The Real Deal When It Comes to Crypto PR for Startups
Crypto has a bad rep. In the mainstream, it’s still associated with the Silk Road, money laundering, drug trafficking, evading taxes, lack of liquidity, Bitcoin’s crazy price swings (especially the crashes), the SEC boogeyman haunting the pipe dreams of any startup thinking about the US, and scam… after scam… after scam. People in crypto have created new terms referring to it as digital currencies, virtual assets, and my personal favorite, value transfer systems, just to avoid saying crypto.
So, how do you describe, and more importantly define your new project in this nascent, skeptical, and extremely paranoid space to build credibility, drive brand awareness, distinguish yourself from competitors, and acquire customers?
Public relations for startups in crypto is tough. Harder than in most industries, and I’ve worked pretty much across all of them. My personal career journey in communications from the beginning has drawn me to emerging markets and their endless ocean of opportunities, and challenges. As a perceived “pioneer”, I revel in the prospect of carving new pathways and taking the first steps onto unchartered territories and brave new lands waiting to be unveiled. That is what led me to Dubai during the 2008 recession, around the same time that bitcoin found its way into existence by a mystery icon known as Satoshi Nakamoto.
Working for international PR agencies such as Porter Novelli and Edelman where I serviced a range of clients including JP Morgan, Barclays, Mubadala, Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Hewlett-Packard (PSG), Hakkasan Michelin-star restaurant, just to name a few, before I decided to become exclusive to one brand. Transitioning in-house, I lived and breathed Virgin Multimedia and Entertainment as the Middle East public relations and events manager for the global giant. From opening new stores around the region to launching a wide range of tech and multimedia products, hosting celebrity meets and greets, promoting and attending major concerts (major perk), and having the honor of interviewing 50 Cent on Virgin Radio Dubai (career highlight, and boy was I nervous) — the most fulfilling part of the role for me involved helping new artists, authors, musicians, DJs, dancers, designers, and filmmakers emerge into the spotlight and make a brand name for themselves.
For me, that is the glory of PR, introducing and educating the world about something they had never heard of before and transforming it into something that they would not want to live without. And, that my friends, is exactly what blockchain and cryptocurrency PR is all about.
Fast forward to the next chapter of my journey. I landed in the most competitive, oversaturated market, the media capital of the world known as New York City. From being on the leadership teams for some of the most cut-throat traditional PR firms to cut-throat blockchain PR firms, I ended up venturing far down the crypto rabbit hole and never looking back.
As the Chief Communications Officer for Anchor, a recently launched algorithmic stablecoin, I have had my fair share of trials and errors, accomplishments and revelations and leave you with these simple five guidelines for launching a new startup in the crypto and blockchain space:
- Narrative and messaging — To develop a strong brand narrative, first define your business objectives and target audience(s). Know your competition and use your messaging to differentiate your brand. The most challenging part in blockchain and crypto is creating simple, digestible, and succinct messaging that is easy to understand, engages target audiences, and works to meet your immediate and long term business objectives.
- Media train your spokespeople — Identify key company spokespeople and media train her/him/them under high pressure mock interviews. Typically, the CEO is the figurehead of the company and the one media will generally want to speak with, especially if the company is relatively new with a small team. Mock interviews before each media session will help prepare them to pivot and stay on brand message regardless of tricky questions that may be thrown at them. Most of the tricky questions will ask about their perspective on a trending topic and quiz their industry knowledge, so it’s really important to stay abreast of breaking news and trending topics even if they don’t seem directly relevant to you.
- Schedule of newsworthy announcements — Work with your business development team to understand what is in the pipeline, when partnerships are likely to materialize and milestones to be accomplished that can be used to put out press releases, embargoed stories and/or exclusives. Some may say press releases are dead, but as a new company putting out official announcements on the wire significantly helps with SEO and often results in syndications with high ranking news outlets such as Yahoo! Finance and Business Insider. These are great starting points to get the snowball effect for new companies that are still relatively unknown. Yes, we all want to be in Bloomberg and Forbes, and many PR firms may promise they can do this for you, but the hard truth is that unless you are Zuckerberg, have a partnership with a major company, have at minimum $50M+ USD funding backing you, or at the very least have a six-figure market cap, which is doubtful at the beginning, the major news outlets will not cover a startup in crypto. The first step is proving that as a new crypto/blockchain company you are not a scam and you must earn your industry street cred through the crypto and blockchain trades, podcasts, YouTube channels, and blogs with compelling news.
- Establish your spokespeople as thought leaders — From bylined articles also known as op-eds, to expert commentary on trending news, and speaking opportunities at industry events, it is crucial to build a profile for your CEO and/or other key company spokespeople as experts with thoughtful and timely insight about what is happening in the market to stay relevant. Remember, it’s not just about the brand story, it’s about the experience and reputation of the people building the company. A brand awareness campaign should run in parallel with a thought leadership program simultaneously to strengthen the overall credibility of the company.
- Co-branded events — You don’t have the audience reach yet, but someone else out there does. Someone who isn’t your competitor but can act as a brand ambassador and help you expand your audience reach through affiliation could make a great strategic partner for a co-branded event. This not only helps build brand credibility, but gives you some great newsworthy content, gives you face to face time with potential prospects and helps earn followers on social media and build community more quickly. Association is key in building a reputation.
If you get through all of these and survive, then we can talk more about the next phase. There’s no magic trick. You need to be strategic, methodical, and invest a lot of time and energy into due diligence, media pitching, and building relationships.
Most importantly, once you gain the media momentum, do not lose it. Leverage it and keep nurturing your relationships with the press, bloggers, and influencers, especially during the tough bear runs. Hold onto your integrity and don’t abandon ship. One strong mantra I have personally always held onto is #NeverBeJaded. Preserve and you shall prevail.