How Product Reviews Work For Freelance Writers

Even though I’ve been a professional freelance writer for a number of years now, even a number of my closest friends don’t really understand what I do and how it all works. They hear about me getting “review samples” in the mail for various electronics and they wonder how that process works… and how I get paid to do it.

And so, instead of answering each of them individually, I thought it may be more useful to describe the product review process here on Beyond the Rhetoric. This may prove to be a useful primer for anyone interested in doing product reviews as a freelance writer. I do other types of writing too, but product reviews are oftentimes the most fun.

How Do You Get Review Samples?

As an example, you may recognize the photo above from my review of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer Android tablet device. One of the first questions that I get from people is how I get these products in my hands in the first place.

For the most part, either I or someone on my behalf approaches the respective public relations (PR) representative for the corresponding company. Some companies handle their own PR/media contacts, as was the case with Asus above, but others make use of PR agencies to handle these requests for them. On the flip side, some companies sometimes approach me to ask if I would like to review a certain product of theirs.

In either case, the key is making that connection with the right PR rep and building that relationship. They’re not going to give review samples to just anyone and, depending on the company, they may not have review samples at all. The only way to find out is to ask.

Do the Companies Pay You to Review Their Products?

Here is a very common misconception that I get from a lot of people. They assume that the company with the product is the one that is paying me to write the review. For my part, this is never the case. Asus did not pay me to review the Eee Pad, for example.

Part of this has to do with objectivity, one of the most critical elements of writing a killer review. I’m not writing promotional materials for them. My review isn’t written with the intention of it appearing in a pamphlet or sales letter. The point is to provide as objective an opinion as I can, citing both the good and the bad, so that consumers can make more educated buying decisions.

So Do You Get Paid to Write Reviews At All?

Generally, yes. It’s important to understand that the client in this situation is not the company offering me the product to review. It is not Samsung, Asus, or Rogers Wireless.

My freelance writing client is the owner of the publication where the eventual review will appear. When I write a review of a Nokia smartphone for Mobile Magazine, the client is Mobile Magazine and not Nokia. In that case, Mobile Magazine is the one who pays me, just like how I get paid to do my daily tech blogging there.

Can You Maintain Your Journalistic Integrity?

Absolutely. On the one hand, it is critical to maintain a positive relationship with the different vendors and PR reps. This makes it easier to get our hands on review samples and, thus, easier for me to write the reviews. There are some instances where we may choose to purchase the product ourselves, but a review sample is typically preferred.

On the other hand, this does not mean that I will write a glowing review of a product that I think is sub-par. My goal is to be fair. I will describe the aspects that make a product great, but I will also talk about how it can be improved. Similarly, if I have a negative experience with a PR rep, I will not unfairly bash the product if it deserves better treatment. Companies that demand I give their products a positive review, sight unseen, are not the kinds of companies whose products I would like to review.

By and large, most PR reps understand this. They see a “negative review” as a form of feedback, giving the company an opportunity to improve on future iterations. That’s the kind of attitude that I appreciate.

Becoming an Expert

So, in a nutshell, that is my experience as an “expert” product reviewer and I imagine the experience is similar for most other writers in the tech industry. It’s not for everyone and the pay will vary considerably, but for my part, tech product reviews make my career just that much more rewarding.