How We Choose Products To Review
And how we write those reviews
Let’s talk about the product reviews we feature in this magazine. How are the products chosen? What makes us say positive and negative things about a product? Who does the reviews? All of these are important to know if you want to consider what we have to say.
First, we rarely seek out products to review; we don’t need to since public relations people are constantly requesting that we write about their products. We get flooded with requests from makers of products from trailer hitches to makeup. They know that simply having a link to their website from this magazine is worth $300, and if that is combined with a typical length article, that’s $5000 worth of advertising space. The personal recommendation is worth even more to the PR folks. And they can get this without paying for it, simply by writing an compelling press release and sending us a sample.
Typically, an email comes to my in box, requesting that we review a product for inclusion in our magazine. I check it out first and forward it to Linda Eagleson, who does the majority of our product reviews. Usually, if a product matches something I think she would enjoy writing about, I send it on. If it doesn’t fit, or if there’s no way for her to test out the product, I generally file the PR folk’s request somewhere easily forgotten.
I get excited when I see a request to review luggage, travel gadgets, outdoors and sports items, cameras, and anything that fits the idea of travel and leisure. Lifestyle and home/family products I might send on, though they aren’t ideal. Some products don’t fit, some don’t seem intersting, and some we just simply can’t write about because they are simply unsuitable for a family-friendly magazine.
Linda looks at the email and contacts the PR person. If the product interests her, she explains the focus of the magazine and our circulation numbers. If she doesn’t think it would interest our readers, sends a nice note saying “thank you, but we don’t see a good fit”. Many PR folks are persistant, falsely believing that a travel magazine is the ideal place to promote a synthetic oil for heavy machinery or the memoirs of the landscaper who once mowed Gary Cooper’s yard.
If Linda can see enough of a fit, she’ll arrange for a sample.
We can’t review something we can’t test, sample, touch, poke, and experience ourselves. Many PR folks think that our reviewers can put their own personal reputation behind their nifty thingamajig based solely on the press release. It doesn’t work that way. And since our reviewers are paid for their article by letting them keep the thingamajig, I wouldn’t ask them to review something they couldn’t keep.
But just because they get to keep the sample, doesn’t mean that the reviews are biased. In writing the reviews, we try our best to identify the ideal people to enjoy the product. “This is for a pre-teen who loves sparkles and colors” or “this is for a person for who demands highest quality without regard to the price”. If we can’t identify who would like the product, if it clearly has no appeal to any group whatsoever, or if the product didn’t raise any level of interest in the tester, we just don’t write a review.
So, sample in hand, Linda tests it out. Sometimes she finds a helper, for instance in reviewing a baby product or a motorcycle accessory. But in every case, someone tests the product. If the helper is also a writer, the tester may write the reivew, but if not then Linda pulls together the review using their results.
Over the years, we have had items like the Scott eVest that were so intersting that helpers scrambled to be the one totest (and keep) them. Some unexciting items sat around for so long waiting for a helper to look at them that we lost track of them completly, solving the problem of how to write about them. A few items have arrived that we needed to return afterward, removing the reward for the reviewers to the do the review.
We can’t review things that just don’t work. In one case, we had an interesting electronic device that we could not figure out. One staffer’s husband took it to his workplace and had three engineers work with it. THEY couldn’t figure it out. As much as we hated wasting the PR company’s sample, we couldn’t write about it. Happily, the company took it in stride and still sends us neat gizmos to review.
Linda delivers the review to me, and I edit it before it goes into the magazine. The webmaster puts in the artwork and the article is delivered to you.
Now you know how we do the reviews. If you have a product to review, if the product fits our audience, if it’s suitable for a family magazine, it it’s interesting enough to keep our attention, if it has a sample we can test out and give the reviewer to keep, if it works when we test it, and we can identify what kind of person would like the product, then we can review your product too.