Female Publishers Discuss the State of the Art of Cannabis Media
It should be a no-brainer, right? A vast media landscape of female perspectives on an entirely female plant should be a given. And yet, however obvious, such a thing has hardly ever been apparent in our modern media landscape, since, until recently, the cannabis media landscape in particular, not to mention the legal weed market as a whole, has been largely male-dominated.
As Amy Margolis - a scheduled speaker at SXSW 2019 and founder of The Commune and The Initiative (a Portland-based women's coworking space and an incubator for women in weed, respectively) - decries in her Forbes editorial about the world's top cannabis companies today: “There’s a startling and systemic problem: Canopy’s Board of Directors and executive officers are all men. This group is positioned to forcefully impact the way the cannabis industry looks and develops, perhaps permanently.” Fortunately, since the 2016 US election, legalization of adult use and medical cannabis in dozens more states has given rise to a new wave of tech-savvy female entrepreneurs — most notably a cadre of media mavens creating sophisticated brands for discerning women who share a love of print and a passion for weed.
And talk about an untapped audience, the hunger and thirst for these design-forward, weed-forward, women-forward outlets is evident in the runaway, out-of-stock success of magazines like Broccoli and Gossamer, progressive publications, both featured in Vogue, and which are proving disruptive to the cannabis and the mainstream publishing industries. (Still in its first year in publication, and originally slated as a tri-quarterly, Broccoli has just published its fourth issue and has already reprinted its inaugural issue.)
From Instagram heavyweights like The Her(b) Life to Dope Girls Zine, all of these #womeninweed titles have their own own unique voices and visions, but are value-aligned in their whole-plant/whole-woman prerogative. So, whether you’re talking about cannabis or feminism — same difference in their books.
Clearly, 21st-century sisters are publishing it for themselves, and the democratizing role of social media — of Instagram, alone, for that matter — is merely the starting point for a much larger discussion about women in cannabis, women in publishing, women in big business, and women in power. That's why Civilized invited four up-and-coming publishers to participate in a roundtable discussion on these very subjects.
This group includes Nina Fern, who left a successful career in international finance to launch The Highly, “an independent travelogue for quality-minded cannabis seekers.” Then, there’s April Pride, founder of Van der Pop, “North America’s leading women-centric cannabis brand,” which has already been sold three times in the three years since its launch. As far as the magazine renaissance goes, there's Amy Weinstein, currently working double-shifts to publish both the print and online editions of Latitude, which champions first-person storytelling as the most authentic form of cannabis education. And as it happens, Latitude is the first magazine published by 48North Cannabis Corp., whose CEO, Alison Gordon, has been named one of Canada’s Top 10 Marketers by Marketing magazine, in addition to being the co-founder of Rethink Breast Cancer.
So, beginning with the premise that designing forward is leaning in, Civilized asked all four women to share their views on the state of the art of cannabis media today.
*These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Civilized: Please talk a little about the cannabis publishing landscape when you first started thinking of launching a project of your own. In your own words, what did that media landscape look like? And what was it about that landscape that compelled you to take your next step?
Amy Weinstein: I have been in the cannabis space for four years and have been immersed in cannabis literature and news. In this time, I have only found a few publications that really speak to me in terms of aesthetic and, especially, clarity and quality of writing.
My situation is unique: I am publishing Latitude for 48North, while managing most elements of the company’s corporate digital footprint, as well. When I was young, before I could have ever imagined cannabis as a career path, I would tell people I wanted to create a magazine that highlighted women and all the cool shit they do, without making a huge deal about their anatomy (read: vaginas). I think Latitude totally achieves this. It is not pink. It is not for women only. But it definitely puts women first, which I think is a unique and underrated approach to publishing, and life more generally. I think the media landscape is hungry for writing and design that intentionally includes women. I think this desire is even more relevant right now in the cannabis space.
