2 Minutes With … Michael Apstein, Principal Founding Partner at Primary Growth Partners

On the need to reset the cannabis narrative to focus on health and wellness

As a CEO, Michael Apstein has executed successful business strategies in the mid-market space for over 30 years. Though he specializes in health and wellness, Michael has also scored with beauty, home services, direct-to-consumer and educational products.

Primary Growth Partners has been exclusively focused on the U.S. cannabis marketplace since 2018. The company believes that marijuana is a consumer packaged good, and that brands will ultimately be critical to its success and value creation.

We spent two minutes with Michael to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.

Michael, tell us …

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

Just outside of NYC in a little hamlet on the Hudson called Sneden's Landing. My father was a television writer, so we moved to Los Angeles when I was 8 years old. I'm still in L.A., though in my heart I'm a New Yorker.

How you first got interested in cannabis.

I saw cannabis serving people across multiple generations with different health issues—from anxiety and stress to sleep and digestive ailments—and realized the narrative has been wrong. It's often compared to "sin" products, similar to alcoholic beverages. The need for a narrative reset, to portray cannabis as a health and wellness product—that drove my interest.

One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.

I was running a $1 million-a-month national TV campaign as the CEO of 1-800-DENTIST with 30-second spots, and while it was highly effective, I knew there was significant ROI waste within the buy. I brought in a statistician, and on a market-by-market basis we were able to trim spending to the most effective days of the week and times of day. We saved $1 million a year, and it dropped directly to the bottom line.

A recent project you're proud of.

My fondness for certain projects is always more about the team of people than the project itself. A few years ago, I brought out a children's computer game to improve focus and attention. Marketing educational aids to kids and parents has unique challenges. But the team believed in the product and its benefits. They submitted it for dozens of educational awards, which it won. The game earned the endorsement of the National PTA. Ultimately, it got into schools, helping tens of thousands of kids.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it.

Educating consumers about the benefits of cannabis, and stepping away from the stoner image. We need to stretch the positioning of cannabis or we'll all miss out on the incredibly diverse functionality and benefits of this plant.

One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about.

Brands that are focused on meeting particular needs and creating specific experiences. Peaceful Easy Feeling, our brand for Gen X consumers, with three experiences—Chill, Joy and Awesome—is a good example.

Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you admired lately.

Wyld's cannabis gummies. Excellent formulations, interesting flavors, strong branding and packaging.

A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.

How about a musical? I'm taken with Hadestown reviving stories from Greek mythology and making their messages meaningful, relevant and entertaining today.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

I beyond admire—place on a pedestal—all artists devoting themselves to showing the rest of us what life is all about.

Your favorite fictional character.

Probably Winnie-the-Pooh. He's leading a Zen life in the forest with his best friends nearby.  

Someone worth following in social media.

As a marketer, I see social media as another advertising platform, so I don't follow anyone or anything other than a select group of family members.

Your main strength as a marketer/creative.

Interpreting data and having it help drive smart decisions. I also assemble really good teams.

Your biggest weakness.

I don't pull poorly performing campaigns quickly enough.  

Something people would find surprising about you.

Some mornings I think about clobbering the rooster in the backyard.

One thing that always makes you happy.

A walk on the shore.

One thing that always makes you sad.

How delicious octopus is.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

Something similar to what I do now—bringing health and wellness products to a greater number of people.

2 Minutes With is our regular interview series where we chat with creatives about their backgrounds, creative inspirations, work they admire and more. For more about 2 Minutes With, or to be considered for the series, please get in touch.

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.