Puffco's Kirk Summers on Normalizing Cannabis Through Creativity
Kirk Summers is the creative director of Puffco, a concentrate consumption innovation and technology company.
After graduating from the Syracuse communication design program, he worked for nearly a decade at various agencies around New York as a multidisciplinary designer and art director. Over the last three years, Kirk rebranded and helped establish Puffco as a leading voice in the space.
We spoke with Kirk for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
Kirk, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up in Rochester, New York. I lived in New York City for nearly a decade and then moved with the Puffco team to Los Angeles and have been here for over two years.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
I am the creative director of Puffco, based in Los Angeles.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
Aside from providing a fulfilling career in something that I believe in, cannabis use at a young age changed my life. What I was being told by the DARE program, the law and the adults around me just didn't add up when I started experiencing cannabis for myself. Feeling like no one knew what they were talking about on such a massive scale blew my mind. It was the spark that started allowing me to explore my own sense of self and truth and make up my own mind on issues regardless of public opinion or perception. Now, cannabis is the means to pass the time with friends or dedicate personal time to myself where I can rest my mind. There are countless moments where cannabis has helped deepen my connection with the people around me, myself, or my environment.
A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.
Too many great ones out there, but the one that I identify with most would be Sour Diesel, since that's what I grew up on in New York. I typically use flower when outdoors hiking or at events, but most of the time after work I'm reaching for the Peak with Royal Key or Feeling Frosty hash.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
Hard to pick just one ... The legal restrictions on digital advertising, events, and the limitations we face in cannabis that marketers in other industries do not. The disparity in budgets between major agencies with global clients versus most startup self-made cannabis companies. Standing out from the noise of new companies coming to the space solely looking to make money versus looking at how to truly add value. For me, all these challenges present another layer in creative problem solving that help push me to be better than I was yesterday.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
Community is the core of our space, and shared experiences are a key area that has been put on pause since Covid hit. I'm most excited to see us find new ways to safely connect with each other again in-person at events and finding creative digital ways to fill the void until then. From a higher level, I'm excited to see how the sum of all our creative work as a collective will help normalize cannabis use. Integration into dining, bigger events and more safe social consumption spaces, more outspoken celebrity figures outside of cannabis, partnerships with major brands, and more significant instances of inclusion.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
Last Prisoner Project. There are many people still sitting in jail for the freedoms we casually enjoy today as cannabis users. As far as we'd like to think we have come, it's a constant reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done to change the perspective and laws surrounding cannabis. Advocating for the oppressed means advocating for everyone. We're all connected in this fight.
A recent project you're proud of.
My favorite recent projects of ours are the ones that have had the most impact on the things we want to change. Our Shadow Black Recycler Glass for the Peak was a limited-edition product where 100 percent of net proceeds were split between Black Lives Matter, People's City Council Freedom Fund, and Colin Kaepernick's "Know Your Rights" Camp. In 24 hours, we raised more than $125,000 for these organizations. These kinds of projects give me a deeper feeling of pride than a clever video or well-executed design could ever provide.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
Creatively, I've been loving Brain Dead's launches. The products, the design, the videos, they weave together in a way that feels like they're taking risks and experimenting while still coming from the same voice. It's how I believe a brand should lead with creativity and push itself to continue evolving. I think KITH turning their retail locations into voter registration hubs is one of the best initiatives I've seen lately. When marketing is aimed at elevating the community over the brand itself, everything levels up.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
Steve DeAngelo, for countless years of advocacy and initiatives to raise up everyone in cannabis. Roger Volodarsky, for being a CEO who has given me a challenge worthy of my time and for always working with the intention of making other's lives better. Khadijah Tribble and Paul Scott, for seeing something they wished was different in cannabis and dedicating themselves to fixing it.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
It's hard to think of working anywhere else. I've had a blast the past few years and I still feel like I have just scratched the surface of what I'm looking to achieve. A simpler life with a more indoor/outdoor balance has always been a goal. Perhaps owning and operating a small boutique hotel later on with my girlfriend, with a garden and a few goats and dogs on the property. Being in ski-patrol at a local resort nearby when the winters came to stay active. Sounds lovely to me.