2 Minutes with .... Stu Zakim, President of Bridge Strategic Communications

On the Happy Munkey brand and smoking with Cheech and Chong

Stu Zakim is a strategic communications professional with senior-level experience in the entertainment, media and cannabis sectors.

He has worked for some of the best known brands in film, magazines and television. Zakim has provided counsel to a variety of iconic media leaders including Jann Wenner, Bonnie Fuller, Christie Hefner, David Pecker and their publications such as Rolling Stone, Playboy, Us Weekly, Shape and Star magazine. Zakim has also worked as an executive at Columbia Pictures, Universal and Showtime. He frequently contributes to CNN and MSNBC on media issues.

Stu launched Bridge Strategic Communications in 2009, and he has been in the cannabis space for a decade as a PR professional and advocate representing clients like The Happy Munkey, CryoCure and Berkshire Roots. Stu writes regularly on cannabis issues for Rolling Stone and other outlets. His firm has won a pair of Clio Awards for its efforts on behalf of Happy Munkey.

A graduate of Boston University, Zakim is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. He was recognized by his peers as one of Top 100 people in the cable industry and also serves on the board of directors of the Publicity Club of New York.

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

Stu, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in Wayne, N.J., and went to Boston University's College of Communication, where I earned my degree in public relations. Now I live in Montclair, N.J.

How you first got interested in cannabis.

I've been a consumer for over 50 years. When legalization started to happen in Colorado and Washington state, I saw an opportunity to use my PR skills to help grow this industry and eradicate the stigma through the right kind of storytelling.

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

I've been very lucky in that my career was always in sync with my feelings about cannabis. I have a number of favorite projects from working in the film industry; doing publicity on two Cheech and Chong films and getting stoned with them at The Plaza Hotel, working on the classic stoner animated film, Heavy Metal, and on Half Baked, where Dave Chapelle and Jim Breuer got high in my private bathroom. I also ran the press room for the first 18 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction dinners. I handled PR for Rolling Stone twice and national promotions for Playboy, where I got to open a casino in Rhodes, Greece. Hef was actually one of NORML's first donors.

But without a doubt, my favorite project was transforming the Happy Munkey from an illegal speakeasy to the face of legal cannabis. Their story defines what makes this industry so unique in that anyone with a great idea can build the American Dream, regardless of color or gender. In the case of the Munkey, like many in our space, this includes criminal backgrounds.

A recent project you're proud of, and why.

I have two recent projects that I'm very proud of. The first is handling communications outreach for the opening of one of the first legal dispensaries in New York City, Union Square Travel Agency: A Cannabis Store. We generated a lot of media attention that was kind of ceiling breaking, including getting Fox's Good Day N.Y. to do a live remote from the store on opening day. But it was this half-page piece in the national section of the Sunday New York Times that showed the professionalism of the store’s training of its budtenders that presented a new way for readers to look at those who work in legal cannabis.

I also just helped Berkshire Roots, the largest cultivator in the Berkshires, launch a line of products inspired by the film Heavy Metal, throughout Massachusetts. Among the many big hits was a piece in Dow Jones' Market Watch that gives an excellent overview of the brand and its move into cannabis.

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

The biggest challenges marketers face are the restrictions in reaching broad audiences like any other industry—no traditional TV or radio advertising and other tactics that are basic in any other CPG industry. The approach I employ to deal with it is through earned media and helping reporters tell the kind of stories that not only establish my clients' brands, but also overcome the stigma and lack of education about the benefits of this plant for health and wellness.

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

I am most excited about how mainstream media is changing how it reports on this industry; cannabis is no longer limited to outlets like High Times, Honeysuckle, and other similar media. Today, outlets like The New York Times are assigning a dedicated reporter to cover us and that's a major acknowledgement that cannabis is coming of age.

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

There are many communications pros whose work in cannabis I am impressed by, as their positions about integrity and authenticity align with mine, such as Jordan Isenstadt, Rosie Mattio, Evan Nison, Gia Morón and Shawna McGregor.

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

As an Academy member for over 25 years, film—besides cannabis—has been the biggest passion in my life. Steven Spielberg's The Fablemans inspired me on a number of levels. Having done publicity on many of his films including Schindler's List,  what got me here was his determination to live his dream of being a filmmaker in spite of his life coming apart. The final scene brought tears to my eyes, where he is walking down the studio lot and his joy in being there makes him start to dance as I remember feeling the same way my first time on a Hollywood studio lot.

A visual artist or band/musician you admire.

Bruce Springsteen

Your favorite fictional character.

Gabriel Allon from Daniel Silva's series about Israel’s head of intelligence.

Someone worth following on social media.

Vlad Bautista

Your main strength as a marketer/creative.

Creative problem solving

Your biggest weakness.

Being too direct

Something people would find surprising about you.

That this Jewish, handsome, smart, modest and funny guy is single and 66! (hint, hint).

One thing that always makes you happy.

Being with my family

One thing that always makes you sad.

The loss of my son Jonathan to addiction at 26.  

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

I'd be using my communications skills to fight anti-semitism and make sure Donald Trump never is elected again!

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.

Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a contributor for Muse by Clio. She's also a recent graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder's College of Media, Communication, and Information.

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