postcard that was mailed to voters

Voting YES for Medical Marijuana Zoning

A Canna Communication Case Study

Early last summer we were contacted by a cannabis entrepreneur that was facing opposition to a medical marijuana grow business in Egelston Township, Michigan. He realized he needed professional communication assistance with this issue and we jumped right in.

Background:
The elected officials in Egelston Township opted-in for medical marijuana businesses in late 2017. Soon after opting in, the entrepreneur/grower who had already purchased property in the township started construction on buildings for greenhouses and a provisioning center. In the spring of 2018, a resident of the municipality who is also a developer that owns a subdivision adjacent to the two greenhouses under construction began circulating a petition to upend medical marijuana zoning in the community. The petitions were validated by the township clerk, and the proposal would appear on the mid-term ballot. If the vote didn’t go the grower’s way, he would lose the opportunity to have any cannabis business in the township.

We were asked to create a campaign to persuade voters to keep medical marijuana zoning in the township.

We provided the client with a full political campaign proposal and he chose to rely on web, social media, direct mail, and yard signs. Our messaging focused on providing accurate information and guiding conversations while helping people understand two issues: zoning and medical marijuana.

Strategy:
After a discovery meeting with the client, his horticulturist, attorney and a business colleague we wrote a set of key messages that went to the heart of the zoning issue.

The messages focused on:

  • The township has done its due diligence in creating medical marijuana zoning and the work should be respected.
  • The township work was done with multiple opportunities for public input and within the open meetings act.
  • Ensuring people knew this was a medical marijuana business issue. Adding to the complexity was that Michigan voters were going to vote on recreational marijuana, too. This was a separate issue, but also on the ballot. This was a point of confusion for people.
  • Voting yes for medical marijuana zoning.

We created a theme for the campaign and began work on developing a website and a Facebook page. We presented Egelston Grows Green as the theme because it spoke to the idea of growth in the township, not only cannabis itself but jobs and tax revenue. We wanted to include the township name in the theme to create a sense of place, identity and pride.

The key messages were used to create website content, to launch the Facebook page and to provide content throughout the summer. As it came closer to election time, we promoted the vote and ended each post with a Vote YES for medical marijuana zoning message.

photo of the egelston grows green facebook page
Facebook cover photograph

Significant challenges and opportunities for execution:
One of the most significant challenges we faced was the convoluted language that was in the petition and on the ballot. We knew that the best thing we could do was to make it simple for voters to understand and accurate to the ballot. We chose: vote yes for medical marijuana zoning.

In May of 2018, Facebook put restrictions on two essential parts of our campaign: political advertising and marijuana pages. The platform required anyone wanting to conduct political advertising to supply a physical mailing address and a copy of a photo ID like a driver’s license. We did this but were thwarted by another new policy that made marijuana pages unsearchable. Cannabis pages and groups that had been easy to find for years had disappeared from the search tool, and Facebook was denying requests to boost to create ads for all marijuana businesses regardless of what they did, i.e., law firms and accountants were being denied promotional space. This made launching the site and promoting content a challenge, especially for a new page. We relied on a network of advocates to share our daily posts and a popular community-centric Facebook page, Wolf Lake World News. We posted our information on that site and engaged in multiple conversations there, too.

We created the website egelstongrowsgreen.com for key messages and details about the growing operation, that people had an interest in. They wanted to know how this business could potentially affect them: everything from the smell, to security, to job creation, to compliance, water use and plant waste. We posted two informational videos to the page as well. All the time we are reinforcing the message about voting yes for medical marijuana.

yard sign about voting yes for medical marijuanaOne month before the election we helped the client with a succinct, clear message for yard signs and designed a postcard for voters. These collateral materials reinforced the singular importance of voting yes for medical marijuana zoning. The postcards were mailed to the 7500 voters in the township. The client also held a yard sign pick-up event with principals on-site to answer questions. 

postcard that was mailed to voters to encourage them to vote yes for medical marijuana
front of the postcard

In the days before the election, one of the business partners secured a video interview with a hyperlocal indie news channel, and we were able to share that interview and clear up some of the misconceptions that the opposition was promoting.

Outcome:
Great news! The voters of Egelston Township approved the zoning ordinance 1921 to 1751 votes.

marijuana plants are part of any new marijuana business

Fire Up! PR Musts Your New Marijuana Business Needs

If you are the owner of a new marijuana business, you’re probably thinking about a lot of things: compliance, human resources, inventory, customer service, security and how to handle all those twenty dollar bills! We hope you’ve given some thought to your marketing communication plan, too.  Like most pursuits, taking the first step is the hardest part. To make that first step a bit easier, we suggest getting things underway with these six simple-ish things.

Develop Your Story.

