PR in Politeia: Process, Progress, and Pitching In


Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash

October marked a landmark for Decred: the launch of Politeia, its policy and budgetary proposal system. In the first week, six proposals were introduced, which the Decred community actively debated and voted upon. Voter participation topped 50%, a greater rate than we saw in the U.S. midterm elections. In the first round of proposals, the Decred community overwhelmingly passed an open research project that will enable investments of time into areas that would have otherwise been unlikely to find funding, as well a proposal for nomenclature changes to ticket voting.

However, for this blog post, my focus will be two public relations (PR) proposals, one which was voted down, and one which passed by a narrow margin. With voting complete, I’ll take this opportunity to communicate to the Decred community why I believe we need a PR partner right now, and also explain the process that resulted in the submission of the two proposals in Politeia. Hint: they didn’t randomly show up on the date of launch. Additionally, I’ll reflect on what I saw of Politeia in action, detail some refinements we can make, then explain the next steps in the marketing and PR process and how you can contribute.

Why We Need a PR Partner

Decred is an amazing project with a unique story. Developers with real chops self-funded and rolled up their sleeves for two years, then launched the coin via airdrop. The concept of a better Bitcoin, one with less conflicts of interest, one with governance, and one that is truly decentralized, resonated with an audience and spawned an impassioned global community.

Tanel August Lind and Sander Meentalo at Eeter developed Brand icons and a website, Kyle Chivers developed videos, Decred Jesus was born. Decred began appearing at conferences and events across the U.S and around the world; the Decred Jacket became a legend. The community grew organically, the price of Decred took off, and investment came from institutions like Placeholder VC and Blueyard Capital.

Of course, these events were driven by the continued development of Decred. Decred has now taken the first two steps towards becoming a Decentralized Autonomous Entity through the implementation of consensus voting and the public proposal system, backed by Politeia. Decred also created tools to perform on-chain atomic swaps and added SPV wallet support.

In the midst of the first version of Politeia, and with privacy enhancements and Lightning Network implementation forthcoming, I believe the time is right for Decred to take the next steps to communicate to the world just how far we’ve come in order to expand the community of contributors and developers. We will need a dramatically larger community and user base to grow the project by one or more orders of magnitude. We must take active, larger scale measures.

The returns to community development are increasing. The more outreach we do, the more we’ll be able to grow the community, and a larger autonomous community means even more events, users, and developers. It’s a virtuous cycle we need to prime now. Crypto is new and exciting and Decred is funded for the long term, but there is a chance it loses relevance if it doesn’t grow significantly to reflect the quality of the project.

This does not mean compromising our core principles. On the contrary, it means building upon our core principles, affirming those principles, messaging from them, and amplifying them in order to attract more of what we call “smart money” so we can continue to strengthen our project.

The goal of Decred is to build our collective intelligence, and to do that, we need to attract the right stakeholders. We want community members who value their sovereignty, act as a fiduciary of the project, and propose and execute initiatives that will best build the cryptocurrency and its applications. Our treasury is currently worth roughly USD 20 million, but it could be worth USD 2 million or USD 200 million.

The right PR firm will help achieve our communications goals, as well as protect and grow our Treasury. The firms that submitted proposals in Politeia have the experience, discipline, and domain expertise to get us quality media placements to increase awareness of Decred and generate more interest.

Many people have commented positively about Decred’s presence at events — they’re certainly a forum around which to rally and build the community. These typically cost USD 50–100k per large scale event. Given the scale of investment, it makes sense to be more confident we’re attending the right events, planning them intelligently to coordinate speaking opportunities, and then optimizing our presence through media training and media outreach to schedule interviews for Decred community members on the right topics with the right media outlets. This requires real experience, full time attention, and active management. The right partner will know which events are the best fit, and they might even bring negotiating leverage through their roster of clients.

Section I: What Happened

My involvement with Decred began with discovery work: a user survey, key stakeholder questionnaire, and a competitive analysis. Through those efforts, I formulated proposals for positioning and messaging, but have yet to share them with the community. When the former events manager left the project, Jake Yocom-Piatt asked that I assume responsibility for planning events, of which two were already in the works.

