Two years ago, when Amanda Byrd, 40, landed her job as chief marketing officer at Philter Labs, a California- based provider of filters for the cannabis/vaping market, she faced a unique challenge: how to effectively do her job when the federal illegality makes accessibility to mainstream marketing channels nearly impossible. However, Byrd was not stymied. Her experience as a former executive for the Hustler and Penthouse brands served her well as she was able to bring her expertise tackling the stigma surrounding the adult market to the cannabis industry. And, as a woman occupying a top-tier position in a sector where there’s a dearth of female leadership, Byrd said she’s adept at changing the narrative when it comes to stereotypes.
This Q&A has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Iris Dorbian: How does one go from working for the Hustler and Penthouse brands to working at an ancillary provider for the cannabis/vaping market?
Amanda Byrd: I was very fortune to cut my teeth working for Hustler and Penthouse. I met a colleague during my time at Penthouse who knew Christos Nicolaidis, the [co-founder and] CEO of Philter Labs. Christos was looking for someone specific. It’s been a natural fit and I think at Hustler and Penthouse [and now Philter Labs] my role has been to take these social stigmas and present them in a new light—try and reframe them for the average person.
Dorbian: Can you expand on that?
Byrd: For filters, the consumers are rapidly changing. Once again, there are preconceived ideas of who the cannabis consumers are. They appeal to a wide variety of users who want to choose plant over pills. We also have the ability to eliminate secondhand smoke, which creates socially conscious smokers who are aware of what they’re putting out into the environment.
Dorbian: How do you deal with being a woman occupying a C-suite role in an industry where female leaders are largely absent?
Byrd: It does feel like a good ole boy’s club. The way I prepare for any kind of struggle is being prepared. I have a unique advantage in that I was surrounded by a male-dominated industry but I had been exposed to strong female leadership.
Dorbian: How has your experience working for the Hustler and Penthouse brands inform what you do now at Philter Labs?
Byrd: Whenever someone comes to an adult site or filter or vaping, they already have an understanding of the stigma associated with it. They don’t need to be reminded of what they’re doing; they need to be given permission to engage. [At Philter], I pay attention to tone of voice and messaging the way we do with customers. The government has banged people over the head that secondhand smoke is bad for you. The customers need permission to be empowered to eliminate their secondhand smoke and they need to know why it’s good for themselves and the environment. We reference customers as cleaner champions and social heroes.
Dorbian: How has the pandemic affected Philter Labs?
Byrd: It actually has been very beneficial because there’s been an increased sensitivity to people being aware of what’s out in the air surrounding them. We had conducted studies that exhalation lingers in the air and that other people are walking through it. Because of that, we saw a tremendous increase in sales. We attribute a large part of that to people being indoors as being able to use a filter inside was helpful.
Dorbian: How was your company affected by last year’s vaping crisis that emanated from the black market?
Byrd: We weren’t truly affected the way the vape companies were because we could work with combustibles. Our CEO made a statement making sure people were buying from the legal market. Consumers need to be smart about what they’re purchasing and buying.
Dorbian: Aside from legalization, what do you feel are the big issues right now for the space?
Byrd: One of the challenges is being cut out of 80 percent of traditional marketing channels. There are no Facebook ads. Google ads are becoming challenging. [As a result] email marketing, social media, word of mouth, product reviews—all of those are important. Any time a vice industry is challenged, it only makes them more creative.
The legalization of cannabis is going to happen—whether it’s this year or next year or another year and the playing field is going to be leveled. You’re going to be fighting for eyeballs.