People want to know how and WHY you got into the cannabis business, they want to hear about your vision and values around your business, too. These are vital parts of your company story. You’re in the medical marijuana business and it’s important, outside of making money, to tell people why you’re doing what you’re doing. Some of it’s personal, like fighting cancer or helping a family with an epileptic child; some of it might be business-related, as in you want to create jobs and contribute to the economy. Whatever your reason for being in the cannabis business, start forming a relatable story. Every successful company has a story.

Be an Expert About Cannabis.

marijuana plants are part of any new marijuana businessTake time every day to read/watch/listen to cannabis news, especially regarding Michigan and cannabis as medicine. You expect expertise from businesses you patronize and your customers expect the same from you. You need to be able to help people understand the business of cannabis, too. Be accurate with your information and data, you don’t want to be the source of bad information. This acquired expertise will also help you as you connect with the media where your business is located.

Reach Out to The Media.

Media relations begins with getting to know the media. The newspaper reporters, radio personalities and TV journalists in your own community need to know who you are and what you’re doing in the medical marijuana industry. Reach out to them and make sure they know you are available as a resource for future cannabis stories. When you are awarded your license and start to establish your business make sure the media is the first to know.

Create Content and Be Social.

You’ve probably heard a lot about content lately. New and fresh content drives traffic to your website, and makes people come back for more, it’s the gasoline of SEO or search engine optimization. Content is the words, videos reading glasses and some content for a new marijuana businessand images that you put on your website and on your social media pages. It needs refreshing regularly. High-quality content is an integral part of communication and marketing and while you’re selling something, you’re also helping people understand the why of what you’re doing. If you don’t have social media pages for your company, yet, get them established. You can do this long before your new marijuana business is open. It’s good to get your name out there, connect with people and practice your content posting habits.

Discover Your Niche.

While you want to work with everyone and provide medical marijuana to anyone with a card, there’s good reason to have some of your business be a bit specialized. Having a niche makes you different and will help you stand out from your competitors. To discover your niche, you need a passion about something you can address, you need to deeply know the audience you want to reach, you’ll need to research them and their interests, buying habits and behaviors and craft messages to them. Your niche interest needs to be authentic.

Define Your Brand.

A brand is the outfacing image of your business and its inner personality. It starts with your logo and is part of everything about your company including customer interactions. A brand is the personality of your company, not only who you say you are, but more importantly, what others say about you, too. Your brand is the culmination of YOUR work AND customer relationships. It is formed by the content you create, the story you tell, what you share on social sites and how you respond to a crisis. People outside your company will also determine your brand by their opinions, ideas and reviews, but it’s mostly formed by your content, interactions, voice and how your company behaves in the community.

Interested in learning more? Need help getting started?

We’d love to help you move your new marijuana business forward. Drop us a note and we’ll be in touch.

photo of newspaper articles about canna communication

Public Relations Can Help Grow Your Marijuana Business

Public relations is a powerful force for launching and growing a cannabis business. There are restrictions on advertising for marijuana in many states. Twitter, Facebook and Google are often unfriendly to marijuana businesses even in medical states, so PR is the most effective method for getting the word out about your business.

Public Relations is About Influencing and Engaging People and Building Relationships.

Part of our work as cannabis professionals is educating and informing people about the variety of products available and the health benefits of marijuana. People are hungry to learn about marijuana and the plant has a history rooted in misconception and myth. It’s our responsibility to help make sense of the information that’s out there and provide well-sourced educational content to interested audiences.

Public+Relations

Let’s talk about the public. It’s important to keep in mind that there is no general public. Audiences can be divided and dissected in a variety of ways.

Gender, geography, income, age, role and generation are common demographics markers. Anyone you come into contact with through your business is the public.

The relations part is about education, messaging and influencing. It’s about listening to what people are saying, reacting, reinforcing or reviewing messages and providing continuous accurate information that helps move your cause, effort or business forward.

Cannabis businesses and advocates will need to constantly educate and inform their audiences, whether it is about the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine or debunking the Nixon-era lies. For the near future, we will be educating people about the plant and the legitimacy of our work.

The Public Relations RACE

There’s a formula that’s the basic construct for PR activities. The acronym is RACE and it’ll help you be strategic in your public relations efforts.

  • R is for Research Why research? Because even though you know a lot, you need to validate your assumptions and learn what’s out a young woman reading at the lakethere.This is where you explore your potential audiences, your competition, the landscape of legislation and how people are reacting to what you are doing. You can read articles on a topic you want to know more about, you can ask questions of people who are potential customers; you can do a Survey Monkey or a poll on Twitter or Facebook.
  • A is for Action planning, this is where you (or a professional like Canna Communication) creates a communication plan. It will have concrete goals, objectives, strategies and tactics.
  • C is for Communication, this is the fun part where you can dream up all the cool things that you’re going to do to get the word out and inform people about your product or service. It might be a launch party, a press event or outreach, creating a video, or a printed piece. It could include blog content, a Facebook Live broadcast, a webinar, a social campaign or an open house. Each of these tactics takes time and money, so you need to evaluate which provides the most bang for your buck.
  • E is for Evaluation. After all the work is done you need to take a hard look at what worked and what didn’t; see if you can determine why something was a success or a failure. By doing an evaluation, you’ll know what to do next time and have a record of why you succeeded or failed.

