Picking the best cannabis marketing agency for your business can have a profound impact, either positive or negative.
Cannabis marketing is still the Wild West. The rules and regulations are in a constant state of flux and are different from market to market. And it’s not just the legal regulations that cause problems, it’s the platform bans. Many marketing and advertising tactics, tools, and platforms simply aren’t available to cannabis companies. That means good cannabis marketers need to be creative thinkers. They need to know when they can safely push the boundaries, and when it’s time to hold back to protect the client.
As the cannabis industry develops and grows, the field of cannabis-specific marketing agencies continues to get more crowded. Choosing the right agency for your cannabis business can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if you’re not used to dealing with agencies. That’s why we created these 8-point criteria to help you find the perfect fit for your cannabis marketing needs.
Criteria One: History
Digging into the background of a cannabis marketing agency is a great starting point for your search. What you’re looking for is a blend of experience both inside and outside of cannabis. Cannabis marketing hasn’t existed for very long, so if you can find an agency that traces its roots back 4-5 years, that makes them veterans in this space. If they are just transitioning to the cannabis world, or just starting to pick up clients in cannabis, it’s best not to be their guinea pig. Any marketer or agency just starting in cannabis is going to make mistakes. Let your competition hire them!
Criteria Two: Location
What we’re referring to here is a physical location. If you’re the type of business owner that likes to meet face to face, then you’ll need an agency that’s located close enough to be able to do that. More importantly, though, is that the agency be physically located in a developed cannabis market. No matter what any salesperson tells you, if they are representing a marketing agency in Texas (where cannabis is mostly still illegal), that agency will not have the day-to-day understanding of cannabis marketing that one located in Denver will have (where cannabis is recreationally legal). And the older the marketplace, the better. That’s why you should first consider agencies located in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. They will have a greater depth and experience of immersion that agencies elsewhere will not have.
Criteria Three: Speciality
Not all cannabis marketing agencies are good at everything. Some specialize in packaging, while others might specialize in dispensary work. Many agencies may be great at branding but aren’t as strong at developing product launch strategy, for example. If you already know exactly which type of services you need, it’s best to find an agency that specializes in those services. If the game plan isn’t as clear, you can opt for a full-service cannabis marketing agency that has experience across the entire spectrum of branding, marketing, and advertising.
Criteria Four: Size
Cannabis marketing agencies range in size from one-person shows up to a few dozen at the largest. Because it’s still a niche in the marketing world, we aren’t yet seeing massive international agencies with thousands of employees. Perhaps we never will. Still, the experience, service, and attention you get from a 10-person team with a select group of clients will differ when compared to a 40-person agency with 30 clients. If you like a more intimate and accessible relationship with your agency, opt for a smaller team. On the flip side, if you’re simply looking for a service provider to execute specific tactics, a larger agency will work just fine.
Criteria Five: Budget
While no agency is going to willingly disclose the financials of their clients, you can get a rough idea of the budget size they’re working with just by looking at their client list. Heavy-hitter brands are likely spending a lot more money than smaller, less notable brands. An agency serving MedMen, for example, is probably used to working on a much larger retainer than an agency serving a single-location dispensary. Look for an agency with a portfolio of brands that align with your own business in terms of size and scope, and that will help clue you in that you’re playing in the right budgetary ballpark.
Criteria Six: Current Clients
Again, there’s a lot of info to be gained by digging into an agency’s client list! Good marketers can cross boundaries of any kind. However, if the client list doesn’t include any businesses that are in the same realm as you (the services or products you offer), it warrants a closer look. It doesn’t mean that the agency can’t provide exceptional results, but it means you should ask more questions about their experience before you get to the proposal. Be pointed, and don’t hesitate to ask, “I see you don’t have any businesses that play in the ____ category like we do. What are your thoughts on taking on a company like ours?” If they can’t provide any details or explanations on how they’d overcome their lack of directly-related experience, then it’s time to move on.
Criteria Seven: Category exclusivity
This is critically important, and surprisingly not the policy of most cannabis marketing agencies. When we say category exclusivity, we’re referring to a policy of only accepting one client in each category per market. For example, a Denver-based cannabis marketing agency with a policy of category exclusivity would only accept one dispensary client in each market they operate in. They’d only represent one extract manufacturer, one cultivator, one equipment manufacturer, etc. The idea is that the agency is not helping two competitors in the same marketplace. It’s generally considered a conflict of interest and is sort of like playing chess with yourself… you always know the moves on both sides, which provides neither side an advantage.
Criteria Eight: Reputation
Digging into the reputation of a cannabis marketing agency can be difficult and take substantial effort, but it’s probably the most important criteria on this list. The cannabis industry is still in its infancy, and the reputation of agencies that burn clients catches up to them very quickly. Reach out to current clients and (ideally) past clients of the agency you’re interviewing to ask directly what their experience was like. If they are long-time clients, why do they choose to stick around? If they are past clients, why did they end the relationship? If an agency has an enduring bad reputation in the industry, then give them a hard pass, regardless of how much they discount their services or how compelling their sales pitch is.
Remember: A good agency can help your business grow, while a great agency can help your business thrive.
This guest blog was written by Hybrid Marketing Co- a Denver-based cannabis marketing agency with a wealth of industry experience, a good reputation, and a healthy roster of diverse industry clients. They’ve made LOTS of mistakes on their way up and are now in the business of helping others avoid making the same ones!