Marijuana Business Magazine September 2018

I t didn’t take long for #PermitPatty to start trending on social media – or for Allison Ettel to lose control of her business. On June 23, Ettel, then-CEO of a California company that sells CBD tinc- tures, was filmed threatening to call the police on an 8-year-old black girl for sell- ing water on the street without a permit. The sloppy aftermath – a shifting narrative, defensive apologies, botched media appearances, Ettel’s resignation from TreatWell Health and a sudden business rebrand – underscored the need for cannabis businesses to do strategic crisis communications planning …or risk losing everything. While they didn’t comment on any specific case, communications experts who spoke with Marijuana Business Magazine emphasized the importance of crisis communications planning and shared strategies for crafting an effec- tive, professional crisis response. A crisis communications plan should include: • Identifying a crisis planning and response team. • A roundup of potential crises or vulnerabilities – be it a large-scale product recall, a run-in with law enforcement (think Denver-based Sweet Leaf ) or an event that unleashes a public relations night- mare (such as Ettel’s case). • A checklist of questions to ask in a crisis – who, what, when, where, why and how? • A list of stakeholders, such as inves- tors or employees. • A rundown of different commu- nications channels and an internal communications plan. • Key messages for various audiences, including an initial placeholder statement while you gather facts and templates for follow-up statements. “That, in a nutshell, is crisis plan- ning,” said Kim Casey, the communica- tions manager for Colorado’s vertically integrated marijuana chain Native Roots Dispensary. “Shooting from the hip, things are going to spiral out of control quickly.…By being able to say, ‘If this, then that’ well in advance, you give your- self a road map that allows you to make decisions quickly without the influence of the adrenaline of the moment.” The key, Casey said, is to leverage communications best practices and apply them to the cannabis industry. “There are so many crisis com- munications plans out there; so many industries and so many experts that have done this already,” Casey said. “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.” Assemble a Team Your crisis communications team can include C-level executives, board members, legal counsel and commu- nications, marketing and social media specialists. If your communications or market- ing consultants or in-house teams aren’t experienced in crisis planning, hire and consult with a crisis communications expert. “What you really want is a crisis communications expert,” said Mary Patrick, a 35-year veteran of strate- gic communications and the CEO of Jasculca Terman Strategic Communica- tions in Chicago. “Someone who has managed major crises and who asks the right questions; someone who can help you move quickly and credibly; someone who is a good writer; someone who is EXECUTIVE SUMMARY In the aftermath of the #PermitPatty incident involving a former California cannabis CEO – and Denver-based Sweet Leaf’s legal woes – now is the perfect time to develop a crisis communications plan. Communications experts shared strategies for crafting an effective, professional crisis response: • Identify your crisis planning and response team, your stakeholders, a decisionmaker and your spokespeople. • Name potential crises and your company’s vulnerabilities – even when it’s uncomfortable to put them on paper. Know what constitutes a crisis and what doesn’t. • Create tools in advance that will help you respond rapidly when crisis strikes. Think phone trees and incident-report templates. • Consider your communications channels and your key messages in advance; know which message you’re sharing to which audience on which channel. September 2018 • Marijuana Business Magazine • 43