There are almost as many public relations people in L.A. as there are actors, musicians and artists. But on both sides, only a few rise to a level of respect and name recognition that can endure for decades. Jennifer Gross is one such PR maven, and her ability to forecast what’s next is part of the reason she has not only survived but thrived in the competitive field.
Gross has long been a champion of marijuana, though not in a professional capacity. Now that cannabis is legal, Gross and partner Julia Axelrod are applying the brand marketing model they’ve been using to get the word out about fashion designers, nightlife promoters, art and events to pot and pot-related products. They've launched a new company, HiFi Exchange, and with it a new showroom.
“As we looked at the industry to see where we fit in, it seemed best to do what we do best. [So] we created a showroom in Hollywood where high-end brands can display their products,” Gross explains. “And rather than these random events, they have a more permanent space built out with curated products. Those interested can come to one location and check out the best products in the industry at any time.”
HiFi Exchange features cannabis, CBD and THC brands looking to reach journalists, buyers and retailers who are trying to navigate the new world of legal marijuana. Gross and Axelrod’s years and experience in marketing, lifestyle PR and consumer collaborations will not only amplify the profile of the products they represent but likely will add credibility to the industry as a whole. After all, Gross’ Evolutionary Media company has an impressive roster of clients, including Jaguar, Volvo, Marriott, Amoeba Music, Hurley, Quiksilver, the Annenberg Foundation, the Oprah Winfrey Network, MOCA, DreamWorks, Fox Sports and even Shepard Fairey's infamous “Hope” poster.
Native Angeleno Axelrod started with Evolutionary a decade ago as an intern. “Evolutionary Media Group was my first peek into the PR world. After graduating I ended up with the team and have made some of the best friends I have today,” she says of her growth within the company. “I have learned that there is no substitute for the experience of 'been there, done that' but there is always something new to learn. … Be honest, have confidence in what you do, help when you can, and be open to change because you have to pivot when it's time.”
Evolutionary’s pivot is more an expansion than anything, and it seems the offshoot company has been a long time coming. HiFi came about because of one of Gross’ high-profile friendships. “Kim Hastreiter, the co-founder of Paper magazine, was my guiding light,” Gross says of the revered New York–based publisher (who with partner David Hershkovits sold the mag back in 2017). “Years ago she sat me down in Los Angeles and told me that I had to pivot and make cannabis the next step in my career. Kim is always the first to see the future. She was starting to introduce me to some of the coolest people working in creating cannabis products, and as always, she was ahead of everyone. Her words never left me but the laws at the time did not make it easy. It took me some time to refocus and figure out the path forward … but Kim was definitely my inspiration.”
Evolutionary was a driving force behind Paper magazine’s L.A. takeover issues and events several years ago, but Gross’ pre-Evolutionary background is no less influential on pop culture and lifestyle. She started as an assistant to music exec Seymour Stein at Sire Records in New York in the mid-’80s and worked with him at his peak moment with Warner Bros. Records, promoting artists including Madonna, Talking Heads, The Ramones, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, k.d. lang, Ice-T, Ministry and Underworld. Later Gross rose through the ranks of the music industry, working at MTV, EMI Records, TVT Records, Mute Records and finally MCA Records, which is how she ended up in Los Angeles.
After she had her first child, Gross knew she didn’t want to go back to a record label. Mutual friends introduced her to the woman who would become her partner, and together they created People's Revolution, arguably one of the coolest PR companies and showrooms of the early 2000s in L.A.
“It was a bullet,” she says. “The company built up quickly with music clients — the early days of Coachella, fashion clients such as Jeremy Scott, Steve Madden, Hot Topic and designers from NYC looking to get a foothold in the Los Angeles market, and hotel launches such as Tribeca, Soho Grand and Avalon Hotel.”
Gross branched off on her own after having her third child, and a few years later, People’s Revolution’s office at Melrose and La Brea shuttered. But journos like me will remember picking up tickets or pulling fashions for editorial features at PR’s colorful Melrose showroom. “I wanted to work for myself, not have to answer to anyone,” Gross says of her departure. “[I wanted] to be available to make my own time to raise my kids, and work on my terms and reduce the stress in my life.”
Gross has always had a warm, earth-mother vibe, and an enthusiasm about her clients that’s contagious. Though her roster is usually a who’s-who of fabulosity, she’s a very no-hype, keep-it-real type — rare in public relations and some might say L.A.
“Jen is pretty hilarious and can take over a room before you know what hit you. Her relationships are organic — so much so that most business is generated through word of mouth — and the company we built feels like a family, from employees to our clients,” Axelrod says. “It’s a revolving door of the most interesting people I have ever met.”
In general, the cannabis community today is different than it used to be. For advocates, breaking down the stereotypes about who uses it and why is an ongoing goal. With Axelrod’s help, Gross is bringing her reputation and experience to the cause and spotlighting and curating products that might not otherwise have exposure among the Hollywood taste-maker set, not to mention media. She’s ready to once again influence culture in a new way.
“We are in an exciting time where we can help shape, define and even create full categories in the market,” Axelrod says of HiFi Exchange. “We want to be a trusted voice in the industry and provide a space where people know they can come and see some of the best product on the market in a safe space in which they can learn and experience the products first-hand.”
Adds Gross, ”With roadblocks stemming from brands not being local in the Los Angeles market to not having the manpower or resources to meet and sell their product door-to-door, a better mousetrap had to be established.”
Our High Five Picks from the HiFi Exchange Showroom:
1. Legacy Brands International: The boutique branding agency works exclusively within the cannabis industry and hopes to “educate both the media and the consumer as to what makes our products stand out from the crowd.” legacybrandsintl.com
2. THC Design: Cannabis cultivators with “over 52 strains and growing” of CBD products, all in stylish purple packaging. thcdesign.com
3. Kikoko: A cool-looking cannabis tea company that provides everything you could need to throw a “high tea party.” kikoko.com
4. Khus & Khus: Botanical CBD face and body serums that will make you feel beautiful in more ways than one. khus-khus.com
5. Dank Gals: A fashionable line of glass and high-end CBD beauty products and smoking utensils.
More products at hifiexchange.us.