Cannabis legalization is sweeping the nation. At last count, 38 states – along with Washington, D.C., and three territories – have some form of legal cannabis (adult-use or medicinal) on the books. With dollar signs in mind, many are turning their attention to the Empire State now that New York is finally joining the adult-use marketplace or has at least started to take steps towards a fully operational marketplace. While New York will be one of the most dynamic and vibrant cannabis markets in the country, it’s also going to be extremely competitive. If you’re thinking about getting into the New York green rush, it’s imperative that your brand stands out and as such, entrepreneurs must lay the groundwork for a holistic public relations strategy from day one. But where do you start?
Digital Prohibition Creates Opportunity: Due to the federal prohibition of cannabis, there is also a digital prohibition for traditional marketing and advertising on many platforms. As a result, investing in public relations and working with a team familiar with the challenges of cannabis media is crucial. While some may view this as a disadvantage, it gives those who are willing to invest the time, effort, and money into growing and developing the market the upper hand. Expending the energy to lay the groundwork will better position businesses to break through the noise of an increasingly crowded market.
Get High on Knowledge: The New York cannabis marketplace – both legal and legacy – is not for the faint of heart. If you want to succeed in New York, it’s critical that you educate yourself and work with a team who knows the cannabis community and cannabis regulations. Your team should help connect you with the major business organizations who represent the industry, such as the New York Cannabis Growers & Processors Association, the New York Medical Cannabis Industry Association, the Cannabis & Hemp Networking Association of New York, as well as prominent advocates for legalization and social justice, including the Last Prisoner Project, Drug Policy Alliance, On the REVEL and High NY. Get to know the cannabis beat reporters at statewide outlets and subscribe to relevant local and trade cannabis newsletters, such as NY Cannabis Insider, MJBizDaily and Marijuana Moment. Finally, follow New York regulators, elected officials, and business leaders on social media to ensure you are always in the know.
What’s Your Why? Aside from a desire to make money, you must be able to clearly communicate why you are looking to get in on the green rush. What are your personal motivations? Did a relative with cancer or epilepsy find comfort through cannabis treatment? Do you want to right the wrongs of the War on Drugs? Do you want to produce super high-quality cannabis? Whatever the reason, you must identify your “why” to build an authentic brand or offering. If you don’t have a “why,” then create one and stand by it. Modern consumers are looking for passion and authenticity – and they can spot a fake.
Think Local, Act Local: New York’s regulations, stakeholders, and cannabis business infrastructure are all vastly different from any other market or business. As a result, it is necessary for any new entrant or operator to localize their messaging. Commit to your community and local network. If you make the effort to invest in them, they will invest in you. Not only will this continue to build your New York story, but it will simultaneously build strong relationships that will solidify your place in the market and integrate your business into the community.
Educate, Educate, Educate: The cannabis industry is still in its infancy and as a result, sufficiently educating consumers and dispelling lingering stigmas will remain the most critical mission for years to come. If you’re looking to get into the industry, you likely bring expertise or will be organizing a team of experts. Whether it is an expertise in products, retail, construction, cultivation, or wellness, position yourself as a thought leader in the sector through the media and amongst your peers and consumers. This can take shape in the form of bylines, owned website content, sponsored content, and speaking engagements. The more you showcase your expertise and move toward becoming a household name in the Empire State, the sooner you will be able to make valuable connections and get down to business.
Ultimately, public relations is about sending the right messages to the right people in the right places to create a stronger brand reputation. Whether you decide to handle your communication operations internally or outsource it to an agency, it is vital that you take public relations and marketing seriously from the beginning. All too often companies choose to completely ignore investing in communications in favor of business development, only to regret it later.
Jordan Isenstadt is a Senior Vice President at New York City based public relations agency, Marino. Jordan leads a team focused on a burgeoning portfolio of cannabis-focused brands. Prior to his current role, Jordan worked for the New York State Legislature, as well as two New York State Governors. To reach out directly to Jordan, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.