Product Samples as a PR Tactic

So you’re trying to get coverage for a new product in mainstream publications. You’re in the midst of the Holiday Gift Guide pitching season and you need to deliver some serious placements. Coverage in any number of gift guide stories will directly translate into sales for your clients – and that’s the type of ROI that will secure your place at the table heading into next year. But what’s the best way to pitch products to gift guide editors?

For starters, this is one of the most competitive areas for PR pitches. For any mainstream gift guide, it’s not unheard of for an editor to receive more than 1,000 pitches on new products. That’s a lot of competition for you to go up against. Unless you’re new product is projected to be this year’s “Tickle Me Elmo” or “Guitar Hero”, you’ve got your work cut out for you. However, there is an approach you can use to dramatically increase your success pitching products to gift guide and product review journalists, provided you’ve got the right fit.

Do You Have the Right Fit?

If your product is brand new, scheduled to be released around the publication of the holiday gift guide issue (or a regular product-centric feature), you’re off to a good start. If your product is truly unique (one-of-a-kind), you’re likely to get some interest and a sample request from a lot of the publications on your list. If your product is reasonbly priced for the readers of your target outlet, and something any reader might buy or want, you’ll probably find yourself among the top 20% of options for the issue. But you’re running out of time and you need to get attention now if you’re going to make it into the special issue. So what can you do?

Send Them a Sample Before You Pitch

I recently learned about a video game controller accessory manufacturer (the company makes adapters for Xbox 360 and PS3 controllers) that was trying to get coverage for their new products. There is a lot of competition for product reviews and gift guide coverage in the gaming world. You’re up against new game introductions and all kinds of accessories for video game enthusiasts. With a limited budget and no brand awareness, there’s only one thing to do. Send them samples of your product, with attractive literature that explains what the product does. Send products to the target editors and follow up with your pitch. In the case of the gaming publications, a lot of the reviewers are gamers themselves. Ask them to try the product out for themselves. If you’re confident in the product you’re pitching, this will often result in excitement (which can lead to a more receptive journalist when pitching the review).

This is the approach the company used. As of this post, the approach is working. Several mainstream gaming publications have reviewed the products, and they had no previous experience working with reporters in this industry. Keep in mind, the product is low-cost, inexpensive to ship, and doesn’t present any ethical dilemmas for the journalists. By contrast, if they had sent them an Xbox 360 or something more valuable, journalists may have refused delivery. In this case, we’re talking about two products that retail for about $10 a piece. If your product is something that fits in an envelope or small box, and you can afford to ship it, just send it. If your product is relevant, you’ll most likely make it into the “potential products to review” pile – putting you in the top 1% of the pitches received.

What If My Product is Expensive?

If your product is expensive, large, or both, get permission to send first. Or offer high-quality images that illustrate your product features favorably. Take a look at past product reviews and gift guides for your target publications to get an idea for editorial format. If the publication tends to use action shots, that’s the type of image you want to provide. If on the other hand they tend to use detailed images of products, provide them with a variety to choose from.

Remember, if you’re sending large attachments (or physical products) to a journalist, get their permission to send the sample first. Also provide them with a prepaid postage option to return the product, as many journalists aren’t allowed (company policy or ethical considerations) to keep the products you send. A good example might be new consumer electronics. Feel free to let them know it’s optional to send the products back to you, but make it easy for them to do so, should they choose not to keep them.

Early in my career, I worked for several home product companies (toilets, refrigerators, carpets, bedding and tableware for example). We always sent product samples (with permission) for the new product lines. Anytime we sent product, it almost always resulted in favorable product coverage for clients. And we rarely got the product back. Some of this publicity crossed over into the product placement category, with references to the products in credits for print and broadcast features (think HGTV, Good Morning America, and Oprah for example).

Sending products works. But are there other ways?

Find the Gift Gurus

How many times have you been watching a show on TV – Good Morning America is a perfect example – where some gift expert showcases a bunch of exciting products viewers might be interested in? There is usually a theme to the segment – great gifts for gardeners, pet owners, cooks, parents, etc. Find the gift guru that reps products in your industry. There are a variety of companies out there that organize these types of segments for you. Ask your peers for suggestions, or call some print or broadcast distribution companies like PRNewswire.

The Real Thing Is More Exciting

Why does this approach work? Because having the product in front of you is more compelling than any pitch you can write. If a journalist can see, feel, smell, or hear your product, they are more likely to be interested in it. They can visualize how they would use your product, and can determine whether or not a reader would like your product. This is particularly relevant for those pitching products for unknown brands. A friend of mine recently had his small t-shirt company featured in a pet segment on The Today Show. He found a pet expert that was doing a segment and sent her a bunch of shirts. They sold out all their inventory in a matter of hours after the segment appeared. All because they sent the product and the pet enthusiast loved them.

What If They Don’t Like the Product?

Of course there are calculated risks to sending products in hopes of coverage. There have been many, many times I’ve sent product to journalists, only to find the person had recently left the company or they weren’t interested in the product. There were also many times that the products got “lost” (even though I had delivery confirmation). You have to accept that not all the product you send will result in coverage, but that some of it will. This is the classic 80/20 rule. 20 percent of the product samples you send will result in 80 percent of the results you achieve for your campaign. Something like that. Those are much better odds than relying on a press release and a pitch alone. Earmark part of your product marketing budget for product samples. Big companies know this, but smaller companies often overlook this point.

Disclaimer

I have limited B2C PR experience and have only pitched a handful of products this way in the past. I’ve seen this approach work for dozens of companies over the past decade, and have seen the desks of journalists who work on product reviews. It can be overwhelming for them, and some dont’ like to receive samples (because they take up space and it can be a nuisance if the products aren’t a fit). But more often than not, those products get their attention more than a press release and pitch they can easily throw away or delete. Try sending products to 10 journalists you’d like to review your product. Follow up with a phone call to see if they like your product or not and if they think it would be a good candidate for a review or gift guide placement. You just might be surprised at the results.

What has been your experience pitching products this way? Is there a better way to get covered in product reviews and gift guides? What if you’re an unknown brand, are these suggestions a good idea?

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.

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