The Bitcoin craze is either going to lead to a huge bubble/bust, be totally unstoppable or should be ignored entirely. It's a totally confusing and insane industry that in a few years went from shut-ins that nobody paid attention to saying a digital coin would be worth $19,000 to, well, a digital coin that's worth about $19,000. It is an absolutely confusing situation that, like all popular things, public relations wants to get a piece of.

The result mostly means that we've had a few high-profile companies - Coinbase, the popular Bitcoin, Ethereum and LiteCoin exchange - discussed constantly in the press, everyone and their mother having a crypto-expert to pitch, and the advent of ICOs. These "initial coin offerings" are effectively companies offering up their own cryptocurrency in exchange for another (mostly Ethereum, which as a monetary value), and said currency can be exchanged for some good or service. These Initial Coin Offerings have become so common that the media has become numb - they've seen so many that they're all the same in the end. Crypto itself has popped into the view of public relations later than usual - usually we're the first to hear about something new and potentially very stupid and paid to rep it.

So here're some things you, dear PR professional, need to know.

Crypto Is A Volatile Business

In the last year or so Bitcoin went from being worth a few hundred dollars to $19,000 (even more by the time I post this). Litecoin, similarly, was worth $50 a month ago, and now is ~$300+. Ethereum was $300, then $400, now $700. This is a frothy, insane industry with very little that pegs it to reality. It's a stock market where people's buying and selling essentially only affects the pricing (there're some other elements such as people who have lots of Bitcoin potentially selling their currency that can send the markets crashing). 

The thing you have to remember about all of this is the speed. Everything can change in about 24 hours, for better or worse depending on who you are. In two weeks a Bitcoin could be $25,000, or $10,000, or be illegal in a country. TDAmeritrade now lets you buy/sell futures in Bitcoin. 

Every client that comes along in cryptocurrency should be considered volatile, not out of nastiness, but because their very industry is built on a system of fluctuating currencies. The predictions of a bubble are neither unrealistic nor realistic. There is no real precedent.

There are no safe clients, but the safer ones have a previous backing - an established venture firm doing a crypto-based fund (I am working with one, I am not saying who, and they're not the first), a crypto-wallet that also lets you sell off currencies, perhaps simply a group that's done well buying/selling cryptocurrencies.

Less safe clients are the ones that are cloak and dagger around specifics. They also may say something that seems out of this world - a return of 1500% in 2 weeks, for example, or promising magical future payments of huge amounts. Deferred payments with no upfront payment (upfront payments, even small ones, are at least proof of wanting to carry through) are...untrustworthy.

Do Not Take On A Crypto Client Unless You Understand How The Industry Works

Be it an ICO, a new wallet, a fund, whatever it is, you need to get how crypto works. This doesn't mean that you need to be able to on the spot define the blockchain, as there are about 100 articles that disagree as to how to do that, but you need to be able to talk eloquently about how all of it works. I'd also advise you have dipped even lightly into the buying/selling of some cryptocurrency. Understand that it's mined, understand it has a variable market, understand how it's bought/sold, understand the basics.

Now, I write this with the full knowledge that I've met people who work for AI companies who don't know what AI stands for, chipset companies that don't know what they do, and I'll tell you that in those cases you can learn buzzwords and get by. Crypto reporters aren't so friendly nor are they willing to dig through a whitepaper from an ICO to find the deeper meaning. 

The exciting part of all of this, personally, is it's a situation where really lazy PR people are going to run into a wall very hard.

This Could All Disappear In A Year - And It's Not Like Startups

Remember when you had a ton of clients that were on Indiegogo and Kickstarter? Me too! They're not anymore. Crypto-startups are even more volatile. An industry based on froth and excitement is one that can be crippled by regulation. The difference between this and say, crowdfunding, is that crowdfunding would be dealt with by the FTC and other consumer bodies.

The SEC deals with money. A magical digital currency made of nothing that can make people (or lose people) thousands is, inherently, not their jam. The SEC can and will move fast to end any controversial crypto-currency company and in turn break the value of currencies, if not start regulating what/where currencies can be sold. This will happen quickly, if it does, ending your clients and, if you're paid in crypto, their ability to transfer money to you, as it's not real money.

Published on: Dec 18, 2017