Be ready to be an advocate for social justice. I think it is so critical to take tangible steps to create a more diverse and equitable industry. If you aren’t able to recognize and address the systemic damage created by the War on Drugs, then this industry probably isn’t right for you. If you can have empathy and compassion for those who were affected by these policies and are fired up about doing something about it, then you will end up on the right side of history
As a part of my series about strong women leaders in the cannabis industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rosie Mattio.
Rosie launched MATTIO Communications, formerly RMPR, in 2004 as a one-woman PR firm. Mattio moved to Seattle with her family in 2014, just when adult-use cannabis was legalized in the state of Washington. She quickly realized emerging cannabis brands had specific marketing needs — and challenges. Today, Rosie is considered a market maker in the world of cannabis. Ranked the #1 cannabis PR firm by Greenmarket Report, Rosie is a strategic powerhouse, industry connector and influencer. Based in New York City, her firm MATTIO serves over 35 marquee cannabis clients, including Headset, Canndescent, LeafLink, TerrAscend, Vangst, Front Range Biosciences, and Harborside. Rosie has helped usher in the New Cannabis Age, garnering global media coverage in mainstream publications for clients, including the first cannabis article ever published in Oprah Magazine. Over the past year, her firm has grown alongside the industry, adding several marketing and communications services for clients, including content, SEO, event planning and influencer marketing. Rosie has been named a High Times Female 50 and Forbes Fifteen Powerful And Innovative Women In Cannabis. Prior to opening MATTIO, Rosie started her career at Alison Brod Public Relations and also worked at Rubenstein Associates. She received a degree in Public Relations/Image Management from Boston University. Before bringing her talents to the cannabis space, Rosie promoted several clients in the technology and food & beverage industries.Rosie enjoys traveling and staying fit and active with her family. She has run several races and is a New York City marathon finisher.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Rosie! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the cannabis industry?
I started my own PR consulting firm in 2004 specializing in food, beverage and technology clients. In 2014, I was approached with an opportunity to launch a crowdfunding campaign for what turned out to be a cannabis cookbook. It was a six week campaign which garnered media attention from top mainstream outlets including The New York Times, Fast Company and Mashable. After that successful project, I realized that cannabis was an untapped market and I could bring my mainstream consumer PR background to this burgeoning industry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started out, my main focus was doing the best possible work for my clients, not necessarily scaling my company. Six years later, I now run the largest cannabis marketing firm in the industry, and the process of learning how to build my own business has been one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of my career.
By 2018, I was managing 10 clients on my own, which was exciting, but extremely demanding, and I knew I had to hire more people to help me manage these clients. I had never built a company before, so I reached out to a longtime mentor, who also happened to be a client, to help me develop the infrastructure for my business. The entire process taught me the importance of asking for help and finding people with different skill sets to complement my own strengths. Taking that leap to bring on a partner has paid off in spades, and we are now a team of 32 with 50 clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
About 4 months into my full-time career in the industry, I went to my first Cannabis Cup in Colorado. At that point, you could consume cannabis at these events, and someone gave me some mac and cheese as a snack and didn’t tell me it was infused! As a result, I spent the first day with my new client pretty high. Luckily it was part of the culture, but I was definitely very giggly the entire day. A word to the wise: ALWAYS ask if something is infused before you try something at a cannabis event!
Do you have a funny story about how someone you knew reacted when they first heard you were getting into the cannabis industry?
My 5 year old daughter said the word cannabis in passing one day, and I asked her if she knew what that was. She replied “yeah, that thing you paint on!” — -she thought I was saying canvas!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I am infinitely grateful to so many people who have helped me along the way. The first person who comes to mind is my business partner Mitch Rothschild. He came in and helped develop the corporate infrastructure that has allowed MATTIO to be what it is today. I still pinch myself that I get to be the CEO of this incredible company.
I am also incredibly grateful for my husband’s fierce support of my work and for pushing me to grow, especially when things were difficult. By 2018, my business was really starting to take off and being a one woman show was no longer sustainable. My husband saw how stressed I was and said to me “Rosie, you need to hire people, you need to scale.” I replied, “I don’t know how to do that, all I know is how to do what I do.” Then he said, “imagine one day, you drop the kids off at school, you go to the gym, and you head into the office with your cup of coffee, and you have 15 people who are doing the work for you.” At that moment, I thought my husband’s thought exercise was just a lofty dream that was out of reach.
