PufCreativ's John Shute on Driving the Growth of Cannabis Brands Through Creativity

A look at the agency's work for Minerva, Fire Station and more

John Shute graduated from Norwich University's MBA Project Management Program before becoming CEO of PufCreativ, a community-focused award-winning full-service cannabis marketing agency.

John has successfully marketed and promoted cannabis businesses and operators in 20 medical and recreational cannabis states for over seven years. John's forté is creative cannabis marketing strategy, B2B, B2C, and client communication in the cannabis industry. Always striving for excellence, he was awarded 2020 and 2022 Colorado CEO of the Year by CEO Magazine, and won 2020 Marketer of the Year in the ADCANN Cannabis Advertising Awards, with PufCreativ also consecutively winning the award for Agency of the Year.

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


John, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

I grew up in the small town of Sweetwater, New Jersey. After living in New Jersey, Vermont, California and Florida, I've landed and lived in Denver, Colorado, the past six years. 

Your current role in the cannabis industry.

I currently have a number of roles in the cannabis industry, including: 

  • CEO of PufCreativ, an award-winning and community-focused full-service cannabis marketing agency based in Denver. We work in about 20 states and three different countries.
  • CEO at Pinelands Apothecary, a cannabis retail operation coming soon to southern New Jersey. 
  • Co-founder at the Cannabis Creative Movement, an educational guidebook series designed to inform on key issues while providing fundraising opportunities for nonprofits focused on those concerns, based in Denver. 
  • Co-founder at Cannabis Doing Good, a consulting, community and education platform that builds a racially-just, planet-loving, people-centered cannabis sector, based in Denver.
  • Co-founder at the Cannabis Impact Fund, a cannabis nonprofit whose pillars are racial justice, environmental sustainability and community engagement, based in Denver.
  • Board member at the Tri-State Cannabis Alliance located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut. 
  • PufCreativ fuels all of these projects in some way, so I spend most of my time generally working on that project. 
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

This is such a tough one because cannabis is such a beautiful plant that can help in so many micro and macro ways, not only in one's life, but in the world. I'd have to say on top of helping with my anxiety, sleep and mental health on the day-to-day, the career that I've created for myself in cannabis, and the career that cannabis has created for me, has made me feel truly fulfilled as a human. I get to work in an industry I'm passionate about, while providing services for cannabis businesses that align with my core values, all while giving back. It's a beautiful harmony. I'm extraordinarily grateful for my team, clients, network and partners. It's an honor to wake up every day and feel good about every goal I'm working towards. Does my role and the industry provide challenges, stress and anxiety? Yes, but I'm able to overcome these obstacles due to my passion. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

I've always been a huge fan of our client and friends over at Pot Zero. They're a small family-owned cultivation located in the backcountry of Colorado. Their flower is grown with zero carbon footprint and zero chemicals, testing higher than average for terpenes and rare cannabinoids. 

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

The biggest challenge that cannabis marketers face today is limitation. In almost every single marketing situation, whether it be social media, paid ads, print ads, e-commerce, etc., there's always limitations, roadblocks or some type of risk involved due to the gray area of the law. Each state has its own set of rules and guidelines, while tech, ad and other third-party marketing organizations that cannabis marketers utilize follow both state and federal laws. We only hope that as cannabis becomes more accepted and de-stigmatized that this will change, but despite the industry's massive growth, marketers are still faced with many challenges. For example, it's wild to see legal and compliant cannabis Instagram profiles get shut down because a disgruntled competitor reports them multiple times, but there are folks sending us DMs to purchase illicit drugs who have thousands of followers. 

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

On top of being excited to have the potential opportunity to conduct branding and marketing for our own retail location, we're very excited about the launch of our first custom cannabis mobile application for our client The Fire Station. Unlike most other application offerings in the industry, we're able to customize both the design and development of our apps around cannabis organizations business model, goals and tech stack. We also have the ability to create apps not only for retailers, but for brands, tech companies, manufacturers and just about any type of business within the industry. 

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

On top of the trade/social justice organizations we've co-founded and support on the day-to-day, one that we've been very excited about is 40 Tons. 40 Tons is a social impact brand that brings diversity and inclusion of BIPOC communities into the cannabis space and providing second chances to those with past cannabis convictions. They've recently launched a cannabis line to help fuel their efforts in restorative justice, reduced sentencing, cannabis legalization and rehabilitation. We had the honor to help them with one of their amazing cannabis hiring fairs! 

A recent project you're proud of.

We have so many projects we've executed and that are currently in the works that I'm beyond proud of and we'll be gladly submitting for Clio Cannabis Awards next year (<3). One project that really stands out to me is Minerva. We had the opportunity to do this brand's logo, packaging, brand book, website, photos, videos, animations, SEO, blogs and social media. The products themselves are one of a kind THC:CBD vegan pate de fruit gummies, available in four SKUs. We love this brand so much, we actually are part owners of it now. Andrea Lupear, the founder, operator and chef, has a passion we've never seen before in a cannabis brand, especially being a solo female entrepreneur launching in a wild market like California. The brand is actively getting in more dispensaries every day. The feedback on the product and brand has been phenomenal. We can't see what the future holds. 

Someone else's project you admired recently.

I really admire the new ButACake branding executed by our friends and partners over at Studio Linear. ButACake is a minority female owned cannabinoid brand based in New Jersey whose founder, Matha Figaro, is also on the Tri-State Cannabis Alliance with me. Her energy, passion and vision are inspiring. It was music to my ears when I heard Studio Linear helped out Matha at such a critical point in her business. 

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

I admire anyone who is in cannabis that uses their passion to drive the industry forward in a more consumer, sustainable, social justice and community focused perspective. One person that stands out to me is Chris Day of the Global Cannabis Network Collective. I've executed many successful events and campaigns with Chris in the past. What I've learned is that his knowledge of the cannabis industry from a local to a global level is unmatched. He connects the dots for cannabis organizations who have great intentions for the industry and are backed by quality humans. I'm proud that he is leading the charge on connecting the cannabis community at a global level.  

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

I honestly believe if I wasn't so wrapped up in the cannabis industry, I'd be traveling the world with my wife, daughter and Golden Retriever, in pursuit of waves, mountains, skateparks, art and music. I'm grateful to still have those experiences with my family, but I could see us making it our full time life at some point. 

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.

Profile picture for user Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay
Jessica MacAulay is a senior broadcast journalism student at the University of Colorado Boulder and a contributor to Muse by Clio.

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