Remember that week in March when things got very real about COVID-19? That week when “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” became buzzwords; when summer tours started cancelling and it was announced Tom Hanks tested positive?
Lenin (Vladimir, not John) said, “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” This is a revolutionary industry and a lot is happening fast. I wanted to find out how some revolutionary thinkers in our industry see this moment. Here’s what I learned.
Clear messaging is key
Now is not the time to be clever. Be transparent in your communications with customers and the public. Above all, be real. Laurie Wolf (called “the Martha Stewart of marijuana edibles” by The New Yorker) founded Laurie + MaryJane, a company that produces award-winning, small-batch, cannabis-infused edibles. In these strange times, she urges consumers who find cannabis helpful to listen to their inner voices more than marketing messages. Give yourself permission to use what you enjoy, she said.
Paul Hodapp of Desert Payroll Solutions, a company that provides payroll, time and attendance, and human resources services to small businesses, said his company’s messaging has changed from managing day-to-day inquiries from clients to ensuring a more proactive approach to educating clients—and not just current ones—and aiding them with everything surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. “Our overall goal with our clients is to continue to communicate updates, changes, and new regulatory compliance alerts on updates to laws and federal stimulus packages,” he said.
Social media gains ground
Cannabis and social media always have had a tenuous relationship (deleted accounts, disappearing posts) but many cannabis companies found social media plays an important role during a crisis. “I think [social media] is the best place to get your messaging out there to the base,” said Hodapp. “With so many out of work or going through tough times, social media has a larger and more regular audience than ever before.”
Wolf agrees. “We are trying to ramp up our social media to reach more people,” she said. “The fudge we introduced about six months ago has gotten a huge amount of publicity, with people and dispensaries posting pictures and comments.”
Hodapp added, “Those who can beef up their social marketing should do so—not only to promote their brand, but also to take this opportunity to educate, nurture, and inform.”
Adjusting to a new normal
The employment landscape is changing daily and will continue to change as we learn to adapt. In the near term, as the economy attempts to recover, Hodapp believes businesses will see a very swift change in how their employees work. Whether the result is more work-from-home options or reduced staff size due to smaller crowd sizes, he suggested the employable workforce will change dramatically and the changes will be long-lasting. “Overall headcounts will shrink, especially in those industries where customer contact is essential, like food and beverage establishments,” he said.
Some companies and organizations quickly adjusted by pivoting to virtual site visits. Winston Engineering, a commercial engineering company, did just that. If a client encounters an urgent need, founder Anthony Winston asks the client to take their phone to the site and provide a video tour with screenshots so the problem can be diagnosed on the spot. “It works very well,” he said. “After this is over, instead of driving long distances on California highways or getting on airplanes, I expect we will have gotten a lot more comfortable with technology that lets us work remotely.”
Winston sees other changes as well, including more wearing of masks in public. “We went to Japan a few years ago and people were in masks, and you’d see folks visiting from Asia in masks. I think you’ll see that common in places with close proximity.”
Lindsay Robinson, executive director for the California Cannabis Industry Association, said her organization has been reevaluating the platforms on which they engage. They’ve pivoted to webinars and video conferences instead of in-person events. They’re also distributing newly created educational materials that address safety and sanitation protocols, risk-management issues, and the relief programs available to industry operators.
“This has been a collaborative effort, and we continue to work with our members to address real-time challenges as well as identifying emerging issues caused by this pandemic,” she said. “As we meet this moment and acknowledge our operations and daily lives have been altered dramatically, we have never been more committed as an industry, a state, and a nation to overcome this global pandemic.”
Our industry is in a state of flux. Like all industries, it has its challenges and is adjusting as best as it can. There are some positive outcomes on the horizon.
“We believe the designation by almost all the adopting states of cannabis businesses as ‘essential services’ will lend more credibility to the industry moving forward as the industry seeks further regulatory reform,” said Paul Smithers, chief executive officer at publicly traded Innovative Industrial Properties. “We actually see some positive developments for our tenant operators that may become permanent, including more home delivery, online ordering, online and telephone interviews with doctors to procure medical cards, and most importantly, the designation of cannabis businesses as essential services.”
Wolf agrees some optimism is warranted. “The fact that cannabis is considered an essential business lends credibility, and I think it is bringing new customers into the world of weed,” she said.
Robert O’Shaughnessy is co-founder and partner at Higher Ground Agency, a public relations and marketing firm supporting the cannabis industry, where he manages the marketing and digital side of things. A graduate of Boston University, he is a frequent speaker and published author, and would probably really enjoy having a beer with you.