Several times per month someone will ask me how can they break into the cannabis industry. They've heard how lucrative dispensaries are, and often people believe that that's the only place to enter. Not true! Any of your existing skills and expertise can be aligned with the cannabis industry. The cannabis market is rich with job opportunities that don't involve touching the plant. From writing to branding and graphic design there is not an area where your career cannot be formed.
My interview subject Gia Morón of GVM Communications is PR Chair of the NY Chapter of Women's Grow. Gia has a diverse skill set which includes time spent working in the entertainment and finance industries at firms like The Goldman Sachs Group Inc. With a desire to break into the cannabis industry as a nonuser Gia used her expertise in Public Relations to enter the market.
Read on about her journey and advice to those wanting to enter the growing field.
You have over 15 years of experience working in Public Relations - how did you transition into a career in cannabis?
Actually, I have over 20 years of experience. Closer to 25. I began my career in corporate, first in the television industry then transitioned into financial services then launching my own PR firm. I haven't changed my business model but I have expanded my services to include the cannabis industry. I was already serving businesses, non-profits, entrepreneurs, speakers, and authors. The cannabis industry is one I had not tapped but saw great potential to help businesses build their brands. It's a rapidly growing industry that needs from soup to nuts. I love that it is allowing me to be creative. The point to remain connected to areas such as technology, diversity, real estate, finance and non-profits and now covering the cannabis industry allows me to keep up to date across the board. I see potential, for collaborations with many of the big brands. The rewarding piece is being a part of something new and groundbreaking yet remaining connected to areas I am already familiar.
How did you learn of Women Grow and what made you join them?
I knew I wanted to be a part of this developing industry. It was important to me to be a part of the growing blueprint. Initially, I was under the impression I needed to create a new career. After reading about one of the Women Grow founders I learned there was a local chapter here in New York. In late 2014, I began attending meetings and learning more about the industry. After following the organization for some time I met Melissa Meyer, head of the NYC Chapter. After a few conversations, she asked if I would consider the role as PR Chair. Medical marijuana had become legal in New York, I saw Women Grow NYC as an amazing organization with some remarkable members, it was a no-brainer for me.
How does your company aid in reframing the cannabis conversation - making it more favorable to those who have some apprehension?
I'm going to circle back to Women Grow again because it was due to the women and organization that helped me become more comfortable. The new CEO Leah Heise is an attorney, the co-heads of the New York Chapter are graduates from Georgetown University. One works in the non-profit sector and the other runs her own company HealthMJ which provides patients and caregivers research and information on the benefits of cannabis. Then I looked at the landscape further. I am a part of an organization who wants to help women become leaders in this expanding industry.
Let me give me some background: Women Grow is a national for-profit entity that serves as a catalyst for women to influence and succeed in the cannabis industry as the end of marijuana prohibition occurs on a national scale. The organization was created to connect, educate, inspire and empower the next generation of cannabis industry leaders by creating programs, community and events for aspiring and current business executives. There are 45 chapters nationally.
I was already familiar with the positive effects cannabis had on friends and family members battling serious illnesses. From a medical perspective, I was on board, but it was once I was surrounded by the women of Women Grow my point of view changed. My apprehension transitioned to how can I be a part of this group. Yes! I had some concerns what my other clients might think or would the industry accept a non-user? Or did I need to be a user to be a part of this growing industry? The more I continue to learn about the industry, the more I know I am in the right circles and I want to work with businesses to help them develop and flourish in this expanding industry.
What are some tips you have for cannapreneurs who want to safely share their business?
I keep mentioning Women Grow but for me, they have been my pipeline into the industry. My tips or advice would be to attend professional industry networking events. Women Grow fits my needs. These are brilliant women from a plethora of professional backgrounds. The meetings are fantastic. And yes men attend the meetings as well. Much like any other professional networking event, this is where you will find business owners discussing best practices, offering referrals, advising on business challenges, collaboration, potential partners or new hires. These meetings attract anyone from graphic designers, medical professionals, attorney's, marketing experts, event organizers, to advocates.
