9 Tips for avoiding Product Review Stress Syndrome (PRSS) and creating product review policies

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Last week I wrote a post here, The Blogger PR Blackout, the good, the bad, and the completely puzzling, which lead to a rather... enthusiastic discussion about the relationship between bloggers and PR.

One of the themes was this notion of Product Review Burnout Syndrome.

Some cited it as result of trying to build traffic through reviews and giveaways--even as the work that goes into them isn't leading to an ample financial payoff. Heather of Maternal Spark puts the onus on sloppy PR practices, asserting that she is so hounded by press releases and subsequent follow-ups, she finally responds to them to make them stop coming. And then Megan Smith delicately suggested that this might even  be a "woman" issue.

I'll try not to be too insulting here, but I think this is a classic case of women being overwhelmed and not being able to say, "No," or erect firm boundaries. 

One review blogger even emailed me to confess that if she said no or didn't cover a product she was sent, she was worried that PR people would hate her.

Hate her?

I happened to be with a colleague at the time, a 30-year PR pro, who looked at her email and said, "[expletive deleted]! Why would a writer be concerned that a PR person would hate them? Do you know how many pitches we send that don't get coverage?"

Whatever the reason for burnout, one thing seems clear: Review bloggers need to set clear guidelines and standards before thay accept a single product.

In fact, I looked through tons of blogs that provide reviews and it was shockingly hard to find clear review policies posted on the majority of them. No wonder so many people are complaining about receiving irrelevant pitches!

Here are few tips to consider if you do want to write a review blog, to help you manage your time and keep things fun. (After all, shouldn't blogging be fun?):

 1. A review blog should be a reflection of your passions. Before you do anything else, think about what makes your heart go thump-thump-thump. Not just a category you like well enough, or a product you use day to day, but what you reeeeeally do care about--whether it's books, media, the environment, fashion, food, travel, politics or Eastern European quilting bees.

If you are passionate about cleaning, by all means write about the best cleaning products you've come across - your passion will lend authority to the review which benefits both your readers and the brand.

 2. Create and display a review policy. Include what you're interested in, what you're not interested in, how you'd like to be pitched, whether or not you'll respond to all pitches, how long it will take to conduct a review and any other info you think is relevant. This way you have something very specific to point to in your interractions with public relations. And if you don't accept compensation for reviews, include it. It makes your blog far more appealing to marketers. 

For examples of various review policies, you can check my blog, Cool Mom Picks; the design blog, Oh Joy!; and a really excellent one at the food blog The Perfect Pantry. (But please, don't plagiarize them. A blogger's policies are not public domain and copying is really bad form.) Also, going back to tip #1, note how incredibly specific these policies are in terms of what they will and won't review.

3. Use the delete button with abandon. It takes more energy to be angry at a bad or useless pitch than it does to just delete it. However if you find you're getting too many requests or follow-ups, tell that person how you would prefer to be contacted. If the emails persist, there's an easy fix: Create an email "rule," and send all of that correspondence right in the trash. 

4. Limit the product requests to those you are already excited about. I had previously stated that a blogger never has an obligation to post about a product. And that's true. However if you have requested a sample yourself, there is an implication that you intend to write about it.

If you find yourself puttting off a review, it may be because you wanted the free item, but aren't actually enthusiastic about it. This does a disservice both to your readers and to the PR folks who are looking for reviews from passionate users.

5. Help the PR people hone their pitches to you. If a product you've received turns out to be sucky or not what you expected, or a pitch from a big PR agency is off base, offer constructive criticism. It make take a few moments now, but it will help the reps help you better. Kind of like rating your Netflix movies so you're not getting Saw III recos when what you really like is Earnest Goes to the Moon.

6. Don't respond to every request. It took us two years at Cool Mom Picks to learn this, because we were trying to be nice. But it was killing us. And as my friend reiterated, PR people don't expect it. Now one of my best PR relationships is with someone to whom I respond probably once out of every 10 or 12 press releases. She knows we'll get back to her if the product is a good fit. 

If you have to pick and choose which requests to respond to, opt for those people you have relationships with and not the "Dear blogger" emails.

7. Create forms and auto-responses to help manage time. This way you can say no thank you; thanks for your email, I'll get back to you within 7 days; or yes please, send it to this address and by the way here's a link to my review policies. Gmail has technologies that are very helpful for this. Or you can create responses that you save as drafts to send out as you need them. I learned that trick from Asha at Parenthacks.

8. Think good and hard about doing giveaways. Giveaways are extremely time-consuming. If they are not benefitting you as much as they are the marketers, ditch them. You might be surprised as to how many readers are actually coming to your site for you...and not in fact a chance to win an exciting free DVD of hair styling tips.

9. Focus helps build authority which helps build traffic. Turning down pitches isn't just good for time management, it's actually great for your blog in the long run. If you think of the review blogs at the top of their game, the ones you can't wait to read first thing in the morning, the one trait they all have in common is focus

 

So...what did I miss? I'd love if you could share other tips to help you focus your review blog and avoid burnout.

 

Liz Gumbinner is a contributing editor to BlogHer, the author of Mom-101 which does not do product reviews, and the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of shopping blog Cool Mom Picks which does. If they're cool. And not diaper cakes.

 

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