Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) are a fascinating new beast within the startup world. These novel fundraising vehicles are part tech, part finance, and while offering huge profits, also invite a great deal of potential fraud. In their nascent stage, some quick-fire fortunes will likely lead to significant legal problems when it comes to marketing, PR and promotion.
Investor Relations (IR) professionals have been watching the landscape activity with bemusement as they have seen this all before. Anyone who worked in small or microcap investment marketing during the early days of the digital boom remembers the arrests of naive advertisers entering the space. They also know a worldwide criminal element is endemic to the capital markets. “Pump and Dumps” were not just conducted by some sketchy Florida-based brokerages. Instead, they were often orchestrated by organized criminal groups ranging from gun runners to drug cartels as an easy method to obtain quick cash and launder money. Unfortunately, those same folks are already involved in the ICO atmosphere. These are just some of the challenges that face those entering the brave new world of cryptocurrency.
1. Prepare for red tape and regulations
The days of marketers easily entering and operating within the ICO space are over. Recent SEC statements about initial coin offerings signify there will be greater regulatory and legal issues for those looking to promote this sector. Of these, the biggest concern may be that marketers have little idea whether any given ICO can or will be considered a securities offering.
Precedent indicates ICO advertising will be subject to a set of rules similar to those which govern stock promotion. While this article in no way intends to offer legal advice, the suggestion can be made that marketers across the board should familiarize themselves with the legalities of securities marketing worldwide. Laws of this nature can be intense, ruling over everything from the language of marketing to the techniques utilized as well as the general setup of companies and their third-party help.
At the very least, ICO marketers should study the information that exists on IR legislation with specific attention paid to blue sky laws, securities promotion laws (SEC rule 17b) and broker/dealer laws. Because the reality is that an initial coin offering may be subject to them all. If you’re marketing it incorrectly, this can result in both civil and criminal charges…and no campaign is worth that.
2. ICO’s can attract illicit activities
Financial marketers are accustomed to completing an incredible amount of homework on their clientele as nefarious operators are prone to be roaming around the marketplace – from those looking to make a quick buck without the expertise to do so, to those engaging in massive Ponzi schemes.
Marketers, writers, and technologists are now being approached by parties looking to apply their services to initial coin offerings, without having the luxury of this research experience. Moving forward, to guarantee the safety of their businesses and reputations, these providers will need to conduct an incredible amount of due diligence regarding who they decide to represent, partner, and work with.
As many in the space can tell you, if you are approached by two lone guys with a white paper looking for ICO work, it is time to think critically as criminal organizations love securities manipulation. And they are already in the market for ICOs operating abroad. That is why you must extensively study the value, team, and plans of any potential clientele or employer. Marketing a scam can ruin a reputation. Marketing for a criminal organization can ruin a lifetime.
3. Startup marketing problems are ICO marketing problems
It is important to remember that ICOs are meant to be more than a quick cash grab. They are a disruption to the market with genuine staying power and failure to consider their long-term implications can have negative effects on every aspect of the business model, including its marketing.
When a new sector garners interest, it doesn’t take much to turn that intrigue into profit. But this window is short as novelty and hype can only last for so long. Right now, ICOs are doing little more than utilizing social media marketing and writing up white papers to leverage buzz for their offering. But investors, participants, and backers are bound to want more. When they do, these quick and easy promotional tactics must evolve into truly powerful marketing that leverages expertise, thought leadership and differentiation through multi-channel finesse. In other words, a lot of folks that quickly entered the space will find themselves just as quickly kicked out of it.