Marijuana: PR man Joe Hodas on why he went from Smashburger and Frontier to pot

Joe Hodas is used to living the high life: The longtime PR guy spent five years as spokesman for Frontier Airlines in the mid-2000s, went on to a VP role with Smashburger, and then became an executive vice president with Vladimir Jones, a high-powered ad and PR firm, representing clients like Centura Health, Xcel Energy and the swanky Broadmoor Hotel. Now, he's made a move that could help him climb even higher. Hodas has decided to leverage his spinning skills for Dixie Elixirs and Edibles, a local start-up that makes cannabis-infused drinks, candies and capsules.

(We profiled the company's founder, Tripp Keber, in "Meet three ganjapreneurs in the brave new world of weed.")

In his personal blog, Marketing From the Other Green Side, Hodas posted an interesting explanation for his choice to take a job in Colorado's burgeoning marijuana industry, and the challenges that come with it.

"This was not a decision I entered into on a whim. I have known the folks at Dixie for almost four years," he wrote. "They came to my former agency, Vladimir Jones, because they were looking for both research on the medical marijuana well as some new branding.... That initial introduction to the company shoved this newly forming industry to the forefront of my consciousness.

"Don't get me wrong -- marijuana had always been there -- whether through my own personal experiences, or friends, or my fondness for stoner flicks (and yes, it still feels a little odd to admit, on a blog post, that I have indulged)," he continued. "But I began to see how exciting it can/would be, as a marketer, to be involved in developing a brand for a market that didn't really exist five years ago (at least above ground), and that is now being touted in terms of multi-billions of dollars."

In other words, he tells Westword, it was something he couldn't pass up. "This is a market that is still to be defined, so to be able to have influence on that -- not just on one brand, but on an entire industry -- if I really want to get grandiose, is immense."

It's also an opportunity to have input and influence on how "to market this responsibly and send the right message about it being an adult-use product and not for kids.... That was appealing," he says.

There are still -- and will continue to be -- some social stigma attached to marijuana, but Hodas believes that is fading quickly. "One thing that I've noticed in our world of technology and adoption is that the curve had gotten much faster," he explains. "What used to take fifteen to twenty years is now a two-year process.

"I gave this so much thought -- too much thought, frankly. I've read everything that is out there and all of the comments that people make. And I've come to realize that this is a significant social shift. This became clear to me. Our younger generation now has the ability to define what they think is harmful or what isn't."

The bigger challenge from a marketing and public-relations standpoint is the legal and regulatory issues involved with cannabis production and sales.

"The level of interest has been immense, so traditional public relations is actually one of our greatest tools," he explains. "However, there are a lot of regulations -- a lot of restrictions that tie our hands when it comes to getting the message out to the public. So we have to be more strategic on how we approach our marketing program."

Hodas also believes that the pot industry will benefit the state's tourism economy, even if the tourism bureau itself isn't comfortable doing the marketing. "I fully understand the decision to not jump right in an fully promote this," he says.

"It's a good, conservative wait-and-see approach. I would probably do the same. But that is part of the stigma. I think there will be benefits from tourism, and we are a diverse enough city to not just be known for this. It won't define us, but it will become part of the overall experience."

More from our Marijuana archive: "Pot amnesty boxes at Colorado Springs airport become national punchline."

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes

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