When I discovered that hundreds of events take place each year across the world, I queried key members of the Decred team to see if there was consensus on which ones to attend, what form our presence should take, and what metrics could be used to make attendance decisions. There was no consensus on any of these questions, so I considered external resources who would have specific expertise in these areas. Given the plan to bring on a PR partner, I postponed the positioning and messaging work until they started in order to gain their alignment.

I began the search for a PR firm by casting a wide net, reviewing in depth more than forty firms that fit into three categories: bulge bracket, B2B with fintech expertise, and pure play crypto firms. I quickly determined that only a pure play crypto firm would work because of their centrality. Decred exists deep in the cryptoverse, and it would have taken an outside firm the majority of a year simply to understand Decred, let alone be effective with media placements and messaging. Crypto-specific PR firms come with a solid base of knowledge, as well as a strong list of media contacts and event experience in the space.

With the focus on pure play crypto firms, three main issues immediately made themselves apparent. First, due to the newness of cryptocurrencies, few firms exist today. As an offshoot of the narrowness of the market, most of the firms under consideration worked with or had worked with coins that we would consider to be competition. Finally, due to the nature of the 2017 market, the majority of the firms had focused extensively on supporting ICOs and other projects that run counter to the Decred ethos. After reviewing more than a dozen crypto specific firms and phone screening six, I narrowed the focus to two: Wachsman and Ditto PR.

To comment briefly on the aforementioned issues, Wachsman had handled many ICOs, and they perform ongoing work for DASH, a project that focuses on governance and has a similar autonomous treasury. Given the different positioning of Decred (Autonomous Digital Currency) and DASH (Digital Cash), I was not concerned with conflicts of interest. Decred focuses on attracting sophisticated, active users, whereas DASH focuses on simplifying usability and maximizing transactional use. I don’t believe there is much overlap in the user segments. Regardless, Wachsman explained that they employ a team of 110 people, that there would be no team member overlap, and that there would be an internal firewall preventing information from crossing lanes. Additionally, Wachsman immediately took to the Decred project and its ethos, expressing familiarity and enthusiasm for the process.

Ditto had fewer issues than Wachsman. They had done work with Riccardo Spagni (fluffypony) for Monero, which is a project the Decred community tends to respect and appreciate. They also had a smaller team and a less global footprint.

With the search reduced to Wachsman and Ditto, I invited key members of the Decred strategy, marketing, writing, design, and operations teams into the vetting process. At this point, I was informed that the Politeia launch was imminent and that a press release document had already been drafted. I took the internal work the Decred team had performed and asked that both Wachsman and Ditto PR review and edit the document, and also recommend a release strategy. This was an opportunity to see the teams in action, understand how they think and work, gauge the quality of their ideas, and judge their fit with Decred. Both teams agreed to perform this work without compensation.

Within days, both shops presented their recommendations to our expanded team, then responded to our subsequent questions. Their work markedly improved our press release and informed our release strategy. The release of Politeia was picked up in several influential trade publications, and blogs were released by Jake Yocom-Piatt, Richard Red, and Dustin LeFebvre.

As for a decision, we could not come to a consensus of which firm would be better, for they each brought different advantages. We did, however, all agree that both firms were qualified and would be a good fit for Decred. At this point, Richard Red suggested that we wait for Politeia and have both firms submit proposals there. Everyone wondered why they hadn’t thought of that idea, and we were off. I communicated plans for the next step in the process with the agencies and coordinated proposal submissions.

Politeia in Action

You don’t know whether an airplane will fly until it takes off for the first time, and eighteen months of development left many of us full of anticipation intermixed with nerves. Both Wachsman and Ditto downloaded Decrediton wallets, acquired decred, paid the proposal fee and submitted their proposals. The community exploded with comments, constructive criticism, and a vibrant discussion about the need for a PR firm and the appropriate scope of work. Discussions took place in Politeia, on Reddit, on social media, and in a room called #proposals that was created in Matrix.

The online community seemed to coalesce around certain questions such as the denomination of payment, monthly cost, and the ability to apply metrics to each firm’s efforts. Wachsman and Ditto both actively participated in the discussion, sharing their stories, references, and answering questions about their proposals, services, and teams. Wachsman came out from the start and enthusiastically asked to be compensated in decred, whereas Ditto requested a combination of decred and USD weighted towards USD. The community was searing in their condemnation of that request and did not hold back with their comments. By my estimate, the battle looked to be over for Ditto.

