Cannabis is not only a highly regulated industry, limiting exactly how you can promote your product, it’s also a retail product where consumer brand awareness directly translates into sales. As a result, a special breed of public relations and marketing firms has emerged to serve cannabis companies of every kind, from publicly-traded multi-state operators, to smaller dispensary groups, to ancillary service companies that help the cannabis businesses grow.
Grown In recently surveyed our reader to ask their favorite cannabis-knowledgeable firms for a variety of services. These seven firms are the ones readers told us were the ones we had to talk to.
4042North – website
Founded by a group of consumer packaged goods marketing experts, mixed with some cannabis veterans from California’s early days of medical sales, Chicago’s 4042N is a data-heavy marketing firm that specialises on building cannabis consumer brands.
“Cannabis is a retail business, said co-founder Jeff Krucek. “It’s really about understanding the consumer, how the consumer interacts with brands, shops for them, and then developing programs that develop preference and sales for your brands.”
Clients range from large multi-state operators like PharmaCann and Harvest to ancillary companies like Dip Devices, a manufacturer of vaporizing hardware. 4042North creates everything from marketing hardware, to social, email, and influencer marketing campaigns. For dispensary clients, like Michigan’s Green Koi, the firm manages loyalty programs, email digital advertising, and outdoor advertising.
“We work to develop new touch points to bring that brand alive for them and then drive consumers to dispensaries to purchase their products,” said Krucek.
Akrete – website
Originally focusing on finance and commercial real estate publicity, Akrete, based in Chicago and Boston, was pulled into cannabis when a client investment firm introduced them to a vertically-integrated cannabis company launched in Massachusetts.
“We’re primarily a PR firm,” said co-founder Margy Sweeney. “We are great at making thought leadership come to life. Most of the people on our team are former journalists. I’d say our strength is making people’s forward-thinking really come to life. This is true for commercial real estate, finance or cannabis.”
Akrete’s clients include accounting firm MGO’s cannabis practice, Green Meadows Farm, a vertically-integrated cannabis company run by the Patton family (yes, those Pattons) and Cannabis Facility Construction, a construction firm specializing in cannabis builds.
“We love telling the story in media and really articulating the complicated stories of each company,” said Sweeney.
KCSA – website
“About seven years ago, one of the applicants for a medical license in the State of New York came to us to support their effort,” said KCSA principal Jeffrey Goldberger. “So we used PR to raise their profile and help them receive their license. The bad news is they lost. The good news, we garnered more coverage for them than everyone else combined.”
Since then, KCSA, already a 50-year old publicity company based in New York City, has become one of the largest cannabis PR firms, representing MSOs like Curaleaf, 4Front Ventures, and Acreage, to screening Ricki Lake’s documentary “Weed The People”, to holding investor cannabis conferences for publicly-traded cannabis clients, to cannabis investor funds.
“There’s an opportunity for companies that have a truly differentiated business model and one that is fully actionable. There’s an opportunity for those people to grow their businesses, tell their story and separate themselves from those that don’t have all those things going for them,” said Goldberger.
Mattio – website
“I’d been pitching Vogue, and Food and Wine, and when I saw the competition [in cannabis PR], I saw that’s how we could set ourselves apart: We could pitch the trades, which are important, but we also get stories in the New York Times,” said eponymous PR firm founder Rosie Mattio. “We like to say we’re the first ones to get stories in Vogue and Oprah Magazine. We really pushed the envelope. We’ve been able to usher our clients into mainstream media.”
Now with 55 cannabis PR clients, and offices in New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto, Mattio serves businesses like cannabis data company Headset, paraphernalia company Greenlane, and Michigan’s Gage Cannabis.
All of Mattio’s clients are public relations clients first, but the firm also provides social media management and other services.
“We’ve done some cool programs with influencers, which is a huge part of our agency. PR is an important part of cannabis, because of the limitations on advertising. You can’t boost a Facebook or Instagram post. So you need influencers,” said Mattio.
Paradowski – website
The multi-billion dollar agricultural sector historically has been St. Louis PR and marketing firm Paradowski’s focus. Then CBD arrived, and then medical cannabis was legalized in Missouri, so the firm now also creates messaging and branding plans for new cannabis brands popping up in the Midwest.
“We’re focusing on branding and packaging,” said director of project management, Tim Pickett. “We’re helping a couple clients in Missouri build their brand, their brand story and brand message. Translating that from who they are to what they are putting the shelves. It’s been a great experience to come up the journey with them.”
Building brands for cannabis companies like St. Joseph, Missouri-based Vertical Enterprises, the Missouri cannabis trade association, MoCannTrade as well as a few firms that are still in quiet mode before launch, Pickett bills his firm as soup-to-nuts marketing. “Branding, packaging, and web development. We are a full service agency and we do everything from video production to AR/VR.”
Pendulum Strategy Group – website
Based in Springfield, Illinois and Columbus, Ohio, Pendulum Strategy Group is a media relations firm operating on a collective model, says co-founder Chris McCloud. The collective model means everyone in the company works on every client.
“The biggest thing for us that we try to convey to potential clients is that we’re not a big firm, we’re a small firm,” said McCloud. “And the advantage to that, we truly have a philosophy that is, ‘We don’t want to be bigger than we currently are.’ Because when you hire us, you hire myself and my partner Chris Herbert. We’re the people that strategize with you and tell your story. We work with great people. We don’t close a deal and assign your deal to somebody else.”
With clients across the Midwest and New England, Pendulum provides public relations to cannabis companies like Michigan Supply and Provisions, Vermont’s Champlain Valley Dispensary, and ancillary services companies like Apeks Supercritical in Ohio.
“You need to start talking about how you can differentiate yourself. You can do that by really truly being a market expert,” said McCloud. “Not just on your products. People want expert information. And it’s something people are very willing to listen to if you have something knowledgeable to offer.”
Wick & Mortar – website
Running a cannabis marketing agency for the last twelve years, you could call Jared Mirsky, co-founder of Wick & Mortar, an oldtimer. But now, he says about half of his firm’s work is rejuvenation.
“We do a lot of rebrands. There are a lot of companies that start with names they can’t legally own, or don’t have any consistency. Oftentimes they have a brand nobody’s ever seen before. Was it a rebrand, if it was a brand nobody’s ever seen?” said Mirsky.
The firm prides itself on high quality work, like winning a packaging award for Michigan-based Narvona cannabis. It has also managed rebrands for companies like Traverse City’s Olswell Cannabis Co., and Washington State’s Emerald Haze.
“If you are going to invest millions in grow facilities that nobody will ever see, but just two weeks on their brand? People need to recognize this is not an easy thing that takes some time and due diligence. It needs smart people,” said Mirsky.
Note: The original version of this story misstated the relationship Akrete’s client had to a Massachusetts dispensary. It has been corrected.