The Challenges PR & Marketing Pros Face in the Cannabis Industry

While more and more states are legalizing the use of medicinal and recreational cannabis, the industry remains one of the most challenging sectors for public relations. From the legal differences between states to the swaying public opinion, many cannabis companies have difficulty promoting their mission. Here are the four biggest challenges public relations (PR) specialists have when working in the cannabis industry:

 

1. Getting Mainstream Publicity

There are plenty of smaller trade publications that cover all things cannabis, from legislative updates to a brand’s new product launch. These are great options for startups looking to gain recognition in the niche market, and are excellent ways to start to build momentum as a thought leader in the burgeoning industry. These are valuable placements as they often bring clients directly to their target B2B audience.

Unfortunately, due to the lack of public knowledge regarding the industry, there is still a stigma surrounding cannabis. Many mainstream publications are hesitant to feature a cannabis business in fear of public backlash and losing their viewership, or are facing pressures from advertisers or other powers at be. This has forced companies to get creative in their approach to gain widespread attention. 

Some brands have found success in positioning themselves as educators and thought leaders in the space to gain credibility among their target audience. Once trust has been established, businesses are able to make a name for themselves as a resource to more mainstream markets. While this is a difficult strategy to execute, most companies look to a cannabis-focused PR and marketing agency like CMW to help them establish this reputation. This makes it easier to get their name out there and enables them to associate with familiar brands within the industry. CMW has successfully placed clients in mainstream publications like MarketWatch, NBC, or Reader’s Digest.

 

2. State Legality Differences

As of today, 37 states have legalized medicinal cannabis, while only 19 have legalized recreational use. This makes it difficult for PR specialists to promote industry news and company announcements on a national scale – but that’s an exciting challenge that keeps us coming back to work every day! 

This requires a deep industry understanding of the segmentation of the market, which is evolving on what feels like a daily basis. PR pros need to not only stay up to date on industry trends, but be flexible enough to pivot strategy as the legal landscape adjusts. Being first out the gate to offer an expert opinion or industry insight can put your clients on the radar for larger, developing stories. Finding ways to fit your expertise into the news stories that reporters are already writing about, is even better. 

 

3. Advertising Restrictions

While making headlines is difficult, marketing cannabis products can be even more challenging. Since cannabis is still considered a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States, companies are significantly limited in how and where they can market their products or services. Under Schedule I, cannabis cannot be promoted on the radio, in direct mailers, and on nearly any advertisement. However, some states allow for marketing on billboards or in-store signage. Knowing these differences and keeping up with the changes helps our team stay sharp!

These restrictions have required cannabis marketers to get creative when promoting their brand. Some have found success in attending trade shows and launching lifestyle brands that allow them to set up pop-up shops to give out free branded merchandise, such as shirts and bags. 

 

4. Differentiating a Brand in a Crowded Marketplace

Just because cannabis isn’t legal everywhere doesn’t mean it isn’t a competitive market. In California alone, there are over 800 different licensed dispensaries, making it difficult for brands to stand out. Some brands avoid slang words, such as weed or pot, and try to remain neutral by using cannabis which has shown to be less polarizing. Some brands sell different flower strains while others focus on topicals and hemp isolates, such as CBD. Whatever the difference may be, brands have had to learn how to differentiate themselves from the competition. A solid marketing partner is here to help you determine your competitive advantages and share expertise on how your brand is best positioned in this crowded market.

 

Need help with marketing and PR?

CMW Media is a full-service public relations and marketing firm that specializes in emerging markets, including the global cannabis industry. Contact us today to see how we can take your brand to the next level!