Pot firm Cresco Labs hires major marketing muscle

Execs join from Gatorade, MillerCoors

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Courtesy: Cheddar

Cresco Labs, a fast-growing marijuana marketer, is on a mission to rehab weed's image. Founders Joe Caltabiano and Charlie Bachtell want to vanquish the shady, skunky vibe of traditional head shops and replace them with a cannabis version of Starbucks or Kraft.

"The word 'appropriate' has been our North Star," says Bachtell. "It needed to stop being 'pot' and needed to become professionalized and normalized."

To help speed that process— and to appeal to the booming group of medical marijuana consumers who Bachtell describes as "North Shore [Chicago] women battling chemo-induced nausea"—Cresco has hired a slew of executives with experience at Apple, Gatorade and MillerCoors.

Credit: Cresco

On Friday, the Chicago-based company, which began trading on the Canadian Securities Exchange earlier this week, said it tapped two marketers for senior roles: Cory Rothschild, former director of consumer engagement for Gatorade, has been named vice president of brand marketing, while Cris Rivera, previously a senior director of marketing at MillerCoors, becomes vice president of consumer experience.

Rothschild and Rivera join Scott Wilson, a former global creative director at Nike, who was named chief experience officer last month. Wilson, who has run Chicago-based design studio Mnml since 2007, has also worked for Motorola and Ideo. In 2010, he designed an early smartwatch prototype that collected nearly $1 million from more than 13,000 Kickstarter supporters.

Crain's Chicago chatted with Wilson about his recent move—and why branding suddenly matters so much to the emerging pot industry.

There are so many different cannabis consumers, from Baby Boomers facing cancer to anxiety-ridden millennials. Where do you fit in?

I'm like a lot of potential customers—we're all aging. I've got 5-point-0 coming up next year. I experimented back in college but didn't touch anything for many years as a workaholic who ran his own business. I'm a chronic back pain sufferer. I played baseball competitively until this year, which is taking a toll on my body. I was doing steroid injections and considering surgery, but started taking CBD [cannabidiol] oil and experienced major relief.

After a career that's spanned top consumer companies and your own design firm, you're joining a fledgling company in an industry that's not legal at the federal level. Why?

I get that question all the time: Wait, you turned down these design giants [for full-time jobs]. Why say yes to this? The answer is that my own experience with CBD caused me to study the industry. I was getting hit up to help West Coast companies that I didn't feel were approaching it from the right angle. Then someone on Facebook said you gotta meet Joe [Caltabiano, Cresco co-founder]. The next morning I had breakfast with Charlie [Bachtell] and him at Soho House. We really hit it off and I [participated in] their last fundraising round. They really believe that design and branding are going to be the differentiators here.

Scott Wilson
Scott Wilson Credit: Cresco

I love designing lifestyle, tech and medical products. This is the convergence of all three in an industry in which the rules haven't been written yet.

I feel it's really critical that cannabis companies begin approaching their work from a design thinking standpoint, establishing standards and demystifying the whole industry. It's been stuck in a legacy of pot culture and weird industry lexicon. Making [cannabis] approachable and understandable is going to be really important.

What's going to happen to Mnml?

MNML isn't going anywhere. I'm still an owner and my team will support Cresco and any brands we create with Cresco. There's a bunch of low-hanging fruit in terms of design issues we can fix really quickly. I'm looking at my Mnml team and my whole network and thinking of all the talent I can tap.

What's your big-picture strategy for Cresco?

My big goal is to build trust and confidence. It's going to be important for me to be in involved in all the brand's touchpoints to ensure consistency. Consumers love consistency—it's what engenders trust.

Brigid Sweeney is a reporter for Crain's Chicago

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