Like most crypto journalists, Will Foxley has a horror story about a bad encounter he had with a dodgy PR person. The former tech reporter at CoinDesk recalls being embarrassed in his first few days at work after he relied on poor information fed to him in an announcement.
„I got burned by a bad PR representative inside, for example, two or three weeks at work, where they gave me false press release information,“ he states. „I did not quite verify it enough and got called out by a few of those greater industry individuals. That is just like the fastest way to ruin your relationship with a journalist“
He’s quick to add a disclaimer that“that there are some great PR people out there,“ but he quotes the great men only account for around 20 percent of their industry. The“lower 80 percent“ either don’t care about, or don’t understand the technology, or the truth that journalists put their reputations on the line each time they run a story.
„They just have an interest in pumping whatever the coin they’re tasked with pumping and getting whatever company they require into whatever headline, which is truly unfortunate. And it results in a lot of burnout among journalists, and a great deal of frustration“
Fortunately, the best crypto PR professionals understand how to play the game and behave accordingly. „The most important currency we have is hope,“ states David Wachsman, creator and CEO of the eponymous PR firm.
It’s a dangerous game to get wrong because PR agents and sometimes entire agencies may get blacklisted by publications or create a poor reputation industry-wide, clarifies Foxley.
„If you don’t enjoy a PR man, you inform at least everyone that you are working with at your organization,“ states Foxley, who’s now the editorial manager at Compass Mining. „I found that very frequently. You’re like,’They’re from that firm? Don’t talk to them. “‘
The sphere of crypto PR is an emerging industry of specialist PR companies that are responsible for a large proportion of their crypto news out there. Co-founding president of this Association of Cryptocurrency Teachers and Advisors Joon Ian Wong states that great PR agents play with a much-needed Function.
„I believe PR people in any industry, including crypto, are an significant part the information landscape,“ he states. „Their job will be to ensure that data flows readily and freely to the media“ He adds:“But clearly they work for customers, soyou know, you can have problems with conflicts of interest“
Samantha Yap states PR agencies do a great deal of work behind the scenes as the interface between crypto projects and journalists. „„Half our time is literally educating our client on how the media works,“ she clarifies.
„We invest a good deal of time telling them’Oh, you can’t place this promotional angle outside since journalists are not going to write about it,“we have got to have a longer newsworthy angle,‘ or’attempt to match the narrative from the context of this broader sector ‚
She continues:“What the journalists watch in their inbox is just like fourteen days of brainstorming work — sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.“
However, the biggest issue is that in a full-to-the-brim inbox, there are usually just a few helpful leads one of a sea of dull or insignificant non-news.
„So 80 percent is just dog trash,“ Foxley states. „I’ve just seen some horrible pitches within my years at CoinDesk, and frankly, I don’t quite understand why those pitches are created the way they are.“
„They’re not helping themselves out.“
Some pitches profoundly oversell the possible advantages of all unproven technology they’re draining, but some appear to have been mass emailed to every journalist on the planet. Many are unfamiliar with the basic requirements of journalism (that is that stories need to be newsworthy by being important, unique or very interesting), but one common issue is a lack of technical knowledge.
„More often than not, especially as a tech reporter, I saw PR bits that didn’t understand the tech that they were describing,“ he clarifies. „You receive a PR guy or gal who doesn’t exactly understand this, and they’re trying to explain what a ZK-Rollup is. No, firstly, you don’t know how to describe this, and this is the wrong context.“
This isn’t to say crypto journalists constantly cover themselves in glory when they receive a newsworthy pitch.
„The signal and the skill of a good PR person is to pitch journalists the best possible angle in how we need them to compose it.“
In an perfect world, of course, journalists might utilize a narrative pitch as the starting point, research the history, and speak with outside specialists before creating a well-thought-out and balanced article that contributes to improved understanding in the cryptosphere.
What actually happens far too frequently is that press releases are awarded the barest rewrite before being uploaded.
