Sending product to a journalist: How to minimise the risks of a bad review

- September 8, 2021 3 MIN READ

Many small businesses fall into the trap of thinking that journalists who review products such as tech gadgets, food or beauty products are an extension of their marketing or sales team, write Anthony Caruana and Kathryn Van Kuyk, co-founders and co-CEOs of Media-Wize

Journalists may agree to review your products or a food critic may agree to eat in your restaurant or cafe but they do so in the interest of their readers. They retain their independence and will not necessarily give you a positive review. You need to understand the risks associated with this strategy if you want to apply it. Their responsibility is to their audience – not you. If you’re worried about the outcome, it’s best not to engage in this strategy at all as a journalist won’t pull or alter a story after it is printed.

Product reviews for software, hardware or services can be a high-risk PR strategy but they are incredibly powerful and important. In the entertainment industry, bad reviews can send a movie to TV or digital distribution or shut down a stage production in days. But a good review can send ticket sales skyrocketing. For a small business, bad reviews can hit sales hard. And there’s very little your PR or marketing team can do to fix the damage.

How can you manage the risk of a bad review?

Carefully if  a review is the right media coverage 

Weigh up the benefits and risks, consider if there are other alternatives or other approaches you can apply in your PR strategy, without engaging in a product or service review. Perhaps you have other interesting stories to tell about how the product or service is benefiting customers, or about your growth strategy or entry into new markets etc.

If you send a product to a journalist, make sure it works 

If you’re packing a box to send to a journalist, test everything first and make sure it works. Be sure to include all the cables needed, a power adapter, any other necessary parts and full instructions. While every manufacturing process can dish out a lemon from time to time, shipping a defective product to a reviewer is a sure fire way to gaining a reputation for having a defective product.

Provide a background briefing to the journalist before the review

A product briefing, particularly for something quite technical, is useful. Some companies won’t issue review products unless they conduct a product briefing. While part of this is to specifically mention features the company wants to highlight so they appear in the review, it’s useful as it can highlight aspects of the product that a reviewer may otherwise miss.

Your PR needs to be knowledgeable about the product

This might seem obvious, but make sure your chosen PR agency has a strong working knowledge about the product they’re pitching to a journalist. Being able to answer basic questions can make the journalist’s life much easier and get the review to press faster.

Don’t hope for a good review

If you’re not sure a product is going to get positive coverage through product reviews – don’t send review units out in hope. When a product goes out for review, you want to be sure it works. Journalists are not an extension of your PR, marketing or sales team, nor there to provide free business analysis and advice.

Journalists are not testers

Don’t contact the journalist afterwards asking them to provide product feedback. If a journalist is reviewing a product, they’re doing it for the benefit of their readers. Journalists serve their readers, not your product testing team, marketing and sales department. Their job is to impartially share information so that readers learn something new and help them make informed buying decisions. It’s not the reviewer’s job to sell or bug test the product.

Product reviews can be a powerful way to tell potential customers about the product or service you offer. But it’s important to be prepared for the review process, present your product well and be ready to answer questions.

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