[INTERVIEW] Brian Wroblewski, founder of Agency THC tells Aadly blog about Marketing the $30 Billion Cannabis Market
Last month we published a post titled “Pot or Oreos? How Cannabis Marketing is becoming the Next Big Phenomenon”. The much-shared post gave a brief overview of the cannabis market, its regulation and the estimated $75 million marketing opportunity that surrounds it.
Aadly Blog (AB): How did you get started in the cannabis marketing business?
Brian Wroblewski (BW): Viewmedia.com was born, in 2003 targeting the mainstream advertising market and specifically helping local and national businesses with their email marketing, social media marketing and search engine optimisation. In 2008, we landed a smoke shop client in Orlando, FL and realised how restrictive advertising was for this type of business…(we) started visiting the counter culture conventions and trade shows across the country. We realised that every business was struggling to make an impact with their digital marketing presence. We acquired another handful of clients that specifically operated in the wholesale and distribution of smoke shop paraphernalia.
In 2013, I decided to open 2 retail stores in Orlando offering e-cigarette products, dry herb vaporisers designed for cannabis use and botanical products such as kratom and kava kava. I coupled my knowledge of local internet marketing and leveraged wholesale advertising clients to sell to general consumers in the Orlando area. What I learned in the 2 years of operating a retail operation is that customers in Florida wanted to know if the vaporisers could be used for marijuana and there was serious demand for knowledge of cannabis. While I knew that the marijuana business was emerging on the west coast, the consumer feedback on a weekly basis only confirmed my feeling that it was time to close the stores, pack up and move to the west coast... I decided that Las Vegas would be the perfect landing destination, since it was close to Los Angeles, where I had a few clients in the paraphernalia space already and the Vegas cannabis industry had just opened its first dispensary in 2015.
AB: Why did you decide to choose to work in this niche and build an agency?
BW: Once I got to Las Vegas, I started to explore digital advertising opportunities with a few of the local cannabis magazines. After meeting with the 2 cannabis centric magazines in Vegas and asking for their digital marketing packages, the response was shocking “we don’t even have a functioning website” and when asked about traffic both answers were “we have a lot of traffic.”
It was at this moment that the gap in the industry was exposed and the decision was made to start building a separate digital marketing agency that would specifically build a online marketing solution. I approached the magazine that I believed had the most potential for growth and proposed a partnership in exchange for me building them a digital presence, with intent to sell advertising space and build an email list to sell products to magazine readers. With this partnership, I formed Agency THC, a local Las Vegas cannabis digital marketing firm that would help medical marijuana dispensaries, cannabis cultivators and paraphernalia companies establish a digital footprint that would be targeted to mainstream consumers and not just cannabis enthusiasts.
While building out a digital marketing platform for the local vegas cannabis magazine, I also started a separate nationwide cannabis advertising agency called Kush Clicks. Kushclicks.com is a digital advertising network that allows cannabis advertisers to connect with marijuana websites where they can display banner ads across the web.
AB: What are some of the challenges working in the cannabis industry?
BW: As we started building out a client base for Kush Clicks, we came to understand that nationwide cannabis brands had almost no digital presence, because they were so focused on the retail sales. The path was clear; penetrate the Cannabis industry through trade shows and pitch advertisers on the importance of digital marketing for growth and market share. The advice to marijuana companies was to get started now, while the industry is still in it’s infancy. Cannabis brands were explained the importance of digital marketing before the industry grows and how making the effort today would yield returns in the long run.
The biggest challenges for digital marketing for the cannabis business is that there is very little opportunity for paid online ad distribution. All media has to be built organically and since cannabis brands look to gain exposure quickly, their first step was to put up social media accounts with very detailed information about a federally illegal substance. Most of the cannabis companies had their Facebook and Instagram accounts shut down because of violations of the terms of service for each respective platform. It has left a bad taste in a lot of brand’s mouths because they do not understand how/why they had lost accounts with greater than 10,000 followers.
While some marijuana companies have started over with their social media presence, others have let it fall to the wayside, leaving an opportunity for Kush Clicks to help guide them through the process of how to build a social media following organically and abiding by the terms of service of each social media platform. Our team of 5 internet marketing professionals, with combined experience of over 50+ years in all forms of digital marketing establish social media guidelines and suggest ways to build engagement either at the retail level or the national level.
Speaking to more and more brands, it became apparent for Kush Clicks to expand our offering on the agency side. Since we had experience already running a local agency, it was easy to tap the resources of the other firm that had immersive experience in the Las Vegas cannabis market and introduce search engine optimisation, social media management, content management, online and offline media buying and consulting services. Kush Clicks understands the challenges in the cannabis space and we come up with custom solutions for each advertiser.
Since pay per click, Facebook advertising and traditional media outlets have banned cannabis advertising, we have had to get creative with our strategies. The strategies that we put in place come from experience working in restrictive industries such as the paraphernalia and adult industries. The ad network, that we are continuing to improve upon, has a lack of quality publishers for display advertising. We look at all of our publishers as potential advertisers as well, because they all need a little help with getting more organic traffic to their niche cannabis sites.
AB: What is the current regulatory status of advertising for cannabis brands?
BW: Being that every state is making their own laws regarding cannabis, the marketing and advertising of cannabis companies varies from state to state. For instance, if you drive on the freeway in Nevada, you see billboards and hear cannabis advertisements on the local radio stations, but if you are in Oregon you may not hear anything on the radio. Media companies have been capitalising on the lack of advertising outlets for cannabis firms it is uncharted territory because the laws are literally being written every day. Each state is unique and the people who live in those states have different tolerance levels to marijuana advertising.
As more states vote on the legality of cannabis, we see the future of marijuana advertising becoming more mainstream. Until the federal laws change Kush Clicks will continue to evolve and adapt for our clients until more traditional advertising outlets allow these brands to gain exposure. While the entire cannabis industry is one giant startup business, this type of business climate gives cannabis enthusiasts and entrepreneurs the ability to help shape the industry for the future of marijuana in the USA and worldwide.