What to expect from media & blogger reviews

Whatever it is that you or your business has to offer, a snazzy marketing campaign can only go so far. Real reviews from real people can still be the difference between ‘make or break’, and in this day and age, they can come from just about anyone.

Past and current customers can leave their thoughts on sites like Trip Advisor and share them with friends via their own social media channels. Meanwhile, journalists and bloggers share their opinions via their blogs, media outlets and social platforms.

Over time, every single review helps to paint a picture about what new customers can expect from your business. In fact, it has never been easier to find out in a couple of clicks what other other customers – and influencers – really think.

In a close-knit city like Cardiff, it’s worth keeping in mind how powerful word-of-mouth can still be, too.

This is where a dedicated series of reviews can help.

A PR practitioner’s role in the review process is to increase the likelihood and volume of positive coverage. This usually includes scheduling complimentary bookings with a handpicked selection of relevant influencers, bloggers and media – people whose opinions your customers can trust, who are likely to enjoy the service / product your business provides.

Having seen – and worked – on both sides of this process (as both a blogger and a PR consultant) I understand what it takes to make an influencer engagement campaign a success.

However simple it may seem, there are a few hard and fast rules to remember:

Rule #1: Reviews by invitation should be given gratis

Very occasionally, a publication will send an anonymous journalist to conduct a review of a restaurant / business / product. In these cases, the PR will have no involvement, the staff will have no idea that they are dealing with a journalist on the day, the service/product will be paid for as usual and the review will appear without prior notice.

This is considered the most genuine type of review, as it most closely reflects the experience that any ‘average Joe’ might get, but it’s certainly not the most common. As publishing budgets become further and further stretched, media reviews most commonly occur as the direct result of a direct invitation or liaison with the business or a PR consultant. This is often the case with blogger reviews, too (though not always; Gourmet Gorro for instance, will not write reviews from gifted visits).

As a general rule of thumb, if the blogger / journalist was invited, the service / product should be ‘gifted’ for free. In gifted reviews, the visit will be pre-agreed, giving staff the time to prepare. The service / product is offered to the journalist or blogger without charge for the purpose of the review, and an expected date for the publication of the article is usually agreed. There may also be an opportunity for the blogger or journalist to ask questions and find out more about the business,  which can result in a more in-depth final piece.

To comply with CMA guidelines on social media endorsements, the final feature and social media posts should also be clearly labelled by the blogger / journalist as ‘gifted’ or ‘sponsored’ – maybe even as an ‘ad’.

Rule #2: Freebies do not guarantee a positive review

Your PR practitioner can lead a horse to water; but they can’t make it drink.

In other words, just because you give away a free service / product, this isn’t a guarantee that you’ll receive a glowing review. You will still need to use the opportunity to wow the journalist / blogger, and show them how and why your business is worth shouting about.

It may be a tempting idea to approach a blogger / journalist and ask them to ‘guarantee’ positive coverage in exchange for free products / services. Ultimately, this is unethical, disingenuous, and defeats the object of the review in the first place, which is to give other people a genuine insight in to what to expect from your business.

Rule #3: Not all reviews are created equal

It may seem obvious, but there is little point inviting a healthy lifestyle blogger to review a new junk food restaurant. They would almost certainly decline, but even if they did write a glowing review, their readership just wouldn’t be interested.

Many blogger outreach campaigns fall down because of a ‘catch-all approach’ and a focus on an arbitrary quantity of reviews, rather than on the quality of them. It is far better to secure a couple of really great reviews from niche influencers who have a direct line to your target audience, than to spam lots of bloggers and journalists with irrelevant invites and content of little value or interest to them.

This is where your PR agency or consultant’s expertise can really help you to get the most from your review opportunities.

Rule #4: The numbers sometimes lie

Sadly, it’s now easier than ever for aspiring ‘influencers’ to purchase fake followers, likes from ‘bots’ and spammy comments to make their content seem more engaging than it actually is.

Again, the role of your PR consultant is to identify the media outlets, bloggers and influencers who have attracted a genuine following and loyal readership. They should be able to advise you on who best to target, and which content will be of the most value to them – thus increasing the likelihood of a glowing review and a rush of new customers who are desperate to try out your business / services.

If you are currently looking for a PR agency or representative, be sure to look for one with membership to the PRCA or CIPRa professional body for PR practitioners that provides ongoing training and education and ensures their adherence to an ethical code of conduct.

Think I might be able to help you with a review program for your business? Get in touch with me using the contact form below and I’ll arrange a chat: