Jared Mirsky can thank his parents for his entrepreneurial spirit: both his mother and his father own businesses. Which is probably what emboldened him at the age of nineteen to start his own enterprise – Mirsky Media - which grew to focus on graphic design. He quickly made connections in the cannabis industry and recognized the virtually limitless opportunity to brand new and growing cannabis companies. Today, his firm Wick & Mortar is the oldest and longest running cannabis branding, marketing, and advertising agency in the country. Mirsky has been featured in CNN Money, The Huffington Post, NW Leaf Magazine, DOPE Magazine, Leafly, Cashinbis, and was recently included in the 40 under 40 list in Marijuana Venture Magazine.
Congratulations on the recent successes of Wick & Mortar, you guys are killing it right now. Give us a snapshot of the company today.
Wow, thank you, we’ve been really fortunate lately. Wick & Mortar is growing fast. We’ve got 15 full-time people on the team now including graphic designers, digital designers, web developers, and project managers. We’re based in Seattle, but we have served clients in every medical and recreational state. We’ve developed a new docuseries, a campaign about stars in the industry, and we’re developing new rev. streams. Pretty soon we’ll have a line of merchandise. And we just won another DOPE Magazine award - this was our second win in a row.
What do you think about the state of branding in the cannabis industry? What company (or companies) is really hitting it out the park?
We really like what Rebel Spirit is doing, we like Spoil’d a lot, Canndescent is a great brand, and Elevate Cannabis Company. MG Magazine is beautiful, and so is DOPE Magazine.
You would know... DOPE Magazine just awarded Wick & Mortar “Best Cannabis Design Firm” for the second year in a row. What typically happens when a company wins an award like that?
No, I’m kidding! EVERYTHING happens - all the good things! The phones blow up with new clients, existing clients want to brand new products, great designers want to work with us... it’s just amazing to be recognized by Dope Magazine. And it’s nice to be noticed for GOOD work that’s the product of a lot of HARD work. We’d also be happy to get some mainstream design awards so we get recognized as great designers, not just great cannabis designers.
Tell us about yourself. Who the heck is Jared Mirsky and how does a guy get into cannabis branding and design?
I was a small-town guy, and kind of a troublemaker. My parents both owned businesses. When I was in my late teens, I ran into a friend who had made several, similar “poor choices.” But he was now successful. You know what they say, “The teacher will appear when the student is ready.” Well, I was READY. I’d been living paycheck to paycheck, always on the hustle… and I was ready to get out of that.
He told me he could show me how to get ahead, but I had to agree to take his mentorship, live in his house, and take all his direction. This made me super serious about what I wanted to do. I started promoting night clubs, and my partner and I realized we were spending $3,500 a month on graphic design for posters, handouts, and whatnot. So I decided to learn how to do my own graphic design.
At the beginning I was horrible, but I worked super hard and then I got really good and all the clubs wanted us. Everything was going digital at that time, so I taught myself web design, and pretty soon I was ranked #1 on YELP in Seattle for graphic design and web design, over all the agencies in town. I was getting a lot of calls, which meant I had to learn how to do business. Man, I made so many mistakes… but I kept learning… I was 3 years into it when medical cannabis became legal in 2009. That’s when I started OMD (Online Marijuana Design).
So Mirsky Media became Online Marijuana Design…? By the way, did you ever run into trouble with the work “marijuana” in your name?
It made sense for SEO, but sure, it made trouble. It’s still trouble in the mainstream marketing world, but it’s also honest and authentic for what we're doing.
What’s the significance of the Wick & Mortar name?
We chose it because it made sense on so many levels. We started with the concept of “Brick and Mortar”, which describes how to build things from the ground up. That’s what we do in branding: every brick counts, and the mortar holds it all together. It feels timeless and substantial. Our office is in a brick building, and we do lots of work for ‘brick and mortar’ retailers…
But it wasn’t quite right, so we stepped aside a bit and thought about changing Brick to “Wick” – it’s ethereal like a brand concept, it causes ash which falls to the ground, like old ideas. Also, a wick relates to smoking and also to hemp, which is an important part of the industry. So, we became Wick & Mortar.
We’ve just seen the latest installment of your gorgeous “Be a Voice, Not an Echo” campaign. How did you select the cannabis personalities you’ve featured?
We were noticing the large number of real influencers in our industry didn’t have a huge social media following. You know, having the biggest social media presence doesn’t make you important, it’s the work you do and the impact you have – but perhaps we could help. We also wanted to honor folks who have led the way with courage and vision – like Cheryl Shuman, Dennis Peron, Vicente Fox, Steve DeAngelo. It was also a fun way to build relationships and start a conversation in the industry.
Be a Voice, Not an Echo: Steve D'Angelo, Dr. Lakisha Jenkins, former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Cheryl Shuman, Ed Rosenthal, Ruth Epstein
What's your take on how people in the industry are supposedly freaking out about the use of ‘pot’ or ‘weed’ or ‘bud’?
To be honest, I don’t really care. I call it pot, weed, or bud when I am being casual with friends. From a technical or professional perspective, we say ‘cannabis’ instead of ‘marijuana’. But as for saying ‘weed’ and stuff like that, I don’t think anyone cares.
The cannabis industry is moving fast… Can you tell us about your company’s first big breakthrough, and some best moments in your career?
It really is moving fast, and it seems like we have breakthroughs every year! I feel we have the best core team I could have, and we’re building on top of that. But as for a real breakthrough moment, I’d have to say the Huffington Post article in 2013 was the launch pad for us. Now, I’ve been in 11 magazines and 40 digital publications, and all of those were organic. So I’d have to say HuffPo.
Tell us about your Docuseries “Rebranding Cannabis”
It’s really about how Wick & Mortar is crafting brands that help shape and mold the perception of the industry. Our big goal is to help cannabis look like a commodity, a part of everyday life.
What’s your idea of an ideal client?
An ideal client is licensed, funded, communicates really well, respects deadlines, pays on time, understands that branding is a process so they’re not in a rush, and are realistic about how long things take.
Being named to the “40 Under 40” list for Marijuana Venture… how cool was that?
It was awesome! Greg James has done such as great job at Marijuana Venture. I feel humbled to be on that list. It reminds me why I work so hard, and it makes me appreciate everyone in the industry that is working hard for the industry. There are lots of amazing people who do things I can’t do… it’s a true industry leader campaign.
Q: What’s it like to be called the “David Ogilvy of Cannabis”?
I don’t know how realistic it is, but it’s pretty cool. Those are some big shoes to fill – Ogilvy was a brilliant man, the godfather of advertising. I am not as creative as he was! But seriously, we want to be known as leaders in design community and also among the first! We want the work to be taken seriously. It was not that long ago that there were no serious designers in cannabis.
Question from Left Field: What’s the bull dog’s name in your Cannacon video?
Her name is Blazey. She’s half Frenchie, half Boston – a Frenchton.
Is there any question you wish we’d asked?
A: Here’s one: If the owner of a cannabis company wanted to design the brand, what would you recommend? And I’d say:
Don’t do it yourself. It requires professionals and you have too many other things to do.
Don’t just hire a freelancer – no single person can do it all, and multiple perspectives are critical
Be ready to spend some money and time. Branding is an important investment. You can always start with a smaller extraction machine, and put the extra money into your branding. When the branding works, you get the bigger machine. Successful companies make these trade-offs.
It takes time: It could take 3-5 months depending on the number of products you have…