For most cannabis brands, it’s not a matter of IF there will be a cannabis PR crisis, it’s a matter of when. The cannabis industry is in it’s most nacsent stages. The regulations are ever-changing, the research is emerging and the deals are getting bigger. This is a perfect storm for a public relations crisis. In the last 60 days of cannabis news, we’ve seen high profile firings and rouge past employees, trouble with regulations, lawsuits that included fraud accusations, CDC vape investigations and regulatory penalities and newsworthy community action against a brand. Phew! The cannabis news has been on fire. Maybe you read some of that news and marveled at how some of these things played out – but did you stop to think about what you would do in a similar situation? (P.S. checkout our newsticker for all the most relevant news from the most reliable sources, bookmark it for easy access)
Most of the time cannabis companies come to us because they want to share their story, appear in the press, create noteworthy and press worthy activations and add value to their brand, all perfectly delightful reasons to hire a PR firm. It’s the fun side of PR work.
But the fact is some of the most important work a PR firm can do for you is cannabis crisis planning. We recently had an enterprenuer refuse crisis planning because they “didn’t want to even think about it.” That was a major red flag for us because it’s an outright refusal to protect the brand and create a plan in which we can perform our best services in the case of a crisis; we decided the potential client wasn’t a good fit team Primo PR and opted not to pursue the relationship. PR crisis planning is not sexy. It’s certainly not fun. But it is important to your cannabis brand’s value and most importantly, it will help you sleep at night.
The time to manage a crisis is BEFORE it happens, you can’t expect your team to be prepared in a moment of panic. At the bare minimum, cannabis brands should put together a PR crisis plan. Exact strategies for your plan and the triggers to implement may vary, but in the world of rapid-fire cannabis news and cannabis social media, having a plan is the most important step.
Step 1: IDENTIFY YOUR PR CRISIS TEAM
Depending on your brand, your cannabis PR crisis team may at the very least include:
- Chief Executive Officer
- Chief Marketing or Communications Officer
- Brand Spokesperson
- Public Relations Agency and Investor Relations Agency
Depending on the nature of the crisis
- Law Firm
- Human Relations
- Product Forumlation
- Social Media Specialist
- Customer Service
If that list seems long, that’s an indication of how complicated a PR crisis can be. Not all of these people will need to be involved with every single crisis. But it’s important for everyone of these people to understand their role and stick to their role during a crisis. Each of these people represent different points of contact for various stakeholders. They should also have a seat at the table during the second step.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY POTENTIAL CANNABIS PR CRISIS COMMUNICATION SCENARIOS
Some cannabis PR crisis scenarios are unique to cannabis, others are not. But your key crisis team members need to be involved with the identification of crisis from the start. An important thing to remember is that a crisis can happen just because someone said it did, not because it ACTUALLY happened. We see this happen on social media frequently. For example, if someone accuses your company of fraud and makes the lawsuit public, whether you actually committed the alleged acts might be irrellevant; if the information is in the press, you may still need to defend yourself against it.
On the other hand, you should also determine what the trigger points are for responding to a crisis. Some crisis’ need immediate response from a company, some are better left communicated to a small audience and in other cases, in this fast-moving media world, it might be best not to execute a response at all. There is no “one size fits all,” for your response. The old adage of “get out in front of it,” still applies, in specific circumstances, but other situations require a more nuanced strategy.
Crisis that include consideration might be:
- Injury to staff or public as a result of your product, processes or location
- A quality control issue, defect or product recall
- A natural diaster that effects your business, such as an earthquake, hurricane or flood
- Legal action or public claims about an employee, client or customer
- Emerging research or regulatory investigations that affect your product, your clients or the industry
- Executive Leadership change
STEP 3: IDENTIFY STAKEHOLDERS AND AUDIENCES
Each cannabis PR crisis may have multiple stakeholders who should be notified of a situation; in most cases, there will be multiple stakeholders. Your responses to each audience should be consistent, but may vary in technicality, point of view, or details.
- Government Regulators
- Cannabis Industry Media
- National Media
- Local Media
STEP 4: DETERMINE COMMUNICATION FORMATS
Again, strategies will vary depending on the nature of the PR crisis, but you should determine in advance HOW you will communicate your message. For example, will you speak directly to the media or will you issue a press release? Will you comment on social media or will you make a video? Is this a matter that needs to be released to investors and if so, what is the timeline? Press conferences are rare in the cannabis industry, but there may be a circumstance where this would be an effective tool.
STEP 5: IDENTIFY WHERE IMPORTANT INFORMATION IS HELD
Your key crisis communication team should have access to important contact information for each other, including emergency contacts and follow-up contacts. Your PR firm should have at the ready multiple pieces of information which will be needed in the case of a crisis. Having information on hand can sometimes be the difference between undesireable media coverage and squashing the coverage all together.
LISTEN UP: THE ONGOING STEP
In the day-to-day of running a cannabis brand, it’s easy to miss the signals. Be sure someone from your PR team is keeping an eye on cannabis industry trends and positions in both real life and in person. Having your finger on the pulse of these waves can help you navigate changing consumer, political and investor perceptions more adeptly. From social media listing to media monitoring, when it comes time to make a decision about response triggers, you’ll have more insight into what kind of response will be well received.
There’s no single solution to cannabis PR crisis planning. You’re plan will be distintive to your company culture, values, leadership and risks. But should a crisis hit, you’ll be grateful for the plan that gives you a path for decision making.