Nina Fern: When I entered the space, it was a very special time: This was still a movement and the content overall was thin but felt very authentic. It’s been fascinating to watch the evolution. The landscape seemed 10 percent in size of what it is today. Online, it was either "female centric" (thank you, April!), or "stoner centric," with a few industry publications in between. Weediquette had premiered on TV and was very moving.
I wanted to create what I needed: the ultimate cannabis travel guide. The gaping hole for a voice for my demographic, which is older, was also calling me. We are typically represented in a "desperate housewives" or "depressing WebMD" kind of way. I wanted to approach healing with action, humor, and common sense. As I saw the consumer demographic getting older in the dispensaries, I felt that tried and true reviews of strains [and] dispensaries were a necessity. So many people were self-medicating and the budtenders at the time were not educated at all. That’s how I hopped in.
Alison Gordon: We decided to launch Latitude as an online and print publication to share stories of how women use cannabis in their everyday life as we believe storytelling is missing from the media landscape. People’s personal stories are a great way to break stigma and educate people that cannabis can be used in many different ways to enhance your life.
Civilized: I’d love to hear a list of each of your art, design, music, or fashion inspirations.
Amy Weinstein: The music, style and art of the Grateful Dead is a major lifeline for me. Patty Smith is a cultural icon who I love from every angle. Jim James from My Morning Jacket has an aesthetic (in his writing, fashion, et cetera) that is outlandish, indulgent, and reads completely authentic to me. His writing is relatable and weird.
Nina Fern: Prada, Dries Van Noten, Celine (Phoebe Philo era), Alexa Chung, Wes Anderson, Gary Hume. I am drawn to the architecture of design more than the detail. Music: I’m a Top 10 person and love anything with a good beat or sway. I come from finance and my entire being comes from a spiritual place. Howard Schultz, Ray Dalio, Thich Nhat Hanh, and of course Oprah. When I was a teen, with no parents at home, her talk show is what I turned to for guidance.
Alison Gordon: I am inspired by everything and am a total popular culture junky — I was even doing a PhD in popular culture studies. I use Instagram to keep on top of my inspiration — I follow everyone from Kim Kardashian to obscure illustrators and cute animals from Tokyo. I love imagery and celebrity, and I even get inspired from online shopping! I have a deeper side as well and love This American Life, along with other smart, funny, thoughtful podcasts like Serial and MILK.
April Pride: When Van der Pop launched, a friend mentioned a likeness to the work of Malika Favre. I dream of a day that she becomes a creative partner of the brand. Way cool with commercial appeal. Mies van der Rohe’s mantra “less is more” makes for great design and a more positive experience with cannabis. And “pop,” well, when a cork pops, smiles abound and “to be popped” is slang for being over served. A nod to the balance of which we all speak and seek.
Civilized: April, you've invested heavily in Van der Pop’s Instagram — that’s obvious. But I actually learned about that heavy investment through The Highly’s Instagram, which quoted you saying, “I spent 50 percent of my seed capital and 80 percent of our resources, in terms of time, building our social media because I knew I could sell my company based on its Instagram account.” Would you talk about that decision in more detail?
April Pride: Van der Pop has found great fortune using social media as a marketing vehicle. Both from reach with consumers to brand visibility with creative collaborators, et al, strategic partners (including investors), Instagram is an integral tool to one’s due diligence. So with tight budget/time and a restrictive digital advertising landscape, my hypothesis was that Van der Pop’s Instagram feed had the greatest potential for impactful ROI (return on investment). Rather than optimize the website beyond basic meta data and strategic use of content (cross-channel keyword campaigns), I optimized the efforts of Van der Pop’s first employee. The conscientiousness with which she developed our Instagram community brought our brand identity to life.
