide.

In 2017, Salarizadeh shook both the world of cannabis and fast food when Green Market Report published a study she wrote analyzing the fast food habits of cannabis users. The report became a viral sensation overnight, sent up shares in McDonald’s up by .58% (approximately $3.55) and became the topic of discussion in universities around the country and as well as McDonald’s headquarters. Stories for her clients have been mentioned on CNBC, Fox Business, Yahoo Finance, Entrepreneur, Forbes, Inc, Playboy and Fortune. 

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Launched and assisted in managing full scale event execution for the Marijuana Investor Summit 2014 – the first investor summits of its kind for the industry.
  • Launched Cannafundr 2014 (editor and chief of the news section and pr director – acquired by MJIC in 2015).
  • Co-founded Industry Power Women 2017.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Managed the launch of Israel’s, and the world’s, original cannabis company Tikun Olam in the USA as the lifestyle brand Tikun.
  • Launched the first brand to be recognized in the media as “America’s Craft Cannabis” out of Humboldt – Humboldt’s Finest .
  • Responsible for one of the largest cannabis news stories of 2017, the McDonald’s-food habits of cannabis consumers campaign, raising their stock price and becoming a viral sensation.

Gaynell Rogers, Bond & Moroch

Twice a cancer survivor, Gaynell Rogers was first recruited into the cannabis industry by Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo in 2009. Since then, she has grown to become recognized as one of the leading voices in the cannabis industry.

As the director and developing partner of Bond & Moroch, Rogers works with veritable list of who’s who in the cannabis industry; including Hoban Law Group, one of the first national law firms to specialize in the cannabis industry.

Gaynell Rogers, director and developing partner of Bond & Moroch

Although Rogers is perhaps best known for securing the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel, she has also been responsible for countless cover stories de-stigmatizing cannabis that have appeared on the pages of the New York Times, Washington Post, and more.

In 2017, Rogers helped make history when she worked with Hoban Law Group to create the first-ever national cannabis television commercial. Her clients also include the 420 Games, New West Summit, Power Plant Fitness and Harborside.

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • First national publicist for Arcview Group, Harborside and Steve DeAngelo​.
  • Responsible for a number of major cannabis news stories in The NEw York Times and Washington Post.
  • Secured the creation of the very first cannabis-related reality show, “Weed Wars” on the Discovery Channel

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Made history with getting the first-ever national cannabis TV commercial on air with the Hoban Law Group.
  • Success of 2017 New West Summit and 420 Games

KCSA Strategic Communications

KCSA Strategic Communications, a fully-integrated communications agency specializing in public relations, investor relations, social media and marketing, has been working with clients in the cannabis space for more than five years, and has deep institutional knowledge as well as access to decision makers, investors, entrepreneurs and analysts who are writing the rules for this new marketplace.

Lewis Goldberg, managing partner at KSCA

As a result, in 2017 KCSA launched a dedicated KCSA-Cannabis website as well as launched “The Green Rush,”a weekly, 30-minute show dedicated to the business of cannabis. Hosts KCSA Managing Partner Lewis Goldberg and Managing Director Anne Donohoe speak with reporters, entrepreneurs, lawmakers, investment bankers, CEOs, and investors.

KCSA represents a dozen public and private cannabis companies, accounting for nearly $1B in market cap and $100M in annual sales across the entire supply chain in WA, NV, NJ, CA and CO. The company will also be moderating the “Cannabis and the Capital Markets” speakers series at the Cannabis World Congress & Business Expo events in 2018. Their mix of traditional PR and IR services has helped professionalize communications efforts of many cannabis business players and has helped move the industry forward in the financial sector considerably.

Cannabis Industry PR Achievements worthy of note:

  • IR Work with Terra Tech
  • Key clients also include: Kush Bottles, 4Front Ventures, Medicine Man Technologies and Golden Leaf Holdings
  • Their client base grew to span the entire supply chain, from growers, refiners and dispensaries, to ancillary product companies and consulting firms.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Launched “The Green Rush” Podcast
  • Terra Tech’s marked success in expanding the cannabis segment of their business, accounting for 86% of total revenues in the third quarter of 2017.
  • They have helped their clients secure speaking slots at the major conferences and trade shows.

