The power of asking…

September 21, 2009 Off By Chris Hinton

Years ago there were a raft of eBay auctions purporting to tell you how to get free gadgets. I was daft enough to pay for this secret information, and it turned out to be surprisingly simple. The info recommended setting up a website, getting a prepay UPS account, and writing to electronics manufacturers asking for review units… apparently these companies would be so keen to get their product out there they’d even let you keep the unit. I didn’t try it at the time, but the principle’s a good one!
Say you’ve got a blog, and you want to do some hands-on reviewing. How do you get hold of items to review? Believe it or not there’s a remarkable power in just asking! In my time writing on a few blogs I’ve received books, CDs, gadgets (which, I’ll be honest, you usually have to return afterwards) and a week-long test drive in a hybrid car. Not too bad, really, when you consider that I’m hardly what you’d call an A-list blogger! Blogging has flooded the online “market” with people who “have a website”, so if you want stuff to review you really do need to put yourself forward and not just hope that people will come to you. A couple of the items I have reviewed have come to me unsolicited… i.e. the manufacturer sought me out… but most of them have been acquired by doing one thing: asking for them.
Book publishers are often most willing to send you a review copy of a book; this is the area where I’ve had the most success. Just find out who the publisher is, do a bit of Googling to see if you can find their press or PR people, and drop them a line. If you can’t find a specific person’s name it’s still worth writing to the publisher’s main address in the hope that your letter or e-mail will be routed to someone who can help you out. Politely introduce yourself, and your site, and ask for a review copy of a certain book saying that you intend to write a review… you’ll be surprised how often you get a good response!
Gadgetry is another great area to try and get units for review. I’ve found that most gadget companies use external PR agencies, but a bit of searching around the Internet is often enough to find out who you need to contact. Alternatively, you might find the company’s own PR/Press department. My success rate is lower here, and I’ve never been allowed to keep a review unit, but its still worth a shot. You get to play with some nice new technology, and the company gets some exposure… happy days!
With cars, what you’re looking for is the PR/Press department or the Press Fleet controller. Most car companies will have a press fleet with the express purpose of loaning cars to journalists. I was lucky enough to connect with the Honda PR guys on Twitter and had a conversation there about borrowing a hybrid Insight for a week. That was a great moment (arguably my best review item) and has spurred me on to contact other car companies and see if they would be willing to do the same.
Time for a reality check, though – I make a large number of enquiries that result in form replies and ultimately come to nothing, or result in no reply whatsoever. It can be quite disheartening when a company whose product you were really interested in don’t respond favourably, but you just need to dust yourself off and move on… there are other companies out there, and plenty of them will respond positively.
My top tips?

  • Introduce yourself properly – these companies don’t know you from Adam. For all they know you’re just some random with an Internet connection. Introduce yourself politely, give them information about your site, and be prepared to show them some of your previous work.
  • Explain why you are a great person to review their product! If you know your readers are interested in what they’re selling, tell them that. If you think a particular product uses innovative technology, and you’re a tech-blogger, make the connection in your e-mail. Don’t assume the PR exec you’re talking to has the time to trawl through your blog and work out the connection for themselves.
  • Keep your contact in the loop. Let them know when you get the item for review, and let them know when your review is up. If nothing else it might make them more likely to remember you next time something else comes out, but it can also result in some extra traffic if they choose to highlight your review to others.
  • Just keep trying. As I said, you’ll get turned down sometimes. You’ll get ignored sometimes. But you’ll also get some good responses that make it worth your while.

Why not give it a go? If there’s a product that would fit your blog well, and you want to give it a review, try writing off and see what happens. You might be surprised 🙂