PR & Product Review Policy

prtolerantWhen I first started blogging I thought reviews and giveaways just came with the territory. Like wheels on a car, if you wanted to get somewhere, you needed to do reviews.

But I didn’t want to do reviews. I just wanted to write and try to make people smile. I wanted my focus to remain on humor and I worried that reviews would muddy the waters.

When you forge relationships with companies and PR representatives, there’s an inherent bond that forms. Sometimes that bond is shallow and self-serving on both sides, but it’s still there.

I believe that companies and PR agencies dole out free products to bloggers in the hope of seeing shmoopy love posts in return. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way it is. They won’t demand it, but it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the intent.

Word of Mouth Quandary
It’s widely accepted that word-of-mouth marketing is one of the most effective methods of promotion. If companies can get you to talk favorably about their products or services to your circle of influence, they stand to gain a level of credibility that can’t be achieved through traditional advertising.

This is the concept that greases the wheels of review blogging. Rather than wait for word-of-mouth to naturally wind its way through the progression of neighbor sharing with neighbor, companies place their products in the hands of those with a large and responsive circle of influence in the hopes of hitching their wagon to that person’s credibility.

Do I think it’s wrong? Absolutely not.

Do I think bloggers who do reviews are “on the take”? Absolutely not.

But I do think word-of-mouth marketing has splintered. There is unsolicited word-of-mouth promotion whereby opinions are shared naturally and then there is paid word-of-mouth promotion whereby there is a pitch and a motive to share a discovery. Whether this “payment” is in the form of cash or goods, it’s clear that value is exchanged.

Understand that I don’t see anything wrong with this arrangement from an ethical standpoint if the reviews are honest and relationships are disclosed. Reviews take time, a lot of time, and a blog’s real estate is valuable. Add in the value of a blogger’s influential reach and I absolutely think that review bloggers should be compensated. When you consider the costs of customer acquisition, I actually think most review bloggers are grossly underpaid.

Will You EVER DO Reviews?
It depends. I won’t review anything and everything because it’s not an interest of mine. I’m not a review or giveaway blogger. I just write when compelled. I have no real agenda beyond trying to make people smile, think, or engage.

If a product comes my way that I think lends itself to humor or a rewarding experience, I’d probably be down with it. I’m not riding some soapbox forbidding reviews, but I’m also not soliciting for them. I could care less if I’m ever approached. And if I am, it’ll have to interest me and the post’s focus will absolutely be written to make people laugh and not showcase the product. I have no loyalty to brands, I have loyalty to my readers.

Freebie Fever?
Some, not all, but some review bloggers blog out of a desire for swag. Many even openly admit that they blog solely for the freebies. Others specifically pitch companies they like because they want to score specific products.

“Why buy it if I can get it for free,” one blogger remarked. Whether or not you find this practice abhorrent, you have to respect that level of honesty. Surprisingly, companies don’t even care about this admission. If the blogger has reach, the blogger has value.

I’ll fully admit that I’ve seen firsthand just how easy it is to get entranced by swag. When I first started blogging, I was offered a number of toys by a company interested in having me do a review. I eagerly accepted and my kids thought I had the coolest job on the planet. It’s when my 8-year old asked when he was getting more free toys that I took a step back.

I didn’t like the obligation that came with the acceptance. While many have told me that I’m not obligated to write anything outside of what I truly believe, I can’t help but feel that I’d be indirectly influenced by the relationship, the hope for future opportunities, and the expectations of those who entrusted me with their brand.

Thus my change in policy.

Deflecting Controversy
Let me repeat the fact that I have absolutely nothing against those who do reviews. Quite honestly, I don’t know how they find the time and patience to do them, but I do know that they just aren’t for me.

Will I ever do them? Rarely. In fact, I think I’ve only done two if you count the recent Kia post. I can’t promise I’ll NEVER do one ever again, but what I can promise is that when I do write about a company, product, service, or brand, you can absolutely be assured that it’ll be unsolicited and unpaid.

When it comes to reviews, my criteria is simple:

– I will never regurgitate a press release and I’m not interested in being told what to write.
– I won’t be obligated to write. It has to be a natural interest.
– It has to be able to be molded into something funny or interesting

Meet that criteria, and I’d probably entertain it. But it’s not something I pursue or obsess over. While I’ve done two reviews in the years since starting this blog, I have turned down well more than 200.

