The star-making, brand-building, storytelling team at PROHBTD are creating and curating the past, present, and future brands of the cannabis industry.
LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE having to do with cannabis, there is no shortage of people who would be the Poet of Pot, the Storyteller of Sativa, the Minstrel of Marijuana, and why not? As cannabis continues to fulfill its progressive manifest destiny to once again become a legal and destigmatized salve for so many ills that plague mankind, someone has to pull together all the tales into something resembling a narrative of the herb, more or less curating the best of the bud. Enter PRØHBTD, the recently formed team of experienced media professionals who in six short months have managed to create, in their own words, “the premiere lifestyle destination for original video, information, stories, and hand-selected products for modern cannabis enthusiasts.”
But that definition only scratches at the surface of what PRØHBTD’s three co-founders—Josh Otten (“Production”), Kieve Huffman (“Infrastructure”), and Drake Sutton-Shearer (“Growth”) —have up their collective sleeve in terms of their near-term and far-reaching vision for the enterprise. The way they see it, the challenges (and vast opportunities) that lie before them involve not just corralling the most essential stories the newly forming industry has to tell (bringing special focus to the industry’s top brands in the process) and then disseminating those stories to precisely targeted audiences via platforms that themselves enhance everyone’s brand, but also achieving those goals while simultaneously establishing themselves—or rather, PRØHBTD—as a trailblazing, multi-layered, many-faceted, fully integrated, disruptively creative media company for the 22nd century.
The objective is even larger. To a person, during interviews over several weeks, the three co-founders and their talented team of creators and influencers expressed a sense of personal and collective pride about having the opportunity to contribute to the PRØHBTD library; a belief that what they are doing is different and important, something no one else is doing but which is necessary to do, as if they are engaged in a movement rather than a business.
But then, that is the magic of new media, isn’t it? Creating novel, effective (i.e. authentic) ways to market and brand without appearing to do either. True to their calling and to everything they have learned in life thus far, the PRØHBTD brain trust—and that is what it is—are religiously wed to the primacy of authenticity through storytelling to provide the foundation for everything they mean to achieve.
“Authenticity is incredibly important, because our brand is an authentic brand,” said Sutton-Shearer. “It’s in the people and culture of our organization. The three founders all have a relationship with the plant. We understand it and have for many, many years.
“In fact,” he added, “some of the growers we work with grew up with Josh and have been friends for many years with some of the more successful growers in the [Emerald] Triangle area.”
That emanation of authenticity—equally important for “anyone we have underneath and around and on top of our brand,” Sutton-Shearer said—is a quality the team looks for in the people it considers hiring to appear in original content.
Otten, who finds most of the talent, identified a few core qualities the team looks for in prospective performers and hosts. “People who have an authentic relationship with the plant, number one, and who are just great storytellers,” he explained. “It all comes down to being a great storyteller, being great in front of the camera, and being an interesting and fun person. Talk with Chris Sayegh,” he said. “You immediately understand that his passion is real. We work really well with people who are genuine.”
Sutton-Shearer further explained, “When we find talent and put talent into the mix with great storytellers, writers, and DPs—young, creative people who are thinkers and doers who are passionate—it really helps our brands emanate authenticity. Add that authenticity on the cannabis side to the fact that all three of us have had very successful careers in marketing, entertainment, and advertising, and that brings authenticity into how we create the content, how we market the content, how we sell the content, and how we service the brands we work with.”
Without such emanations of genuineness, any hope of establishing tangible and lasting relationship with Millennials and succeeding generations is all but dashed, an unacceptable option for a company that means to elevate (yes, elevate) the best brands the industry has to offer, driving awareness, engagement, and ultimately sales to those brands in the process. Like the great Vice monolith before it, PRØHBTD employs an alternative, fearless perspective to that end, which explains in part the name and attitude the founders bring to bear on their objective.
“Same-sex marriage, street art, female voting, racial discrimination, hip hop, things that are prohibited, that have been prohibited,” said Sutton-Shearer, listing just a few of the issues that inflame the staff and their audience. He added, with emphasis, “Cannabis is the root of everything we do; the reason we are here as an organization.”
Structurally, PRØHBTD is composed of three parts that interact organically with one another in the course of a day or a minute. As explained by Sutton-Shearer, “PRØHBTD Media creates branded content to help brands tell their stories about their products and services. PRØHBTD Studios tells native stories that are not paid for brands. And then we have PRØHBTD.com, which is our direct-to-consumer platform where we can put all our content.”
PRØHBTD Media is a vehicle to shine light on brands using storytelling, he added, clarifying, “Brands are our customers—our partners who enable us to produce great content the audience can enjoy, learn from, and share with their friends. Consumers are our audience in terms of the content we make.
“The majority of these brands want more awareness and a positive sentiment about their brand and their product and service, and most of all they want to drive sales,” he continued. “The one thing we do best as a leader in the content creation space is help people drive more awareness and sales.”
The primary vehicle for creating awareness for brands is PRØHBTD.com, a newly redesigned version of which was developed and is overseen by Huffman. “We distribute through our site first. That’s our platform,” he said. “I run the products and development of the website, which is very design-heavy and built for video first.”
