Kip Morrison is the Founder and CEO of the legendary public relations and branding agency Kip Morrison & Associates. In person, she is warm and engaging with a delightful sense of humor, making it difficult to imagine she’s run her business from the same Beverly Hills building for over three decades. Kip’s background in art history and dance attracted her to what has become a large stable of lifestyle clients that are regularly seen in national media, and to the cannabis industry in 2013, when she created her cannabis-focused subsidiary, KMA CANNABIS. KMA Cannabis has been instrumental in the launch and brand building of such industry supernovas as The Venice Cookie Company/VCC Brands, MedMen, Absolute Extracts, Lowell Herb Company, Foria, and MondoMeds.
Hi Kip, thanks so much for taking time to meet for breakfast today. We wanted to speak to you about your firm’s public relations work in the cannabis industry, and your role in launching some of the industry’s biggest brands.
Please, thank you for the opportunity. By the way, we do a lot more than PR for our cannabis clients, but I’m sure we’ll get to that.
Well how about now? What’s the log line on Kip Morrison & Associates?
We are by design a boutique public relations and branding firm for lifestyle brands. We enjoy a specialty in the launching and branding of a very select number of top-notch clients.
And KMA Cannabis? You were one of the first media pros to commit to cannabis in a big way.
The cannabis industry is full of incredible people and is a challenging space to work in. My son was one of the founders of the Venice Cookie Company, and one of the first brands for which KMA was able to utilize our consumer product expertise. Pretty soon afterward, we were able to help put Foria on the map, and then Adam Bierman, giving MedMen a platform to grow into one of the biggest brands in the industry. It’s good to be a first mover – to see the opportunity and grab it! Currently, we have two cannabis clients that have seen brand growth ranging from 400% to 1000% in less than 10 months.
In your mind, where does PR fit in the big scheme of marketing?
I’ve always thought public relations is really superior to advertising because PR creates credibility. And you can’t advertise cannabis on Google or Facebook anyway. It’s like going to a party: you meet a person who tells you he’s great, you think “Well, OK…”, but when your friends tell you he’s great, then you want to talk to him. PR works because third-party validation comes from widely read editorials in print, digital or broadcast media. In the case of our clients, the media might be Forbes, the New York Times, NPR, or it might be High Times, Bill Maher, or Dope Magazine. Depends on the client. We usually shoot for media with 500,000 to 2.5 million followers. And to put those numbers into perspective, ABC’S “GOOD MORNING AMERICA” show has an audience of approximately 2 million a day.
KMA Cannabis Client Media Coverage
People think PR is just sending out press releases. That’s not how it really works!
Not at all! People want traditional PR, they want social media, but they don’t think about the strategy, the writing talent, the time… We have to give the editor the story he or she needs! That takes time and hard work. It’s about building relationships and helping them do their job.
Tell us about some of your clients’ successes.
We worked with Absolute Extracts, the #1 vape and CBD farm, and watched them increase sales 10 times by placing 127 stories in a variety of 50 outlets in 8 months. In our first three months with Lowell Herb Company, we created a Valentine’s Day cannabis bouquet and a cannabis flower crown for Coachella attendees. Lowell was onboard to sell 400 bouquets but the campaign went viral and they sold 800 with 800 more on a waiting list. This year for Henry’s Original we collaborated on a cannabis Christmas wreath that was featured in the LA Times and on Mashable.
Wow, KMA Cannabis has had some great clients. What do you think made them choose you?
Our clients, of course, are looking to us for ink. When we sat down, I said we do much more than PR – I wasn’t trying to be clever… Every single thing we’ve learned in consumables marketing applies to our cannabis brands. Our system works.
What they might not realize at the beginning is that getting their companies placed in big-name pubs and media is a much bigger job than sending out press releases. That’s why we provide a balance of brand strategy and PR.
For instance, we have an in-house Creative Designer, to make sure our client’s materials are always visually compelling. That’s unusual for an agency our size, but it works. Some of my Associates are Ivy League graduates, most are trained journalists, and we’re A-types… we work really hard. We do a LOT of research and we’re very strategic. We study the media relentlessly and provide the people we are pitching with answers rather than questions. So, journalists think of us as a resource, not a nuisance.
I’ve been flattered by a client that recently named us the Charlie’s Angels of PR. And just yesterday, someone said at a meeting the we are the Swiss Army Knife of PR!
Cannabis has been an outlaw industry for so long. Do you find your cannabis clients are sophisticated, or really need a lot of work?
In my experience, cannabis people are really, really smart. They know their businesses very well and know when to ask for help outside their areas of expertise.
There’s so much energy being focused on our industry right now. Have you ever seen anything like this before?
Of course! I’ve had my office on this corner in Beverly Hills for 30 years. I have been through the lift off of several industries that are mainstream today, and have helped launch some great companies. The markets, public relations, branding… they’re all constantly evolving, which is what makes it so fresh and fun.
There are a lot of cannabis companies that need PR, right? You must be doing very well.
Yes, there’s a lot of activity, but to your second point, let me just say I think mercenaries are bad news for the heart and soul of any industry. When the big money moves in, people can really lose their way. Cannabis people are very heart-forward. They don’t put their own success in front of the industry’s success, and we work really hard to craft our communications because we really feel this way, too.
That’s a great observation about cannabis people. We almost never hear anyone say “I”.
It’s amazing to see and experience, and makes cannabis such a different industry. In the early days, I loved to watch cannabis people out-responsible each other.
Is that a thing?
Definitely! One company would figure out a way to, say, grow healthier plants without pesticides. Then the next company would do that, and also recycle their water. Then they’d all do that, and another would figure a way to volunteer or help kids or something. The competitiveness was always for the good of society. Everyone wanted to make safer, saner stuff than everyone else. There’s a real honesty and integrity in this industry that’s unusual and wonderful. These are the type of clients that resonate with us.
Tell us a little more about yourself.
I was an art history major and a dancer, and when I had to get started in the working world, I was fortunate to discover public relations, and to focus on the types of clients that attracted me – the lifestyle companies, as opposed to corporate. KMA is a small boutique agency by design. I never wanted 100 clients with offices in 5 cities. Being small allows us to be nimble and act and react quickly. I lead with my heart. I am hands-on and work really hard for a special group of clients.
What opportunities are clients missing?
We’d love to see more client support the auditing of their media placements. It really helps us to understand what’s been successful, and then, obviously, to replicate the best strategies. We have digital tools that test headlines for clickability so we are able to post more efficiently, boost the best stories, and geo-target good editorial.
What’s your Dream for 2018?
We are always interested in hearing about the great new things cannabis people develop. Because branding can be the difference between success of one or the failure of the other, we always want to be on the right side of that contest. And we like to start early, and build exposure through great editorial. We don’t want to be the most expensive, just get great results!