So, will I ever do reviews? Yes. Will they ever dominate my blog? Absolutely not. Like I said, it’s just not my thing…unless it’s cool, relative, and I can spot some comedic appeal.

With that, I now return you to my regularly scheduled goofiness. Serious talk gives me a headache.

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Brittany October 15, 2009 at 2:08 pm

Good for you for staying true to yourself. I think that is what blogs should be about. Whatever anyone wants to do! And I like you without but I'd still like you with! 🙂

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Stacie Haight Conner October 15, 2009 at 2:23 pm

Dude, I totally LOVE the word shmoopy.

Oh and the rest of the post? Very well said and thoughtfully written.

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Mel December 5, 2011 at 11:34 am

“Dude, I totally LOVE the word shmoopy.”

I said the same thing to myself! 🙂

erin October 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I don't make people laugh, so I have to write reviews. LOL. Joking. I actually started writing reviews on Epinions … which are also paid but not by "sponsors" or Freebies. YOu can say whatever you want and if the review has value you get a few pennies here and there. Then I decided to move everything to my own site. The difference between my own review site and Epinions is I do know companies want positive reviews. But here the relationship is different. Like when we went to IZEAFest and spoke to the panel – they said to either let them know there is something wrong and/or suggest things to make a product better. Being truthful is better than being positive in many instances, otherwise your review has no value. But like you said, some review bloggers get caught in a feeding frenzy.

Often what I do is write a review on something I like from a company and then ask to do a review on a similar item. That lets them know I really do like their products, keeps me truthful since I spent my own money and it just seems valuable. LOL. For example, just search for my BatCave review from Imaginext. All me, baby. No freebie there. But since I liked it, I asked to review another item from Imaginext, which rocked too.

Anyways, rambling. Good for you for spreading the word on Boogie Wipes. Whenever someone sneezes, you'll be there.

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Candy @ Serendipity October 15, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Thank You Erin for capturing what was in my head but not translating onto my screen. I feel the same way you do.

Greg its obvious that you don't need product reviews to get out there. If I had something unique to offer like you then I probably would not do reviews.

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Faythe @Grammymouset October 15, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Greg, I appreciate you posting this.

I have not done a review, not that some day I might…

but the point is, that maybe too many people put all their trust into an unknown persons opinion on something? Sort of like say… Oprah… just because she mentions a book or product mass people run out & buy it! It may be the stinkiest product ever, but because she said "she' loved it, well they have to try it! What ever happened to "use your own head"?? for lack of a better term.

Even with the "truth in Advertising" campaigns I still let my own test if you want, decide for me if it is the Cat's pajamas! The proof is in the pudding, an old saying… A free sample from a company does wonders too… but word of mouth, depending on the mouth… isn't always the best there is, unless it is your Mom who told you 😉

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Shan @ Last Shreds O October 15, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I agree, however, the few reviews I have done have been my opinion on the product. I did not feel obligated to schmooze the PR rep at all. I am not going to lie to my readers over some $8 product. I want them to trust me because they truly can and I have earned it, not because I can spin a yarn well.

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Amanda October 15, 2009 at 11:16 pm

I think each blogger needs to do what works for them. If reviews don't work for you, then don't do them. I do them occasionally, but I stick with products I think my family would truly enjoy. I couldn't just accept some random object to write about and hope I liked it. For me it needs to be authentic, even if when I get the product it's not as great as I thought it would be.

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Lee October 16, 2009 at 8:00 am

I do reviews because I love helping people make decisions. I like having my voice heard. I don't think I'm any less a person or blogger for this. I actually put a ton of my own voice into my reviews. Good for you Greg for knowing what you want. Nothing wrong with either side of the coin. I think you are great. Love your show too. People better be watching it!

Lee

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Lee October 16, 2009 at 8:05 am

By the way I LOVE dad reviews. So while I know you don't WANT to do them, I think you should do some HONEST reviews. I personally don't post negative reviews. I will mention that I think a company should change something, but I will not say the product is bad. Dad bloggers though can say a product is bad and totally get away with it. People will still respect them and love them for it. Somehow dad bloggers are such a small niche they can get away with stuff maybe moms can't.