Working with the Media in your Marijuana Business

Public relations work is deeply connected to the news media. Media relations begins with getting to know the reporters in your own community. You can review articles on TV station, newspaper and radio websites and see who’s been covering cannabis and if they have any bias. If they’ve taken a negative stand in the past, perhaps can you help turn that around with better information and establish a relationship with the reporter.

Why the News Media Matters

Even with thousands of social media followers, to some degree, you are a newspaper and a breakfast traypreaching to the choir. The media can be very effective in increasing your exposure to a larger audience and to people who know nothing about your business. A news story will expose you to more people than you could ever acquire on your own, hundreds of thousands vs. just thousands.

Media relations is much more than sending a press release or making a pitch—it’s positioning yourself as an expert in the cannabis business and being available to the media as a trusted source and resource.

Public Relations is a No Spin Zone

PR sometimes gets a bad rap and the word spin gets used a lot. In our communication practice, there is no spin, there are no alternative facts.

To be a good media source, you have to be 100 percent honest, 100 percent of the time.

You can’t claim that cannabis cures anything, but you can provide the media with sources (people) that support your views and product. One person’s story isn’t a factual claim; it’s anecdotal evidence that can be powerful and compelling. And in cannabis, it’s these thousands of real stories that are building the credibility of our industry.

photo of public relations professional Roberta KingWant to learn more about public relations for your cannabis business and how to expand your reach? Let’s talk!
Contact Roberta F. King, APR at Canna Communication.
Her email is roberta@cannacommunication.com

Photo credits:
Reading on the dock: photo by Bethany Laird on Unsplash
Breakfast tray: Photo by Eddie Garcia on Unsplash

image of canadian prime minister justin trudeau

Cannabis Growth, Canada and Some Good News Sites to Check Out

It’s an understatement to say that cannabis is going to be an economic game-changer. Recently ArcView Group, which does cannabis research and polling revealed that this year, cannabis sales in North America are expected to reach $10 billion, that’s a 33 percent increase over 2016. Legalization in Canada is a significant part of this projected increase.

Cannabis news is popping up everywhere and mainstream media is covering it regularly.

Think back to other growth industries—automotive, tech, pharma, banking, manufacturing and oil—each of them were heavily covered by the media during their boom periods. While the media has shrunk and local reporters are covering multiple beats, there are reliable resources for cannabis news. We believe it is important for people to carefully source the news they read and share.

We’ve had enough fake news and alternative facts for a lifetime.

So, Canada—the WHOLE country not just a province or two—is going to have adult-use legalized cannabis starting in July 2018. It’s been big news in Canada and not without its challenges and controversies. It’s amazing to an ad from the Winnipeg newspaper about its marijuana websiteconsider how fast this has happened in Canada, really just three years since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made good on his campaign promise. To that end, just last week, the Winnipeg Free Press created a new website for Manitobans (that’s the province where Winnipeg is located) to educate them about the industry and the effect of legalization on the entire country. The site, The Leaf News, is providing, “original cannabis journalism for Canadians.” This new website started us thinking about sources for reliable cannabis news.

These are a few of Our Favorite News Sites

A site worthy of following is The Cannabist. The child of the Denver Post, it covers state and national cannabis news with in-depth reporting on health, politics, business and crime.  It also offers two podcasts as well and interesting pop culture items, like how to make cannabutter, a marijuana glossary, parenting tips and recipes. The site has been around for about since about 2013 and it is content-rich.

Leafly, the dispensary index, and crowd-sourced strain review site has a growing news section, too.  Among the news topics covered you’ll find science, tech, health, politics, food, travel, sex, and Canada. Editing and writing for Leafly is Bruce Barcott, the author of Weed the People and former writer for The New York Times magazine and National Geographic.  Leafly has an interesting video channel, too.

The granddaddy of marijuana news sources is High Times. It’s been around since 1974 and still produces a print magazine as well as a robust website.  It covers business, politics, strains, pop culture and has a lot of fun to read 10 articles—like 10 Best Strains to Improve Your Workout, 10 Horror Movies to Watch When You’re Stoned and the like. It has lots of aggregated and original reporting.

Also noteworthy is Ganjapreneur. It is focused on news for people who are working in, or interested in working in cannabis and does some good reporting on cannabis growth and news from across the US. This U.S. map is helpful if you’re looking for the cannabis legalization status and news for each state.