It turns out my husband was right all along, and I am fortunate to have a partner who not only believes in me but also has the foresight to see the opportunities in front of me.
Finally, I would not be where I am today without the support of my clients! They put their trust in me when I was running the agency on my own, and they have built the business with me by referring their colleagues to us. We are built solely on referrals.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am really excited about our recently launched pro bono program within MATTIO. We are committed to working with BIPOC and minority owned cannabis companies and are offering them a suite of complimentary PR services to help them build their businesses. We know that there is so much work to be done to undo the harm caused by the War on Drugs which has disproportionately targeted people of color. Marketing can often be a lower priority for smaller cannabis businesses due to high operating costs associated with the industry, but these diverse stories are so important to the growth of the entire legal industry. We currently have three pro bono clients on our roster and hope to add more in the coming months. Companies that are interested in our program are welcome to apply here.
Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Despite great progress that has been made we still have a lot more work to do to achieve gender parity in this industry. According to this report in Entrepreneur, less than 25 percent of cannabis businesses are run by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support greater gender parity moving forward?
- I feel very fortunate to have a great network of both male and female colleagues in the space and I often find myself in scenarios where I can play a role in the decisions that are being made by some of the largest companies in the industry. I think for myself and other women in the space, it is our collective responsibility to extend our networks to other women in the space. Collaboration, not competition has been one of the keys to my own success and it is especially true in this small and tight knit community. I want to bring as many other women into those rooms where decisions are being made.
- Companies should evaluate their hiring practices and make sure that their staff and executives are made up of a diverse group of individuals. Cannabis consumption spans across so many demographics, and companies in the industry should be building a workforce that accurately represents their consumers’ interests.
- As a society, we need to continue amplifying the voices of women leaders and normalize women in leadership positions. Just this past week, Whitney Wolfe Herd became one of the few female CEOs of a publicly traded company, which signals a critical shift in the business community. Women are underrepresented in a number of key industries, but I believe the cannabis space has an opportunity to challenge this norm.
You are a “Cannabis Insider.” If you had to advise someone about 5 non intuitive things one should know to succeed in the cannabis industry, what would you say? Can you please give a story or an example for each.
- You don’t need to be a cannabis consumer to be successful. While cannabis is now a more regular part of my life, I wasn’t as familiar with the product offerings when I first joined the industry. However, I’d argue that my work ethic and talent played a more important role in my success than my relationship with the actual plant. Entrepreneurs who want to enter this space should own their unique skill set and not feel like they need to be a consumer to be taken seriously. That being said, I always encourage people to have a passion for the industry. If you understand the numerous applications of the plant across health, wellness, business and society, you will become a better advocate and be even better at your job.
- We are only in the first inning of the industry. It may seem like the legal space is already pretty developed based on the significant amount of coverage it has received over the past few years, but we’re just getting started. Keep in mind that cannabis isn’t federally legal yet, so there is still so much potential for growth. It’s definitely not too late to get involved, and I encourage people to take the leap and create even more opportunities in this space.
- Not everything you see is “new.” While it is a nascent industry, cannabis years are like dog years — 1 year in our world is like 4 years in a normal industry. I often see new people coming into the space thinking they have the best “new concept” or idea for media relations, but with a little research they would probably know that it has already been covered before. I have seen a lot of mainstream agencies make that mistake of pitching cannabis as a “new” wellness product. That may have been the right angle five years ago, but most lifestyle editors who know the industry can see through that. Media relations and PR specialists need to do their research and understand context to sell a cannabis story.
- Maybe this is intuitive, but be ready to work harder than you ever have before. There is so much excitement in the industry, but it is A LOT of work. There are ever changing regulations, new initiatives popping up every day, so you need to be really adaptable and be ready to dig in deep on projects. As the CEO, I’m online 24/7/365. I love every moment of it…but it is a big job
- Be ready to be an advocate for social justice. I think it is so critical to take tangible steps to create a more diverse and equitable industry. If you aren’t able to recognize and address the systemic damage created by the War on Drugs, then this industry probably isn’t right for you. If you can have empathy and compassion for those who were affected by these policies and are fired up about doing something about it, then you will end up on the right side of history
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the cannabis industry?
