How do you reach your key audiences when all eyes are focused on the biggest criminal trial in your industry’s history?
That is the dilemma facing crypto firms as Sam Bankman-Fried, founder of collapsed crypto exchange FTX, stands trial on seven criminal charges of financial fraud that carry a prison term of more than 100 years. The trial, which The New York Times described as “a referendum on the cryptocurrency industry’s volatility and risk-taking,” raises tricky issues for crypto firms that want to position themselves as credible, legitimate, and trustworthy.
Indeed, the trial is the ultimate elephant in the room for crypto firms considering new product launches or bold advertising campaigns, particularly as Bankman-Fried testifies in his defense. The conundrum for these companies is whether they should move forward with their news and risk receiving limited attention from distracted (and potentially jaded) customers, investors and media. On the other hand, will they risk missing out on opportunities to achieve first-mover status and shape the public dialogue if they wait until the trial is over?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for an emerging industry that’s still reeling from several high-profile bankruptcies and a mainstream lack of trust, but we’d like to offer some suggestions:
Find Alternative Channels
Roughly 100 reporters from crypto and traditional media outlets descended on the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan for the first day of the trial earlier this month. While those numbers have now declined, many publications are still devoting significant resources to the case and beat reporters may be difficult to reach. News that received coverage just two weeks ago could get lost in the shuffle now.
For this reason, it’s important that crypto firms consider alternative channels to reach their core audiences. A company’s website, blog, social channels, and other owned platforms from podcasts to LinkedIn newsletters can be just as effective in advancing key messages and limiting the likelihood that the news is bundled in a story that could cause reputational damage.
Address Industry Trust
Regardless of whether you believe the industry should address the alleged crimes of Sam Bankman-Fried and other FTX executives, the trial is an event that has irrevocably changed the way the mainstream public views crypto. Trust in crypto firms is still low compared with the broader financial-services industry.
To reshape these perceptions, it’s crucial that companies address actions that they are taking to restore trust. These actions could include commitments to transparency ( publishing the company’s proof of reserves quarterly), accessibility ( providing media, investors and relevant policymakers an open invitation to meet with key executives), and consistent communications ( sharing frequent updates across the key channels that your stakeholders frequent).
Stay Connected With All Stakeholders
Be careful that your company isn’t neglecting non-customers. Establishing an open line of communication with regulators, investors, business partners, and current and prospective employees is paramount.
Each segment requires a tailored approach. Prospective partners, for example, may be best engaged during an industry conference that convenes leading companies from across the crypto ecosystem. Consider hosting an exclusive event for reporters where you can discuss the industry and your business. This could be an effective way to spur conversation about the market, privacy, security, automation, or another key matter.
Do Your Research
If you have a timely announcement that can’t wait, be thoughtful about who you approach with the news and when. Most crypto journalists are covering the trial in some way. This could lead to delays in responsiveness because they may not have ready access to laptops or phones in the courtroom. Provide more lead time to allow reporters an opportunity to review the material. And it never hurts to offer an exclusive, when appropriate.
Ensure you contextualize any news you are pitching so it ties to external trends and addresses any obvious questions that may arise. For example, if you’re launching a new product designed to enhance privacy for crypto investors, recognize that there’s equal pressure for the industry to become more transparent. Articulate how this product will serve the needs of multiple audiences from across the crypto universe, from your customers to regulators.
The trial of Sam Bankman-Fried is a signature moment for crypto that will dominate the headlines for weeks to come. To gain attention in this backdrop, firms must take a thoughtful approach to communications or risk being drowned out by negative noise.
Brett Philbin, Executive Vice President, Edelman Smithfield and Rosie Gillam, Executive Vice President, Edelman Smithfield