Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Ultimately, the world’s best PR will never save you when there’s a ten-billion-dollar hole to fill, but reputation has undoubtedly played a huge part in both, the rapid rise and dramatic fall of FTX.

Commercial realities aside, FTX has always been overly reliant on Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) as its Communicator-in-chief. With his star ascending, it’s a tempting yet foolish strategy. It’s a strategy that baked in massive risk for the day when his popularity would begin to wane within the crypto community — and this loss of faith has been ongoing for many months now.

Massive reputational hits have come thick and fast in the immediate run-up to FTX’s spectacular implosion this week. Last month, SBF’s deeply unpopular views on crypto regulation — in particular his proposals for regulating decentralised finance (DeFi) — were the final straw for many in the crypto community, exacerbated by a car-crash debate with Shapeshift CEO Erik Voorhees on Bankless. Then came Ian Allison’s huge scoop in Coindesk, shattering the illusion of FTX’s seemingly unassailable strength.

What reputation lessons are there to learn here?

Firstly, you must never promote a brand blind to (or bluntly contradicting) the underlying risks of your reputation. FTX had a massive imbalance of brand promotion versus reputation protection. Plastering logos on sports teams and stadia, and partnerships with sports stars and supermodels — all at vast expense — certainly helps build brand awareness, but that can’t be a substitute for a long-term and deliberate approach to building credible reputation and managing reputational risk.

Second, listen to, track, and very carefully analyse reputational shifts and act accordingly. There is a huge amount of noise generated by the vast crypto Twitter community, but if interpreted carefully, this can often provide a useful — and brand-saving — reputational temperature check. Ignore it at your peril.

Third, never put all your reputational eggs in one basket.

And finally, with thanks to comms supremo Alastair Campbell who said recently on his The Rest is Politics podcast,

“If there is ever a choice between money and reputation, go for reputation.”

In the very sorry tale of FTX, SBF is left with neither.

[Updated at 18:20 UTC on 11 November 2022 to reflect Bloomberg’s estimate that SBF’s net worth has gone to zero.]

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced with the author’s consent. The Enterprise does not warrant, endorse, guarantee or assume responsibility for the accuracy or reliability of the information offered within the article. 

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