I also don't agree that contest traffic is not real traffic. I mean, I get the point, but I have a ton of people who enter my contests that also come back and comment on my personal posts. They also tell me that when they are ready to spend some dough they come to my blog to see where to put it. I love hearing that!

Lee (again). LOL

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trisha October 16, 2009 at 12:11 pm

I beg to differ on the companies sending items out not for charitable reasons…we do http://www.bloggersgive.com and all the products are donated products for our charity. We raised over $14K this year in products just by simply asking.

MomDot gave no love.

Just sayin.

trisha

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trisha October 16, 2009 at 12:16 pm

but i agree w/ 99% of the rest of what you said. Even if i occasionally do reviews and yes, completely self serving.

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Telling Dad October 16, 2009 at 12:24 pm

@trisha – What I meant is that companies don't just send out products to random bloggers out of the goodness of their hearts. The purpose is to gain reviews and publicity.

Those who add an additional product for BloggersGive.com are certainly being charitable but don't they accompany the product being given for review purposes?

I think Bloggers Give is wonderful but I was simply speaking of the traditional review process…whereby companies send free products to bloggers to review. They expect that review in return.

I'm sure my neurosis is unfounded but I'm just not comfortable with the scene yet.

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Sara Bonds October 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm

Very interesting perspective on product reviews. You've got me thinking about why I do them, and how much I love to do them. I feel a blog post coming on. You've inspired a blog entry. LOL! I'll link back to you as what inspired my entry. 🙂

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Del The Dad October 17, 2009 at 4:54 pm

Obviously the internet has its problems just like real life. People can say and do what they want, while thinking a completely different ways. This can range from flat out lying about what they have done/do, what they believe in, and also about other people. It is pretty safe to say that everyone is very different and there will always be people that will compliment people such as themselves. This can partly play into my post on communities vs. cliques: http://ordinarydad.wordpress.com/2009/10/17/commu…. I would also say, that some people "sell out" when they do reviews for items they dont even use.

I do not think their is anything wrong if you have a blog, a company approaches you and vice versa over giving you something you would otherwise buy if you wanted to spend some money. Some people will do reviews over anything, and like some people say, it is a great traffic generator.

If I can get reviews, which I have gotten a couple, and they are things that I am interested in, I will take them. I think anyone will. It is a lot of work to keep up with it all, however. PR firms and the middle-mom firms obviously have numbers to make and obtain, so they have to ask the questions. It is how honest the individual bloggers are, when they respond to them.

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Del The Dad October 17, 2009 at 4:59 pm

I also have a question for Trisha…do you have a tax form for bloggersgive.com. I think that is great if you did raise that, but transparency is a trait of an ethical blogger, right? This goes to my point of people saying things to make themselves look good. $14,000 in product is a lot, so there must be a lot of happy little children and families.

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Cheap Cookie Cutters November 9, 2009 at 7:37 pm

You are right, I think a very large majority of companies don't just give out freebies out of the goodness of their heart.

On the other hand, do individuals give companies anything out of the goodness of theirs? Typically not. It'd be like buying office supplies out of your own pocket from your own paycheck, and then throwing away the receipt (rather than turning it in for reimbursement) just to be a "nice guy" and help the profitability of your company. It doesn't really make sense.

One misinterpretation though that I think people have is that companies EXPECT an A+ review. I think most companies just want to be mentioned, to be visited, to get their name out. If someone reviewed my site and said "easy to navigate", "great selection", but "site is kind of unattractive", and "prices are medoicre", I think it would be an honest assessment. I don't think you have to sell your soul to give a review, even when you're getting a free product. I don't think companies expect it, nor should they.

Another misconception that I think people have is regarding the intelligence of the blog readers. The readers are NOT mindless fools waiting to snatch up any product that a blogger writes favorably about. These are intelligent people. I mean, everyone knows what's going on (regarding these reviews), don't they?

I would guess that 95% of the readers fully understand that bloggers get "gifts" from companies for blogging about a product, and in return, anyone that gives you a gift you will speak favorably about. I mean, a blog can't honestly give 200 positive reviews (without a negative) and have it look natural, can it?

