what to look for before hiring a cannabis pr firm

We know, hiring a cannabis PR firm can be daunting. With increasing frequency, we’re hearing stories from cannabis colleagues who have experienced “bad PR.” What should you ask before hiring a cannabis PR firm?

We truly believe many of these stories are due to client and agency were a mismatch, rather than a “bad PR firm”. Taking a deeper look at cannabis PR before hiring them can save you money, but most importantly, time.  Much of this can be attributed to the vast distinctions with how PR agencies operate and handle their clients. The intention of this piece is to provide you with questions we would be asking OUR PR firm before we hired them, and why those questions are important. Also, consider these “6 great questions you can ask us before hiring Primo PR.”

6 Questions to Ask Before Hiring Your Next Cannabis PR Firm

 

Do You Understand Our Cannabis Product?

Ask yourself how important a baseline understanding of cannabis is to your overall communications. We’ve heard story after story of people unhappy with their PR firm because their PR firm doesn’t understand cannabis. Understanding cannabis isn’t just important from a regulatory and technical perspective, it’s also the ability to monitor relevant news, understand what’s relevant (and what isn’t) and move quickly in our extremely dynamic industry. Now, that’s not to say that a beauty PR can’t handle B2B PR for the cannabis industry, but expect to educate your firm.

What tradeshows and conferences has your team attended?
Does your PR firm understand what makes your product distinct within cannabis?
What non-cannabis publications are writing about cannabis?

Clearly Defined Ways of Measuring Success for Cannabis PR

Outside of cannabis PR, few PR agencies understand the importance PR plays in cannabis. Most cannabis companies today want consistent placement, strategic oversight, and outstanding communication. But what else? In a mature, less regulated industry, a PR firm typically works with multiple other firms from branding to experiential to an ad agency.

In cannabis, PR is THE leading brand awareness tool.

Because we’re so restricted in advertising, particularly digital, cannabis companies should be looking at additional metrics for PR such as SEO value. Website traffic, brand mentions, brand name reach and even share of voice are all KPIs that are relevant, depending on the overall strategy. Your cannabis PR firm should be ready and able to provide those kinds of metrics to you on a monthly basis. Changes in public perception or decreased sales cycle are also metrics with which PR can support. If you’re measuring your PR firm against KPIs like this, work with your PR firm to set a baseline and a reasonable timeframe.

Is the Fee Structure Fair & Does It Make Sense?

Most PR firms work on a retainer, so make sure you have an understanding of what’s included in your retainer?

Does the firm charge for wire releases?
Is branded content included, and if so, does that extend to graphic design?
Is there a markup on expenses incurred by the PR agency and if so, what is it?
Are off-site activations included?
How are hours tracked?

There’s no single way to manage a retainer, so asking questions like this upfront will give you a deeper understanding. Be fearless about asking these questions, after all, you’re the client. You should expect a rationale that isn’t arbitrary. While you may view this as a negotiation opportunity, be wary of cutting the budget to the point where your brand isn’t on the radar daily. You want your PR firm engaged with your brand on a daily basis – make sure you’re getting that because the alternative often provides unsatisfactory results. A great cannabis PR firm will be transparent about their billing methods.  Financial terms form the foundation of your relationship with your cannabis PR firm. Get that right and find a balance that works for you and your PR firm.

Good Personal Chemistry

While this one is tough to put on a spreadsheet, asking some tough questions will often reveal the quality of the chemistry. As an engaged client, you should be working with your cannabis PR experts regularly and you REALLY want that process to be enjoyable. Make sure your company culture meshes well with your cannabis PR firm’s value system.  Teams who like one another, work better together. If you’re not gelling with someone in the first call, chances are, that’s not going to change.

Compatability breeds productivity and results.

Location, Location, Location

Before you start narrowing down your PR firms, decide how important location is to you. We think having account presence in major journalism markets is priority one, but if you’re the kind of person who needs to meet face-to-face once a week, acknowledge that and find a firm close to your base of operations.

Flexibility AND Systems

Pay close attention to the systems your cannabis PR firm uses and also take notice of their flexibility.

For starters, there should also be a clearly defined exit clause in the contract.

Who owns content?
How will the PR firm handle future press inquires when/if the engagement ends?
What is the cancelation agreement?

Your PR should have systems and processes in place, but those systems and processes should also be nimble enough to manage the cannabis PR world. For example, getting a press release right is exceptionally important, but it shouldn’t take your PR firm a week to write it. You should be able to review the first draft within hours on an emergency or breaking news circumstance. On the other hand, there should be a consistent drum beat and strategy behind media relations.  Which bring us to:

A Strategic Approach That Makes Sense

Before hiring, your cannabis PR firm should be able to articulate an approach and strategy that makes sense to you. While credible PR firms won’t reveal details about clients, they should be able to articulate some case studies of cannabis PR strategies and why they worked. For example, provide an experience that required a decision to respond to industry news. When, where and how you respond to breaking industry news is determined by your brand strategy, BUT your cannabis PR should be able to articulate A strategy and when/why it worked. Your PR firm should have some strategic storylines and outlines in mind for your brand, which proves they’ve done a little research. Even if they aren’t perfectly on-brand, at least you’re starting with A strategy which is better than starting from zero.