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.

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

reefer madness poster perpetuates marijuana stereotypes

We’ll Help With Your Marijuana Marketing and Propaganda

Yes, marketing and propaganda. That’s what was written on the LARA checklist for applicants seeking a marijuana business license in Michigan. Under the Step 2: License Specific Application Checklist, Business Specifications there is a box to check: Copy of Marketing Plan (advertising, propaganda, etc).

Marketing plans, we’re all about creating those. Advertising, we’re pros at it. We’ll get the word out about your medical marijuana business.

But propaganda, etc. Let’s talk about that for a minute.

MMFL Application Checklist
MMFL Application Checklist

Propaganda. What does it remind you of? Perhaps Adolf Hitler and the propaganda campaigns that came from his Ministry of Propaganda and Enlightenment. The Catholic Church used the word first in 1622 when it determined it would go forth into the world and begin converting people to its faith. The American government put resources in getting citizens fired up for the World War II effort, too. And we can’t forget Reefer Madness and all of that anti-cannabis propaganda that is part of our history.

The Latin root of propaganda is from propagate or spread.

definition of the word propagandaPropaganda is a word that’s generally negative; it’s about a single point of view, is meant to be persuasive and is often biased and misleading. It’s not a word that is used often or lightly. Synonyms for propaganda include: disinformation, hype, evangelism, brainwashing, inculcation, publicity, newspeak and hogwash. That’s not the work that we do at Canna Communication and we wonder why LARA chose this specific word for its checklist for licensees.

There are two things about propaganda to be considered. First is the intention of propaganda, the second are the tools of propaganda. The tools and intentions are mixed when they’re discussed, but they’re really two different things.

The intention of propaganda is to strongly persuade people to think or behave in a certain way. The tools of propaganda are still the tools of communication today, advertising, signage, posters, fliers, videos and news stories. New to the toolbox is the internet and social media.

Fake news is the new propaganda.

Canna Communication wants to help people understand the properties and power of medicinal marijuana. We want to promote good cannabis growing practices, show how high-quality edibles are made and safely consumed and we’re all about the use of the plant by interested adults. We don’t think using propaganda techniques is what licensing is about—we’re not forcing the use of cannabis on an unsuspecting public. We’re about honest communication, listening to the public and creating great content that attracts customers.

We’re ready to help you create your marketing plan for licensing and your company’s future growth. When it comes to propaganda though, we’ll choose the words more carefully.

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.