Marijuana: it’s been all over the news recently, in case you somehow missed it.
Not only have two states officially decriminalized recreational use of the stuff–a majority of the American public now supports legalization for the first time, and the New York Times officially threw its hat into the ring this week, forcing the Obama administration to respond with a lame version of “our hands are tied; we have to enforce the law as it stands.”
What does this have to do with PR? A good bit.
Today, however, Graham and his partners are working on an entirely different initiative–the world’s first advocacy group created to focus not on the rights of Americans to use marijuana for medical or recreational purposes but, rather, the American businesses community’s right to share in its economic benefits.
Meet Grow America. Our interview with Graham after the jump.
What, exactly, is Grow America?
It’s a new, member-based initiative that will take the form of a non-profit advocacy organization. There will be two types of members: businesses and individuals. For business members, the group will better enable them to prepare for cannabis legalization (which the recent NYT op-ed suggests is coming sooner than we might think).
Its purpose, really, is to advance the economic interests of the country at large. It will do so by preparing corporations (which may remain anonymous if they so choose) from a marketing communications standpoint and giving individuals the opportunity to learn more about the sector from us.
What’s your ultimate goal?
Anytime anyone with a byline or a TV show wants an informed opinion about why cannabis legalization is good for America, I want them to call me and I’ll get back to them within ten minutes.
How did the project come about?
Last year I spent time working as PR for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (not the most exciting membership group out there). One of the subjects I wanted to push: tax issues surrounding legalization in Colorado. I wanted to use it as a springboard to push the AICPA into the news and provide counsel.
When states started putting legalization on the ballot, I began thinking about the issue through the lens of business. This had always been on the back of my mind; when we launched Clear in January, I told Bulldog Reporter that we wanted to get into the medical marijuana field as our skills were well-suited to that particular industry.
What’s the underlying issue here?
Legalization presents a very unique business opportunity: the cannabis market resembles the wine market in the US in terms of sales and tax revenue that both private businesses and the government could potentially glean from it.
Cannabis is a product that people want that costs money. If a corporation is not selling what people want to buy then it’s not going to be a very effective business.
Bottom line: legalization will save tons of money on enforcement costs while opening the door to many other service-based businesses.
Corporations on the whole are both curious and wary. That’s where we come in.
What do you bring to the table?
My partner Jeremy Bridgman and I bring expertise in corporate management and communications, while our other partners in this venture (who have worked in the field in Colorado) bring the cultural credibility.
Who is your ideal client/target audience?
First and foremost, the individuals we want to reach are advocates: primarily young, liberal /libertarian leaning folks who support legalization (though boomers are also very active ). We don’t want their money; we want their attention.
Our ideal client would be, for instance, the CMO of a brand that wants to access the advocates who support our mission. This CMO has never thought seriously about designing corporate messaging around cannabis, but he/she is legitimately interested in reaching and attracting those advocates.
We have the capacity to help those brands reach their audience. Any time you represent business interests, part of your role is to act as a mouthpiece and to say things they don’t want attributed to the brand. We’re setting ourselves up to do that in the legal cannabis space.
What’s the ROI? Why would a brand join?
The ROI will be very difficult to quantify as we will do no direct marketing. Grow America is an issues-based investment that will give these brands insights into a group to which they will soon cater.
To a client on the fence I would say: the first brands that organize their thinking around this issue in a strategic way by mixing business messaging with cultural cred will be perfectly positioned to sell to the audience.
No traditional PR agencies will address this real and growing need, because they don’t have the cultural credibility.
I suspect that a lot of smaller shops will try to target companies making products for the cannabis audience, but big agencies with deep business expertise won’t have any interest in those clients. (We should note that Grow America has no formal connection to Clear.)
Could you speak a bit more about the services you will provide?
We will play the role of filter. We won’t operate in the shadows–we will, again, bring attention to our clients’ messages so they don’t have to spread those messages themselves.
GA will also be a content-focused organization with access to market research that no one else has. For example: we will publish white papers detailing the economic benefits of legalization.
What we will do isn’t exactly PR; it’s advocacy. I see our role as a compliment to a traditional agency’s services.
Who do you see as most interested?
First will be financial services, because providers in Colorado and Washington need those services right now–and they will be long-term customers.
Later it will be consumer goods brands that want to be very proactive.
When do you think major corporations will begin supporting legalization? Will it be a wave like in the case of same-sex marriage?
When they determine that the benefits outweigh the risks. I think that you will see it happen sooner rather than later.
As soon as a CMO hears the word “profits”, it goes from being a joke to being a very serious matter.
What do we think?