When They Didn’t Cover You
Publicly airing disappointment in your media coverage is never a good strategy.
Let me start by saying what should be obvious to Pennyheads: It is never the point of this newsletter to poke fun, call out, or petulantly giggle “You just don’t get it, bruh.” There’s just way to much of this going on. For those in the marketing and PR trade, I hope this newsletter helps you in your job and in your conversations with your organization’s leadership. For those outside of the trade, I hope that it gives at least some modestly sympathetic look into an oft-misunderstood line of work.
With the throat-clearing out of the way, I do want to talk a bit about l’affaire Saponaro.
Founders work hard on their companies. They make tons of sacrifices, not limited to the strictly financial. Quite a few forego the security of a paycheck and a 401k. Their projects generously chew into time otherwise spent with family, friends, and even personal care. Their projects are their world.
They also fall in love with their own ideas very quickly, in areas both within and adjacent to their discipline. The more successful the previous or core idea was, the more it is presumed to support any expertise in those adjacent disciplines. All but the most experienced entrepreneurs despond when the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way, right away.
And when this happens, of course, it’s certainly not their fault.
There was a fairly high-profile example of this last week, as we’ll dissect today. This is the story of a founder who took his frustration with the crypto-journalism sphere to Twitter.
The thread starts thusly:
Complaining about the media is never a winning strategy and promulgating a conspiracy theory is even worse. It’s difficult to imagine the desired outcomes besides, well, feeling better, but I imagine they include:
“A Play for Sympathy Ink” — It’s highly unlikely that media outlets will see such posts and go “Oh, shit. My bad. I’ll get right on it.”
“Follower Brigading” — When founders or executives publish such rants, I sometimes wonder if it’s intended as a call-to-arms in the hope that their online followers will take up the cause and harass the media outlet into compliance.
The nuclear option, of course, is the “…I will pull my advertising” ploy, but that does require a substantial advertising budget and an odd desire to immolate one’s reputation. (I had at least one client in my dim, distant past try this, merely for the publication’s crime of covering something inconvenient that anyone who was paying attention already knew.)
The thread continues:
This is tricky. Astute Pennyheads might remember last week’s issue and its only-lightly-exaggerated recounting of an agency/client discussion. The “…But you covered [x]” topic, when addressed constructively and privately with a media outlet, can sometimes yield a profitable conversation and clarify editorial policies for both parties. Out in public within the context of a drive-by Twitter thread, however, it’s a form of “calling out” when one ought to be “calling in.”
To be fair, the above describes a somewhat standard practice for sponsored content, though some above-board outlets do amplify such placements while ensuring proper disclosure. Seems like the relevant advertising contract was either imprecise or misread.
What follows is an odd labor-theory-of-value argument, which is a bit rare given the general tilt of crypto’s philosophical leanings:
I don’t know much about the rollout of this news announcement but the sense that something is owed by a nonparticipating party on the basis of sheer labor starts to come off as entitlement. Also, when a press release crosses the wires, it actually ceases to be news unless we’re talking about companies that already enjoy high levels of interest or, in other cases, are in the midst of heat-of-battle scenarios. As interesting as this partnership is, it just doesn’t rise to that drop-everything level.
I’ve discussed the executive fetishization of press releases before:
Saponaro’s assessment of the relative value of his news versus that of other, similar announcements bears further discussion. He says:
Again, this feels like there is a mismatch between effort and expectation. Often, that Very Big Announcement with the Very Big Customer is not enough to move a needle on its own. Yes, it’s tough to assess this without knowing the resources put behind it and Twitter does test the art of compression. I also think he’s right to point out that the demand seems to be for user-related stories versus purely tech-related ones. But given that the argument so far is “I’ve paid. I’ve pitched. I still don’t have what I want,” I do wonder of there was a strategic or tactical miss here.
Next, we come to one of my favorite topics: crypto influencers.
Let me say it: For the most part, the crypto-influencer scene appears to be a payola-driven protection racket, all-but-completely lacking in commonly understood disclosure norms. Communities will often demand that token projects play this influencer game, though largely because they have little legal exposure. That said, influencers who can reach the right audience and apply proper disclosure are gold and distinguish themselves from the low-rent Jim Cramers out there. Lemme tellya: Getting called “dumb” by anons who get their financial advice from online personalities that will shill any token for a five-figure sum is a powerfully ironic crypto-marketing rite of passage.
There is a lot of pay-to-play in this space. And, within that, there are media companies that must know that they don’t actually deliver the audience that they claim. The outlets worth following have pretty standard policies and decent separation between the editorial and business development sides of the house. Here, the question to ask is how much media relations activity was taking place prior to this announcement. If this is the first item that landed on someone’s inbox — or the first item of real value — then it’s unlikely to spark interest.
Much of the response to Saponaro’s thread appeared to come from supporters which, again, will do little to move the needle from a media coverage perspective.
The old cliché goes “Don’t pick fights with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” Today, the barrel is infinite and the ink is relatively permanent. Organizations should not take actual slights lying down, but they should also be careful as to which ones, perceived or real, are worth getting up for.
I get it. Even among those of us who love the non-office life, we do miss some of its benefits. The helpful stopping-by-the-cube-to-chat. The illuminating chance run-in at the barely functioning coffee machine. The chit-chat in the conference room before you-know-who comes in. A Penny Ahead is the next best thing. If this edition got forwarded to you from a friend — a very, very good friend — please consider subscribing.
CULTURE: “Why Is Joe Rogan So Popular?” The Atlantic (2019) — Considering the current media froth about the world’s most famous podcaster/comedian/supplement-guzzling-fire-hydrant, I thought it was worth pointing to this piece from about three years ago. It falls just short of the smugness that overly earnest examinations of popular emerging media by conventional media undertake. Call this one “Bros in the Mist.”
BUSINESS: “What Was the TED Talk?” The Drift (2022) — Remember these? The pinnacle of “thought leadership” platforms? Did the pandemic blunt our wild-eyed optimism of a gleaming future worthy of a Hugo Gernsback pulp story? Will we ever go back to this? Do we want to?
TECH: “North Korea Hacked Him, So He Took Down Its Internet,” Wired (2022) — An entertaining story in the mold of Clifford Stoll’s classic The Cuckoo’s Egg.
My Telegram gets hit all the time with people impersonating executives at my company. Occasionally, I will have fun with them. This is one of those times.
As to our “investors” Makollig and Lefdaroum, that’s a nod to this classic prank.