The next big pot biz: medical marijuana marketing?

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I was talking last night with a friend in public relations who told me that many PR firms around town are still reluctant to work with medical-marijuana clients. If that's the case, it's a shame -- since Colorado's dispensary scene is a marketer's dream.

There are already lawyers, realtors and insurance agents getting in on the medical-marijuana action; it seems only fitting that PR and marketing whizzes should get a piece of it, too. After all, when there were just a few dispensaries around, most patients probably selected an operation based largely on location -- the closest joint was likely the place to go. But now, with dispensaries popping up everywhere, including many that are opening within spitting distance of their competition, dispensaries are going to have to find a new way to differentiate themselves -- and they better do so soon.

The dispensary scene is booming right now, but eventually the industry will shake itself out, partly because of competition, partly because of municipal and statewide regulations in the works. When that shake-out time comes, it'll be the dispensaries that have developed a loyal clientele and a good reputation that will be the last ones standing.

That's where savvy marketing companies could come in -- and the opportunity to push pot could be the career challenge of a lifetime. How do you position your client in a industry that's never before existed legally -- especially an industry that's as sensitive and heady as medical marijuana? The best marketing strategies -- whether used in the form of ad designs, websites or press releases -- might combine the chicness of a posh bar or restaurant, the authority and sensitivity of a medical business, and just a hint of the counterculture vibe long tied up in the marijuana scene.

Putting it all together won't be easy. But would-be marijuana marketers do have one advantage going for them: These days in the news media, marijuana is a magic word. (Case in point: The amount of coverage we here at Westword have devoted to the topic over the past year.) Take essentially any ho-hum business-related press release, add the word "marijuana," and you'll have reporters slobbering all over it.

So there you go, spin doctors -- the "Next Big Thing." I'd especially love to see the topic tackled by the folks at Cooper Sterling, the fictional ad agency in Mad Men. That's just the sort of thing would loosen up Don Draper and his repressed, stuffy colleagues.

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