Back in January 2022, there were many people predicting a correction in the crypto market.
The price of Bitcoin had just come off its peak of the final heady months of 2021, but few were predicting the scale of decline that crypto markets saw last year. Back then, the sector felt buoyant with record numbers of new wallets being registered, crypto ads emblazoned across the world’s leading sports teams and their stadia, almost every single Formula 1 car whizzed past with a crypto logo on its fuselage and a wall of VC money was flowing into crypto start-ups.
At the time it therefore seemed like odd timing for the launch of REKT Partners, a specialist reputation management and crisis communications consultancy focused on the crypto sector. Crisis? What crisis?
But reputation and crisis communications expert George Godsal, founder of REKT Partners, thought differently. After a career of advising some of the world’s leading companies and numerous foreign governments on reputation management, and a busy two years as Global Head of Communications at the often-embattled crypto exchange BitMEX, Godsal launched REKT Partners in January 2022, initially in Hong Kong followed shortly by opening its doors in London.
“It felt to me that many crypto companies were sleep-walking into major reputational disasters,” Godsal says.
“Regardless of industry sector, it’s usual for companies to focus too much on promotion without properly considering reputational risks, but never had I seen such an extreme imbalance as with the crypto sector.”
Crypto has spurred the launch of many specialist marketing and communications businesses over the last five years, as is usual for any fast-growing yet nascent industry.
Observing the initial success and rapid growth of the specialist agencies, large generalist multinational agencies had also begun to tout crypto ‘expertise’ in their efforts to secure assignments from the hottest new sector in town. And therein lay the opportunity for REKT Partners.
“I admire all those founders who took the plunge to launch crypto-focussed consultancies a few years ago, and many have thrived,” Godsal added.
“But the reality is there was a gap in the market for grown-up reputation advice that focussed as much on promoting brands as on protecting them, staffed by people who really understand the sector because it is their sole focus day-in, day-out.”
The idea to launch REKT Partners came shortly after the three BitMEX founders were entangled with legal issues in the United States. Godsal was searching for reputation and crisis communications advisors to support him with the enormous task of managing communications for BitMEX.
“Back then the choice was between big generalist agencies or much smaller crypto specialist public relations firms,” he explained.
“On the one hand, the big generalists had lots of crisis experience yet knew close to nothing of the crypto sector. On the other hand, specialist crypto PR firms knew the sector but just didn’t have the depth of experience of handling a crisis on the scale that we were facing.
“I knew from that moment that there was a massive opportunity to launch a consultancy that combined grown-up reputational counsel with a sole focus on the ever-changing and extraordinarily complex crypto sector.”
Given the events of 2022, unsurprisingly REKT Partners had a busy first year as the pendulum swung towards crypto leaders appreciating the value of reputation management much more acutely.
“I’m really proud of our track record of helping clients to bolster reputation and increase sales, and I’m equally proud of the tough advice that we’ve given to clients that has meant they changed course and avoided reputational disasters,” Godsal added.
“It’s much easier to measure promotional success, but it’s the tough advice that clients really thank you for.”
Prior to entering the crypto sector full-time in 2020 when joining BitMEX, George Godsal had a long and varied international career, living and working in the UK, Kenya, and Hong Kong, and travelling extensively to advise clients globally, particularly across EMEA and APAC.
His real-life experience could be mistaken for the plot of a far-fetched novel – helping to repatriate 300,000 passengers left stranded globally on the collapse of a UK-based package holiday company; rebuilding confidence in tourism in the aftermath of a North African terror attack; handling live communications during the siege of a hotel in Western Africa by militia forces; correcting misconceptions around an Asian electronics giant up against highly competitive Western companies.
And it’s not just advising clients that has forged Godsal’s crisis expertise. He was once car-jacked and kidnapped in Kenya whilst driving home one Sunday evening having picked up pizzas from a local restaurant – and escaped unharmed some hours later.
But is Godsal’s undeniable experience in crisis handling really necessary for advising crypto clients?
“I’ve been extremely fortunate to have experienced some extraordinary client issues during my career, and every issue has helped to make me a better advisor,” he says.
“You can’t fake crisis experience. Regardless of the type of client issue I’ve experienced – from a relatively small event to a full-blown crisis – those organisations who have purposefully built and managed their reputation before a crisis strikes are far more likely to survive and they also recover from a crisis much more quickly.
“I’m therefore on a mission with REKT Partners to help our clients thrive long-term through putting dual emphasis on promoting and protecting their reputation.”
As the crypto sector gathers pace in 2023, no-one quite knows what direction the market will take, nor what inevitable twists and turns will be thrown at us. But it seems logical to take a far more circumspect approach to managing reputational opportunities and risks. Or “Don’t get REKT,” as Godsal would say.