Cory Rothschild is a passionate brand builder. A classically trained CPG marketer, he’s applying his years of experience at PepsiCo to the cannabis industry. As the Senior Vice President of Brand Marketing at Cresco Labs, one of the largest vertically integrated multistate cannabis operators in the United States, he’s helping to build a house of purpose-driven brands to tap into the total market and deliver on various consumer needs.
We caught up with him to learn more about his career transition into cannabis, his ambitious team building, and more.
ForceBrands: Tell us a bit about your background working in traditional CPG at PepsiCo.
Cory Rothschild: My time in traditional CPG and at PepsiCo gave me the opportunity to execute brand marketing at the ultimate scale and at the highest caliber — building lasting brands that consumers love, and in doing so, impacting millions of lives on a daily basis. There was no better place to do this than at Gatorade, where I most recently led integrated campaign communication, go-to-market media planning and execution, branded content, and experiential activation across consumer touchpoints. I woke up every day knowing that I wasn’t just fueling the world’s greatest athletes, but I had the opportunity to inspire them to invest in the daily grind, put in the hard work, and make their dreams a reality.
FB: What prompted your decision to transition your career into cannabis?
CR: While at Gatorade, it was hard to imagine an opportunity where I could have more impact on a brand, a company, and an industry. But as I began to look around at the fastest growing consumer spaces in the world, I continued to come back to the unexpected world of cannabis — poised to be one of the single largest drivers of CPG growth over the next decade. This kind of moment only happens once or twice in a lifetime — when an entire industry emerges after structural barriers are finally relaxed. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be at the foundation of building the scaled, trusted brands that will welcome consumers and patients to the new world of cannabis for years to come.
FB: How did you learn about Cresco Labs and what intrigued you most about the role?
CR: Before I had considered a career with Cresco Labs, I had read about the company’s audacious mission to normalize and professionalize cannabis — backed by a founding team who had demonstrated the capability to deliver quality, consistent products to patients throughout Illinois and Pennsylvania. Since day one, they looked at the business as a consumer products organization — and established the vision and infrastructure capable of delivering on all the needs of reliable brands. From the first time we met, it was clear that they were looking for someone to scale these brands and win the hearts and minds of consumers around the country, and I couldn’t resist the challenge.
FB: You’ve been working in cannabis for almost a year now. What has surprised you most about being in the industry?
CR: The rate of change in this industry never ceases to amaze me.
What could take a year in most industries is happening within a month in cannabis, and that means we have to create an organization that is built for speed and flexibility while still developing the process and structure needed for effective scale.
My team will have re-launched four brands and built three new ones to the tune of 30 different forms across more than 600 SKUs, all in the course of one year. It’s as challenging as it is rewarding, but it’s also what attracts talent that is uncomfortable with the status quo and focused on the future.
FB: What are some things someone should consider if they are thinking about transitioning from established CPG companies into cannabis?
CR: There were so many uncertainties as I took the leap into a new industry, especially an industry as nascent as cannabis. The only thing I knew with certainty was that I would always ask myself “what if” as I watched the industry evolve from the sidelines. Anyone looking to make the move to the cannabis industry has to not only have the itch for being part of something new, but have the stamina to build something in the midst of uncertainty and ever-evolving laws and conditions. In my case, that means continually bringing the process of a CPG company to a startup environment, while not allowing structure to inhibit the creativity and speed that has made Cresco Labs so successful to date.
FB: What particular parts of your experience working at PepsiCo have you applied to building cannabis brands?
CR: At Cresco Labs, much like at PepsiCo, we’re building a house of brands — not a branded house — to ultimately access more of the total market and deliver on consumer needs. At PepsiCo that meant selling both Doritos and Naked juice, catering to different occasions and benefits with very different product offerings, knowing that one single brand could not meet the needs of two very different demand segments.
In cannabis, we believe that success follows a similar path, building differentiated brands addressing different needs with different positionings and expressions, all in service of better connecting with consumers across key growth segments.
FB: What are some secrets behind building enduring, lasting brands and how do you plan to achieve that in a new industry?
CR: When we think of the most iconic and successful brands in the world, there are some commonalities that drive what make them persistently strong. The first is distinctive and iconic identities that stand out in consumers’ minds. Whether it’s the Nike Jordan Jump Man, the Coke bottle silhouette, or the Starbucks mermaid, we know the brand the instant we see it in the wild. In practice, this means building the right brand visual operating system and then be maniacally dedicated to showing up consistently long after the marketers are bored of a campaign look and feel. Second, a brand has to stand for something — and that something has to be meaningful. As we build brands, we have the unique opportunity that I never had with an inherited brand: to develop the brand with clear purpose in mind. And finally, the product has to be easy to buy. Cresco Labs’ scale is one of its core strengths, and ubiquitous availability is necessary to become the brand of choice.
FB: You are overseeing the brand development of 7-8 cannabis companies at Cresco Labs; how do you approach hiring and building the teams necessary so that each brand succeeds?
CR: Our goal isn’t to build the best marketing team in cannabis — it’s to build the best marketing team, period. The challenges and opportunities are too significant, and we need leaders in every position to make sure we are set up for success. My proudest accomplishment to date has been the team we have been able to build, from brand and innovation managers to social specialists to paid media experts to field marketers. We are looking for individuals with a demonstrated track record as marketers or general managers, each of whom have proven to make a difference in both structured and entrepreneurial environments.
FB: What are some of the brands at Cresco Labs that you are most excited about at the moment and why?
CR: That’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! I’m genuinely excited for all of them, for different reasons. As an example, I’m looking forward to the relaunch of our Remedi brand, which is designed for those with existing conditions — especially pain or sleep issues — who are looking for an alternative to pharmaceuticals or opioids. There are so many people in and around our lives that would benefit from a simple, effective, natural medicine that works. Our Cresco brand, at the other end of the experience spectrum, is delivering consistently quality cannabis to those who consume regularly and know the ways in which cannabis can help them focus, sleep, or relax. Cresco recently released its first large-scale campaign in collaboration with an incredible team at the advertising agency 72 & Sunny, launching in out of home, print, murals, publications like Condé Nast and Vice Media in and around the LA area.
FB: How do you think the recreational legalization of marijuana in Illinois on January 1 will impact the growth of Cresco Labs and its portfolio of brands?
CR: There is no question that Cresco Labs will benefit from the legalization of marijuana in Illinois, but we focus first and foremost on the existing and new population of patients and consumers who will now have access to products that change how they live their life for the better. We are launching all seven of our brands in Illinois in 2020 to address consumers’ many needs, and we can’t wait to bring new innovations to the market throughout the coming year.
Interested in cannabis brand building? Explore our HerbForce division.