Why Crypto PR is Overrated - and Why It Isn't...
Like many sub-categories of startup marketing in crypto land, crypto PR has been generally viewed as an expensive and yet necessary evil - one which teams ignore at their own peril.
Over the last year, as ICOs exploded worldwide, a handful of companies have emerged as market leaders, offering public relations services for blockchain and crypto startups - Melrose PR, Blonde 2.0 and Wachsman being some of the most notable among them.
And yet despite their quite impressive list of testimonials - the lingering question remains: "Do I really need these people? Is it really helping my project?" Especially for startups who don't end up in the enviable position of a Bancor, Tezos or Filecoin, it is easy to feel that blockchain PR firms are overrated.
The truth is - they are.
And they aren't.
Three Reasons Crypto PR is Overrated
1. Media overload
It's no secret that 2017 saw a huge influx of crypto projects all vying for the attention of potential investors. The natural result of such an overcrowded market was a saturation of news, press releases and announcements from projects all promising to revolutionise the world as we know it.
While the "newness" of the ICO phenomenon may have been enough to pique the interest of some journalists 6-8 months ago, the hard facts today are that there is such an overload of "news" that even top PR companies with a vast network of media connections and creative writers can barely cut through the noise.
But - because "everyone is doing it" and because some big-name projects have used certain PR firm, doesn't mean that this strategy is a silver bullet for startups. Unfortunately, the crypto hype has swelled crypto PR companies along with it.
It should also be noted that even those PR agencies with strong connections to reputable newspapers and television stations (think CNBC, NASDAQ, Forbes etc) - now find themselves pitching the same reporters over and over again.
This leads to an understandable level of "news weariness." And if a PR company touts its "X years in the business" as a reason to choose them, this may actually not be a positive thing since in the natural interest of preserving their media relationships, they won't bring each and every one of its clients forward to premium news outlets.
2. PR dark arts
Along with the host of blockchain and crypto startups pushing their message to international media, an entire world of "crypto media" has also been born.
Quite frankly this is a fantastically huge money-making machine. High-traffic online crypto sites have developed complex offers for sponsored articles across their multiple outlets - and because of their position (and sometimes fancy graphics) they attract wide interest.
The temptation for crypto PR companies is to dive into the "pay-for-play" rabbit hole, achieve quick results and quick publications with a minimum of effort - and "sell it" as success.
Unfortunately, many naive startup teams allow themselves to drawn in, paying a PR company for writing and "pitching" content that they themselves could have gotten published without being charged a markup price.
3. Numbers and metrics
But the biggest reason that crypto PR is overrated is simply that: an ICO (and the crypto world in general) is digital.
The process of running a crowdsale, converting hundreds and thousands of supporters happens online. No matter where a prospective investor first learns about a project, at the end of the day he or she needs to "click the button" to contribute.
As such it is incredibly hard to measure the ROI of PR campaigns. How do you ACTUALLY know that an article on Forbes moved the needle enough to justify the $15 000 you paid the PR agency?
There are methods to measure clicks from referral links, of course. But even with complex tracking solutions, the numbers are very hard to crunch.
And speaking of numbers, the same goes for the numbers which many PR companies proudly display, touting the amount of money they have helped a company raise.
Yes, undoubtedly they have contributed in some way to that final number, but more likely than not, that eye-popping figure is thanks to many other factors combined.
Concerned that you may be wasting time and money for nothing?
Three Reasons Crypto PR is Not Overrated
Despite the advent of "fake news" and shifting attitudes towards traditional media, there is still something about an article in a publication like Forbes (with even the smallest of mentions) that lends credibility to a project.
This is in party why journalists working for the top news agencies are so hard to approach and pitch - because they know that they have a reputation to protect in front of their own readers.
And let's face it - they know full well that the object of a pitch from a crypto company is to boost its own reputation in preparation for its more important pitch to investors.
If the PR company you work with has a solid reputation itself for connecting journalists with genuinely innovative startups - a project will benefit from the same influx of reputation.
Public relations isn't all about getting published.
Really, you say? No - it isn't.
If and when a crypto startup decides to engage the services of a PR firm, the first exercise they will undertake together, is to define "the pitch."
Most likely the startup team will have done this already on its own. But the benefit of working with a professional agency is that the original pitch can (and must be) refined - not once, not twice, but multiple times, depending on the target audience.
This exercise in messaging is essential not only to get a company mentioned in a major news publication, but first and foremost to help focus the company on connecting with its potential investors and eventually clients.
At the end of the day - what ends up in a reporter's inbox is much more than a PDF press release - it is a the fruit of countless iterations on the core message.
3. More than metrics
Reputation is one reason that connections to major media are important for a crypto/blockchain company. In a crowded field full of scammers, this is extremely valuable.
But in a more general sense - there is a different psychology associated with readers of long-form publications.
Whereas, the goal of a banner ad is to drive a direct and immediate conversion, the reader of a Forbes article meets a startup in a completely different context - one in which he or she is more open to accepting new information and thoughtful in its consumption.
And whereas so-called "banner-blindness" makes it nigh unto impossible to convey any sort of real "message" (other than "INVEST NOW!"), a long-form piece in a reputable newspaper or blog provides the opportunity to tell "the whole story."
For this reason - public relations is much more than a pure conversions game.
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