It leads to what’s known as“churnalism.“
Foxley admits that writing four or even more news stories a day could be“mind-melting,“ and it is“very easy just to lean onto the press release along with the narrative that’s given to you. It’s just fodder for the narrative. But it is not great for the industry; it is not great for readers.“
„That is why I am a fan of less stories every day from a news book daily since I don’t find another way of getting rid of this“
„I am sure there are times when you are under deadline — it is probably tempting,“ she states, adding:
„Hopefully, as a reporter, you have insights and questions to follow up with, something that the press release did not cover. However, I understand that maybe if you have to turn out five pieces a day you might not have sufficient time.“
„I believe you find the exact same thing with a great deal of finance coverage,“ he states. There is plenty of blogs and publications out there that do the exact same thing.“
The ACJR aims to enhance standards in crypto journalism, and Wong points out that the more well-resourced a crypto novel is, the more probable the staff has been conditioned to be wary of conducting any messages a PR person wants to convey:
„Based on what I know of those reporters working at some of those places […] they tend to be more cynical and more crucial about statements and other notices put out by crypto PR folks, and since they work in crypto mediathey are better equipped to actually cut through a lot of the marketing speak or the PR speak and reach the core of the matter.“
Foxley agrees that some journalists constantly see PR individuals with suspicion. „I had some coworkers at CoinDesk that refused to socialize at any PR people since they found it automatically tainting their work.“
How can we get here?
The Financial Times recently named it among those 500 fastest-growing firms in the Americas.
This contributed to Wachsman learning about Bitcoin and accepting the trade (later sold to Kraken) on as a client.
Wachsman wasn’t the initial crypto PR specialist.
„It wasn’t the wild west; it was non-existent,“ he remembers. „Most of the time it was founders directly trapping reporters. They did not know the right protocol. From time to time, they were not very informative; they did not answer questions appropriately or in a timely fashion.“
„I recall reporters being thrilled when you can do something similar to send them a high-resolution headshot,“ he states.
When crypto companies needed publicity, they occasionally used mainstream PR agencies. Wong recalls how non-specialist frequently had zero comprehension of exactly what it was that they had been promoting. „I frequently knew a lot more than the PR man about what their client was performing,“ he states.
Wachsman claims a critical mass of specialist crypto PR companies did not appear until after the initial coin offering boom in 2017–2018.
Into the void stepped crypto’s notorious guerilla marketing and PR campaigns. Michael Whitlatch has become the creative director at North Equities, which conducts respectable digital marketing and PR campaigns for regulated listed firms.
But during the ICO boom, he dropped into a really different occupation after convincing 300 individuals in six weeks to utilize his referral code to purchase a coin. „I realized I kind of had a knack for this type of thing,“ he states.
Whitlatch and his staff have been responsible for spreading the word on social websites about endeavors. If you have ever interacted with somebody on Reddit, Facebook or even 4Chan with a high degree of knowledge about a coin and a very positive attitude toward it, you might have fulfilled them. If societal sentiment in a job’s Telegram team was turning sour, it was the job of Whitlatch along with his staff to leap in the conversation to spread positive vibes and information to help turn it around.
It was a far more sophisticated effort than the notorious bounty campaigns of this age that saw armies of people enjoying writing and pages spammy tweets about a project, often in broken English, to get a handful of coins each activity.
„Frequently, I would say bounty campaigns eventually wound up hurting companies,“ Whitlatch states. „Because they did come across with the complete shilly force of mistyped posts,“ he states.
Whitlatch’s team ceased working in the field due to increasing regulations. „It was looking as though it was going to go the way of securities, and also we did not need to become involved with something illegal,“ he states.
Whitlatch’s staff was at the respectable end of such endeavors and really believed from the projects it promoted — viewing it as a means to invest in them since they were invariably paid in tokens.
But others were far more mercenary. One ICO promotion outfit email doing the rounds in 2018 asked for a 22,000 monthly retainer for astroturfing an entire social media campaign, where bogus posts are retweeted by bogus accounts with bogus followers, and whole Reddit threads fabricated by one guy with 10 sock puppet accounts:
„I will set you on the front page of any subreddit I need. I am able to get you a favorable reaction from the cellar dwellers at /biz (who invest a great deal on crypto from the way). I can set you on the front page of Hacker News… I will kindle positive organic discussions about your company in regions where other ICOs become ripped to shreds.“
TechCrunch reporter John Biggs wrote in 2018 that he was offered payment for posts“nearly every day and nearly all of the journalists I spoke to reported the same.“ Most declined, but some didn’t. „I learned about such things,“ states Ankney, who adds:
„I found that really appalling. I was really angry and frustrated because although I don’t have a journalism degree, I still held myself to some high journalistic standard.
It offers the“Breakthrough Article Bundle “ for $13,997, which includes the services of a writer to put together a bespoke article that’s distributed on many different crypto sites including BeInCrypto, Bitcoinist and NewsBTC, amongst others.
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Fortunately, since the industry became increasingly professional, the PR and marketing cowboys started to disappear.
„I think it’s professionalized,“ states Foxley. „I wasn’t there in 2017 and 2016, therefore that I will not say anything about that. However, I believe PR people are more available; they understand the distance more; they have an interest in maintaining relationships for the long term.“
There were several false starts along the way. Wachsman clarifies that the first tide of expert PR experts surfaced in 2018 — just to be struck hard by crypto winter ahead of the close of the year.
„We saw the departure of a number of companies, including international agencies at the moment. And not many of these were there to the real ascent of this sector in 2020.“ Wachsman himself was forced to lay off 16 out of the 110 staff.
„It was rough because our staff is so tight-knit that it felt like it was ripping out of your left arm,“ he states. However, Wachsman lived and has since been joined by a raft of new companies.
One of those companies is Yap Global. Samantha Yap started her career as a broadcast journalist in Asia before leaping the fence to PR and later becoming enamored with crypto. She based Yap Global in 2018, which has now grown to a team of 10 with customers including FTX, Enjin and Nexo.
One of the most misunderstood things about PR, explains Yap, is that it’s not just about creating and sending out messages. It’s also about carefully cultivating relationships with editors and journalists. It’s all about relationships,“ she states. „it is a two-way road “
At its best, PR and journalism are a mutually beneficial relationship, where journalists are connected to relevant information and interviewees, while PR agencies can get coverage for their customers.
The relationship is crucial to tend to, as when it goes wrong, it can be very poor indeed. Foxley remembers a long-running feud between a well-known crypto PR agency and CoinDesk after the editors had become unhappy with how some stories had performed out and blacklisted them.
While PR agents tend to be tasked with chasing journalists, what’s equally important is how they deal with journalists when they start being chased themselves.
Journalists — who constantly require a response by five minutes past — might not appreciate just how much work continues behind the scenes,“ states Ankney.
„Pretty much everything that we say has to be legally approved, which I believe is likely part of why it is hard for reporters should you require a source in two hours,“ she states. „It’s definitely hard sometimes to get things approved in time““
One of the trickiest situations for any PR professional is how to respond publicly during a crisis. One of the biggest“bad news“ stories any crypto PR firm is very likely to deal with is an exchange crack, where millions of dollars and countless unhappy users are involved.
Wachsman has worked with Kraken, Bitfinex and Bitso over the last few years and states that the first order of business is to prepare a comprehensive plan on how best to respond to a possible hack accounting for all of the different stakeholders while keeping one eye on the legal ramifications across multiple jurisdictions.
„If you utilize an exchange, among the first things you do is you prepare that playbook, and it is very extensive,“ he states. Timely and accurate upgrades are the only means to perform it, based on him. „You want to go and give them as much information as you can, that you know for sure is accurate,“ he clarifies.
„Or else, what you are going to do is produce — I’m going to call it — the shitstorm.“
Previously, lots of exchanges have tried to spin a cover story about“system maintenance“ to pay up a hack, but that’s playing with passion in a universe of crowdsourced fact-checking by exceptionally motivated consumers on social media.
„Everything is found out at some point,“ states Foxley. „That is just how it goes. Like you can’t keep a secret in crypto. That is, for example, the tagline, correct:’Don’t trust, verify.‘ So, I would not do that. I would be fair.“