I think it is completely understandable why you don't do reviews, but at the same time, I think the harm done by those who do is minimal mainly because:

1) companies shouldn't expect A+ reviews, nor should they receive them if it is undeserved

2) most readers know what's going on, and just want free stuff themselves.

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The Straight Dope Da November 26, 2009 at 1:41 am

Like your take on this subject. I'm cool with it all. Shameless shwag whores to purists like yourself. I find it pretty easy to tell the difference and make my judgments accordingly. If a blog is clearly a review machine then I take it with a grain of salt. I don't discount it entirely, but I know that once the machine is rolling it needs fuel and momentum and that will have an effect on the output. That's just how life works. You're right, if you started doing reviews it would subtly shape your writing and every review you post is time and space taken away from writing something of value. In ten years, do you want to look back at your body of work and reflect about how far you've come as a father and husband, or do you want to look at hundreds of reviews for product you can't even remember or even care about. For me the choice is obvious.

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Fred @ One Project C January 23, 2010 at 11:41 am

Hi, Just found your blog and gravitated here, because reviews are one part of our blogging business and the link at the top of your site definitely stood out.

I would add one thing to the discussion:

Your concern surrounding delivering what PR firms and companies want (e.g. a positive review) is less valid as the value of the products you are reviewing declines compared with your other sources of income and/or larger readership.

I find that smaller blogs who are just getting started have a tendency to think they need to give positive reviews because the PR firm expects it. This is short sighted.

What the blogger should really do is give an honest, thoughtful, and thorough opinion so that he will attract more readers. As reader numbers grow, other forms of advertising will more than make up for any PR firms lost due to honesty.

Now, that said, a good review blogger has to be able to see all sides of a product from the perspective of many consumers. For example, some people innately dislike expensive items and prefer bargains, while other people prefer rare and expensive items to what they perceive as more "common."

The best review bloggers can speak to both of these types of consumers (and many more), by saying "if you're this type of person, you'll probably like this, but if you are this other type of person, you won't."

Just my $0.02.

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Beth July 27, 2010 at 5:47 pm

I should have read this blog first before trying to and failing miserably writing a review on a book that was sent to me. I am not the reviewer type. I enjoy reading but to review so others might or might not stop by to buy the book that I thought was fantastic is just not something I like to spend my time in doing. I would rather spend time networking my butt off to make money for my own business. Which I haven't done in a long time. I am not a blogger. Always wished I could be but it's just not ME. Great article thanks for sharing.

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Carolee a.ka. Bloggi December 9, 2010 at 12:06 am

I have never "officially" done a product review, but I'm doing one soon.

I hope I like the product as I think I would have a hard time writing negatively about something…

Thanks for the info!

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@PamelaMKramer - A Renaissance Woman April 6, 2011 at 10:54 pm

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post…..I’ve really dwindled them out of my blog as well for the same reasons. I may do one every now and then but it’s not the sole purpose of my blog.

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joanne August 3, 2011 at 10:31 pm

i used to do reviews in a past life…only once in a while was i truly excited about something i was reviewing or giving away. plus, i realize how boring reviews are. nobody likes to read reviews. a consumer can get a more general summary on amazon.com or yelp from a wider audiance than a blogger.

-@momcounsel

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Astro Gremlin November 13, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I do reviews of products and books I’ve discovered on my own. Take no gifts or payments from manufacturers to write them (not that I’ve been offered any, so no real ethical dilemma!) Have become an affiliate of good products about which I am able to write with genuine enthusiasm. A reviewer’s integrity is his or her most precious asset.

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David February 29, 2012 at 11:16 am

Late to the party, as always. Straight Dope Dad called you a purist, and I like the term. Sites like the Art of Non-Conformity and Zen Habits don’t just refuse to do reviews, they are structured and written in such a way that you would never even think of them doing one. And a giveaway, of the type you’re referring to, would be so completely incongruous. I love the idea that, as bloggers, we’re still making art. The written word, whether meant to evoke laughter, tears, or simple consensus, can be a pure pursuit, even if you aren’t writing literary novels or poetry.

Not that reviews are bad, but to again pull from Straight Dope Dad’s post, they’re not what I want to see when I look back at my writing. I want to look back when I’m fifty and know myself and my children as I know us today, I think that requires a kind of purity of focus.

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