Public Relations – Not Just for Crises


In this Growers Spotlight, we discuss public relations with Todd Nelson of TNTpr. What’s the big deal about PR? Todd explains.

Todd Nelson

The following is an interview with industry experts. Growers Network does not endorse nor evaluate the claims of our interviewees, nor do they influence our editorial process. We thank our interviewees for their time and effort so we can continue our exclusive Growers Spotlight service.

To skip to any section within this article, click the links below:

  • Short on time? Check out our shortened article!
  • PR 101
  • Advocacy
  • About TNTpr
  • Resources
  • Comments

  • Abbreviated Article


    Editor’s Note: Growers Network appreciates its readers! If you are limited on time, we are now offering abbreviated versions of our articles. Click below to view.



    Public Relations – Not Just for Crises



    PR 101



    What are some basic terms we should know?

    The following disciplines are inherently part of any strategic marketing mix and are relevant to entrepreneurs and businesspeople in all industries, including cannabis:

    1. Public Relations
    2. Media Relations
    3. Marketing
    4. Marketing Communications
    5. Advertising
    6. Brand Strategy

    With the digital age and the rapid rise of social media use, PR has become increasingly integrated into the marketing mix.



    What are some general PR strategies?

    PR strategy begins with defining what differentiates you from everyone else in your space. It’s not enough to say you have a great product or service.

    1. Know your key message
    2. Determine your target audience
    3. Research media outlets
    4. Develop your plan of attack
    5. Measure results

    Keep in mind that for PR to function effectively you have to ensure all departments in your company are informed and moving in sync.



    When should a cannabis business hire a PR firm?

    It is never too early to consult with a PR professional.

    Are you launching a new business or merging with another company? Are you expanding into a new market and need to generate awareness? Are you rebranding and need to adjust your brand perception accordingly? We can help.



    How does payment work with a PR firm?

    Anybody who’s interested in our services gets a free consultation. Common ways to structure payment work with a PR firm are retainer billing, hourly rates and project billing. If we decide to move ahead with the client-agency relationship, pay is determined by the project. If we’re establishing a long-term relationship, we work on the basis of a retainer. If we’re working on a single project, it’s usually an hourly rate. Sometimes we’ll use both for specific projects.

    The cost depends on the business. I want to be able to throw a number out there, but that would be unrealistic. The truth is that businesses have different needs, different means, and different projects. Every client and every project are unique. At TNTpr, we work with clients to structure agreements that are most beneficial to all parties.



    Why hire a cannabis PR firm, specifically?

    Generalist PR firms and cannabis PR firms both engage in many of the same practices. The difference lies in the level of knowledge about the subject and familiarity with the movers and shakers in the industry. Cannabis-specific PR firms know who the big movers and shakers are, and how to talk to them.



    Advocacy



    Have you ever had to advocate in front of a legislative body?

    I have not been personally hired to speak to a city council or state official for TNTpr, but it’s definitely a service I’m willing to offer. I started my career in Washington, DC as an advocate, so I am familiar with the process.



    What’s the most interesting work you’ve done?

    TNTpr was hired by Miner & Co Studio, a NY-based market research consultancy to help publish a study they had done. The study found that the “stoner” stereotype really doesn’t ring true for most cannabis consumers. Most consumers are career-oriented or family-focused. They consume cannabis as a social experience and a way to relax with friends.



    What have been some of your biggest challenges?

    One of the struggles related to that is that the majority of cannabusinesses are still small and relatively new. Many understand that PR is important, but fail to recognize how important. I always welcome opportunities to educate the broader public about just how useful PR can be.



    What do you hope to see in the future?

    We’re expanding to Canada, Israel, the Czech Republic, and other countries expressing interest in cannabis. Countries that are legalizing are reaching out to agencies like mine about working with them.

    If you like the abbreviated introduction, let us know in the survey at the bottom of the article! We’re always interested in hearing your feedback.

    If you want to read more, you can read the full article below.