The company is also building mobile products—specifically, a native iOS app that will be ready sometime this summer, followed by an Android version of the app. “Obviously, many people consume video on their phones and that is only going to continue, so we want to be on the forefront of that,” said Huffman. “We’re really excited. We use PRØHBTD.com as the hub, the destination, but that’s just the beginning. Drake takes it from there and gets our content through all these partnerships on all these amazing platforms.”
Sutton-Shearer concurred. “The content is nothing without the platform,” he said. “Kieve is on the product side and with our website takes our content and distributes it to the masses. Beyond our platform, it goes to Roku, AppleTV, Amazon Fire, and similar platforms.”
PRØHBTD content on the aforementioned platforms is available free of charge for consumers. “No subscription fees,” declared Sutton-Shearer. “We believe in hyper-servicing the brands in the cannabis space while we create incredible content.”
The extended reach enables PRØHBTD to increase brand awareness commensurately. Even better, while cannabis content may once have been all but invisible on the leading mainstream platforms, Sutton-Shearer said, “They are now looking at us and saying, ‘We have cannabis content we should put front and center on our menu.’”
The upside for brands investing in sponsored content is obvious. “In six months we have expanded our potential reach from 50,000 to 100 million consumers,” explained Sutton-Shearer.
But PRØHBTD has another ace up its sleeve: a mind-boggling view-through rate—meaning, the percentage of people who watch a given piece of content all the way through. According to Sutton-Shearer, “When people are watching short-form content—three- to five-minute digital video content online—the view-through rates are very insignificant. But we’re finding that with our content in the cannabis space, of the viewers watching our short content, 95 percent are watching all the way through—a 95-percent view-through rate. That is insanely exciting for us.”
Otten concurred. “We’re seeing very similar stats across all the channels and, significantly, if we are feeding a Facebook consumer who primarily consumes Facebook media, we’re giving them the opportunity to watch the entire episode on Facebook. What’s great about it is that if someone like, say, [musician] Chief Greenbud, a good friend of ours—who has been around for a while and has about two-and-a-half million followers—likes a piece of content and shares it, that is audience extension for us. What we’re also finding is that while our core audience is watching our content all the way through, when it gets shared and syndicated through other Facebook pages, for instance, those viewers are also watching it all the way through, which tells us that we’re creating the sort of content that not just PRØHBTD fans or customers want to see, but that people all around us want to see, as well.”
Needless to say, that argument gives the team a lot to work with. “One of the biggest problems is that brands hate paying for things that don’t get seen,” Otten said. “If they don’t get seen, there is no brand lift. So, when we know we have that sort of view-through rate, we can look a brand in the eye and tell them that when an extended audience watches our content they are watching that brand in action 9.5 times all the way through to the end.”
Show me the Money
PRØHBTD derives its revenue from a variety of sources, according to Sutton-Shearer. “Through sponsored content, licensing, lead generation, and also affiliate marketing for the editorial content,” he said, adding that the cost to a brand for sponsored content starts at $3,500 for product or service integration and runs up to $50,000 for more long-term engagement that also involves content marketing.
The long-term perspective is essential to the business plan. “With PRØHBTD Studios, we’re looking to own content. We’re not just a production company,” explained Sutton-Shearer. “When you look at everything we do, we produce our own content, whether it’s for us or other brands. We take that content and distribute it on our website and through other platforms, and then we are able to re-cut that footage and do things like specials that we can then license to over-the-top companies like Netflix or Hulu. There are also opportunities to build libraries, because our primary goal as a content company is to have the best broadcast-quality library content available of cannabis-themed content. We’ve already got over 100 videos produced in six months alone.”
That perspective, plus the company’s hardcore dedication to its principle of authenticity, enable it to make some seemingly non-business-friendly decisions. “We turn people down probably five or six times a week that have money and could help our business right now, because, frankly, they have shit products,” said Sutton-Shearer. “But if we love a cannabis company and they do not have the budget because they are a startup, we will absolutely help them out—even if that means putting them in a show or giving them shout-outs or integrating their product into something we’re doing—in order to give them more audience, because that’s how you build great partnerships. We think that will come back to us.”
It may already be starting to come back. “Very large ad agencies are calling us at the moment and asking us what’s going on in the space with video programming,” said Sutton-Shearer, who was understandably unwilling to name agencies not quite ready to pull the trigger. Nonetheless, he said, “They are hyper-interested in taking their clients’ money and putting it into video pre-roll and other advertising. They are not jumping in today, but we are talking with them to try to figure out what sort of programming we can do. It’s coming down the pike.”
Otten added, “There is definitive interest in cannabis-specific content, meaning they are looking to do shows with cannabis in them. Then there is the route we are more interested in, which is where we just tell great stories that include cannabis. If you tell a great story that has great characters, writing, and production, people will watch it all day, and if it has cannabis in it, all the better.”