So my recommendation to cannapreneurs is to find a reputable organization and become a member. Also, I recommend joining more than one. Currently, I'm exploring the Minority Cannabis Business Association. I follow them on social media and love what they are doing. Also, conferences are key. There is a wealth of information shared at these conferences and summits. In 2015, I attended the first cannabis conference in New York City host by the Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition (CWCBExpo) at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. This year my chapter represented at the Women Grow booth. I worked my first cannabis conference and it was amazing. I met wonderful business people and learned so much more. It's one of the best places to safely share your business. I also highly recommend going to states where cannabis is legal and talk to some of the business owners. Learn their experiences in building their business and create relationships. There could be an opportunity to share your business plan. Lastly, be open to being a student in this rapidly developing industry. I am looking at courses and workshops. Reading up on the latest changes or research is another key component. Stay abreast of the news.
Important note for the cannapreneur...have your elevator pitch and supporting talking points ready when attending any of the meetings or conferences. For the novice attending a meeting without a business or plan, go to a meeting anyway. It's best to soak up the information around you and ask questions. I would say do not be shy to talk about your current role, you may discover it is transferable or a needed service.
What have been some of the rewarding aspects of doing public relations in the cannabis industry?
Actually, there have been many:
1) Knowing my services are needed felt great. When I started exploring I thought I had to come up with an idea to be a part of this growing industry. I watched this industry from the outside racking my brain trying to figure out how can I contribute. It was someone from the Drug Policy Alliance who suggested that I expand my services to include the industry. It had not occurred to me to expand. From that point, I quickly learned businesses needed help from messaging, media strategy, press kits to basic brainstorming sessions. The latter is probably one of my favorite services with clients, it allows me to be more creative with them in their development process.
2) Raising the awareness within our communities. This ties back to the stigma and effects the drug laws have had on our community. Many of my friends and family still think I'm crazy. I know people who have gone to prison for marijuana so why would I want to be a part of this industry. My reward has been going back and sharing information that has been withheld from us. Enlighten people with opportunities. I was thrilled to learn there is a staffing firm dedicated to the cannabis industry.
3) I love meeting business owners or those in the development stage and helping them craft their message. My prior corporate experience and now entrepreneurial allows me to have realistic as well as a broader perspective of our client's needs. The reward is learning more about their businesses, which enhances my knowledge in this growing industry.
4) Finally, connecting with my peers. There is another PR firm completely dedicated to the industry (Type A Media) founded by two African American Women. I have only met one of the partner's Tracey Henry and she is amazing. She also happens to be a Women Grow member.
Yes, the industry is still struggling to diversify in terms of black and brown people, but I believe we will soon see a change. Thus far I have met people of many races as well as from around the world. Our common goal has been to see this industry flourish.
What are the challenges of publicizing a cannabis business?
The challenges are twofold: Some of the businesses especially some of the start-ups are not ready for the broader media reach they desire. Some need more time to develop. This is where I turn challenges into opportunities. Here is a great way to educate the business on publicity and when it works. What I don't want is a misconception on the return. Being prepared and understanding what is newsworthy will help them go further.
The second challenge I would say is working around the stigma of the cannabis industry with greater media outlets. Not everyone is sold on the idea of legalization. Or understands it. There is still a challenge of getting some to take it seriously without a chuckle or limiting beliefs. For that, I get it, to me that requires patience and understanding. This is still a very new conversation and will take time for some to see beyond what had been traditionally discussed regarding marijuana. People would be amazed by some of the business ventures on the rise. The majority are focused on the growers or dispensaries which is understandable as they are the base of the industry. But, my challenge has been getting media to see the other creators such as packaging companies, educational programs, research services for families and patients, jewelry makers, pain management products and more. I think people would be surprised to see the business and career potential the industry is creating.
Lastly, I would add this industry is not for everyone. I see many wanting to jump on because they see a gold rush. Those coming in need to be prepared to stay up to date on the changes occurring and have the flexibility to shift as the industry expands and not be disappointed if their THING doesn't catch on. Patience is needed for sure.
I would add not everyone entering is meant to be a business owner. I see great opportunities for those to help build strong businesses in the role of CFOs, COOs, CTOs, HR heads, sales, designers, marketing, researchers, etc. There is great career potential within the industry. My goal is to reintroduce people in our communities. It is understandable why we are resistant, I was in the same boat but now I have a better understanding and see how many levels success can be achieved. The cannabis industry will be a leading business area and I want our people to be informed of possibilities and not feel left out. We have a chance to a part of the blueprint and get credit while doing it.