    PR 101


    The following disciplines are inherently part of any strategic marketing mix and are relevant to entrepreneurs and businesspeople in all industries, including cannabis:

    1. Public Relations
      1. Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics. “Publics” can include customers, employees, community members, government entities, investors and media.
    2. Media Relations
      1. Media relations are mutually beneficial associations that focus on direct interactions with editors, reporters, bloggers and content writers covering specific industries like cannabis. Media relations add value to an agency like TNTpr, as relationships are what people pay for.
    3. Marketing
      1. Marketing is a process through which goods and services move from concept to the consumer. It’s about developing demand for your product and filling customers’ needs.
    4. Marketing Communications
      1. Marketing Communications can be described as all the messages and media used to communicate with the market. It includes advertising, direct marketing, branding, packaging, your online presence, printed materials, PR activities, sales presentations, sponsorships, trade show appearances and more.
    5. Advertising
      1. Advertising is paid communication of information placed in a delivery channel by an identified sponsor or business that is paying for the space. It is considered a type of marketing.
    6. Brand Strategy
      1. Brand strategy focuses on providing a consistent presentation or message about the product or service. Every touch point with the target consumer needs to speak with the same tone of voice and language you find elsewhere in the company. You don’t want the company to appear to have a split personality. Brand strategy is more than your logo, name or slogan; it’s the entire experience your prospects and customers have with your company, product or service. To stand out from the competition, you have to be aware of the images you convey, the messages you deliver and the way your employees act with customers. A perfect example is every Apple or Target store you walk into — they’re all designed to be similar.

    It used to be that marketing and public relations were considered separate disciplines. This is no longer the case. With the digital age and the rapid rise of social media use, PR has become increasingly integrated into the marketing mix.

    PR strategy begins with defining what differentiates you from everyone else in your space. Who are you? What is the value you bring? How does your product or service add value to someone’s health and happiness? It’s not enough to say you have a great product or service. Consumers want to see and hear and feel how you will fill a need they have. With your unique contribution clearly defined, you’re now ready to develop a PR strategy.

    1. Know your key message
      1. What about your company will capture the public’s (and media’s) attention?
    2. Determine your target audience
      1. Whether your audience is businesses (B2B) or consumers (B2C), knowing who buys your products and services, what their priorities are, where they shop, how old they are and where they live will help you aim at your target with laser precision.
    3. Research media outlets
      1. Once you know your target customer, you should research local, regional, national and even international media outlets that cater to that audience.
    4. Develop your plan of attack
      1. With tangible goals and a detailed plan of what you want to accomplish, your PR plan becomes a strategy and not just a random act.
    5. Measure results
      1. Having a clear set of goals in place is key to understanding what you want to achieve and hence measuring it. This will vary depending on your target audience and the channels through which your PR campaigns are delivered.

    For PR to function effectively you have to ensure all departments in your company are informed and moving in sync. We can help with internal communications to make sure your business is ready to meet expectations from clients and customers.

    It is never too early to consult with a PR professional and develop a clear understanding of the outcome you’re looking to achieve or the problem you’re trying to solve. PR firms come into a business with a unique perspective. They’re able to ask pointed, powerful questions to the business owner about their goals and strategies.

    Are you launching a new business or merging with another company? Are you expanding into a new market and need to generate awareness? Are you rebranding and need to adjust your brand perception accordingly? A public relations professional can be a valuable addition to your team as you strategize for continued growth. These questions and their answers can help shape a business’s plan in the long term, mapping out their direction and meaningful landmarks.

    It may seem counterproductive to TNTpr, but after an initial consultation, I sometimes tell business owners that they are not ready for full-fledged PR. Before you build a PR strategy you should be able to easily prove how your business is unique to the competition and clearly define your target audience.

    What you spend after hiring a PR firm depends on your needs. There is no magic formula. My goal is to deliver quality work that results in an ongoing, retained relationship so we can grow together as a team.

