Crypto PR 2018: The good, the bad and the ugly

This 2018 was another wild year for crypto and blockchain. We all went through it, so I won’t bore you with a recap, but in a nutshell: the market burst, mainstream adoption didn’t happen, finance people got INTO crypto but their clients’ money didn’t, the SEC is taking a reasonable approach and crappy projects stopped raising money.

Ditto continued to represent some of the top companies, currencies and projects out there: Monero, Ledger, Augur, Decred, Origin, Orbs, Kadena, TrueUSD, CoinList, Unikrn, IOST, SFOX, Chronicled — the list goes on.

My takeaway for crypto PR was very obvious: Good projects need a smart team that understands the complexities of good marketing and PR in a noisy space.

So, what did crypto PR look like in 2018? First, there’s only one scam bigger than ICO’s and it’s PR. Like ICOs, 99% of PR people are full of it and have no idea what they are doing. And just like the bear market separated the wheat from the chaff in the blockchain space, it did the same for PR people working in this space.

Conferences

Things were already nuts but got out of hand earlier this year. Consensus in NYC was total mayhem. Dash had booth babes, and there was a strip club issue at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami. In San Francisco, Blockchain Connect was way oversold. As a result, quality suffered.

  1. Pay-to-play schemes let anyone with a bit of money speak — and appear to have credibility.
  2. Many conferences failed to include the technical conversations that devs love so much.
  3. The real, substantive meetings didn’t happen on stage. Partnerships, ideas, etc. happened off site.

At a macro level, we saw in the second half of 2018 a lot of conferences totally fail, which is good. If you build it, we won’t come. But to be fair, overall, the top tier, credible conferences thrived and continued to provide great resources and experience for the community.

Quick Take: What this means for 2019
There will always be a handful of solid crypto conferences, ranging from Devcon to Consensus. But companies are sick of pay to play, they don’t get any value in actually attending a lot of these conferences and it’s too expensive. I think we will smaller, more niche “micro conferences” in 2019, whether around a single issue — like security or privacy — or actually being hosted by a project.

Media

Where to begin?

Mainstream media went wild for crypto in the first quarter of 2018! Nellie Bowles was writing about Puerto Crypto. CNBC did live stand-ups at a mining facility. Life was good at Ditto because countless media was interested in anything and everything. This is not the case anymore. Bitcoin got boring.

  1. A lot of resources went into educating the media, who — like us — still have a lot to learn.
  2. The number of reporters covering crypto significantly reduced or they got reassigned, therefore the number of stories being written shrunk, especially within the mainstream media.
  3. A significant amount of coverage revolved around hard news announcements like someone leaving Goldman, hackings and market movement of bitcoin.

In the trade media, we saw a huge influx of outlets — which is good and bad. I did a panel with Laura Shin, Frank Chaparro and Leigh Cuen at Consensus about media and crypto. One of the takeaways was the unethical practice of pay-to-play. Just recently, Breaker Magazine dove deeper into what outlets accept money for media coverage.

While there was a huge uptick in crappy, Tier 3 pay-to-play outlets, this also created a separation in quality vs non-quality.

Credible news outlets like CoinDesk grew and improved, hiring reporters like Leigh Cuen. Breaker Magazine, led by former Fast Company writer Ben Schiller, has been able to take crypto reporting to the next level, moving a bit beyond the mundane news-of-the-day. And respected bad boy Mike Dudas launched The Block and poached Frank “Scoops” Chaparro from BusinessInsider. And of course, Laura Shin’s podcasts (yes, two!) continue to thrive, although Pomp’s Unchained is another important outlet covering blockchain.

Quick Take: What this means in 2019
Next year has to be the year where good projects get good coverage. From Fortune to The Block, there are a handful of high caliber reporters that will be going beyond the typical coverage we saw earlier this year. You talk to many reporters and they enjoyed the bear market. It allowed them to see who’s legit and who isn’t. But “good projects” need good news to get covered, meaning partnerships, news on mainnet, etc.

Content Creation

From HackerNoon to Medium to Steemit (RIP), it seems like everyone has something to say about crypto and blockchain. Like we see in the normal PR world, these channels provide projects and thinkers a way of going around the media to talk directly to the community. And because everyone has something to say, everyone seemed to have a newsletter.

That means there’s a lot of noise out there. Personally, I can’t keep up with all this content.

One of the biggest challenges around creating content was knowing who your audience is and making sure you communicate to them the right way. We saw — and continue to see — so many new players getting into this space. So, how you talk about your project to corporate America and how you communicate to a more seasoned crypto pro is entirely different. And at Ditto, another challenge was translating what a very technical person wants to say. It’s not easy to talk to a very technical person about a super technical issue and write something that satisfies the client while at the same time advancing the purpose of creating content, which is mainly educating a target audience.

Quick Take: What this means in 2019
Blockchain projects are trying to talk to a larger audience for mainstream adoption. So, how you were talking in 2018 and earlier maybe be significantly different than how you talk about your project in the future. And content creation allows projects to utilized refined message to clearly explain what they do, differentiation, etc.

Advertising and Marketing

It was a bumpy year for advertising. At one point, advertising was banned by Google, Twitter and Facebook, and rightfully so. There were too many scam ICOs happening, and it was the best decision to ban everything until they got their arms around this emerging industry that has a lot of good and a lot of bad players.

Fortunately, restrictions were eased, which we believe allows credible projects to get in front of their target audience. I still think advertising feels a little scammy, but the truth is, like in any industry, companies need to target customers, talent, devs, investors, etc. Paid advertising is an important part of that strategy.

As blockchain matures (when mainnet?) and as crypto continues to develop some real use cases and more adoption, this is going to be an important aspect of any company’s marketing plan.

Next Read

Over a year ago, I made a video on “How to do ICO PR.” We took that thinking a little farther and created some thought leadership around “Post ICO Communications.” The thinking was simple: To be the best, we have to be taking a step back and thinking — or re-thinking — how to succeed.

In the next post, I will discuss what crypto PR looks like in 2019.