By Doug Poretz
Public Relations and related communications efforts were born as a result of the Industrial Revolution, and unfortunately many PR efforts still embrace Industrial Revolution values. That’s surprisingly true even for the cannabis community. It’s time to get your promotional efforts into the 21stCentury.
Until the Industrial Revolution, people bought things because they needed them. That has changed. A critical dilemma arose when the tools of production became so efficient that any product could be produced in much more volume than needed to meet the market demand. Extrapolate that situation and it doesn’t take long to conclude what an over-supply results in: low prices and ultimately financial failure. But no manufacturer wanted to limit supply by restraining their tools of production after they invested massive capital to build them. So, the solution was found in the other side of the buying equation: not product supply but market demand.
To build market demand, the reason why people bought things was changed from needing things to wanting things. And thus began the advertising and PR businesses, which had the simple goal of encouraging people to buy things even if they did not need them. In such attempts, one critical goal was to increase the reach and frequency of the sales pitch. There was one really great way to do that: get articles at no cost about the product in newspapers, commonly called “clips” or “placements.” So, to determine how effective the promotional campaign was, all you had to do was count how many clips you got. As TV and radio grew, visibility through those media would also count as “clips.” That was a pretty legitimate measurement device – as long as each local market had maybe 2 or 3 powerful newspapers and a few broadcast outlets, and three TV networks could deliver the national audience. In other words, “clips” were a legitimate measurement device before there was such a thing as “web sites” and “online communities,” cable TV, and e-newsletters, blogs, online special interest groups, etc. As those channels emerged, everything changed.
So … if you are celebrating when you can count lots of clips, you may be celebrating the fact that your marketing communications program is sadly outdated and isn’t focused on what the real goal of a communications campaign should be. Rather than focusing your communications resources on getting more and more clips, focus instead on whether you are getting the right message to the right targets. How you get that message to them is hardly relevant. Answer this: would you rather get your news in front of thousands of people who may or may not see it or read it and who may not even be the least bit interested in it, or would you prefer to host a dinner for 20 people who have a very real interest in what you are offering and the prospect of buying your product at desert? If you are bound by the outdated standards, you would prefer the clips; if you are interested in actually selling your product and growing your company, you’d want the visibility in front of actual buyers. You can and should re-strategize and re-direct your communications efforts to focus on two questions:
1) Are we telling the right message in a compelling way?
2) Are we getting it in front of the right people?
But there is another critical difference that must be integrated into your promotional efforts: the “consumer” is dead! Think of where you go for the news that interests you, the entertainment that intrigues you, and the chats that engage you. In those instances, you are more than just a “consumer,” but a part of a community. And when you buy something in that venue, you are more of a supporter of and believer in your community than just a “consumer.” Clips matter way less than the relationship between the seller and the buyer.
So … if you want to build sales, build relationships. Build supporters rather than consumers. And the first step in doing that is to thrust a knife into the heart of outdated measurement devices. This is especially true in our cannabis industry, where the users, the channels to reach them, the regulatory obstructions, and the values and standards are so vastly different than all industries that have gone before us.