Brand Relations: Creating the Story

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Photo: Grasslands

During the early days of legalization, consumers were enthusiastic about purchasing an eighth of dry flower in a baggie. Over the past decade, their tastes have evolved dramatically; consequently, so has the need for strategies that connect brands to their audience in an organic way.

Enter creative, marketing, and public-relations agencies, which have become ubiquitous as legalization continues its inexorable march from coast to coast. In a world oversaturated with consumer brands across every category, the few who succeed must find a winning method to leave a lasting impression. The best way to do that? Tell a story that sticks.

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On the following pages we present only a small fraction of the public-relations, branding, and marketing agencies and consultants who’ve helped bring to life brands that are now well-known. Every one of them is passionate about what they do as creatives, brand-to-consumer ambassadors, plant advocates, and — above all else — storytellers.

Grasslands

Clients: Cookies, Eaze, Nabis

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Grasslands founder and CEO Ricardo Baca was working as a music critic and entertainment editor at The Denver Post when he sidled into cannabis indirectly as founding editor of The Cannabist, a lifestyle and culture website published by The Post. He calls Grasslands a journalism-minded agency. “You won’t see that approach anywhere else, because it is legitimately something we have created in-house,” he said. “When I looked at the competitive landscape before founding Grasslands, I wasn’t inspired by a lot of agencies serving the space. I wanted more from them as a journalist, and I saw many ways they could have been a better strategic partner to me as media. I wanted to create an agency that was a forward-thinking collaborator for journalists.”

 

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Cannabis Creative Group

Clients: Hapsy, Safely Lock, Garden Remedies

Cannabis Creative Groupwas born in 2017 as part of Champ Internet. The agency started with fifteen employees and has grown to fifty-five, with clients throughout the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe. Regardless of the client, the team begins the creative process with the “end in mind,” according to Director of Business Development Dan Serard. “When we start working with a client, we’re looking at both short- and long-term goals to make sure we’re setting them up for the future. We’ve worked with more than 200 clients now, and we have best practices we refer to for social media, localized search engine optimization (SEO), and Google search advertising, which we’ve been incredibly successful with.”

Chapter 2 Agency

Clients: The Emerald Cup, SevenPoint Interiors, RAW Rolling Papers

ChapterTwoFinalLogoFounded by Clara Jeon and Kenneth Loo in 2016, New York-based Chapter 2 Agency approaches public relations like they’re creating chapters in a book, slowly fitting pieces of a story together to form a cohesive narrative. Jeon and Loo aspire to help shape the legal market in a way that will maximize the industry’s potential. “One of the biggest things we saw [when we entered the space] was a huge diversity and representation issue,” Loo said. “We felt it was really important to help facilitate change, so we’ve put action behind the concept. We hire based on the culture we serve.”

Rosen Group

Clients: The Nirvana Group, Bloomwell, Azuca

Rosen-Group logoWith a background in Washington D.C. image management, Rosen Group founder Lori Rosen is accustomed to working with policy-driven, highly regulated industries, from media to nonprofits and everything in between. The firm segued into cannabis when Colorado legalized adult use. “Just as cannabis became legal, we started to build a business space for seed-to-sale companies,” Rosen said. “It was all brand new, and we were all learning as we went. “Bringing our New York aggressive sensibility to Colorado at the time was a winning formula. We stood out for our knowledge, being located in the media center of the world.”

Innovation Group

Clients: KushCo, Yeti Farms, JARS Cannabis

INOV8-LOGOA boutique public-relations consultancy, Innovation Group provides specialized support to a wide variety of companies across the U.S. Founder Randall Huft has been in the advertising game for twenty years, with experience representing major brands including IBM, AT&T, and Disney. He fell into the cannabis industry by chance and liked it so much that nowadays the majority of his firm’s clients are plant-related businesses. “We feel we were one of the first real cannabis agencies,” Huft said. “We produced the first cannabis television commercial in America, and we’ve worked with some of the biggest companies in the business.”

