Marijuana Mad Men: Meet Grow Room, the country's first MMJ marketing company

What's a poor dispensary owner to do to stand out in an oversaturated market featuring dispensaries on every street corner? One solution would be to hire Grow Room Communications, a new Denver-based company that purports to be the country's first and only medical marijuana business development and public relations firm -- one that's coming out of the gates ready to pick a fight.

Grow Room just went public as a wholly owned subsidiary of the nine-year-old, twelve-person Denver firm Volume Public Relations. But the venture has been in the works for nearly a year, says Elizabeth Robinson, the firm's president and CEO. Part of the impetus for the undertaking turns out to have been a conversation about medical-marijuana marketing I had last December with Robinson, who also founded VolumePR. At the time, Robinson was testing the MMJ waters, trying to decide whether she wanted her company to get involved in the hot-button subject. Following some exhaustive research, she decided to dive right in.

"After immersing myself in the industry, I decided our goal is to have, first and foremost, a firm that is focused exclusively on medical marijuana agencies, from packaged-good manufacturers to service providers to wellness centers," she says.

The result is an operation that does a lot more than fire off press releases. Grow Room's promotional materials suggest the firm opts for the blitzkrieg approach to brand development, from print and online advertising campaigns to promotional marketing schemes and business development plans. Robinson says the company already has two "cornerstone clients," one of which is the MMJ vocational school Greenway University, as well as 10 other smaller customers. It's also apparently already landed clients on CNBC, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg Businessweek.

Grow Room is looking to work with new customers in Colorado and beyond -- as long as those customers represent a good fit. "We want to make sure the right businesses are the ones that stay in business," says Robinson. "And the ones giving the industry a bad name and are just pot shops, those need to go out of business. We want to create a more harsh competitive climate where the businesses doing things right emerge as the industry leaders." Robinson is all for regulations like the new rule prohibiting patients from buying pot until 35 days after they've submitted their paperwork, since she believes they will force shady operators without steady clientele out of business. And she isn't afraid to drop names when it comes to which pot shops she'd like to see shuttered. "Dr. Reefer, for instance? I don't want them for business," she says. "Meanwhile, Preferred Organic Therapy and Wellness, one of our clients, that is a place that has a completely different environment for patient care... That's the sort of dispensary or medical marijuana center we want to see succeed to a degree that it puts the bad guys out of business."

For Robinson, the secret to successful MMJ marketing will be moving beyond just "amateurish" price wars waged in places like the back pages of Westword and instead developing business strategies like customer loyalty and retention efforts, social-media presences and strain-testing programs.

She acknowledges "the stale stereotypes of medical marijuana still found in some of the traditional and national media circles" could pose an obstacle to disseminating her clients' stories to a discerning public. But she also says medical marijuana marketing has at least one advantage over conventional public relations campaigns.

"The challenge that a marketer has with traditional products is lack of brand recognition. That is the barrier to getting people to pay attention," she says. "With medical marijuana, though, no one has brand recognition yet. It's an even playing field for everyone, everywhere."

If all goes as planned for Grow Room Communications, some MMJ companies may soon be playing with a significant advantage.

More from our Marijuana archive: "Greenway University becomes first state-licensed medical marijuana school."

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner