Like most crypto journalists, Will Foxley has a horror story about a bad encounter with a seedy PR persona. The former tech reporter at CoinDesk recalls being embarrassed in his early days at work after relying on bad information given him in an announcement.
“I was burned to death within two or three weeks by a bad PR agent who gave me false information on press releases,” he says. “I didn’t check enough and then got called by one of the senior people in the industry. It’s the quickest way to ruin your relationship with a journalist.”
He’s quick to add a disclaimer that “there are some great PR people out there,” but he estimates that the good guys only make up about 20% of the industry. The “bottom 80%” either don’t care or understand the technology or the fact that journalists are risking their reputation by telling a story.
“They only have one interest in pumping the coin they’re tasked with and getting the company they need into the headline, which is really unfortunate.” And it leads to a lot of burnout among journalists and a lot of frustration. “
Fortunately, the best crypto PR practitioners understand how to play the game and act accordingly. “The most important currency we have is trust,” says David Wachsman, founder and CEO of the PR firm of the same name. “We have to earn this because the only thing I know for sure is that reporters are a cynical bunch and know when something feels wrong.”
It’s a dangerous game to be wrong, as public relations agents, and sometimes entire agencies, can get blacklisted or get a bad name across the industry through publications, Foxley explains.
“If you don’t like a PR person, at least tell everyone you work with in your company,” says Foxley, who is now Compass Mining’s chief editor. “I’ve seen that quite a lot. You say, “Are you from this company?” Don’t talk to them. “
The world of crypto PR is an emerging industry of specialized PR firms that are responsible for a large chunk of the crypto news out there. Co-founder of the Association of Cryptocurrency Journalists and Researchers Joon Ian Wong says good PR agents play a much-needed role.
“I think PR people in every sector, including crypto, are an important part of the information landscape,” he says. “Your job is to ensure that information flows easily and freely to the media.” He adds, “But they clearly work for customers, so you can have a conflict of interest problem.”
According to Samantha Yap, PR agencies do a lot of work behind the scenes as an interface between crypto projects and journalists. “Half of our time is literally educating our customers about how the media works,” she explains.
“We spend a lot of time telling them, ‘Oh, you can’t express that advertising nook because journalists are not going to write about it. ‘We need to take a more current perspective’ or ‘try to fit the story into the context of the broader industry. ‘”
She continues: “What the journalists see in their inbox is like two weeks of brainstorming – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Despite being a huge fan of Yap and calling her a “legend,” Foxley has a laundry list of complaints about the vast majority of the pitches he receives. The biggest problem, however, is that in a full inbox there are usually only a few useful hints amid a sea of boring or irrelevant non-news.
“So 80% is just dog litter,” says Foxley. “I’ve just seen some terrible pitches in my years at CoinDesk, and honestly I don’t quite understand why these pitches are made the way they are.”
“You’re not helping yourself.”
Some pitches are massively selling the potential benefits of the unproven technology they are pumping, while others appear to have been emailed to every journalist in the world. Many are unfamiliar with the basic requirements of journalism (i.e. stories need to be current because they are either important, unique, or very interesting), but a common problem is a lack of technical understanding.
“Most of the time, especially as a tech reporter, I’ve seen PR articles that didn’t understand the tech they were describing,” he explains. “You get a PR man or woman who doesn’t understand exactly and they try to explain what a ZK rollup is. No, first of all you don’t know how to describe it, and that’s the wrong one Context. “
This doesn’t mean that crypto journalists always cover themselves with fame when they get a recent pitch. Yap sums up the PR agents’ mission simply and eloquently:
“The mark and skill of a good PR person is to give journalists the best possible perspective on the way they are supposed to write it.”
Of course, in an ideal world, journalists would use a story pitch as a starting point, research the background, and speak to outside experts before writing a well-thought-out and balanced article that contributes to a better understanding of the cryptosphere.
What happens far too often is that press releases are just rewritten before they are uploaded.
There are many reasons for this: low wages on some crypto websites and the constant need to kill the beast – i. H. The website – update and receive new content. It leads to what is known as “churnalism”.
Foxley admits that writing four or more messages a day can be “mind-boggling” and “very easy to rely on just the press release and story you’ve been given. It’s just fodder for the story.” But it’s not good for the industry. It’s not good for the readers. “
“That’s why I’m a fan of fewer stories a day from one news publication a day because I don’t see any other way to get rid of that.”
Leslie Ankney served on both sides of the fence as an employee of The Merkle and Forbes, a PR specialist at Ditto PR and communications director at Anchorage Digital Bank. “I’m sure there are times when you’re under the deadline – it’s probably tempting,” she says, adding:
“Hopefully, as a reporter, you have insights and questions that were not covered in the press release. But I understand that when you have to produce five pieces a day, you may not have time.”
Wong says this is not a problem unique to crypto media. “I think you see the same thing with a lot of financial reports,” he says. “You see the same thing with listed stocks, penny stocks, and so on. There are many blogs and publications out there that do the same. “
The ACJR aims to improve standards in crypto journalism, and Wong points out that the better resourced a crypto publication is, the more likely it is that staff will be conditioned not to send messages that involve PR Person wants to submit:
“Based on what I know about the reporters who work in some of these places […] They tend to be more skeptical and critical of announcements and other communications from crypto PR people, and because they work in crypto media, they are better equipped to actually break through much of the marketing talk or PR talk and achieve the crux of the matter. “
Foxley agrees that some journalists always view PR people with suspicion. “I’ve had some colleagues at CoinDesk who refused to interact with PR people because they saw it inevitably interfered with their work.”
How did we get here?
Wachsman is one of the largest providers of crypto PR with 80 employees in offices in New York, Dublin and Singapore as well as clients such as Cosmos, Hedera Hashgraph and NEM. The Financial Times recently called It is one of the 500 fastest growing companies in America.
It goes back to the story when David Wachsman came across the CEO of Coinsetter in a bar in 2014. This resulted in Wachsman learning about Bitcoin and taking over the exchange (which was later sold to Kraken) as a customer. He started his own business as a crypto specialist in 2015 and quickly gained clients such as Trezor, Slush Pool, Airbitz and the Coinsource Bitcoin ATM network.
Wachsman wasn’t the first crypto PR specialist. He credits Michael Terpin’s Transform PR with that honor, but he says these two firms were pretty much the size of the crypto PR industry at the time.
“It wasn’t the Wild West; it didn’t exist,” he recalls. “Most of the time it was founders who emailed reporters directly. They didn’t know the correct protocol. Sometimes they weren’t very informative. They have questions not answered adequately or in a timely manner. “
“I remember reporters getting excited when you could send them a high-resolution headshot,” he says.
When crypto companies needed advertising, they sometimes used mainstream PR agencies. Wong recalls that non-professionals often had no understanding of what they were promoting. “I often knew a lot more than the PR person about what their client was doing,” he says.
“Whether it was a PR telling me about Bitcoin mining or some esoteric financial thing, a lot of people at big agencies … have no idea what’s going on in the cryptocurrency.”
According to Wachsman, a critical mass of specialized crypto PR firms did not emerge until after the first boom in coin supply in 2017-2018. “Very few reporters, and consequently PR professionals, paid attention,” he says.
Fraud, spam, and payment for the game
Crypto’s infamous guerrilla marketing and PR campaigns stepped into the void. Michael Whitlatch is now the Creative Director at North Equities, which runs reputable digital marketing and PR campaigns for regulated public companies.
But during the ICO boom, he fell into an entirely different job after convincing 300 people in six weeks to buy a coin using his reference code. “I realized I had a knack for things like that,” he says.
Whitlatch and his team were responsible for promoting projects on social media. If you’ve ever interacted with someone on Reddit, Facebook, or 4Chan who has a great deal of knowledge about a coin and a very positive attitude about it, you may have met them. When the social vibe in a project’s Telegram group got sour, it was up to Whitlatch and his team to jump into the chat to spread positive vibes and information to help solve the problem.
It was a much more refined endeavor than the infamous bounty campaigns of the time, where armies of people liked pages and spam tweets about a project, often in broken English, for a handful of coins per task.
“I would often say that bounty campaigns ultimately hurt companies,” says Whitlatch. “Because they came over from mis-tapped posts with the full Shilly power of them,” he says.
The Whitlatch team has ceased operations in the area due to increasing regulations. “It looked like it was going the way of the securities and we didn’t want to get involved in anything illegal,” he says.
The Whitlatch team found itself on the more respectable end of such endeavors and genuinely believed in the projects it sponsored – and saw in this a way to invest in them as they were invariably paid in tokens.
But others were much more mercenary. An ICO promotion outfit email that made the rounds in 2018 asked for a monthly amount of $ 22,000 for astroturfing an entire social media campaign that involved fake posts from fake accounts with fake followers Retweeted and whole Reddit threads made by a man with 10 sock puppets Accounts:
“I can put you on the cover of any subreddit I want. I can give you a positive reaction from the basement residents at / biz (who spend a lot on crypto, by the way). I can put you on the cover of Hacker News … I can set fire to it positive organic discussions about your business in places where other ICOs are being torn to pieces. “
Other seedy crypto and marketing PR firms openly offered guaranteed placement in publications like Forbes and Huffington Post for a flat fee. TechCrunch reporter John Biggs wrote In 2018, he was offered to pay for contributions, “almost every day and almost all of the journalists I spoke to reported the same thing.” Most refused, but some did not. “I’ve heard of these things,” says Ankney, who adds:
“I found that really horrific. I was really angry and frustrated because even though I didn’t graduate as a journalist, I still stuck to a high journalistic standard. And I was shocked that others didn’t. “
There are still some echoes of these services today, such as Bitcoin PR Buzz, which bills itself as the “World’s First Crypto PR Agency” and claims to have helped 850 customers raise half a billion dollars. It offers the “Breakthrough Item Pack“For $ 13,997, including the services of a writer to put together a bespoke article that will be distributed on a variety of crypto websites including BeInCrypto, Bitcoinist, and NewsBTC.
Of course, running a sponsored item is not unethical as long as it is clearly labeled as such, and it can only be presumed that this is the practice of Bitcoin PR Buzz. This, however Examples linked to it Page? ˅ are not marked as sponsored posts.
Fortunately, the PR and marketing cowboys disappeared as the industry got more professional.
“I think it’s professionalized,” says Foxley. “I wasn’t there in 2017 and 2016 so I won’t comment on it. But I think PR people are more available; they understand the space more; they have an interest in maintaining relationships over the long term.”
There were a few false starts along the way. Wachsman explains that the first wave of professional PR specialists emerged in 2018 – only to be hit hard by the crypto winter towards the end of the year.
“We saw a number of companies exit, including global agencies at the time. And not many of them were there for the real rise of the industry in 2020. “Wachsman himself was forced to do it dismiss 16 of 110 employees.
“It was tough because our team grew so close it felt like it was tearing your left arm out,” he says. But Wachsman survived and since then a number of new companies have been added.
One of these companies is Yap Global. Samantha Yap began her career as a broadcast journalist in Asia before jumping the fence into PR and later falling in love with crypto. She founded Yap Global in 2018, which has now grown to a team of 10 with clients such as FTX, Enjin and Nexo.
One of the most misunderstood things about PR, explains Yap, is that it’s not just about creating and sending messages. It is also about carefully cultivating relationships with journalists and editors. “People forget that PR is not like advertising and marketing. It’s about relationships, ”she says. “It’s a one-way street.”
At best, PR and journalism are a mutually beneficial relationship in which journalists are connected to relevant information and respondents while PR agencies are able to get coverage for their clients.
It is important to take care of the relationship because if it goes wrong it can be very bad, in fact. Foxley recalls a longstanding feud between a well-known crypto PR agency and CoinDesk after editors were unhappy with how some stories played out and blacklisted them.
“Some high-profile people hit us again and again along the way, and I think we stopped taking their things,” he says. Foxley recalls receiving a slap in the face one day from the PR firm’s founder.
“He just informed me that we weren’t going to let the agency’s stories run right. And I said,” Bro, I’ve never spoken to you, “and then only he and (editor-in-chief) Marc Hochstein talked for two hours on the phone and he complained about CoinDesk, and then things went back to normal. “
PR via news
While PR agents are often hired to chase journalists, how they deal with journalists when they are being chased is just as important.
Journalists who always need an answer five minutes ago may not appreciate the amount of work being done behind the scenes, Ankney says. She works internally for Anchorage, which received approval in January to launch the first state-chartered crypto bank in the United States.
“Pretty much everything we say has to be approved by law. I think that’s probably one reason why reporters have a hard time getting a source in two hours,” she says. “Sometimes it is definitely difficult to get things approved in time.”
One of the most difficult situations for any public relations professional is to react publicly to a crisis. One of the biggest “bad news” a crypto PR firm is likely to deal with is an Exchange hack that has involved millions of dollars and millions of unfortunate users.
Wachsman has worked with Kraken, Binance, Bitfinex, and Bitso over the years, and says the first task is to come up with a detailed plan of how to respond to a potential hack that takes into account the various stakeholders while considering the legal implications multiple jurisdictions will be kept in mind.
“When you’re working with an exchange, the first thing to do is prepare the game book, and it’s pretty big,” he says. Timely and accurate updates are the only way to play this, according to him. “You need to give them as much information as you can that you know is correct,” he explains.
“Or you create – I’ll call it – the shit storm.”
In the past, many exchanges have tried to do a cover story about “system maintenance” to cover up a hack. However, in a world of crowdsourced fact-checking by highly motivated social media users, this plays with fire.
“At some point, everything is figured out,” says Foxley. “That’s exactly how it goes. As if you couldn’t keep a secret in crypto. That’s like the slogan, right:” Don’t trust, check. “So I wouldn’t do that. I would be honest.”
* Many thanks to Elias Ahonen for interviewing Samantha Yap for this story.