    Every client and every project is unique, with distinct needs. There are several ways to structure payment work with a PR firm. Here are a few examples:

    1. Retainer Billing: The biggest advantage to retainer billing is that it’s predictable. It is a fixed monthly fee based on an estimated number of hours needed to deliver agreed services. This is ideal for ongoing support and continual work with your business such as ongoing communications and marketing management services.
    2. Hourly Rates: This is common for short term and one-time projects. You pay based on the simple calculation of the PR agency’s hourly rates multiplied by the number of hours required to deliver the agreed services.
    3. Retainer Against Hours: This hybrid between retainer billing and hourly rates is the best all-around method of billing. You pay a monthly retainer, which is great for budgeting, and pay for any extra time in months when additional hours are needed to deliver agreed services.
    4. Project-Based Fees: These are common for projects like product launches, events and campaigns. It is a short-term commitment with clear goals. The payments may need to be in advance, or there is a mutually agreed payment calendar in installments.
    Generalist PR firms and cannabis PR firms both engage in many of the same practices. The difference lies in the level of knowledge about the subject and familiarity with the movers and shakers in the industry. If you need heart surgery, would you go to a general practice doctor? Cannabis-focused PR firms like TNTpr invest time, effort and money to be educated and stay current in the rapidly growing, multi-billion-dollar cannabis industry. We know the journalists and media and industry influencers who are moving the needle.

    Generalist PR firms may know about generic public relations practices, but they don’t have roots in the industry. They simply cannot deliver the same value that a cannabis PR specialist can.


    Advocacy


    My recent work includes connecting with government leaders like Matt Hummel, chairman of the Cannabis Regulatory Commission for the city of Oakland, California. I started my career in Washington, DC at Hill & Knowlton Public Affairs Worldwide and worked directly with lobbyists and legislators on a number of issues. It opened my eyes to what the process is for advocacy.
    I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of really smart, passionate people on a wide variety of projects. Recent work includes:
    The Western Growers Association called on me to identify cannabis agriculture leaders to speak at its 92nd annual meeting as the traditional farming association considers opening membership to cannabis growers in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. I reached out to Steve DeAngelo, co-founder and president of The Arcview Group, and Jeff Brothers who spent two decades in the cut-flower industry before leading the launch of Harborside Farms. Jeff was a featured speaker at the association’s annual meeting and his credibility gave a powerful voice to cannabis growers everywhere.

    NBC Sports Bay Area was working on a story about the National Football League and the NFL Players Association agreeing to study medical marijuana as treatment for chronic pain from sports injuries. I connected the assignment manager to Dr. Perry Solomon, chief medical officer of HelloMD and Dr. Dan Price, lead physician at Meadow MD, both of whom specialize in medical marijuana and also work with professional athletes.

    TNTpr was hired by Miner & Co Studio, a NY-based market research consultancy to help publish a study they had done. They examined over 800 consumers in states where consumption was legal and put together some really impressive data about what cannabis consumers look like, including their average age, household income, family size and more. The study found that the “stoner” stereotype really doesn’t ring true for most cannabis consumers. Most consumers are career-oriented or family-focused. They consume cannabis as a social experience and a way to relax with friends.


    A (humorous) advertisement aimed at a normal cannabis consumer.

    TNTpr helped secure coverage for the study in cannabis-specific publications, and even mainstream media. We got covered on LinkedIn Pulse and Forbes by several different journalists. To this day, the study is still generating coverage. It’s really changed the way that business and the public perceive cannabis consumers. Startups are using the study to define their businesses.

    The biggest challenge is staying on top of everything happening across the global cannabis industry. There is tremendous opportunity and I’m working to play a key role, not just in California and the U.S. but internationally. Another stimulating task is carving my niche as the “Pot PR Guy.” I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the top influencers in the cannabis industry and I’m having fun while working hard to break stereotypes.

    One of the struggles related to that is that the majority of cannabusinesses are still small and relatively new. Many understand that PR is important, but fail to recognize how important. I always welcome opportunities to educate the broader public about how valuable public relations and communications can be.

