U.S. filmmakers pitching CBD ‘documentary’ are really selling promo spots

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A U.S. film production company is canvassing hemp and CBD companies to take part in a “documentary,” then pitching them to produce promotional films that can run upwards of $20,000. Initial contact emails only inform the recipient his expertise is being sought for a documentary.

“My team and I are producing a positive and educationally helpful documentary series surrounding, The Future of Industrial Hemp and Cannabinoid Wellness,” one of the introductory emails circulated last week reads. “Our educational documentary segments air nationally on Public Television, Discovery and CNBC International. Our research team thought your insight may be a good fit for this topic and project.”

You’re smart; now, pay

Leading hemp industry stakeholders in the USA and Europe who followed up on queries from producers of “Behind the Scenes with Laurence Fishburne” said talks with the producer ultimately led to a sales pitch for a corporate video – the company in effect paying for the video in return for its “expert” being included in the “documentary.”

Paid videos and branded content have long been a part of television, but some producers are criticized by the public relations industry for their marketing tactics. Some PR professionals advise their clients to avoid such arrangements, questioning not only the sales tactics, but return on investment.

Experts & money

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), which acquires and distributes content for public television in the U.S., has policies that prohibit producers from requesting fees or accepting cost reimbursement from subjects featured in the programming it airs, and has repeatedly issued statements that it makes no such arrangements.

The production companies, usually only identified by the powerful star’s brand name, do intense research to determine hot topics, then contact leaders in those sectors to flatter them before making their offer.

Targeting health & medicine

An examination by STAT, a leading platform covering health, medicine and life sciences, found that the producers of such content focus their marketing on healthcare and biotech companies, startups and leading companies in other industries. 

Their pitch to “experts” implies high viewership numbers based on the celebrities whose names are associated with the “documentaries.” Hollywood actors Fishburne, James Earl Jones and Rob Lowe have hosted such short “documentaries” – the part of the package that might make it onto television in the USA. Not all do.

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