Ronn Torossian
Ronn Torossian

In the wake of widespread legalization, the U.S. cannabis industry has boomed to the point of one day potentially rivaling global giants such as Netflix and McDonalds. Still, the industry is limited in ways mainstream companies are not, and not everyone’s convinced that the future of the industry is as guaranteed as it would seem.

One hurdle is that cannabis companies simply can’t advertise like their less controversial counterparts in other industries. From Facebook moving to block company pages, to traditional outlets blatantly turning down advertising dollars, old-school ad strategies simply aren’t going to work with the same success.

Enter PR: consumer education remains an untapped resource for distributors, given the already limited communication channels available to the cannabis industry. Garnering product reviews in trade or mainstream outlets means firms are able to secure placement that appeals to consumers, much like peer recommendations online and offline. Millennials are changing the way companies market to consumers, and the cannabis industry should jump on board with proactive PR.

PR also plays an important role in establishing a firm’s value proposition and general credibility in contrast to its competitors. With legalization opening doors to market entry across the board, the market seems to be flooding with early entrants keen to be the “next big thing in cannabis.” From a consumer perspective, it’s difficult to discern between trustworthy brands and those relying on smoke and mirrors. Good PR means product placement in trustworthy publications, a strategy with increasing returns compared to traditional paid advertising.

 “As the cannabis industry matures, branding will become more and more important. It is starting to be a given that people expect the product to be high quality — that’s just assumed,” said Leafwire CEO Peter Vogel. “To differentiate in a crowded, competitive marketplace, companies are going have to focus more on building a recognizable and consistent brand that will stand out on the shelves.”

Another reason the cannabis industry should get on board with PR is that fact that the market has a ways to go before the stigma against it is put permanently to bed. In many states, there remains a persistent campaign by politicians, regulators, banks and lobbyists to cast doubt on the emerging industry and paint entrant companies and products in a negative light.

PR is crucial to shifting public perception, and the cannabis industry will not be able to clear policymaker hurdles without it. The recent sharing of a touching story regarding a young girl’s seizures having stopped thanks to the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil is one such example of the power of PR: human interest stories will resonate with the public in a way that traditional advertising never will.

Media coverage, reputation building and expanding reach to customers are vital to the future of the cannabis industry; good PR, then, is sure to form the backbone of growth for many years to come.

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Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR and one of America’s leading Public Relations executives.