The Rosen Group

Established in 1984 and headquartered in New York City, The Rosen Group has been working in cannabis since the inception of adult-use in Colorado to bring cannabis messaging to the national stage, collaborating with mainstream and industry media outlets and working with brands to cement positioning as thought leaders.

Shawna McGregor, senior vice president, The Rosen Group

TRG partners with brands to expand into emerging markets while educating target audiences and conveying critical narratives. Cannabis clients include infused products producers such as Wana Brands and Next Frontier Biosciences, cultivators and dispensaries such as L’Eagle Services, industry associations such as Cannabis Business Alliance and professional services such as Urban-Gro.  

With strong roots in the cannabis, business, technology, agriculture, food & beverage and entrepreneurial sectors, TRG has a tremendous breadth of experience developing and implementing impactful communications plans, strategies and tactics. TRG clients receive customized, personal service and strategic initiatives specific to their goals and objectives via aggressive, 360-degree communications campaigns to maximize coverage.

Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:

  • Senior Vice President Shawna Seldon McGregor, who founded the Denver office in 2012, was honored with The Cannabist Award for Best Firm in 2016.
  • TRG has helped to position Wana Brands coowner Nancy Whiteman as one of the foremost thought leaders in cannabis. Inc.’s May 2017 issue declared Nancy “The Queen of Legal Weed.”
  • TRG successfully positioned Urban-Gro in front of cannabis producers, potential investors, and industry and mainstream publications through strategic thought leadership, brand messaging and media outreach.

2017 PR achievements worthy of note:

  • TRG helped to position L’Eagle as a leading voice on sustainability for the cannabis industry through speaking engagements and in over 200 features and articles reaching an audience of over 200 million.
  • Since signing on with Next Frontier Biosciences in June 2017, TRG helped get coverage in more than 60 news outlets reaching an audience of over 193 million.
  • For the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC), TRG leveraged the 2nd annual Cannabis Sustainability Symposium to secure more than 40 media placements for the Symposium’s speakers, sponsors and attendees.

Jennifer Price, Potnt Agency 

Potnt Agency is a public relations and integrated marketing communications agency headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Reno, Nevada and Charlotte, North Carolina. The firm has deep expertise in cannabis and hemp markets with extensive knowledge of cannabis history, products, science, innovations, politics, legal compliance and best business practices.
Jennifer Price, founder and lead communications strategist, Potnt

Potnt is led by Founder and Lead Communications Strategist, Jennifer Price, who has over 24 years of experience in public relations, product promotion and event marketing experience in consumer, tech, B2B and investor relations practices.

Potnt has represented many well-established brands across the cannabis space, including Strainz, a leading national cannabis brand management company, HelloMDGolden Tarp AwardsNew West SummitCannMed, and Pure Analytics.
Cannabis industry PR achievements worthy of note:
  • Facilitated one of the first multi-page features on cannabis in Playboy Magazine, “The White-Collar Future of Weed” -this article included four of Potnt’s clients and was focused on a new generation of entrepreneurs aiming to revolutionize America’s cannabis industry.
  • Worked in partnership with HelloMD and Amanda Reiman, PhD, MSW, former lecturer in the School of Social Welfare at UC Berkeley, to promote a groundbreaking study on cannabis use as a substitute for opioid and non-opioid based pain medication
2017 PR achievements worthy of note:
  • Assisted in managing full scale event execution for the New West Summit 2017, the first conference to focus exclusively on the disruptive developments in technology, investment and media within the cannabis space.
  • Supporting successful branding campaigns including Strainz, a leading national cannabis brand management company, HelloMDGolden Tarp AwardsNew West SummitCannMed, and Pure Analytics.

These are a handful of some of the most valuable public relations experts the cannabis industry has to offer. There are many more unsung heroes in the cannabis legalization movement that work tirelessly to improve the image of our industry and support businesses in need of exposure. Next time you see a cannabis public relations expert, give them a big thank you.