Ascend Wellness Holdings (AWH) is one of the nation’s fastest growing cannabis companies operating in multiple U.S. states serving both medical patients and adult-use recreational customers. The company first entered the U.S. market with the acquisition of a pair of existing dispensaries in Illinois: one in the state’s capital city of Springfield and another in Collinsville, just outside of St. Louis, MO. To refresh the brand, Ascend changed the name and look of the stores. They needed help with the brand transition and strategic earned media to successfully assert themselves in the new market with established players, and eventually expand their presence to other states.
- Promote Ascend’s relevance by injecting them into key spaces as subject matter experts in the industry
- Identify marijuana journalists, influencers, and other forms of earned media and engage them to increase Ascend’s brand awareness
- Educate the public on the benefits of cannabis medically and recreationally
- Grow Ascend’s presence beyond Illinois to other limited-license states
We use a four-step process to help clients achieve their goals:
Analyze – Strategize – Execute – Amplify
Pendulum began by analyzing the current marijuana markets and competitors in Illinois, how the media was talking about them, and what regulations existed around cannabis advertisement.
From that evaluation, we identified a specific set of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats for Ascend to build a long-term communication strategy.
|● Industry expert||
● Unfamiliarity in new markets
● Restrictions on paid advertising
● Recreational use on the horizon
● Established patient base
● Other limited-licence states
|● Larger companies moving into new markets|
The cannabis industry presents unique challenges with its strict regulatory environment. Due to these restrictions, Ascend’s products could not be differentiated from others in the marketplace. However, Pendulum was able to successfully differentiate the Ascend brand in an ultra-competitive marketplace.
Upon analyzing the market and the regulations on cannabis from a public affairs point of view, we created a strategic campaign to enhance the brand power of Ascend. Based on the client’s goal to reach media in this new market, we built a comprehensive public communication strategy that included:
- Product/company messaging
- A comprehensive list of marijuana journalists, influencers, and any other forms of earned, public media in Illinois
- A pitch strategy to target and secure favorable product reviews
- A cadence of follow-up communication that ensured we were getting the maximum return on our eff
Execution of the public affairs strategy required a concentrated effort on journalists, influencers, and other earned media outlets in Illinois. We wanted the approach and the message to be most similar to what the journalist had covered or reviewed previously.
Additionally, as a result of the sprawling new industry, Pendulum had to form new relationships from scratch. In an extremely competitive industry, we had to be strategic and persistent in building lasting relationships.
Upon completion of successful PR outreach, Pendulum amplified coverage by key media outlets. This included sharing articles on social media and engaging with stakeholders, as well as creating marketing documents highlighting the coverage.
The creation, execution, and amplification of Ascend’s media strategy was a clear success. Ascend became the #1 dispensary in the state in terms of revenue. Additionally, Pendulum helped to secure more media coverage than any other cannabis company in the state. As a result, Ascend has been able to expand to 15 total locations throughout Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio.