An unimpeachable consumer champion

Credit crunch-hit consumers are taking more time over their purchases as they look for goods ticking the 'long-lasting and 'value for money' boxes. To this end there is one publication trusted above all others: Which?

The magazine has been reviewing products and campaigning for customer rights since 1957 and prides itself on staying strictly independent.

Which? does not accept samples from product PROs and buys pretty much everything it tests. It is not funded by industry or the Government, it has no shareholders and does not even run ads.

So forget trying to court Which? through the typical PR route. Its writers say no to freebies, gifts, hospitality and meals 'because we don't feel they are compatible with our independent status', says new editor Martyn Hocking.

'Invite us to your product launches, but accept our apologies if we are the first to leave after the presentation.'

Hocking, formerly money editor at Which?, took the reins following the departure of Neil Fowler after two years at the helm. His appointment as editor was announced this month.

In terms of plans for the next 12 months, he says the focus will be on helping consumers save money: 'We will be highlighting products that offer exceptional value.'

And readers will no doubt pay attention. 'Editorial opinion at Which? is definitively trusted by consumers,' says Gemma Oakes, PR director at communications agency Mercieca. 'Coverage in Which? also leads to national press coverage, as it fast tracks new product launches on to the radar of consumer experts.'

But not everyone sees Which? as an ideal target, possibly because there is no way to influence it. 'Clients rarely pinpoint it as a top-tier publication,' says Adam Rhodes, senior account executive at Ranieri Communications.

Sian To, partner at specialist nursery PR company As Clear As PR, adds that Which? reports 'are sensationalised in the national press'.

This is of course the down- side of Which? from a PRO's point of view. There is little that can be done to stop the magazine testing, rating and, if it feels the need, slating any product.

Which? also puts products through the wringer - tyre tests include the equivalent of driving to the moon and back.

But for PROs whose clients' products come out well, there is nothing better than a thumbs-up from its writers.

Adam Clatworthy, account executive at NSPR, says: 'Reviews from Which? mean more than any other publication's reviews because they are totally independent. A client will want to put a positive review on their website and it's the kind of thing you can use in future PR.'

A MINUTE WITH ... MARTYN HOCKING, EDITOR, WHICH?

- How has Which? developed in the past 50 years?

Which? magazine began life in a garage in Bethnal Green and so many people subscribed to the first issue that pillar boxes for a mile around were regularly stuffed with copies. Today there are around one million subscriptions to Which?'s various products, and last year we launched an annual awards ceremony to recognise the best consumer products and services.

- What drew you to the magazine?

It's a trusted brand and, as well as being an interesting read, it really makes a positive difference to the lives of millions of consumers, which makes it a fantastic organisation to work for.

- Any advice for PR professionals?

Email rather than phone - I will always forward emails to the Which? expert in your field. We are always keen to hear about new launches, but unlike other magazines we don't routinely accept samples from product PROs.

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