Should PR Folks Expose Crooked Product Reviewers?

August 12, 2009

Unknown PR folks are often viewed by their media counterparts as spammy email inbox polluters. In cases of laziness, they are. However, the bridge to unscrupulous behavior goes both ways and there are myriad “media” who pass themselves off as legitimate product reviewers, even going so far as to sign product loan agreements, with no intention of returning requested gear. An industry colleague of mine is dealing with this right now and at a loss.

When a perishable or mass merchandised product is in play, most companies are OK with eating the cost since the battle to get it returned will cost more in people hours than the value of the product. In this case, PR reps often send out product without being solicited  so they have no recourse anyways. For those who deal with high-end products, loan agreements and make-or-break reviews, the stakes are a little higher. Granted, most legitimate press outlets would never play this game but the influx of new websites and blogs billing themselves as the end-all-be-all resource can give newbie PR minions delusions of grandeur. 

Firstly, any agency that values retaining its clients should have a detailed  loan agreement (reviewed by a lawyer) outlining the following: exact products being reviewed and cost, how long the product stays for, who is responsible for damage to the product under certain conditions, editorial expectations and a signature from the reviewer themself. Without all of this covered, you’re swimming in shark-infested water.

If you’ve taken the necessary steps to protect your client’s products contractually and you still have a “reviewer” who’s not responding to inquiries or refuses to return gear, here is a list of steps that should be taken.

Step 1 – Leave messages via every medium possible (phone, email, twitter, LinkedIn) giving the reviewer one last chance to post editorial or return the product

Step 2 – Contact a supervisor or the person’s editor if they have one

Step 3 – Create an invoice for the products sent and have a lawyer draft a letter to accompany explaining what will happen if product is not returned

Step 4 – Lodge a complaint with the BBBonline (internet Better Business Bureau) and consider posting a note on or some of the other user sites for reporting fradulent online behavior

Step 5 (optional) – If still no response, consider outing them publicly. This doesn’t mean mudslinging and calling names but a simple, “Beware of person or site, they sign product loan agreements but do not run reviews or return product, proceed with caution,” posted on a blog and/or twitter feed should suffice.

Fortunately, Caster has never had to resort to Step 5 because we only send product to reviewers we know and trust or those we’ve vetted carefully. But since Chris Anderson of Wired created his blacklist of PR email addresses way back in 2007, it’s only fair for a PR resource to exist under a similar guise. Be forewarned, outing ANYONE publicly is a creaky rope bridge over jagged rocks, so make sure it’s treated as a service to fellow PR brethren and not an opportunity to skewer someone you think is unethical. Chances are if they’re shady enough to steal product, they’ll have no problem slandering you and your client on top of it.

Posted by: Nick Brown