A positive review is an essential part of any product PR strategy, but with fewer reporters and editors now juggling an increasing number of beats and responsibilities, a sampling program is just the first step to getting a thorough and fair evaluation of your client's products and services.
But whether it's setting up a desk-side briefing or showcasing a product at a trade event, the process of getting a good review begins long before you start your media outreach.
"You need to do your homework, and that's not just knowing a reporter's background, but also studying their specific reactions to other products and versions you've pitched them," says the monomial-named Chase, director of media relations for San Francisco-based Access Communications.
Reporters and editors are increasingly pressed for time, so desk-side briefings to showcase products should also be concise and focused. Gina Contursi, director of media for Forty Weeks, which specializes in maternity and baby clients, suggests first looking at your client's product from the reporter's perspective.
"For our baby sling client, Oopa Baby, we knew that people could be intimidated, because they don't know how to 'wear' the baby," Contursi explains. "So when we had our desk-side briefings, we had a mock baby - not a real one - and showed them exactly how to wear the sling, and how it can be very comfortable and very good for the back and foster baby-parent bonding."
Of course, some products are either too unwieldy or impractical for a desk-side demonstration. Traci Renner, SVP at GolinHarris, works with Mitsubishi's TV division. She says even in difficult cases, "You still need to be creative in how you present your product or service, including getting a freight company involved to get it from point A to point B and installed."
Stephanie Schultz, VP and supervisor with Milwaukee-based Laughlin/Constable, works with the outdoor footwear company Wolverine, and stresses the importance of following up after reporters have tried your client's products.
"You shouldn't call to find out how the review is going, but you should call to find out if they have any additional wants or needs," she says. "For Wolverine, that [might] be what kind of hunt an outdoor writer is going on... as well as making sure the product fits right."
Chase also stresses the importance of well-targeted follow-ups, especially for long-lead outlets. "It's easy for PR professionals to think their work is done, especially when a reporter even provides an issue in which the coverage will appear," he says. "However, a lot can change between a demo and the story submission deadline, and you can't get those three months back if you weren't included in the story."
The optimum strategy for following up is to call a reporter periodically to confirm whether or not the review is going forward, also stressing how excited your client is about the coverage, Chase says. "Until you get the call from a fact checker, nothing is secured," he adds.
Contursi agrees, adding, "Whether it's making sure the reporter has the right retail information, price point, or available patterns and colors, you need to always position yourself as a resource [and] provide service all the way through the review process."
Your homework to find out not only what reporters review, but also their pet peeves
Follow up after sending the product to see if the reviewer has any needs or questions
Send many samples for review for small-ticket items - it might interest other editorial staffers who could step in to review the product
Try a one-sample-fits-all strategy. Instead, tailor each accompanying pitch to the outlet or journalist
Pressure reviewers. Doing so might affect how they evaluate your client's product
Wrap your review product in industry jargon. Instead, tailor your language to the end consumer