On reviews and ethics: why my opinions are always my own

Morning everyone. I hope you’ve had a fantastic couple of days. I’ve been a busy bee with back-to-back meetings and events, but in those couple of days a topic came up that I’d really love to tell you about.

I wanted to talk about the ethics of writing a review for a company, service or product and what my personal views are on payment and PR samples – and what the difference is between the two.

On payment

Before I start on this issue, I just want to say that when it comes to this I understand it’s each to their own. It’s a personal, financial and business-minded choice every blogger / publication has to make when deciding on a business strategy. The fact that I’ve made the choice that I have doesn’t mean other people should or will, it’s just a personal thing.

I have a personal policy of never taking payment for supplier posts. There are several reasons for this, the first is that I only want to write about things that jump out at me. Personally, I like to hand pick the products and services I write about so the blog is truly personal, and bringing financial interests into the mix isn’t something I’d quite feel comfortable doing.

The second reason is that, if I did that, I would have to be consistent in charging for advertorial content in the interests of fairness. I therefore wouldn’t like to take payment for two reasons, the first is that I don’t want to deny my brides the pleasure of reading about something that could potentially be an amazing buy because the supplier in question doesn’t have a big PR budget, and secondly I want to be able to help small businesses get off the ground if I think they’re worth it.

I completely understand the argument bloggers put forward that they shouldn’t be expected to put companies in front of thousands of brides for free, and I can see why my own policy is limiting for my business, but it’s just not for me.

On PR samples

A PR sample is different to payment. It’s where you’ve been provided or lent a product or service free of charge in order to review it. I can see your next questions coming a mile off , because I’ve been asked them all at one point or another, so I’ll try to answer my frequently asked questions as best I can.

What is a PR sample?

A PR sample is when a blogger is sent a product or provided a service free of charge in order for them to review it. For example, pretty much every gaming magazine will be sent new consoles and games to review, beauty bloggers will be sent new products, magazine editors will go on PR trips etc.

Isn’t that bribery?

No. While it’s obviously true that companies will be hoping for good reviews and press as a result, there is no condition upon the journalist writing a positive review. Occasionally there is a condition upon the review appearing at all, but often this is to verify that you are, indeed, working on a project and not chasing freebies.

But don’t you feel pressure to write positive things? Your reviews are always glowing.

My positive reviews have to be earned. For example, if I were to review wedding facilities and I genuinely thought they were unsuitable for my brides or had any negative feelings about them, I wouldn’t write the review at all. I’m not an impartial review site, I’m a wedding blogger, and as such I only write about things that I like.

I feel that silence is golden. I’m not out to expose companies I don’t like personally or that made a bad impression, my agenda is to tell brides about products and services I’m genuinely impressed by. Therefore if I didn’t like what I saw, I would return or reimburse any PR gifts and politely explain why I’m unable to write about it.

Wouldn’t these reviews be more genuine if you paid for the product yourself?

Moreover, I’m a freelance journalist who’s just started to blog as a business. In order to bring my readers reviews of this nature, PR samples are absolutely necessary. I don’t have the funding of a big company or investors to send me on these trips and without them, I wouldn’t be able to give readers an accurate account of a product or service.

Ask yourself, which product review is more genuine: the one where someone’s sent me a press release and I’ve taken a PR’s word for it? Or the one where I’ve used the product, lived with it and come to my own conclusions?

Should you disclose when a review is based on a PR sample?

After some reflection, yes. Although I don’t believe that it affects the quality, nor the authenticity of the review, speaking to other bloggers about it, I do believe it’s right that, for the sake of transparency, my readers know when I’ve been provided a service of that nature. Therefore, from now on, any reviews where I was accommodated in that way, I will write “review based on a PR sample” to provide clarity around the issue.

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