One of the most robust aggregating sites is 420intel that touts itself as a global news source. We can’t vouch for all of the sources of news—though at the very end of the story—they do reveal the original source. That’s helpful for discerning news junkies.

Worth a shout out, too, is Michigan’s own Detroit Metro Times. The alternative weekly has been covering marijuana in Michigan with more than a passing interest for a few years. It’s Higher Ground column covers a variety of cannabis issues and is worth checking out, just pop Higher Ground in the search box.

Why I Gave It All Up for Marijuana

It wasn’t exactly a revelation or a call from God, but for me, it was close.

I’d been noodling the idea of doing communication consulting for a few years. As a senior public relations practitioner, it felt like where my career should go. I didn’t, though, like the idea of being a general practitioner. I wanted whatever came next to be meaningful, special and interesting. I was waiting for that idea to come to me.

The Revelation

On a November evening in 2016, I heard a NPR story about a cannabis industry trade show. What caught my attention was the hundreds, if not thousands, of ancillary businesses that support growing and distributing marijuana. The lights, fertilizers, air exchange systems, grow systems, edible products, star-powered cannabis brands, packaging, vape pens and security systems. It wasn’t about selling flower, but the picks and shovels of this green gold rush. I knew exactly where I was supposed to go next—into cannabis communication.

I secured the domain Canna Communication (how did no one already own this, I still wonder) and then jumped into my more formal education about cannabis.  It wasn’t good enough that I liked pot—I needed to know it. I started meeting people in the business, reading books and articles, and listening to podcasts. I stopped being a marijuana mooch and got a Michigan Medical Marihuana card for chronic knee and back pain, the result of years of running.

Cannabis has always been a part of my life to some degree. While in college, I used marijuana socially and recreationally. I learned to roll a joint using Zig Zags and the cover of any convenient double album.  As an adult I took a hit when it came my way, but didn’t seek it out. I never thought of cannabis a medicine—like for pain—but something for mental relaxation and happiness. As an introvert, cannabis helps me be more engaged with people.

Coming Out for Cannabis

I started to slowly come out—dropping hints on social media by sharing articles about cannabis and telling select people I was moving toward communication consulting in cannabis. It felt good to say it and people’s reactions were one of surprise, validation and connection. The more I talked about cannabis, the more people told me stories about their experience or that of someone they knew. People connected me with people in the business—a brother who made fertilizers, friends who were growers and people who use the plant for all sorts of medical conditions from Epilepsy to cancer therapy. People validated my business assumption that this was a field full of growth potential.

Just more than a half-year after I bought the Canna Communication domain, I walked away from a good-paying, highly visible position to devote myself to sharing information about cannabis and helping people grow their a path in a sand dunebusinesses.

I gave it up because I am sure I’ll get something more than what was left behind.

I aspire to be more self-directed, not just in the work that I do, but in my daily life. I want to complete the narrative about my career; I want it to be about being an entrepreneur and following my intuition about what the future might look like. I envision a story about standing up for something that is changing American culture for the better.

Cannabis is more than a plant for human health—it’s about working for freedom, science, smart public policy and social justice. It’s about being ahead of, and on the right side of history.

Marijuana business plan writing

Strategic Communication for Cannabis: It Doesn’t Happen Overnight

A strategic cannabis communication program takes time to develop. Just like growing a highly productive marijuana plant, appropriate nutes are delivered when needed, lights are timed to the plant’s grow cycle and the grower knows when to cut, dry and trim. Just like growing–communication plans have steps that can’t be skipped or ignored without the peril of a poor outcome.

And as you know—plants don’t grow overnight, in a week or even in a month and they need care and attention.

Communication works best when there’s a strategy—a cohesive plan about getting your message out to potential customers.

photo of a marijuana leaf illustrating communication for cannabisGetting Ready to Grow Your Business Now

As business owners prepare to enter the Michigan Medical Marihuana licensing process, which is still in the development stages, they’re are also waiting to get their communication/marketing plans in order. We understand that creating a brand and communication strategy is an investment of both time and money. But now is the time to develop your marketing communication plan if you are seeking a license. Creating a brand identity, securing a URL, designing a website, creating original content for the site, developing a media kit, creating social media campaigns and all of the collateral materials a business needs, takes substantial time to create, refine, launch and implement.

If you’re a Michigan Medical Marihuana license-seeker, consider this: do you want to launch your marketing communication strategy the day you’re approved, or do you want to start developing it that day?

At Canna Communication it’s an easy answer, in the words of Wayne Gretzky—skate where the puck is going, not where it’s been.

Let’s talk, we’re all about communication for cannabis and helping your business grow or get started. If you’re struggling on decision about what you need and how to move forward, we can help.