Civilized: Nina, in The Highly’s interview with Van der Pop, you followed up with a quote by April: “You can’t just be a brand that has a pretty picture. You’ve got to really stand for something.” So, two things: One, seeing as you left a successful career in finance behind to launch The Highly, I’m curious what sort of investment you made in your social media, and how Van der Pop influenced your own business plan and the role of design in your game plan. Second, you describe The Highly simply as a travelogue, although it’s already been compared to “Michelin meets the New Yorker” by Medium.com. I’m curious, what your goals were when you launched, and if they've changed in the past couple years?
Nina Fern: I invested in art alone. It was insurance on being memorable and not becoming lost in a sea of gorgeous Instagram feeds. Unexpectedly, slowly growing this artist community gave The Highly a beating heart, a wonderful work culture, and an authentic vibe. Our core mission hasn’t changed at all. This is where you go, what to get and most importantly why it’s good — backed up by tried and true reviews. Until The Highly is in print — which is the plan, I will still call it a travelogue.
Civilized: Alison, I mentioned Amy Margolis’s piece, “We Must Do Better,” and, as a CEO, you can speak directly to that piece. It’s interesting that the business side of cannabis remains male-dominated, but the vast majority of the best cannabis media, particularly in the past 18 months, is decidedly female-driven. That led me to wonder if that’s actually creating a disconnect — inasmuch as, online, it appears as though women have as much stake and as many opportunities as men right now, when, in fact, that's still not really true. Beyond that, I’d love to hear you respond to Amy’s piece with any follow-up thoughts, given your own chutzpah and hustle.
Alison Gordon: It is unfortunate that many of these big companies are run by white men who have never used cannabis. Some CEO’s have even bragged that they have never tried it! It’s crazy — can you imagine if the CEO of Apple had never used a computer or smartphone? At 48North, we are very focused on the women’s market as we know that [about half] of cannabis consumers are women, and women are more likely to see cannabis as a health and wellness vehicle. The fact that women are not represented at the executive and board level is shameful. It’s weird that I am the first and only CEO of a public cannabis company in the world. It’s 2018!
Civilized: Amy, I thought of you when Alison mentioned the rag-tag grassroots of cannabis publishing. Your first print issue just dropped, and given how refined Latitude’s aesthetic is, I’m wondering, is there any way you incorporate the old grassroots into Latitude’s design, even spiritually? Is there a place for that old era of publishing in the new era?
Amy Weinstein: I think movement toward the fun, wacky nature of traditional cannabis culture, but infused with high design will allow people to understand the fun, funny, and subversive nature of what cannabis can provide. I think this will also allow those who have been at the forefront of the cannabis industry for the last 20 years to find content that is relatable to them, as well. I want to include and give voice to all the people who have been marginalized by prohibition, and now legalization, especially those who have been so integral in making this change happen. That is the next step in my eyes.
Civilized: April, Amy Margolis enlisted you as a board member for The Initiative. Could you share some mentorship parting advice, what you’d like to share with all the women who cannot attend The Initiative, but certainly have the chutzpah to be entrepreneurs? What advice do you wish you’d been given, if any?
April Pride: All “subject matter experts” love to share what they've learned with interested, driven entrepreneurs. This, I’ve found, is particularly true of women. One day, I looked around and realized that all of my closest friends were running their own successful small businesses. Surrounding yourself with other women who are in a similar stage of building a company — or slightly ahead of you!—is invaluable. The second piece of advice I’d give is look at the total raise you need and figure out how to get there with half. Creativity comes when budgets are tight.
Civilized: Alison, from the day we began this interview and the day it’s published, 48North Cannabis Company will have successfully merged with Good & Green (a leading Canadian organic cannabis company which raised 10 million dollars in equity financing last June), which touches upon everything we’re discussing here. But my question is, simply, how does this moment feel?
Alison Gordon: This moment feels incredibly hopeful! We are so excited to be one of the first companies to grow outdoors — outdoor grow is going to be completely disruptive to the industry! I love that it’s (the first female-run cannabis company in Canada) two women who are going to turn the industry on its head!