It is no secret that tech journalists are under tremendous pressure: Companies emerge and push products at breakneck speeds. Unicorns are minted overnight, and the competition for scoops is as tough as it gets.
When it comes to fact-checking the details on a company or a pitch, some of the distributed ledger technology (DLT) innovations from other fields can surely come in handy for reporters on a deadline.
A number of industries have welcomed DLT into their processes and operations. Insurance companies rely on blockchain technology to verify claims. Banks have developed digital identity and smart contract solutions to automate and secure financial transactions. Global supply chains can now automatically trace the product life cycle, from raw materials to point of sale.
The central aspect of all these DLT applications is clear: verified information, universally accessible, secure, and set in stone on the ledger. It’s a proposition with immediate PR appeal.
Public relations builds connections between people. It tells stories and wins hearts and minds. Many businesses today are riding high on the “distributed ledger technology” wave that never seems to break. Their knack for injecting new—and often objectively cool—DLT solutions into traditional industries got me thinking about my own profession which I’ve practiced for the last 20 years. Can PR “get smart” and benefit from the blockchain boom, too?
The promise: verified and verifiable data
Truth and trust are in short supply these days. The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals “an epidemic of misinformation” and a “failing trust ecosystem.” While the vast majority of public relations professionals abide by a strict moral code, many tech journalists take a “once bitten, twice shy” approach to newcomer companies and to pitches from PR people they do not know.
There is no shortage of cautionary tales that all started with a story that seemed too big not to cover but turned out to be hot air.
DLT solutions that are already working for other industries can be incorporated into PR to streamline its information-sharing procedures and help journalists with fact-checking and research. Organizations can support media outlets by placing company data on the ledger for verification and storage. Having such information on an immutable, publicly accessible platform would give journalists confidence and encourage them to produce coverage that they know is based in fact.
Companies can also go a step further and disclose their product and supply chain operations on the ledger, making sure there are no skeletons in their product logistics closet. Think of Theranos, the medical testing unicorn that assembled funding north of the $700-million mark on promises and hype alone. Their blood-testing appliances were practically useless, but the company enjoyed years of media praise and a steady stream of investments. If DLT-powered company disclosures were standard, Theranos could never have duped so many people for so long. An insight into their product and logistics activities would have certainly raised an alarm much earlier.
Since even seasoned venture capitalists occasionally fall for a Theranos-like scam, why not put your funding and investment operation on the ledger as well? Nothing screams “transparency and trust” louder than opening your books. Blatant schemes like Bitconnect or OneCoin would not stand up to basic scrutiny if their financial information were publicly available.
Digital identity could also help journalists push back against fraud and verify a sender’s reputation and trustworthiness.
DLT-verified data can also support whistleblower activities and thus help journalists bring important truths to the public. When information is verified on the ledger, the identity of the source becomes secondary. With the help of DLT, tech journalists can establish the veracity of leaks or other unexpected revelations by tracing them on the ledger.
The limits of DLT for PR
All of the above DLT applications would definitely support communication processes, and they might help prevent the next Theranos from happening. However, having verified data is only a brush stroke within a much bigger picture. Just getting a journalist to take a look at your data is no easy feat, even if you can prove it’s credible.
Tech reporters receive hundreds of emails each day. Even if you craft the perfect pitch, chances are it will get lost in the noise. Unless, that is, you know the journalist personally.
PR, as its name suggests, is based on relationships. In our field, human connection trumps technology, distributed or not. When the best public relations professionals first hear a great story from a client, they are already racing through their lists of journalist contacts in their minds, thinking about who would be genuinely excited to cover it. Pitching the story to the right journalist is already half the job done, and it goes a long way to building lasting professional bonds. DLT might offer quick data verification, but the personal connections in PR provide a different, deeper sense of trust.
Great PR pros have strong, close relationships to journalists they are in touch with. They hang out together at industry events and message one another on Twitter.
The connection that PR pros and journalists share not only ensures that the right reporters get the right stories, but it also helps them tell great stories together. When PR professionals pitch journalists, they do not only leverage their professional relationship. More importantly, PR pros bring journalists the opportunity to tell a great story. By matching journalistic styles and interests with good narratives, PR gets the best results for clients, journalists, and readers alike.
The American Press Institute shares that one of the defining characteristics of a good story is that it is rich in verified information. As we have already seen, DLT can certainly help with that. However, the more important side to a good story is how it is told. Telling a story well and making your audience believe it is exciting and significant determines how far the message will travel and how deep its impact will be.
Storytelling lays bare the inherently human side of public relations that no technology can replace. So, while PR can definitely benefit from some company data being placed on the blockchain, there are other components of it which will always remain inherently human. And in my opinion, that is a good thing.
Ayelet Noff is the founder and CEO of SlicedBrand, headquartered in Berlin.