Sure, writers can do wonders with an informative press release and high quality images. Some brands never need to offer more to the media. But if your products require more than just an overview or rehashing of your stellar press release, it might be time to consider creating a sample or test & evaluation (T&E) program.
What! Give away free products?? Does that ensure I’ll get media coverage??
Well, yes and no.
Let’s take the yes part first. Often product reviews from capable writers enhance the story and are more likely to affect consumers’ purchasing decisions. That is what you want, right? You want people to buy your products, in droves. A sample or T&E program is the ultimate in the Care and Feeding of writers.
How do I know if a writer is the real deal and not just trying to get free stuff?
Credentials, recommendations and it doesn’t hurt to have the editor’s approval. So, you’ve sent out your press release and you are receiving requests from writers. You need to have to SOP’s in place:
- A method by which you vet every writer
- A T&E program that outlines what your company provides and expects
Vet a writer? Like, do I need to take a blood sample?
No, but writing samples are good to have, especially if the writer is someone you do not know or have not worked with before. Bloggers usually archive their articles, so review what they’ve written in the past. Are they professional? Objective? Do they use the type of language you and your company are comfortable with? Don’t be shy to ask them for links to past articles. Are they members of any writer or media organization? It’s much like hiring a new employee – you’d check their references before hiring them.
In all our years’ of experience with the media, the bad apples are few and far between. Almost all individuals currently blogging or writing for print magazines are as passionate about their craft and careers as they are about their particular industry. If you do have a problem with a writer, be professional and polite, often it’s just a misunderstanding or miscommunication. That’s why you need to have a T&E program, so it’s in plain black and white. If that fails, don’t work with them again!
How does a T&E program prevent my company from getting burned?
A good writer sample policy will not only keep your company from getting burned by a bad apple, but it will also foster better relationships with the media because they will know you understand that product testing is imperative to their mission and you are making it easier by laying out your needs in advance. There is nothing that will make a writer more mad than receiving a nasty gram and invoice from your company’s accountant about a product that you and he had some “handshake” agreement on. And you don’t want your company to be blacklisted by the media!
First of all, establish the following:
- What products will be available for review
- What information they will need to provide to you – editor approval, full contact information, Federal Firearms License or other legal documentation to allow the movement of product from the manufacturer to the writer (or dealer). If you need information on the publication – who it reaches and where, or a blog and its reach and subscriber base – you can ask the writer, or find the information on line.
- Where they expect the article to appear (print, blog, etc.)
- How long do they have to test the product
- How they ship it back or purchase the product
Now, address these issues to complete your program:
- You may only have a set number of items to ship to writers. You may need to shorten the review cycle so you can accommodate all the writers.
- An editor approved article is a “for sure” editorial score. But when it will appear is often at the discretion of the editor. Changes in politics, weather, war, or even management, can delay and sometimes kill an article. Not the writer’s fault.
- Bloggers often do not have editors, therefore, reviews tend to appear more rapidly than print.
- As far as seeing your story online or in print, give the writer some time to complete the review and have it processed. You can always check on a writer during the process and ask how things are going: are there any problems, would you like to interview or talk with a technician (president, engineer, etc.), but never hound a writer and never ask him over and over “where’s my story?” Well, it’s now in the trash bin.
- How long you allow a writer to have your product to test is up to you. If it is a product that requires outdoor testing, be sensitive to the fact that it just dumped 6-feet of snow on the writer’s town and it may be awhile until he gets a chance to get outside again. If it’s 30-days, 60-days, or more, feel free to check in at the end of the program and see if they do need more time or …
- Returning product – number one fact – writers write because they love words. They love to express themselves and how your fantastic product might just save mankind. But they don’t make a lot of money. In fact, they’ve probably gone and spent that future paycheck on stuff to complete your story, so be kind to them and assist them in getting your product back by paying for the postage! Also, you can offer writers the opportunity to purchase your product at a deep discount. Or, if the cost of the product is not significant, you can always let them keep it. Bet you will get even more mileage out of that offering!
And finally, make sure your T&E program is in writing and that every writer is sent a copy in advance so they can understand that you too have a job to make sure you’re awesome, innovative, revolutionary product gets plenty of attention.