- This is probably the greatest generational wealth building opportunity of our lifetime. We are literally developing an industry that is going to change so many lives. How can you not be excited about being on the ground floor of an industry that is going to create jobs, wealth and opportunity for generations to come?
- The people I get to work with day in and day out. I get to work with some of the greatest minds in the country and I partner with leaders across the industry. My peers are not only smart and accomplished business leaders but are also just such good people with integrity. Some of my closest friends are industry people and I feel so lucky to work alongside friends and colleagues. I often say that the magic of working in this industry is being able to work with people you love and respect day in and day out.
- To the point above, we are only in the early stages of the industry. The implications of this plant are going to be so far reaching. We haven’t even scratched the surface yet of what’s on the horizon when it comes to scientific research, job creation, social justice reform.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to reform or improve the industry, what would you suggest?
- As I mentioned previously, the industry must play an active role in rectifying the inequalities created by the War on Drugs. Businesses in the legal space are profiting from this industry while so many people, primarily from Black and Hispanic communities, were put behind bars for selling the same plant. I am encouraged by many influential companies stepping up to the plate to create substantial solutions. Curaleaf, GTI, Cannaclusive, Trulieve, JW Asset Management, Vangst, Canndescent and many others are all doing great work to support initiatives like Last Prisoner Project and other social justice organizations working to solve these problems.
- The industry has made numerous strides over the past five years, but there’s still a long way to go when it comes to elevating female leaders. While I feel grateful to know a lot of female entrepreneurs in the space, this is a brand new industry and it is imperative to make female leadership part of the culture.
- Cannabis definitely has been embraced by more mainstream audiences, but I still think there is a lot of work ahead of us when it comes to destigmatizing cannabis consumption.
What are your thoughts about federal legalization of cannabis? If you could speak to your Senator, what would be your most persuasive argument regarding why they should or should not pursue federal legalization?
There are just many arguments for the legalization of Cannabis. I think my top 3 compelling arguments would be:
- Cannabis can play a significant role in curbing the ongoing opioid crisis. Once it’s federally descheduled, researchers can fully explore all the medical applications of cannabis. Chronic pain is a debilitating condition that affects millions of patients, and cannabis could be a viable alternative to the existing pharmaceuticals on the market.
- The pandemic has decimated many state budgets, and tax revenue from legal sales can facilitate economic recovery. The cannabis industry can also alleviate record high unemployment levels as a job creator (look at Vangst’s latest industry report) and these tax dollars can fund a number of public programs that will benefit local communities.
- Cannabis reform can create meaningful employment opportunities for individuals who have been unjustly targeted by the War on Drugs. Many formerly incarcerated people cannot get housing or certain jobs because of their criminal records, but the industry can work with individuals with non-violent drug records and make sure they get the second chance they deserve.
Today, cigarettes are legal, but they are heavily regulated, highly taxed, and they are somewhat socially marginalized. Would you like cannabis to have a similar status to cigarettes or different? Can you explain?
Unlike cigarettes, the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have numerous wellness and medical applications and should be held to a different standard. I agree that cannabis should be regulated to keep out bad actors and to ensure public safety, but high taxes could backfire by hurting consumers and legal businesses and sending more customers to the illicit market.
We saw the importance of regulation with “vapegate” in 2019 when people were buying cartridges laced with dangerous additives from the illicit market. Regulators need to enforce policies that ensure the long-term growth of legal businesses so that consumers can buy cannabis that is safe and tested.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I live my life by the phrase “Remember Tomorrow” by Jesse Itzler. It’s the notion of striving for excellence every day. Whenever I’m feeling unmotivated or tired, I ask myself how I will feel tomorrow if I don’t finish a task that I had already committed to. You’ll always feel better tomorrow if you do your best today.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Make a commitment to social equity. A real commitment. It doesn’t have to be with actual dollars if you don’t have the financial means to contribute, but people can always use their own skills to help others. I feel really proud that we are using our skills as marketers to create a pro bono program for BIPOC owned businesses, it is the least we can do and hopefully it will be really impactful for our pro-bono clients.
Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you only continued success!