Best Practices for Obtaining Products to Review

When it comes to blogging and reviewing products it can be expensive to go out and buy all the goods your looking to talk about via your website or blog. There ARE some successful product review sites that have gone the route of buying gear to review however without deep pockets and a strong business plan in place you may end up throwing a lot of money around as a consumer instead of earning affiliate commission as a publisher.

What are some of the best ways to get product to review?

One of the best ways to get products to review is to actually start by reviewing gear you already own and currently use. Now this might seem weird, however this step is commonly overlooked by a ton of bloggers.

Put yourself in the shoes of the brands (which well talk about below) that you eventually want to contact, they’re looking to see rad content, so showcase what you can do for them via past articles and product reviews on your site.

Try not to sell to your audience at first, talk to them instead.

I had written 104 articles on my blog before trying my hand at creating product reviews. My first review was published back in 2010. This gave me an opportunity to let our readers know we would be introducing product reviews into the mix.

Our readers started to get a feel for the direction the website was heading, which was sort of a change as I actually started the site to cover live music and sporting events throughout Colorado which eventually morphed into a mountain culture blog promoting the outdoor and our adventures in the mountains.

Content will make Google and more importantly the PR / Marketing teams take notice.

It’s always recommended to put yourselves in the shoes of the person you want to work with. If someone hit you up for free gear to test, what sort of website would you want to see. If it’s Joe Blows Blog with flash animated kittens it might not resonate as well as a dedicated niche site with content that’s in line with the overall feel and message the brand is wanting to promote while having the ability to market to your audience.

What should I review?

If you’re wondering where to start with product review blogging, literally look around your house, do you see any products you can talk about? Anything that you use a lot and can’t live without? Those are good starts, or better yet if your talking about gear checkout your gear closet, open up your backpack, odds are you can find something to talk about, and most likely lots of things.

Keep in mind you might not want to review a 6 year old Patagonia Capoline, so try and keep the gear reviews current and timely which in turn will leads to sales and affiliate commissions.

Now that you have run out of ideas, is there gear you can rent to write reviews of?

I personally never went this route however I have heard of other bloggers doing this with mixed success. Again you will want to make sure you have a strong business plan in place before throwing money out to rent a piece of equipment, write a free product review and then hope for the best.. Most business plans most likely would not work on this sort of model which brings us to how to get products for free to review on your blog.

CES Show Vegas Photo Mike Hardaker

The easiest way to get products to review and most costly is to attend Trade Shows

Nothing compares to the networking opportunities that are available to members of the media (bloggers) that attend their industry trade shows. Most industries actually have numerous shows throughout the year, some large scale and some regional shows. So your distance of travel and cost invested will vary from show to show.

I can honestly say that without attending the annual OR and SIA shows, my website would never have gotten to where it is now. Same with my brand as a whole.

The best part about the trade shows is they’re free to attend as a member of the media, however the cost of transportation, lodging and food can easily run over $1,000 to attend if not more.

With trade shows keep in mind you truly get what you pay for in terms of ROR…

Trade Show Success 101

#1 Show up with business cards, and nice looking ones.
Not the cheap print at home kind. This is a good way to know who’s serious about business as it cost money to make business cards which can make a great first impression.

#2 Sign up for the shows early the first day you can register as media.
By signing up early the trade show will send out your contact info to start up brands, pr companies and marketing teams that are looking for coverage. Once they see your name and company on the list of attending media they will most likely take a look at your site and if they like what they see you can expect and email or call to setup an appointment for a one on one face to face meeting at the show.

When you start getting brands emailing you to meet with them at the industry events where time is money, you’re on the right path. These PR / Marketing teams are busy and can reach out to a lot of people so if they contact you, I would respond especially at first as your growing your brand and your number one goal is to create contacts within the industry.

Once you meet at the show be sure to ask for business cards in person and pass out the fancy one that you should be uber proud of, think first impressions here.

Gags Never Summer SIA Trade Show

#3 Figure out what gear you want to see at the show.
Most pr / marketing teams that are on top of it will send you a list of products they plan to exhibit. Sometimes you can find out months before these products are ever shown what gear you want to see at the show. If they don’t provide this info, ask. This helps with the larger brands with huge booths to narrow down your focus.

Another thing you can do is just show up and ask the marketing contact what products they’re looking for help promoting or what pieces of gear they’re most excited about. These people know the gear better than anyone else, utilize these industry pros to your advantage.

Typical media appointments are 30 minutes or less, which can fly by if you’re looking at a huge line of goods.

Put yourself back in the shoes of the PR / Marketing person you’re meeting with. How cool would it be if a blogger / reporter asked you what products are hot and what you want help in promoting. Your essentially helping them get better at their job which they will in turn have the power to help you in writing product reviews since these are the people providing gear for all your editorial needs.

#4 How will you deliver media assets?
In this day and age capturing and creating digital media is easier than it’s even been before. When you attend a trade show, here’s a pro tip: Bring a Camera. Sure you might be able to get away with taking pictures on your iPhone and most likely the quality would be good but how would that compare to someone shooting with a DSL, a point and shoot camera, recording a podcast on a Zoom Recorder or shooting video?

I have tried all of the above ways to capture media coverage at trade shows over the years. Video is my favorite, but its’ very time consuming and costly to edit. Plus some of the pr/marketing folks are not so keen to being on video especially if they are tired after a few days of walking the show floor.

These days I prefer to shoot photos with a point and shoot which is which actually made me stand out a little at the SIA trade show earlier this year. One of the brands mentioned I was the only media person not taking photos with an iPhone, at least we were different.

#5 Stand out from the pack
Depending on how much energy you put in at the trade shows you can easily come home with hundreds of business cards. Keep in mind the pr / marketing teams will also have a stack of cards from people they met at the shows too.

I always encourage our team to dress nice, you can not over dress for a trade show, ever. However you surely can under dress especially in the outdoor space which I would not recommend as these first impressions have the chance to last for a long time.

Should you shave? Most likely, as you’re not going to feel comfortable looking like a bum at an industry event. That being said I had worn a big ole beard to the industry shows for numerous years. This year however I was clean shaven and people I had long relationships barely recognized me. So again think about your brand here. And the overall image you want to portray, both online and in person.

My first year attending the Snow Sports Industries of America trade show I brought handmade toffee and passed it out to each of the brands that had contacted me to setup appointments. It something I guarantee nobody else did or has done since. In turn these little thank you gifts / token of appreciation helped keep my name, website and brand on these companies radars even more so then other bloggers or media people they spoke to.

Who doesn’t like toffee?

#6 Follow up immediately
You’ve now put the time and energy into attending a trade show. Most shows end between 5-7pm nightly. The best thing you can ever do is to rush back to your hotel and send a follow up email to the people you just met (who’s business cards you collected earlier in the day).

If you work in the outdoor space or tech industry or just about any other industry I can almost guarantee that everyone you email will already be getting drunk at a bar. That being said, they will still most likely see your email and if anything it starts planting seeds and tells them, hey this person is motivated.

Step #6 has probably gotten me farther along in the industry than anything else. Especially when you rush back to your hotel to crank out best of show articles instead of socializing. Tricky balance here..

Check back next week for Part 2. of this series on how to obtain products directly from the company you want to review.

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