October 15, 2018
Display media is at the forefront of the medical and recreational cannabis field with giant displays in dispensaries and doctors’ offices everywhere in the new industry landscape. To get a grasp on the innovative way to educate we decided to sit down with Philip Cohen CEO & Chairman of the Cannabis Medical Network & Cannabis Lifestyle Network to talk about how the industry is evolving and what makes display media so important for the consumer.
Marijuana Retail Report: Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what made you want to start the Cannabis Medical Network and Cannabis Lifestyle Network?
Philip Cohen: I’ve been in display media, place-based media, since the 80’s with my first network being in veterinary offices. I have launched networks in veterinary offices, pediatric offices, OB/GYN offices, other specialty type medical offices so when there became such a big number of cannabis specialty doctors we felt there was a need and an opportunity to launch a network in cannabis specializing doctors’ offices. Many of the doctors I spoke to were already in other practices that had one of our networks and their compassionate care, or cannabis-focused practice, was like a secondary or ancillary practice. And of course, they knew who we were and had experience with us. So expanding into medical cannabis was just a natural evolution for us.
Marijuana Retail Report: Is display media effective at reaching the patient?
Philip Cohen: We spend a lot of time on not just doing research but in writing the scripts and polishing the scripts so that they can relay the medical information that the doctor wants to convey to the patient. Present in such a way that is retainable and believable. Over the years we used Arbitron Media Research, now owned by Neilsen, to do continually updated field studies of our programming. They studied and reported on such things as “did it help pass the time”, “was it a credible source of health information”, basically was it a good thing for doctors to have in their reception area and they came back with very high grades in the 90’s across the board. That number resonates with medical professional groups.
Marijuana Retail Report: What goes into deciding what content gets displayed for the doctor’s office?
Philip Cohen: It actually comes from the doctors. We went out to them and said look, you’ve opened this practice in Ventura and it’s focused on cannabis, or in Portland, or Pittsburgh or wherever. What presentations are you seeing? What are the top 10 presentations for which you’re being referred? Then, we take that information, compile and cross-reference a list and we just take the top 10 and we produce those to start with. Then we add or change segments as science changes or expands. For example, just recently I attended a trade show in Portland, Science, Cannabis Science Convention. We had a number of conversations asking us to do some instruction education material on differences between vaping and smoking and pills and capsules, and what have you. The different types of cannabis products and how to use the medicine in different ways. Once we’ve completed our video, you’ll see probably about 2 to 3 minutes on the network and maybe 5 minutes online but the video goes out overnight. So, tomorrow morning when those screens turn on, and they turn on automatically, when they turn on there’s new program content differentiating use methodology or whatever the content may be.
Marijuana Retail Report: What’s the most interesting thing in your opinion that you’ve covered so far?
Philip Cohen: Really for me, it was probably the very first one we did, which was arthritis. Being a veteran and consuming my medical services at the Veterans Administration Medical Center and Hospital, I had a lot of conversation about using cannabis to treat different presentations, primarily post-traumatic stress. But the couple of surgeons I talked to kind of made a little sideways, “Go try this.” for my arthritis. And sure enough, the cream that I used quickly alleviated, not eliminated, but alleviated the arthritis pain. So, for me, it was probably, of course, the most interesting subject that we covered. I guess because that’s personal.
Marijuana Retail Report: How do you see dispensaries evolving from medical cannabis in the recreational world?
Philip Cohen: First you have to talk about the difference between merchandising and marketing. The fact that the dispensaries are merchandising, they are merchants, they’re retailers. So it starts out when the doctor says, to the patient, the consumer, I’m recommending that you, the patient, use this product to alleviate this problem, gives him a recommendation. So, that individual then takes that recommendation and goes to a dispensary. Now, let’s picture the dispensary as a pharmacy if you will. So, he goes to the pharmacy and goes to the pharmaceutical counter to fulfill that recommendation, or in that case, prescription. It doesn’t take that long before that product that’s being prescribed comes off patent and goes OTC or over the counter. So, there was a time when you had to get to a doctor and get a slip of paper in order to go buy a, pick one, an ointment or cream I can’t think of one brand right now. But it comes off patent and the next thing you know it’s on the shelf. So, it’s retail. It’s OTC. You don’t need anything from a doctor. As a result, if the doctors hadn’t made the recommendation, the consumers hadn’t used the products and the, FDA, the government if you will, the oversight people go, “Oh look it’s not a problem, it’s okay. So, now you can make it over the counter and everybody can buy it.” That’s kind of maybe a stretch of an analogy but it’s kind of a relationship. Here we start with states who have legalized medical consumption. And after a while, they make it to a point where they say let’s get past the internal politics and let’s go recreational. I think that’s the natural evolution.
Marijuana Retail Report: Do you see yourself expanding into dispensaries to try to get medical information to patients beyond the doctor’s office as the next step for the Cannabis Medical Network?
Philip Cohen: That’s what happened. In March of this year, the doctors were saying, “Guys, look, we need to start putting your system in dispensaries. There’s some kind of pull in there with the patient and just because it’s going to be recreational the consumer still needs an education.” Unfortunately, most people get their education from let’s just say questionable sources and we wanted to change that. We made a couple phone calls to be able to have a conversation with the first dispensaries and it seemed okay and so we started working in that area as well. So, now we have 2 networks. We have the Cannabis Medical Network, which is where we started, and now we have the Cannabis Lifestyle Network, which is going into dispensaries. The difference being the Cannabis Medical Network is exclusively medical and the Cannabis Lifestyle Network has more of the same 2 to 3 minute educational segments. But then there are also segments on lifestyle like cooking as an example. So, the cannabis lifestyle network marries the educational aspect with the lifestyle branding for the dispensary.
Marijuana Retail Report: Yeah, you touched a little bit on it with the PetSmart analogy but as far as the medical shops and as far as the doctors’ offices are concerned, can you tell us a little bit about how the display media mixes with the current branding of marketing initiatives that these doctors and dispensaries are currently doing?
Marijuana Retail Report: Where is the market where you see the most growth potential?
Philip Cohen: For merchandising dispensaries in the marketplace, California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, in Nevada, and Arizona. That’s where there’s an adult, or recreational marketplace that needs to be filled. But for medical, of course, it’s the states more recently legalizing as it’s always medical first for a few years and then opens to recreational.
Marijuana Retail Report: If you can give our readers a tip what would it be?
Philip Cohen: For retailers it’s “Be merchant. Be a merchant. Be a merchant”. Learn, study merchandising and be a merchant and look at every customer as not just my sale today but what can I do to bring that customer back in and to get that customer to recommend me to other people that are not current customers. That’s what I think is the most important tip. Know your business, know your consumer market, be a merchant.
Philip M. Cohen is CEO of CMN Holdings, Inc. and their subsidiaries, Cannabis Medical Network, a digital media network airing in cannabis doctors waiting rooms and Cannabis Lifestyle Network, airing in dispensary waiting rooms. Phil has operated a dozen ad supported digital signage networks in doctor offices and at retail since 1985 and is a past Chairman of the Digital Signage Federation