However, reviewing the discussion in the proposal room in Matrix and in Reddit, Ditto listened and revised their proposal to integrate feedback and direction they had received from the community. The collective intelligence of Decred was working and the process was alive, iterating in real time. When discussion seemed to have died down and the two firms were content with their proposals, they agreed to authorize for voting.

On Monday, October 29, a Politeia administrator opened the voting, and Politeia entered its new chapter of adjudication. Discussion continued online, and votes poured in for and against each entry over the next week. At the beginning, there were concerns over the scenarios where either both proposals passed or both failed. If both were voted down, I would have considered it the will of the stakeholders. If both passed, it would have to be considered an unanticipated edge case in our sovereignty model. Fortunately, neither was the case here.

Ditto raced out to a lead, and entering the weekend, their vote tally hovered comfortably around 75% Yes. However, a large number of No votes came in over the weekend, pushing Ditto down to 54% by Sunday. Sunday night and into Monday, the last votes trickled in to buoy Ditto just over the voting threshold of 60%, finishing at 62%. In the end, the process enabled the community to vet proposals in a way that facilitated competitive refinement. The community then voted upon the matter, resulting in a satisfactory outcome. It’s the first experiment in this process, but it was a fascinating, roller coaster, nail-biting journey with a positive outcome. The future of Politeia is promising.

As an aside, Politeia is new, and it’s important to clarify voting thresholds and quorum numbers. For on-chain consensus votes, the threshold is 75% with a 10% quorum, whereas with Politeia voting, the threshold is 60% with a 20% quorum.

Section II: What We Learned

Proposal Structure

When we asked two firms to make proposals for the same scope of work, we knew we were taking a risk that neither or both of them would be approved. However, Politeia only had one type of proposal. Upon reflection on the PR proposals, I believe the community has arrived at a consensus for a two-tiered vote when professional services need to be contracted. In the future, we intend to build out a system where the first proposal would include the standard What, Why, How, Who, and When information, including scope of work and a rough budget. This proposal can be made by anyone but should be actively managed by a DCC (Decred Contractor Clearance) holder.

After the standard discussion and voting process is completed, if the measure is passed, a second layer of the proposal will come to exist. At this time, the Decred community has committed to the endeavor, and any number of potential contractors will be free to submit their specific proposals in Politeia, all under the original proposal that has been approved. There will be internal discussion and consensus on the way this vote would work, but I would guess that a plurality of the votes with a 20% quorum would suffice to pass on the second level of voting.

Abandoned Proposals

As of writing, four proposals exist pre-voting in Politeia and two of them are more than two weeks old. It could be that these proposals were greeted coldly by the community and the proposer thought there was little chance of the proposal passing, or someone could have simply fallen off the grid. Either way, after a certain amount of time, we should avoid clutter in Politeia and establish an “Abandoned” tab to store these proposals. I believe two weeks is a reasonable amount of time for this, but that’s simply my opinion and the community will decide.

Progress Reports
Once a budgetary proposal has passed, the Decred Treasury has agreed upon an outlay of funds. As most people know in life, no news is not good news. Lack of information tends to make people nervous, so we should establish a method for communicating progress on projects and activities. At the beginning of this system, the community will likely trial out a number of different methods, including posting information in relevant Matrix rooms, Medium, or simply pointing to Github. I would argue, long term, that a tab should be built within the Politeia proposal system to track this data, particularly when the project becomes a Decentralized Autonomous Entity and these proposals’ payouts are executed via smart contracts. It’s best to have all the data regarding the lifespan of a project in one place.

Communication with Community

When the PR proposals went live in Politeia, there was no advance notice to the majority of the community. As such, many within the community perceived the agencies as interlopers attempting to cash in on the launch of the Decred Treasury. This should have been expected, but was overlooked due to a focus on the communications strategy and execution of the Politeia launch.

Upon reading some of the reasonably directed criticism in the proposals room in Matrix, I wrote a synopsis very similar to the early section of this blog detailing why a PR partner was needed, as well as the work that had been done to date to vet and qualify the parties. The tenor of the discussion in that channel changed instantly, and I was fairly certain the issue was clarified. However, it has come to my attention recently that all that discussion was taking place in a room occupied by only 90 community members. I had quelled the concerns of a small minority of the Decred community.

