By Doug Poretz
Special Investigator Robert Mueller has been uniquely quiet during the entirety of his involvement with the investigation he has been running. But even though he will likely sustain his resistance to be the center of attention, it is likely that he is about to teach President Trump a major PR lesson. It is a lesson that cannabis entrepreneurs should observe, understand, and then utilize for their own efforts. It’s all about the importance of “story.”
Since (or even before) the start of this investigation, President Trump has masterfully created a very simple story that he wants his believers/supporters to buy into: there was no collusion, and whatever your news sources may communicate to you, if it smacks of being anti-Trump, it is just plain wrong. The simplicity of that pitch plus the repetition of it because of Trump’s ability to stay on message has transformed that story – at least for the President’s “base” – into immutable truth.
On the other hand, the Mueller initiative has had no story at all– just a series of events that are not necessarily connected and it is therefore often difficult to observe some sort of interconnection between one event (for example, whatever Michael Flynn might have done) with any other (for example, what Roger Stone or Donald Trump Jr. et al might have done). Therein lies the lesson that cannabis execs should learn.
When an easy-to-understand story competes with no story at all for people’s understanding, simplicity will always win, even if the veracity of the story is questionable. But with the completion of his investigation, Mueller is going to issue a report of some kind. If that report describes Mueller’s findings in the context of a story, President Trump will have lots to worry about, but if the report is simply a string of apparently disjointed events (even criminal events), the President should treat himself to a banquet of Big Macs because he will continue to hold at least his base.
What do I mean by a “story” for the Mueller investigation? Just consider the public reaction if Mueller announces that this guy did this wrong and this guy did that wrong ad nauseum, versus a headline like “Mueller Says Wide-Spread Corruption Was Coordinated by the President from the Oval Office.” The bold headline creates a context for everything else: it allows the observer to understand how the apparently individual events may fit together into one pattern. And then, Mueller’s non-story morphs into a powerful competing story to Trump’s: easy to understand and easily repeatable by Trump’s opponents. Which story will “win”? That’s irrelevant to the advice I’m trying to provide here: the importance of “story.”
Get the message? Then, how do you apply it to your cannabis business?
I’ve spent about a year observing and talking with cannabis entrepreneurs specifically about their communications issues. Most often, they want to know how to raise capital or how to boost sales or how to build important strategic relationships. The answer to that question starts with a review of the Company’s web site. In most instances, the site tells the visitor: “We do this and this and this. And we have this menu. And here is a picture of our dispensary (or grow facilities, etc.).” Well, that’s just like Mueller’s assertion that “this guy did this, and that guy did that.” It may all be wonderfully factual. Unfortunately, that type of message does not resonate with your audience. Do you even offer a bold assertion for your company that holds it all together – that creates a context for your audience to understand what you do and what makes you different?
And if you do offer a comprehensive story, then you have two other things to worry about:
- Make it brief and intuitive. Think you already explain things briefly? My bet is that you are fooling yourself if you think that. There is a proclivity for entrepreneurs to explain all their innovations, whether really important to the whole story or not. So, they add copy about just one more feature and then another. And, what you have written becomes far different than “brief.” You have as little as three seconds and maybe as long as 9 seconds to draw and hold your visitor’s attention before you lose them, maybe forever. So … don’t clutter your message with extraneous information and do make certain it is written using very clear words. This is not the time or place to show what a great vocabulary you have – just get the message to your visitor quickly in a way that they understand on an intuitive basis.
- Focus on the value proposition to your audience. So often, we see cannabis web sites that discuss things that are important to the Company itself. They talk about things that may have great importance to the entrepreneur. But if it doesn’t resonate with your audience, it’s useless. In fact, it’s worse than useless – it’s counter-productive because it creates too much copy, bores the visitor, and clutters the core story. Only focus on the things that matter to your audience—everything else is “fat.”
These two rules are a great way to start crafting your story in memorable and effective terms. In the most basic terms: keep your story very brief, easy to understand and relevant to your audience. That PR approach has allowed President Trump to stay on point effectively with his base. Let’s see whether Mueller’s report upends the President’s PR advantage by creating a simple context for all the charges he has brought, or whether he loses the potential support of the American public by keeping his investigation explained simply as a bunch of not-clearly related events.