Toni-Anne Blake is the Director of Communications with the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission. Learn about the work she does and what's important to her as a comms pro in this ever-changing industry.
Give us an overview of your role and what it entails on a daily basis
As the communications director for the state's year-old cannabis regulatory agency I have been tasked with crafting and managing an integrated communications strategy to educate the public, and support the establishment of the cannabis market. My days are filled with conversations with local, national, and industry press, keeping our website up-to-date, preparing commissioners and executive staff for public speaking opportunities and media interviews, creating content for various audiences and applications, and supporting outreach efforts.
What do you love about about your job?
Everything! I love being a part of New Jersey history and having an impactful role with an agency that is doing good work in social equity. Professionally, the newness and uniqueness of government cannabis communication has been an invaluable learning opportunity.
Transparency and consistency are non-negotiable for communicating on behalf of government agencies
What’s the hardest thing about your job?
There isn't much of roadmap to follow. Yes, other states have legalized medicinal and personal-use cannabis before New Jersey. Each state's laws, markets, goals, and priorities are so different however, communications strategy has to be built from scratch.
What are some of the more memorable events you’ve had to deal with in your role and what lessons did you learn?
Coming in on the ground floor of establishing New Jersey's cannabis market makes for many memorable days. The most important lesson I have learned is that transparency and consistency are non-negotiable for communicating on behalf of government agencies. The tide of public sentiment (and therefore support for initiatives) rests on communicating and communicating honestly.
What is it about communications, media or crisis comms that interests you so much?
After all these years of doing this work I am still fascinated by the tasks of identifying stakeholders, crafting messaging, and determining where best to meet your audiences. Then seeing if and how your strategies work - or not.
What would you say is the biggest misconception about being a PIO?
I think the biggest misconception about us is that all our jobs are the same, and that all we do is write press releases.
One piece of advice for those wanting to start a career as a Public Information Officer or comms professional
Be clear about the kind of work you want to do. Work as the PIO at a city water utility can be very different in tasks and challenges from working as DOC at a state health department. Understand what tasks you want to do every day, what kind of service you want to do, then figure out where is the best place to do that.
Are there any books, podcasts, websites or any other resources you would recommend for the comms pro?
What are your favorite tools you use to do your job more effectively?
My favorite tools are the AP Stylebook, Excel, Canva, and the wealth of knowledge of my colleagues.
What would you say to anyone in a leadership role about having a PIO who might not have one?
Without a PIO how are you effectively communicating your agency's policies, actions, or accomplishments? How do you know what your audiences need to hear? Your agency could be accomplishing its mission more effectively with a PIO on staff.
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