Going forward, I think that continuing to work with a small group of core community members to align on a strategy is a good approach. I don’t think anything of consequence should be done on behalf of Decred without the input of the community. However, once discussed and agreed upon by committee, I would make certain to clearly articulate the strategy to the wider Decred community through channels such as Matrix, Medium, Reddit, Twitter, and more.

While one component of the lack of communication was ignorance, the other was intentional. Once the proposals were introduced, I contributed to the discussion by answering questions about the process and who would manage the PR firm if one was hired, but I avoided actively campaigning for the concept or for one particular firm over the other.

This was the initial launch of Politeia, and I wanted the voice of the community to be heard. I, and others, were very careful to avoid endorsements that could have been perceived as anything close to representative or nation state politics. I believe that this ethos can be sustained going forward through the aforementioned communications that would properly introduce the proposal to the community.

Communication: Reporting

Given that 38% of the cast tickets voted against Ditto’s proposal, and that 100% of the community is interested in tracking Politeia’s first large scale budgetary decision, ongoing communication regarding this process and our collective efforts and results is vital. In Politeia and in the proposal room in Matrix, many of the reservations expressed about a PR firm centered around the lack of metrics surrounding the deliverables.

These concerns are valid, and they will always exist when contracting professional services. It’s also true that one can only judge what one sees, further highlighting the need for the marketing and PR team to integrate into the community and actively share information. That means soliciting input and feedback on a regular basis in chat rooms and publishing monthly synopses detailing the work performed.

The community can judge me and the work of the PR team based upon the work we do as measured against the plan that I detail in the “What Happens Next” section further down. The first step in the plan centers around internal alignment of the team on positioning and messaging, and representing that in an updated website.

Once those blocks are set, we’ll generate an integrated plan to create awareness and drive people to inquire further about Decred. One of the major tactics we’ll use to achieve that will be media relations, where we’ll try to get Decred contributors opining as thought leaders on relevant topics, or even get feature articles written on Decred or its governance system. Our targets will be top crypto publications and mainstream outlets such as Forbes, Fortune, Bloomberg, and TechCrunch.

These types of stories will generate interest and further investigation into Decred, and we’ll have the website updated and the community trained in messaging to capitalize on the opportunities. Once we build more awareness, our goal will be to capitalize on the interest by attracting more people and institutions to the Decred project. We’ll see proof of this working as new contributors and developers join Matrix.

Decred’s event presence will be a place where progress will reveal itself in visible ways. We will bring organization, a unified message of Decred, and we will plan well in advance to maximize our impact. The PR team will plan on-site interviews ahead of the conference with key personnel on stories that are specifically relevant to the project and its event presence. The number and prominence of our speaking opportunities will also be a good proxy for the progress we make. We’re looking for better stages with larger audiences and panels with other high quality projects.

At events down the line, we’ll be able to assemble local teams, which will lower our costs and allow us to better connect with attendees. We’re also looking to grow our presence in strategic markets; key areas to watch include Mexico, Brazil, Europe, and Asia Pacific. We’re actively cultivating communities in order to increase our reach and grow our event presence.

This is a general overview of the plan, and it will all take time. Alignment will likely take into 2019, which means true outreach will not happen before that because pieces will not be in place to capitalize upon the opportunities. Building of communities is something that will take years, but look for Decred to appear in new places in 2019 and 2020.

Ongoing Iteration

Politeia is a massively powerful tool, and we’ve just seen its power with the approval of Ditto PR’s proposal. Decred now has a partner with which it can establish and execute a plan to spread the word and grow the community. It’s also a MVP — a minimum viable product. There is robust discussion throughout the chat platforms about whether voting should be transparent, whether and when the proposal submission fee should increase, whether there should be a cost to comment on a proposal, etc.

The initial success of the platform has energized our community, brought it together through common experience, and sparked ideas that will make the platform better over time. We all have sovereignty, and we all have the power to change or improve the process through chat discussion and then Politeia. Small issues are already being addressed, and others are being discussed online. Join the proposals room in Matrix and if you believe strongly that certain changes should be made and consensus has been reached, take action by submitting a proposal in Politeia. The system will become what the community imagines and codes.

