Public relations is a needed component of any industry. PR helps get the word out on businesses and endeavors that the news will then push to the public. In cannabis, a few firms are dedicated to the plant while advancing the noble efforts of such groups and organizations. After years of working in nonprofit cannabis efforts, Leland Radovanovic is now helping push the narrative for cannabis reform in New York City and beyond.
Radovanovic spent his early years in Tennessee, before moving to New York with his family at age 10. Living in the Hudson Valley by Woodstock, Radovanovic moved around after high school. In 2012, he would begin studying communications at CUNY Baruch in New York City.
Living in the Inwood neighborhood in Manhattan, he would hear stories of overpolicing against cannabis. “When I lived in Inwood, it became less of a story and more of something that I saw firsthand in how the police treat the community,” he explained. This prompted him to start a chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy at Baruch. A few years into college, Radovanovic would meet fellow student Jake Plowden, an influential figure in the cannabis movement, including serving as the Deputy Director and Co-founder of the Cannabis Cultural Association.
Radovanovic would go on to work with the two nonprofits and others involved in cannabis reform. Looking back on his efforts with SSDP, he recalls his “dragon slaying stories” where the group was able to put pressure on the school to put its Good Samaritan Medical Amnesty Policy in writing. In doing so, it cemented the fact that students could call the police without worry whenever a person was overdosing on opiates or alcohol.
To make the change, Radovanovic described a semester-long process which involved monthly check-ins with the school as the administration kept pushing the implementation off. He credited efforts from Plowden and others for keeping the pressure on the school to put its policy in writing.
After college, he would apply to work at Fenton Communications, a PR firm focused on social change. Discussing cannabis in his interview led Radovanovic to learn about a sister company Fenton had launched, Powerplant Global Strategies, a full-service strategic partnerships, communications and investor relations firm working exclusively in the cannabis space. For the past two and a half years, he has worked for Powerplant, currently serving as its Senior Communications Associate. In this role, he can work with major organizations in the space, including Harvest Health and Recreation, Arcview, the Marijuana Policy Project and many others.
When discussing why he chose this route after school, he explained, “I really got into it to change policies because it’s becoming more of a national dialogue that cannabis laws are not only obviously outdated but had been enforced unequally and the creation of the market is coming out unequally as well.”
In his current role, Radovanovic is able to apply his nonprofit experience to cannabis PR. “I think really being able to spell out what my story is, to be able to talk to a bunch of different people and trying to recruit for my chapter, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done,” he said. “But, really, it kind of a laid a foundation for what I’m doing now.”
At Powerplant, Radovanovic is part of a team spelling out the stories for some of the most essential news in the industry. He explained how Powerplant digs into the fabric of a company and what it aims to accomplish. From there, he helps figure out how to reach these goals through external communications to the media and a wider audience.
“I found it’s easy to talk about other people. It’s really hard to talk about yourself and your company,” he said. “And oftentimes, because you’re so married to what you’ve done for so long, the passion that you’ve put into it, it’s hard for you to take a step back.” He explained this is where Powerplant comes in to help identify the story and align with the client to convey this message.
Public relations is notoriously stressful in any space. That is especially true in the often evolving nascent industry that is cannabis. “Every day’s a little bit different, which is why I love it,” he points out, adding that “the cannabis industry adds to that chaos.”
For those seeking to enter the chaotic field of cannabis PR, Radovanovic pointed out two ways to do so. One is the do-it-yourself method. “If you have some connections, you know a bit of what you’re doing, just print your own company and go and do it.” He added, “There’s never been a time that’s better for entrepreneurs then it is right now for the cannabis industry.”
The second method is working in the industry, including small boutique agencies like Powerplant. At large firms, in particular, a person can learn more than just PR. He explained, “You’re going to do a lot of different things and not just be stuck doing research or writing. It’s all hands on deck.” Regardless of the approach, Radovanovic stated, “Now is the time to do it.”
However, he was quick to mention the chaos of the industry once again. “It’s so much fun. It’s so exciting. There’s really no other industry, in my opinion, that has as much chaos in it. And if you love chaos, like this is a place to be.”
Now firmly planted in New York, Radovanovic represents part of the city’s cannabis culture aimed at getting the word out on businesses and the causes worthy of advancement. He is happy to now be part of what he considers a strong community. “We’ve built an incredibly strong and robust community with people who really care about each other, really care about the movement, are always showing up trying to do the right thing.” He added, “And so in a way, the community that’s been built here I feel like is way different…I feel like there are stronger links in the chain in the New York City.”