Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

PRWatch: Example From A VC On Writing A (Linkless) News Release...

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 6, 2012

Ben Horowitz, the slightly hairier one in the powerhouse VC duo of Andreessen Horowitz, wrote an interesting post about the future of networking that also serves as a very good example of what a news release could look like.

It announces the first product, and the first customer wins for Nicira Networks - one of the startups in the firm's portfolio.

It would be great to see other news releases written in a similar fashion.

- It starts off with a quote from Prince.

I've seen the future and it will be
I've seen the future and it works
--Prince, The Future

- It soon begins to tell a personal story.

When I was a young man in 1990, I designed and deployed Silicon Graphics' first wide area network using technology from a little known networking startup called Cisco Systems.


- In crystal clear language he describes the technology environment today and the problems with it, in this case, networks.

...the brittle nature of today's networking platform severely hamstrings cloud computing. Amazon's AWS, the largest cloud offering in the world, runs an embarrassingly feature poor network in order to maintain enough flexibility to support its service.

Networking functionality that has been around for over twenty years such as multicasting, traffic isolation, and security isolation are absent from Amazon's offering.

When people ask me why more enterprises haven't moved to the cloud, I point out that doing so would require reversing out the last 15 years of networking features from their applications.

- Enter the hero protagonist.

Martin Casado began his career auditing networks at a government intelligence agency. While trying to secure our nation against terrorist attacks, he became increasingly frustrated that current networking technology prevented him from solving mission critical problems.

He needed a better platform that was so radically different that he knew that he'd have to build it himself.


- The hero embarks on a quest and finds followers.

... he journeyed to Stanford University where he connected with like-minded people in Stanford Professor Nick McKeown and UC Berkeley Professor Scott Shenker. McKeown and Shenker were equally frustrated with the current state of the networking art, but for a different reason.

They taught network innovation, but it was almost impossible to innovate on the network. You see, real network innovation requires being able to work with real networks - i.e. real production traffic.

Sadly, today's networks are so fragile that no right-minded network administrator would ever allow experimental traffic and programs on her production networks.

In fact, even the network administrators at Stanford said "no" to experimental traffic.

- Despite obstacles the trio persevered and today marks the triumph of their journey.

Building this new platform was a humongous effort...Today Nicira Networks publicly unveiled its widely anticipated first product, the Network Virtualization Platform along with 5 major customers - AT&T, eBay, NTT, Rackspace and Fidelity Investments, who are currently deploying NVP.

I am thrilled to be a part of it and welcome all of you to the future of networking.

It's not the official "press release" but it does read well as one. And it's far more interesting than the actual release here.

A journalist could create a far more interesting story from that blog post than the PR company's release, which contains passages such as this:

"NVP is a scalable software system implemented at the network edge and managed by distributed clustered controller architecture. The system forms a thin software layer that treats the physical network as an IP backplane."


Interestingly, Mr Horowitz's post about Nicira and The Future of Networking has no links in it at all. Which makes it even more similar to a news release because most of them also share a link-less preference, with page after page with no links in the text at all.

Why are PR people so stingy with the use of links in news releases and press kits?

I can understand the reason if newswire services charge extra to distribute documents with links, but that's not true for publicity materials posted on a company web site.

PR people know about the "link economy" because they are always pleased to see my links to their blog posts or Tweets; and I see a lot of PR people linking to stuff on Twitter and Facebook all day long, yet those lessons don't make it into their daily work.

There's just one link in this Nicira press release. And I'm not singling it out as an egregious example but merely as a typical one.

I'm often asked for suggestions on how to make press releases more effective and I smile and answer, "Put some links in it." People usually laugh but I'm smiling less and less these days. In this pervasive online world where we spend so much of our work time there should be no reason why news releases, these 100% digital electronic documents, have page after page with absolutely no links in them at all. Even when those documents come from companies that claim to be in the vanguard of Internet and networking technologies.

Why aren't clients of PR firms bothered by the absence of the hyperlink - this most basic and most fundamental element of an Internet document - from the publicity materials prepared for them?

Surely, clients are losing out massively because of this lack of links in their public content?

Everyone knows that the foundation of Google's search algorithm is PageRank, which pays close attention to links between trusted sites. If it's done right, it results in a big boost in organic traffic - the right kind of traffic because it is people that are interested in that company's products.

Companies shouldn't go crazy and add tons of links because Google will think they are a spammer, but a few per page is reasonable, acceptable, and expected by Google's spiderbots. After all, without links to other pages there wouldn't be a Google, or a World Wide Web.

So why are company PR materials so link averse when their creators are so links-ago-go when it comes to promoting their own matters?

I've been told that the problem is that PR firms aren't paid to do search engine optimization (SEO), and so they don't. Fair enough, but they could at least prepare SEO-friendly documents with links in them. They can leave the mechanics of SEO, the tracking and the counting, to others.

Embedding a few hyperlinks is trivial. And the bit of extra time it takes to find and test the links is a bonus when you have clients that pay by the hour. It should be a win-win for the PR firms and their clients you'd think. And reporters would save a few clicks too, making it a triple-win.

Put some links in it, it's 2012, already.

- - -

Here's an infographic from Aaron Wall from SEOBook that shows the current best practices for links in content. It's shocking how much valuable advice he gives away:



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