GVM Communications

Clients: Ilera Holistic Healthcare, Lemonhaze Inc., Akerna

GVM 2020logo1Founded by Gia Morón, GVM Communications is a woman-owned agency based in New York City. The team works closely with each client, providing internal and external communication plans that became crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There was a lot happening, and having to consult clients on how to protect employees during a global pandemic while also addressing how companies could have thoughtful conversations about social justice was a really critical learning moment for us,” Morón said. “Having a strong team of women work with me during one of the most difficult times in our lives… We thrived during that time as a unified front.”

Mattio Communications

Clients: Green Thumb Industries, Headset, CuraLeaf

Mattio-Black-Square-1Rosie Mattio had an extensive public-relations background in specialty foods and technology when she founded Mattio Communications with the cannabis industry in mind. A cookbook project inspired her to move her practice into what she calls “an exciting new space.” “My team was responsible for some of the first cannabis stories ever to be placed in mainstream media like Oprah, Bloomberg, and Forbes,” Mattio said. “We’ve also done a lot of press trips, which I think have changed the way reporters look at cannabis. We’ve taken them to grows and consumption lounges and introduced them to products. I’m most proud of how we’ve educated the media on where the industry is going.”

Pulp + Wire

Clients: Sweet Dirt, ElleVet Sciences, Pure Dharma

Pulp-wire logo-pnwFounded in 2004 in Maine, Pulp + Wire is a woman-owned branding agency specializing in natural and organic foods, cannabis, hemp, and other nature-inspired lifestyle brands. As self-described “brand alchemists,” the team helps companies discover their unique identity through website creation, creative collateral, social media management, and more. “Be it for the plant’s natural medicinal healing properties, recreational use, or the abundant uses it can provide that we aren’t even utilizing yet, I always have been a supporter with deep respect for this powerful plant,” said founder Taja Dockendorf. “As a team, we home in on our ability to look at the trends and forecast what is coming next so we can design for the future rather than copy what other leading brands are doing.”

NisonCo

Clients: Grenco Science, Green Roads, Moxie

NisonCoNISONCO-logo-stacked-teal handles public relations and SEO for brands in emerging industries. CEO Evan Nison began as a cannabis activist and said he “sort of fell into” industry-focused branding and PR along the way. “I started as a legalization and drug-law-reform advocate,” he said. “My first client was lobbying for an industrial hemp bill in New Jersey. I went to so many meetings during that process and repeatedly received client referrals because of my media connections.” For the first three years, NisonCo’s client list grew by word of mouth, driven in part by his palpable passion for the plant and the industry. “This is an industry being born by a social movement, and that’s so exciting to be part of,” he said.

Maverick Public Relations

Clients: Wana Brands, Choice Consolidation Corp., PharmaCann

Maverick-horizontal“I’ve been a lover of the plant for two decades and have always considered it to be an important part of my daily routine,” said Maverick Public Relations founder Shawna Seldon McGregor, who recently received a Green Market Report Women’s Leadership Award. Although she initially focused on sustainable technology and renewable energy, she pivoted to the industry after moving to Denver in 2012 — right before Colorado legalized adult use. Shortly thereafter, she founded Maverick, which emphasizes education and specializes in helping brands shape their narratives and educate audiences.

Red Antler

Clients: PAX, CANN, Island Cannabis Co.

Red Antlerred-antler-logo cofounders JB Osborne and Emily Heyward partner with corporate founders to help nascent businesses and products build identity. The company helped propel Casper and Allbirds into instantly recognizable names, and the agency currently represents about a dozen emerging cannabis brands seeking the same kind of meteoric success. Heyward and Osborne said working in the rapidly evolving space is among their most challenging endeavors. But “we thrive on chaos,” Heyward said. “We are very used to working in categories where the rules are still being written and we have to adjust as we go.”