Full circle, it all comes back to the stories, encompassing a range of written and animated content in addition to the video—and the storytellers who make up the current crop of PRØHBTD performers and hosts, including the courageous (and often audacious) individuals Gerald “Slink” Johnson; Aristotle Georgeson, aka Blake Vapes, and Adrienne Airhart; Elijah Daniel and Christine Sydelko; and Chris “The Herbal Chef” Sayegh.
“Typically, talent forgo fees in exchange for some upside and in doing so, it enables us to invest more in production and also helps to create ‘actual’ partnerships with the talent where everyone wins when the show does well,” said Sutton-Shearer. “This also helps to build more of a familial vibe. We’re fortunate in that our talent are all very passionate about what we’re doing and how we collaborate with them on the shows.
“We have very big goals and objectives, but we’re a startup,” he continued. “We are constantly in fundraising mode, constantly in marketing mode, and always in content-creation mode. Everything we do walks toward the larger objectives. We certainly see ourselves with the opportunity to be a major player, and we have some great things to announce soon that we think people will be very excited to know.”
One thing that’s exciting that they can talk about is virtual reality. “We have a 360 experience that is being finalized from the last Cannabis Cup with Slink as our tour guide,” commented Sutton-Shearer. “There are 19 million VR headsets already on the market, so it’s a big part of what we want to do. We’re definitely looking to do unique 360 experiences. We want it to be something that is worthwhile that no one else has.”
Mavericks in their thinking, true to their business ethic, these ambitious bards of bud are poised to engage the world at every level. “We’re looking to create content on the PROHBTD Studio side that will likely be financed or co-financed in conjunction with a major network or over-the-top network or other people we are in talks with,” said Otten. “Networks aren’t afraid of cannabis.”
He paused a moment before adding, “We’re in a unique time, not just in the cannabis space but in the content space, as well.”
CO-FOUNDER – PARTNERSHIPS & MARKETING
+ Award-winning entrepreneurial entertainment and brand-marketing background.
+ Brand solutions and strategy at Prodege, (third-fastest-growing Internet company * Deloitte).
CO-FOUNDER – OPERATIONS & PRODUCT
+ BMG / Infospace digital media executive.
+ Corporate expertise and startup product experience.
CO-FOUNDER – CONTENT
+ Producer of documentaries, films, and short-form content.
+ Digital agency focused on branded content and strategy
Select partners include companies and institutions engaged with PRØHBTD to help fuel new growth initiatives
Wharton Business School provides support for the company’s e-commerce and content strategy through M– — USE.
The Smell the Truth partnership provides PRØHBTD with access to a vast global audience stemming from its relationship with SFGate, the seventh-largest daily newspaper website in the U.S.
Emmy Award-winning Therapy Studios produced the Foo Fighters docuseries Sonıc Hıghways for HBO. The studio is co-producing a lifestyle food-focused docuseries with PRØHBTD called Braized & Confused.
Award-winning ShadowMachine produces Millennial-focused animated shows including Bojack Horseman, Robot Chicken, and Trip Tank. ShadowMachine is co-producing an animated series with PRØHBTD.
Mantis is the leading cannabis ad network with more than 10 million monthly readers across 150 publishing partners. PRØHBTD and Mantis have partnered to offer video production services to Mantis advertisers.
Oaksterdam University has partnered with PRØHBTD for the popular animated LEARN series.
Green Street is a leading creative agency in the cannabis industry with celebrity clientele. PRØHBTD partnered with the agency to produce a new show and provide production capabilities to Green Street’s client offerings.
Format is an award-winning industry leader in film/TV music supervision, overseeing large-scale projects including The Avengers, Iron Man, Transformers, Empire, and Straight Outta Compton. The company partnered with PRØHBTD to provide Hollywood-quality background music and songs for visual media.
Braized & Confused: In this docuseries, Chris “The Herbal Chef” Sayegh merges the exploration of Anthony Bourdain with the hunting skills of Bear “Man Vs. Wild” Grylls and infuses the result with cannabis for an unforgettable viewing experience. Currently in development; will begin production this summer.
Modern Grower: Host Felix Fang introduces viewers to leading-edge companies and brands making innovative strides in the grow, extraction, edibles, and infrastructure industries within the cannabis marketplace. Currently wrapping up production on season one with the first few episodes available online.
Get Loud! with Slink Johnson: Hang out with Slink as he travels around the world in search of the loudest people, place, things, and activities—not to mention cannabis. Currently wrapping up production on season one with the first few episodes available online.
High Concept: Adrienne and Aristotle host this fully medicated talk show featuring celebrity guests, hilarious skits, product demos, and in-the-street interviews predicated on current, topical events and themes. Currently shooting season one for release this summer.
Social : Rising social media stars and comedians Elijah Daniel and Christine Sydelko headline this humorous look at the growing world of social media influencers and branded content creators—a millennial version of The Office. Currently in development; will shoot this summer.
PRØHBTD is concurrently producing fourteen original shows in various stages of production and development. The company self-finances and selectively partners for third-party funding. Send any inquiries about investment or product integration to [email protected]
This article originally appeared in our May issue.