This week’s Trailblazer is Ricardo Baca, the founder & CEO of Grasslands Agency, a full-service integrated marketing and public relations agency that specializes in strategic communications services for wellness brands spanning food + beverage, cannabis, beauty, psychedelics and supplements.

Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer

When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?

In 2013, The Denver Post appointed me as the world’s first Cannabis Editor, and my job was to report on Colorado’s historic rollout of adult-use cannabis. It was a uniquely challenging endeavor, bringing capital-J Journalism to a “beat” like cannabis. I left The Post in 2016 to start-up Grasslands, which has now established itself as the “Best Cannabis PR Agency” in the world, per MJBizDaily, MJBizCon and the Emjay International Cannabis Award we brought home in December 2023. As Grasslands approaches its 8th anniversary later this year, we’ve developed a reputation for delivering meaningful PR, marketing and thought leadership results for our best-in-class clients throughout the global wellness industries.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?

Early on, we audited the various media channels that cannabis brands have access to—and given that paid and owned media channels present substantive challenges for most cannabis businesses, we recognized the insane importance of earned media for any weed brand looking to market itself in this vastly complex space. With primary advertising platforms like Meta and Google being mostly off-limits, strategic PR and SEO-charged content marketing are the most urgent marketing lifelines for many cannabis brands. And that’s where we truly specialize, in leveraging creativity and resourcefulness to make meaningful connections for our clients.

Grasslands

If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?

The federal government’s ongoing dialogue around rescheduling cannabis sparks hope for a pivotal shift in access to some of the world’s most powerful digital marketing channels. Rescheduling could potentially unlock doors to broader visibility and engagement for cannabis brands—something that is desperately needed as the state-level markets become more and more crowded.

In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?

Decades of polling by Gallup and Pew underscore the unmatched trust consumers place in earned media. PR is an indispensable tool for brand visibility and top-of-funnel awareness. And while many cannabis brands rightfully prioritize PR, it’s disconcerting to see many of them neglecting their single-most important marketing asset—their website, and it’s all-important SEO. In an era where Google writes the rules for digital search, building a robust and strategic online presence requires a steadfast commitment to SEO, given its pivotal role in consumer discovery.

Are there any other trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?

I hold immense respect for trailblazers and friends like Joe Hodas, who brought his high-level marketing acumen from Smashburger and Frontier Airlines to the world of weed—and I’m thrilled for his new role as CEO of Wana. Other immensely talented and legit-disruptive cannabis marketers I respect are Jen Seo at Nabis and Kim Barron at Cookies, both of whom continually push boundaries and reshape industry norms.

What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to marketers looking to enter the cannabis industry?

Success in the cannabis industry hinges on more than just savvy marketing; it requires a deep understanding and appreciation of the culture. Embrace the ethos, immerse yourself in its nuances, and remain open to unconventional strategies. By aligning with the vibrant spirit of the cannabis plant and the culture its shaped, marketers can chart a path to meaningful impact and enduring success.

Cannabis Marketing Trailblazers

A big thank you to Ricardo Baca from Grasslands Agency for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.

Camrawn Cox

Camrawn Cox

Camrawn Cox thrives in the realms of cannabis sales, marketing, and communication. With a knack for building meaningful connections, fostering engaging brand experiences and compelling strategies that drive the cannabis industry's growth.