Cannabis companies looking to work with celebrities to raise brand awareness should prize authenticity and community engagement above all else, delegates at Prohibition Live have heard.

The Parent Company CEO Steve Allan – whose firm boasts Jay-Z as chief visionary officer and Carlos Santana’s Mirayo cannabis brand within its stable – insisted it’s not enough to hire a celebrity and hope for the best.

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He said artists such as Jay-Z and Santana have a background in cannabis going back years, meaning they are seen as authentic voices in the black and Latin communities which have been disproportionately disadvantaged by prohibition.

Jay-Z: hands-on role at The Parent Company

“It’s not a case of ‘oh, it became state legal in California in 2018, so I suddenly decided to discover it’. These are people who have had cannabis in their lives for an extended period, so they are authentic advocates for it.

“We need advocates who can speak to their communities and help them understand the opportunities that cannabis can bring. We’re not going to be able to do that as a company.”

Allan said Jay-Z takes a hands-on role at The Parent Company, helping to brand, position and promote its products and communicating its corporate vision to the widest possible audience.

“For us, it’s about bringing cannabis to the masses, helping them incorporate it into their everyday lives. How do we provide messaging that hits the entirety of society, all socio-economic classes, races, religions? That’s a difficult thing to do and Jay has the pulse of it, an understanding of it.”

Allan added legal restrictions around cannabis advertising at the federal level make celebrity endorsements an even more important part of the marketing mix.