Cannabis and the power of PR
The cannabis industry continues to grow, diversify, and evolve at pace. With products and services touching markets from wellness, medical, financial and technological, estimates from cannabis research and data consultancy, Prohibition Partners finds combined global sales of CBD, medical and adult-use cannabis topped US$37.4 billion in 2021, and could rise to US$102 billion by 2026.
Despite its popularity, positive legislative changes and wider social acceptance around the world, image and reputational problems continue to persist.
Ambiguity, misinformation, confusion and contradictions remain – turning cannabis stories into a tale of smoke and mirrors. Equally, for cannabis companies, it’s no longer a legitimate strategy to operate in a communications black-out.
Having worked with several cannabis businesses, entrepreneurs, and campaigners in recent years, I firmly believe that one of the best ways to differentiate and position your cannabis company from the dozens of competitors, normalise the products and services and connect with customers, patients, investors and policymakers is by utilizing public relations.
Today, a strong PR strategy can not only drive media coverage, but help to reach customers, shorten sale cycles, bolster brand reputation and drive change within political and regulatory circles.
For cannabis leaders and professionals looking to invest in PR, it is critical that your PR partner understands the key issues, language, nuances, culture and regulations surrounding the industry in order to create credible stories and campaigns to gain cut-through with key audiences.
Whether you are a thriving cannabis brand, a start-up or an established business, PR can help you tell your story, master your messages and be at the centre of the right conversations in a credible and authentic way.
Cannabis businesses can profit and articulate their purpose in the following ways:
Align hearts and minds with a strong real-life campaign
Each category of the cannabis sector faces its own reputational challenges. Medical cannabis is perhaps the most significant of these, yet it still is largely misinterpreted by the general public. This, along with regulatory constraints and a lack of education in the clinical community means cannabis stigma continues to exist.
For the thousands of patients suffering with the likes of multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and epilepsy, still struggling to access medical cannabis (legalised in Nov 2018), this continues to be a sad, pressing issue. There are several families and individuals across the UK who campaign for medical cannabis access to be improved, by leveraging their story via the press and lobbying Parliament. Some of these high-profile families have been supported through strategic communications at The PHA Group, most notably Hannah Deacon, the mother who successfully campaigned for the first NHS cannabis license for her son, as well as the parents of toddler Charlie Hughes
Both cases offer compelling proof of the role PR can play in supporting those in need of medical cannabis. By briefing key journalists and generating media coverage, the complex issue of medical cannabis access has been propelled into the public eye, which in turn pushes the Government to address the roadblocks.
Build and manage your reputation
CBD is the most recognised sector of the UK cannabis industry, having become firmly connected to the lifestyle scene in recent years with is broad range of health and wellness products. Research from Alphagreen.io, the UK’s largest marketplace for certified CBD products, suggests that more than eight million Britons are now buying CBD products, with spending exceeding £150m in the first four months of 2020 alone. Consumers and investors are overloaded with choice for ‘Wellness’ products containing CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids. In a competitive marketplace, brands must focus on gaining recognition and brand awareness or else be lost in the crowd.
Despite its remarkable growth, the industry has faced several stumbling blocks. Until this year, CBD had been in a period of regulatory uncertainty and the industry faced understandable criticism when high profile cannabis investigations found over half of the most popular CBD oils did not contain the amount of CBD promised on the label. Mislabeling, bad quality products fraudulent health claims and aggressive marketing sowed distrust and led to the Food Standards Agency announcing in 2020, new rules the form of a Novel Food License for CBD companies if they wanted to continue selling their products.
The FSA and many industry players wanted the sector to be better regulated so that consumers can trust what they are buying. In March 2022, the much-anticipated list of CBD products linked to a credible application for authorisation was finally published. The idea is that if a product is not on the list, it should be removed from sale. Businesses now have until 26 May 2022 to submit evidence that their products are linked to a credible application and were on the market before February 2020.
Trust is a precious commodity. With hundreds of brands keen to tout their FSA credentials to establish credibility and superiority, issuing the right message, in the right place, at the right time, talking to the right target audience is key.
Driving awareness drives revenue. It doesn’t matter if your story and products are revolutionary if nobody knows they exist! For CBD companies who rely on e-commerce, if no one is listening, no one is engaging on your socials or clicking on your website, your product or services won’t sell.
PR can help build a narrative which tells the purpose of your business, along with its vision and products, whilst promoting key insights to keep your company relevant. The power of public relations in this regard is very akin to that of positive word-of-mouth.
Strategic Brand Building
Cannabis companies can’t promote like mainstream companies, so must always tread carefully in the marketing of their products. However, there are plenty of opportunities that can leverage consumer and corporate PR support, SEO and digital services plus influencer marketing to create a narrative and build a buzz to generate brand value.
Stories sell. It’s crucial for a brand to promote consistent, informative and interesting stories that build authority and credibility. Coupled with a digital marketing and social media strategy, it can also boost engagement, increase website traffic, and raise the profile of the business.
Cannabis is a commonplace yet spectacularly complex plant. Whilst there is still much to learn and navigate in cannabis, PR has an essential role to play in driving conversations and changing attitudes as the industry continues to expand and evolve.
Get in touch today to discuss how our award-winning team of experts could help.