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New Marketing Company Offers Free Brand Makeovers To Cannabis Companies In Need

High Grade Hope wants to help companies that have suffered from COVID-19, cannabis convictions, gender discrimination, and other challenges.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As consumers transition from hunkering down to venturing out, and businesses adjust to what "the new normal" looks like for them, leaders in the cannabis world are likewise assessing the changing landscape before them and how to best traverse it. Jared Mirsky, founder of cannabis branding agency Wick & Mortar, and Kenneth Loo, co-founder of fashion PR agency Chapter 2, have recently partnered up to create a "super agency in cannabis," and as their first venture are launching High Grade Hope, a pro-bono initiative aimed at helping businesses that have suffered from the impacts of coronavirus.

High Grade Hope

High Grade Hope is offering its services to three lucky companies for free. The brands will receive new brand identities, logo design, brand strategy, packaging design, content creation, public relations, and more.

Applicants can send submissions via their website by June 15, 2020.

We spoke to Ken and Jared about their approach to helping clients navigate the next phase of recovery.

Related: In Wake Of Coronavirus, Cannabis Companies Look For Packaging Outside Of China

What exactly is High Grade Hope?

Jared Mirsky: It's a non-profit brand makeover for companies in the cannabis industry who suffer from all sorts of issues: recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, cannabis reform, gender discrimination, diversity issues, even business owners who have criminal records. We've joined forces with high-profile mentors like Ricky Williams, Josh Kesselman, Al Harrington, Steve DeAngelo, Sue Taylor. We're trying to help elevate select cannabis brands who've been financially burdened by issues that our industry struggles with on a local and global level.

How did you two come to team up?

Kenneth Loo: We met in Portland, I was there for some meetings with Nike, and there was a cannabis convention called the Rad Expo; Jared had a booth and was speaking there. I hate to say that I cornered him, but he's a prolific contributor to the voice of cannabis, we really connected on his articles, and I just felt he'd get what I wanted to do in cannabis at Chapter 2. We'd started by supporting young emerging fashion designers, culture creators, people who are using fashion to elicit change in the world: change the way people are dressing, acting, addressing social justice… a generation that knows fashion is a powerful communication tool to activate communities. We realized this could be applied to the world of cannabis as well.

I won't sugarcoat it, the current state of the cannabis industry is that it resembles a country club. When I grew up, cannabis was cool, there were social and cultural aspects to it, but as the industry moves more toward legal it's become more medicinal, like Advil or Tylenol, and the creative and cultural side of it has become washed away. If you distill it into a pill, it just becomes something you take because you're not feeling well, not because you want to be inspired. There are so many similarities between cannabis and fashion, and my partner in Chapter 2, Clara Jeon, and I saw an opportunity to bring that cultural aspect back into cannabis. And that kept leading me back to Jared. He's spent eleven years redefining what cannabis means to people, and in a very tactile way — he's put social impact and advocacy back into the conversation, and he's built it through community. He's contributed to some of the most well known and recognized cannabis brands in the industry, and he's done it without a rulebook.

Co-founders of Chapter 2, Kenneth Loo and Clara Jeon.
Image Credit: High Grade Hope

So we saw in each other these synergies, and that's what started the conversation about doing this together. It was a lot of hanging out, a lot of smoking weed, and a lot of sharing what we thought we could contribute with original ideas into the world of cannabis and giving that culture back. We saw an opportunity to create great brands that meant something to people. We've worked on these brands together, and I've helped him expand his voice through the media; I want to help him amplify his message of redefining cannabis and reach newer and bigger audiences.

What makes your partnership unique in the cannabis branding and marketing space?

JM: Looking at the diversity of clients that the two of us have, the distinction between cannabis and fashion is large but there are similarities. We're able to combine Ken's knowledge and experience of the fashion industry and morph that into what I know of cannabis, and it's made for a great pairing. Other firms that focus on cannabis but come from traditional PR, they don't have the vernacular that we have in terms of developing a story around the brand. The fashion world is so competitive, so looking at the opportunity of our partnering together, we understood that there was a need for proper storytelling in this space. A lot of brands that come into the cannabis industry try to be everything to everyone, and sell every product under the sun under that one name. They just don't understand how to build a brand architecture, with sub-brands, with multiple brands. For us, it's about being able to help these businesses solve unique problems with our storytelling, honing in on what's important not to the business, not their own agenda, but to the consumer. I care about what I leave behind as my legacy in the cannabis industry, I want to know what I did to help change the perception of cannabis. Ten years ago I picked up a book by David Ogilvy, and when I read it I thought, "He did in the traditional space what I can do in the cannabis industry."

Image Credit: High Grade Hope

How do you see the industry being reshaped in the post-COVID-19 world?

JM: It's extremely important for companies to realize — and I think this will become more and more popular as we enter the recovery — that they don't need to have a license to grow or sell. What they can do is create unique, powerful intellectual property and develop licensing deals with existing cultivators. For someone who wants to develop a brand, it gives them a brand in not just one state but perhaps multiple states, or even nationally, without having to touch the plant so it's less risky. And this is no different than in the traditional world. If people focus on building national brands through licensing deals, without worrying about getting a license to cultivate, they won't have the burden and responsibilities of a cultivation license. So when federal legalization of THC occurs, there won't be a need for all these farms, there'll be consolidation, because they'll be able to distribute across borders like a CBD company. Plus, you're set up very well for an acquisition; they're not looking to buy your farm, they're looking to buy your brand.

KL: In the fashion industry, you have conglomerates that own several fashion brands — take LVMH and Kering Group for example — and they're able to acquire new brands and grow them within an existing infrastructure. We see that happening within the world of cannabis as well. As we get closer and closer to nationalization, and as the industry expands rapidly, we see large growers gobbling up brands because they have the existing infrastructure to support those brands; they're gonna either need to acquire brands or create their own. Right now we have luxury brands and value brands, but we don't have a lot in between, and that in-between is where we can start developing that segmentation and those niche brands. In fashion, there's Nike and then there's other brands — the sneaker brand your mom wears for exercise, and the cool brands that kids want to wear, and the brands that competitive runners want to wear. That's what we see happening in cannabis, and that's where we'll flourish because with this partnership we can create brands quickly and grow them in a unified way. We can be a one-stop-shop for someone who says, "I want to make a cannabis brand for women," or "for women who go to SoulCycle," or "for sneaker heads." There's no other agency or design firm or PR firm that's come together the way we have— we're both experts in creating brands — so from the client perspective, they only have to talk to one team and it flows seamlessly.

What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs in the cannabis space?

JM: I would recommend that other entrepreneurs attend conferences and put themselves out there more in order to better develop their network; some of my best relationships started at conferences. I'd also highly recommend entrepreneurs focus on building their personal brand by applying to speak at conferences, focusing on creating value-driven content via social media, and writing articles for publications that are willing to publish your voice. Be unique, be yourself, but remember your reputation is everything. This industry is big for some and small for others, and once you reach the level we're at, you can't afford to make poor choices for personal gain. Add value to others and I promise you'll make your way in this industry.

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