Former Vice execs launch global cannabis agency

Gram by Gram aims to use a global presence to offer more cultural insights to clients and help them expand to new markets.

Ryan Archibald (left) and Badr El Fekkak.

Two former executives at Vice Canada are leading a new cannabis-focused agency that aims to bring cultural insights from markets across the globe to bear for its clients.

Gram by Gram is being co-founded by Ryan Archibald, who was president and managing director of Vice Canada. He left the media company last year after a 14-year tenure that included the launch of Virtue in Canada, the media company’s in-house creative agency. Badr El Fekkak, who led Virtue in Canada as managing director, has left the company to join Archibald as Gram by Gram’s chief strategy officer.

Post-Vice, the pair are entering an environment that will be familiar to both of them: Gram by Gram is the creative division of Merry Jane, a U.S.-based media platform co-founded by Ted Chung and hip hop artist Snoop Dogg. Chung – a longtime business partner with Snoop Dogg who is also the founder of L.A.-based talent agency Stampede Management and lifestyle marketing agency Cashmere – is also the co-founder of Gram by Gram with Archibald.

Archibald says Merry Jane had been approached by the likes of YouTube, Viacom, Apple Music and Live Nation on content that attempted to tap into cannabis culture. Much of that work began to go beyond media and take on more of a strategic and consultative approach, like working with U.S.-based QSR chain Jack in the Box on its cannabis-themed “Munchie Meal.”

“There was a lot of brands coming to them in the U.S. and in Canada asking them how to access the market, the consumer, how they should be presenting themselves and where to show up,” Archibald says. “That brought the need to build out an actual agency wing of the company that operates as a separate entity.”

The agency will have offices in Toronto, Los Angeles, Mexico City and London, with the aim of giving it a presence in regions where the cannabis market is particularly active. Lawmakers in Mexico are currently working to finalize regulations that could legalize recreational cannabis in the near future. Luxembourg is currently the only European country working towards legalizing recreational cannabis, but an office in London does give Gram by Gram proximity to several markets within the continent where medical cannabis is growing rapidly.

Gram by Gram is not the only agency dedicated to the burgeoning cannabis sector or the only one associated with a media platform, on top of the traditional agencies who have been working with Canada’s licensed producers. But the key differentiation point, Archibald says, is that it is a cannabis agency with a global presence, which could be especially useful for the Canadian producers that have been working to become cannabis leaders in the global market.

“People in different states have different behaviours and values,” he says. “There’s some brands we are starting to work with that have a different positioning in California than they would in Colorado. We’re giving clients the proper cultural perspective to understand different consumers in different markets. It’s not like marketing a packaged good, there so much more to it in terms of personal values and the way people see cannabis. Not only will it help brands get off the ground within their own market, but then also help them cross borders, so to speak.”

The agency is already working with Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth and its brands, like Tweed (Chung was brought on as an advisor to Canopy Growth in 2017). But it is also working with cannabis companies at other stages of growth, like CBD-focused company Foria, U.S.-based producers Viola and Stiiizy, as well as BLLRDR, a cannabis brand from Drake producer Noah “40” Shebib that has been ramping up its social presence but has yet to launch.

El Fekkak says the agency’s “seed to scale” model and suite of agency services is aimed at helping clients at any stage of their growth, be it with early companies still working to establish their positioning, branding and go-to-market strategy, or more established brands that are looking for assistance on brand activations, retail promotions or entering new markets.

“Especially in the U.S., there are various companies that need the early stage support,” El Fekkak says. “That seed to scale model allows us to satisfy the different profiles of clients that are operating within cannabis right now.”

The agency plans to have 50 staff hired across its offices by the end of the year.