PR Companies are Normalizing Cannabis

An Innovative Blueprint for Positive Representation

We’re a cannabis publication; weed is our bread and (canna)butter. But how do more mainstream publications deal with the topic of cannabis? How can we ensure we’re being fairly represented across multiple media platforms, with content devoid of fear-mongering and reefer madness?

I recently had the chance to speak with Matt Rizzetta, CEO of N6A, a public relations and social media agency that won a PRWeek “Best Places to Work” award and Digiday’s Most Innovative Culture Award finalist. N6A was one of the first mainstream PR agencies to take on cannabis clients, and despite some initial fears, Rizzetta believes it was the right move.

But how can PR companies help us in the fight to normalize the plant? It’s simple: positive representation. To peel back the curtain a bit, in my own writing I sometimes rely on story tips and compelling figures brought to my attention by various PR account executives. Yes, most of my stories come from the mind of yours truly, but there are days when I need an idea, or at least a starting point, and PR firms can offer up the seed of something interesting. They connect me with their client—whether it’s a doctor, engineer, scientist, entrepreneur or similarly impressive figure—and I conduct my interview from there. These connections are important; the more stories we tell, the more likely we’ll be to win over the minds of anti-cannabis crusaders.

N6A doesn’t just reach out to cannabis publications, however. Rizzetta told me that trade press (i.e., cannabis-centered publications) is important to their cannabis clients—who run the gamut from the medical and tech side of things to cannabis producers and processors—but the ultimate goal is mainstream press. With cannabis regulations differing from state to state, they focus on stories that can be told in multiple marketplaces, with universal message and appeal.

Cannabis is “still a very nascent industry” that’s “constantly evolving,” Rizzetta notes, and with so much uncertainty and novelty, the industry is rife for misunderstandings and stereotypes. A cannabis client and their services can’t be taken seriously if consumers don’t fully understand, say, the difference between CBD and THC.

“Generally speaking,” affirms Rizzetta, “we have an education-first mindset.” When they choose to work with cannabis clients, they want thought leaders in various spheres with diversified backgrounds who value “education and leadership first, and product second.” There are so many arenas to cover—health and wellness, personalized medicine, recreation, lifestyle—that they customize messaging, matching each sector and publication with a corresponding expert.

Rizzetta offers up the example of his parents, who are in their seventies: “They’re just as interested in learning about cannabisin media as millennials . . . [but] they might go to TheNew York Times [for information], just as a millennial might go to DOPE [Magazine].”

When they first started working with cannabis clients in late 2014, “there were obviously some concerns,” Rizzetta admits. As one of the first mainstream PR agencies to take on cannabis clients, they were entering new territory and potentially risked alienating anti-cannabis clients. “I wish had a much more dramatic story,” Rizzetta laughs, but reports a complete lack of pushback.

“Our first batch of clients alleviated those fears,” he asserts, and convinced him they’d made the right decision. “We were dipping our toe in the water. We didn’t just dive in—we did it in phases.” The move towards cannabis was intentional, initially picking companies that weren’t cannabis-facing, such as producers and processors, and instead focusing on ancillary services: finance, recruiting, dataand more. “There was a level of selflessness there,” Rizzetta reports, commending those early clients who took their role as educators seriously and put their products and services on the backburner.

For my final question, Rizzetta proved that the path of education goes both ways. I couldn’t help but ask him about work-life balance at his company, as N6A’s “Compete and Care” and “Embrace the Pace” programs have been lauded for their ingenuity and commitment to employee happiness. The PR account executive who set up the interview between myself and Rizzetta, for instance, recently won a free trip to Hawaii through said programs.

Rizzetta maintains that their “philosophy and internal culture applies to all industries,” and that it’s not just a matter of finances. “No matter how much money a company has,” he continues, “you can treat people the right way . . . Frankly, I think cannabis should be at the front of that line.”

Ours is a rapidly growing industry, and I mentioned how startups can sometimes carry a company culture where employees are expected to be grateful to be there, without benefits or a work-life balance to speak of. “It should be the opposite—‘We feel grateful to have you here,’” argues Rizzetta. Be innovative, he advises to fledgling cannabusinesses, and invest in your employees. Even just at N6A, he reports they receive three to four times the number of resumes for their cannabis division than any other department, stating, “Everyone wants to work in cannabis.”

Just as journalists must continue to highlight a wide array of cannabis success stories to achieve normalization—and, one day, legalization—cannabusinesses need to invest in their most precious assets: their employees. N6A has given us the blueprint—let’s continue to build.

 

 

 

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Katie Conley

Katie Conley is an editor at DOPE Magazine. She enjoys watching schlocky movies, listening to comedy and true crime podcasts, singing karaoke and napping in inopportune places.
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