Budgeting

Responsible decision making requires information. While many of us know that the Decred Treasury currently holds approximately DCR 555,000, and that current rate of Treasury minting is DCR 1.954 per 5 minute block, it’s asking a lot of the community to extrapolate that into a budgetary concept in which an informed decision can be made upon a USD 20–25k/month expenditure, particularly when the mining rate is reduced by a factor of 100/101 approximately every 21.3 days.

With that in mind, I and others are working on a budgetary model that incorporates three variables: the exchange rate of Decred, annual budgetary spend (as a % of Treasury), and the annual increase in price of Decred. This tool should give me and others a healthy understanding of the various pictures of our financial wellness based upon those three variables. I intend to use this model to build consensus around an annual marketing and communications budget to grow the Decred community. This model will be widely available and can be used by other parties, as well. If the community is entrusted with important decision making, it must have relevant data from which to base those decisions.

Section III: What Happens Next?

Ditto and Decred have already publicly agreed to a scope of work and terms via the approved Politeia proposal. I (Dustorf) am actively working with the Ditto team to share information, and the target date for formal onboarding is December 1.

I and Ditto will arrange for onboarding meetings to determine how we will work together and who will be involved from the Decred side. Planning will involve execution across multiple channels, including marketing, events, social media, design, and the writers. Members of those groups will need to be involved in the planning process, and we’ll need to determine how to best integrate communications into our existing platforms.

In order to realize our objectives of growing Decred across the world, we will need all the active involvement we can facilitate. We will definitely have weekly calls to discuss ongoing issues, and the Ditto team will actively participate in Matrix rooms. The core concepts of Decred will be upheld: decentralization, evolving stakeholder decision making, and deliverables before hype.

Once onboarding is complete, I plan to achieve the following:

1. Gain consensus on positioning and messaging of Decred
As a community, we need alignment on this basic issue in order to build the Brand uniformly across the world and to maximize the effectiveness of our communications. Once agreed upon, content will be packaged and made available to enable community members to activate.

2. Launch a user survey
Last done in April 2018, I’d like to gauge the community’s views on Decred, and query them on what issues they find important and what tactics they believe would be effective.

3. Update the website
The website is the first place most people and institutions go to learn about Decred. Leveraging the agreed upon messaging, I would like to make the website easier to navigate, enable various groups access to critical information, and to automate processes such as institutional investor relations and community organizing.

4. Integrated Marketing Plan
Based upon the feedback from the user survey and brainstorming done within the channels, we’ll develop an integrated plan to activate Decred across the world in 2019, including community building, events, and quality video and written content. This plan will build awareness and drive people and institutions to the website and events to learn more about Decred and hopefully join the community.

How Can I Contribute?

We have a ton of work ahead (as you can see from the list above). We’ll need contributors of every sort in various jurisdictions to help realize these objectives. We’ll first need people to help flesh out and agree upon the positioning and messaging of Decred. That discussion will likely take place in the marketing room in Matrix in early December.

We’re looking for community organizers to introduce and educate others on Decred at local meetups to increase awareness and build the community. We’re also looking to recruit others to introduce Decred in new markets, people who are educated, experienced, trusted, and respected in crypto. If you’re looking to be an active community organizer, join us in the marketing room in Matrix and express your interest to me or others. We will share information, establish best practices, and determine which appeals of Decred are universal, and which ones need to be customized for different countries or cultures.

We’re also looking for contributors to help generate content in the writers room. Website updates will likely take place in both the writers room and the marketing room, and communications planning will take place in the marketing room. I’ll also be making a proposal in the research channel for a competitive analysis of various projects of interest. This work will help us formulate arguments for Decred relative to other projects and help us with positioning. If you join those chat groups, you’ll learn more as we do in the weeks to come. If you have specific talents or ideas to share, join us.

Conclusion

Politeia is off to an amazing start. The quality of the discussion and the way the process evolved to refine the proposals based upon community feedback demonstrated the project’s premise in action. To me, it was like the Wright Brothers experiencing liftoff for the first time, knowing that their dream was possible and history would be written. Politeia has been released, it has succeeded in its first endeavors. We have identified ways to iterate and improve it and better ways to share more information with the community so they can make quality decisions.

I could not be more excited about the current state of Decred, the direction things are going, and the ability of our community to band together to demonstrate a new type of currency, one where stakeholders have sovereignty. It offers powers that will continue to be conceived, developed and unleashed over the coming months and years. Join us and help design and realize these ideas.