ALU Consulting

Clients: CANN, Besito, Banana Bros.

ALU-CONSULTING LogoALU Consulting founder Abby Uriarte possesses fifteen years of marketing and branding experience in consumer packaged goods, technology, and entertainment. As a one-woman operation, she works directly with clients, examining opportunities and challenges from a broad perspective and employing experience in diverse industries to flesh out strategies. “I don’t just look at businesses through a marketing lens,” she said. “I’m also evaluating how I can drive growth overall. Whether that’s by reaching new customers, identifying operational inefficiencies, or cutting costs, my ultimate goal is to help businesses grow.” Contact [email protected] for more information.

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PufCreativ

Clients: The Fire Station, Lazy River Products, Last Prisoner Project

PufCreativ cofounder and CEO John Shute began his marketing career in the South Florida nightclub scene before pivoting to cannabis. He and his cofounders, Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Katie Burrell and Creative Director Shamus Lahman, put the environment, equity, and social justice at the center of their platform. “Our clients really feel our team’s sense of passion,” he said. “That’s what really makes a difference for us. I think we’re able to really encompass the full spectrum of seed to sale because, at the end of the day, we just want our clients, partners, and network to succeed in a long-term way.”

Wick & Mortar

Clients: Goldkine, Olswell, Narvona

FullLogo OriginalBased in Seattle, Wick & Mortar is a boutique branding agency that provides clients with end-to-end consultancy, including branding, strategy, copywriting, packaging design, packaging production, and website design. Founder and CEO Jared Mirsky began offering cannabis-focused marketing and branding services in 2009, when recreational use was still on the distant horizon. “Our mission since day one has been to help change people’s perspective on a global level, one brand at a time,” he said. “We’ve had clients in nearly every medical and recreational state and country. We really understand the global landscape of the industry, which makes us significantly different from other agencies.”

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Kip Morrison & Associates

Clients: Sundazed, Dr. Greenthumb’s, SC Labs

Kip Morrison has been in the public relations and branding business for more than thirty years, the past fourteen of them working with cannabis clients. The firm currently represents brands in California, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Israel, and Barcelona, providing Morrison and her team with a full-spectrum, global perspective about industry development. “I have a really tight core team of very capable people,” she said. “We’re like a family or a sorority — very effective because we’re tight-knit and stable. During its existence, my firm has given birth to about six other PR firms. I’m very proud of the caliber of contacts we have. In fact, I truly believe we have the best contacts in the country because we started in the industry so early.”

Jaana Prall

Clients: Humboldt Seed Co., Humboldt Apothecary, GreenBroz

Jaana PrallI mg magazineJaana Prall segued into public relations after serving as managing editor at Emerald Magazine. “I specialize in personalized service,” she said of her one-woman operation. “Clients always deal with me and only me for their needs. I manage all interviews, events, and speaking engagements in real time and am always on call. I also make it a point to really understand the workings of the companies I rep, seeing how they function and really staying on the ground with them to see what their day-to-day looks like.” Prall also represents companies in international markets, including global brands like GreenBroz and Humboldt Seed Co. She takes pride in her ability to communicate the plant’s underlying science to the media in a digestible manner.

Coppertop Media Relations

Clients: Puffco, Hawthorne Gardening Company, CannaCraft

Jim-Walsh Headshot 2017 cc-copyFounded by Jim Walsh in 1995, Coppertop’s first clients were primarily musicians in the New York City music scene. He segued into cannabis at the behest of a friend. “A childhood friend who came up in the music scene with me made some investments in the California market early on, and he introduced me to Mike Ray and Bloom Farms,” Walsh said. “Not only did they have quality products and a campaign for giving back, but they were one of the first brands to market to segments beyond the typical stereotype, co-branding with yoga festivals and hosting upscale cannabis dinners. I began focusing pretty much exclusively on cannabis clients from that point, starting in 2016.” Contact [email protected] for more information.

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