    For me personally, I made a huge leap two years ago. I left my job at the time and forged out on my own to start TNTpr. I planted my flag in the ground, and I’ve been successful at it. I’ve built a reputation as somebody who really understands the industry. Not just by experience, but also in vision. We’re working hard to tell TNTpr’s story, just as we tell our clients’ stories.
    I want to live up to my nickname as the “Pot PR guy”. I want TNTpr to be the premier firm serving the cannabis space. That’s obviously a lofty goal, but I think it’s doable.

    Federal legalization of marijuana is certainly on my radar. I also hope to see more medicinal cannabis research. Cannabis is a booming multi-billion dollar industry and I hope to witness not only large scale international success but also promising hyperlocal advocacy like Oakland, California’s Equity Permit Program giving priority to victims of the war on drugs and minimizing barriers of entry into the cannabis industry.


    About TNTpr

    I want to live up to my nickname as the “Pot PR guy”.Todd Nelson
    When I was a junior at Hastings College in Nebraska, a gentleman named Bob Gray donated the Gray Center for Communication Arts to the college. President Ronald Reagan dedicated the center and I was honored to serve as the only student on the executive planning committee.

    Mr. Gray invited me to intern at H&K in Washington, DC where I worked with people responsible for stories and events that would appear on the nightly news. It was amazing – especially for a kid from a small Nebraska farm town.

    That experience was all the motivation I needed to earn a master’s degree in communication management from the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and build a reputation as a great communicator.

    For 20 years I’ve had the pleasure to work at diverse startups, agencies, nonprofits and publicly traded companies. The common thread is my focus in communications, public relations, marketing and brand strategy.

    Before starting TNTpr, I was Chief Marketing Officer, Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives, and VP Marketing & Communications for companies in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.

    I was hired pre-IPO as director of marketing for a leading provider of online personals services; and I led marketing communications and public relations at a startup working with major consumer package goods (CPG) brands offering one of the first print-at-home internet coupon programs.

    With experience in varied businesses and industries, I’ve seen just how many different pieces of a business need to come together to make good PR. It’s a challenge to get right, but when done well, can do amazing things for a business.

    It was a strategic decision. I wanted TNTpr to focus on an industry and causes where I saw the most opportunity to have an impact. Cannabis had been moving in a positive direction and growing rapidly, but it still faced a steep uphill battle against uninformed legislators and voters.

    I invested a lot of time researching the industry, reading trade publications and joining networking groups like Growers Network. I also seized the opportunity to attend local meetings of the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission, industry expos and events sponsored by business accelerator groups including Canopy and Gateway. This helped me build an understanding of the opportunities and challenges that cannabis businesses face.

    TNTpr helps cannabis brands tell powerful stories.

    With strong connections to mainstream and cannabis media, I know what it takes to define and craft compelling stories about today’s cannabis consumers, medical marijuana, recreational weed and related industry products and services.

    The cannabis industry has been underground for decades, and it’s evolving at lightning speed. Businesses need powerful, proactive storytelling, and that’s where I fit in as the “Pot PR Guy.”

    I love what I do! And I’m excited to partner with bold, creative people who are ahead of the curve to define our industry so that others don’t define it for us. Let’s own our story.


    Do you want to receive the next Grower’s Spotlight as soon as it’s available? Sign up below!


    Want to get in touch with TNTpr?

    You can reach them via the following methods:

    1. Website: http://www.tntpr.com/
    2. Phone: (415) 533-1661
    3. Email: [email protected]
    4. Twitter: https://twitter.com/potprguy

    Resources:

    1. Interested in more about subjects touched upon in this article? Check out our other articles.
      1. Scaling Up a Boutique Grow Operation
      2. Oregon Consumer Protection
      3. Cannabis Business Security: Physical and Digital
    2. Interested in speaking with other cannabusinesses about their experiences in PR? Join the Growers Network community!
    3. Learn about crisis management as an important part of public relations.

    Do you have any questions or comments?

    Feel free to post below!


    About the Author

    Hunter Wilson is a community builder with Growers Network. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2011 with a Masters in Teaching and in 2007 with a Bachelors in Biology.