Avaans PR's Tara Coomans on Building Purpose-Driven Cannabis Brands

Plus, the company's new Product PR Sprints

Tara Coomans is the CEO and founder of Avaans PR, where she leads remote team offices in New York, Denver and Los Angeles. Avaans PR is the single banner culmination of Coomans' multiple agencies, including Primo PR, founded in L.A. in 2015 specifically for the cannabis industry.

Coomans volunteers with several organizations including the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), where she is a member of the Marketing and Advertising Committee and heads the Best of 420 subcommittee. Over the past 11 years, Coomans has also served numerous chapter and global roles for Social Media Club (SMC); she is currently an advisor. She has also served as vice president for the American Marketing Association, a board member for Junior Achievement, TedX, and as a local ambassador for Code for America. 

Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, she now resides in Los Angeles' South Bay area with her husband and two standard poodles, Stella and Zoe, who are now "Zoom famous" for their regular appearances in business meetings.

We spoke with Tara for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.

Tara, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I live in Los Angeles, but I got here by way of Hawaii, Arizona and Wisconsin, so as the lady says, a little bit of everything all rolled into one. I grew up in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home of the world-famous Green Bay Packers. And yes, I've been to a game at Lambeau Field in subzero temperatures. And yes, I much prefer sunny, warmer climates.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

I guess we're a little OG. Avaans Media (previously Primo PR) has been providing bespoke cannabis PR from startup through IPO since 2015. The HQ is Los Angeles, but our team is 100 percent remote, so we have team members in New York, Florida, Denver and Portland, among other places.

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

My favorite story about cannabis is an amalgamation. For me, whether it's an industry event or an evening with friends, cannabis is always attached to that easy feeling of being among friends. That's why I enjoy the industry so much—it's really a family.

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

Oh, wow, this is tough because there are so many great products. For flower, Claybourne Co. has been a favorite of mine for years, I have tons of their jars laying around, it's kind of embarrassing. It's a straightforward smoke—their Gold Cuts are some of the best high potency flower out there. Before bed, I'm often looking to Kikoko's Tranquili-Tea, and their Little Helpers Buzz mints are the perfect micro dose before brunch with the girls. I like Nuvata's vapes, that brand is a whole vibe, but the mind-body formulations are spot-on and I love the colorful vapes. And foodies unite: The Binske pure Fortunato chocolate bar is outstanding on its own or great for melting for cannabis deserts.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Despite the challenges that exist today it's so much easier now than when I started in the industry in 2015. Aside from the usual complaints, I think the bigger challenge is strategic. The cannabis community has such a strong history of activism. And consumers today want brands to have a deeper, more holistic purpose in their advocacy.  What I mean by that is walking the walk in a business's internal policies and procedures to address social and sustainability change.

That includes engaging the internal customer first, then partners, then customers, rather than customers only with a campaign. Purpose is an inside-out job, it's not an outside-out job, and that is a serious challenge to marketers these days because it's much easier to create a campaign than create a purpose-focused organization.

BUT, besides authentically benefitting important movements, brands who dig deeper into purpose-driven commitments will have an advantage in the eyes of consumers and employees, and influencers, because the brand will have a "good citizenship" glow. I'd love to work with more cannabis brands that want to dig into strong purpose-driven PR and business.

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships, or marketing.

I'm excited about our brand-new Product PR Sprints. We created these packages only for consumer product brands. We have never done this before. It's a short-term program with high impact, centered on key buying seasons like the holidays and 420.

Yes, it's a departure from our bespoke programs, but we're great at product and CPG PR. If you search CPG PR, you'll see we're one of the top results that's because we know our stuff when it comes to product PR. They're perfect for consumer brands who are launching, or have smaller budgets, but need to elevate the brand media coverage. We're limiting the number of clients we take for the sprints, and who knows, we might sell out, we might not, but I'm excited about creating something approachable that helps everyone in the industry.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

Since none of the industry advocacy happens without a thriving industry, I'm a member of NCIA and I sit on the Marketing and Advertising Committee.

I appreciate the heavy lifting NCIA is doing in D.C. to represent cannabis companies at the bargaining table when advancing legislation. There are a lot of small to medium businesses alongside the bigger cannabis businesses in NCIA, so NCIA has pretty good scope on the full breadth of business stakeholders in cannabis, and I think that's important. Progress is slow for the cannabis industry, but without the work of NCIA, it would be even slower.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

There are a couple who have caught my attention, for different reasons and audiences. One of my recent favorites was the CANN x WeedMaps "Taste So Good" video. This particular video was celebrating Pride Month, the custom song is catchy, the video is colorful, the casting is inclusive, the celebrity cameos are fun and the editing is fast-paced and tight. I loved it because it really spoke directly to the Pride month audience, and smart too because Lab42 released a report saying that only 42 percent of LGBTQIA+ see themselves represented in advertising, and yet, they're the most likely to go out of their way to purchase from brands who represent their community. Of course, it's always about authenticity, and "Taste So Good" video totally nailed it from that perspective. 

On the other end of the glitz spectrum, Claybourne Co. has created a grittier, approachable  video series about their "Rolling with Claybourne" Ambassadors. The ambassadors are selected to represent people who do their own thing: a rookie rodeo competitor, an X-Games BMX rider, a Harley racer—athletes who are passionate, risk-taking, and rugged and resonate with a consumer who follows their own heart. The videos are in black and white, and they really capture the heart of hardworking people.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

This is tough, too. I sit on the NCIA's Marketing & Advertising Committee (MAC), so I am surrounded by greatness from ambitious founders to creative genius from all around the country. I'm so inspired by the NCIA committee members, I started a series on Avaans of Cannabis Industry Experts on the Avaans site featuring NCIA MAC members.

The NCIA MAC committee includes some of the hardest working contributors to the cannabis community, a lot of these people are empowering the growing companies in cannabis, but you may never hear of them, but there they are—behind the scenes, doing a lot of the hard work. This is just a great group - my kind of people. Everyone on that committee works to uplift others in cannabis, and I think it's that kind of attitude that makes the cannabis industry special. 

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

I'd like to say that I would be a stand-up comedienne, but I'm not that funny, so that's unlikely. If I weren't in PR, I'd probably be a researcher of some sort, either a communication researcher or a biology researcher—I love using data to solve problems. Maybe I'd be a lawyer. That's why I love cannabis, it's a fantastic cross-section of communication opportunities combined with regulatory challenges and a healthy dose of science and data.       

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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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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