What is a sample seeker and how to avoid them
By Allyson McCormley, Senior Public Relations Strategist
Our job as publicists requires us to stay ahead of the trends and nurture our media relationships to ensure that they are mutually beneficial. We’ve recently noticed ongoing shifts in the media industry that have resulted in a changing newsroom dynamic. Publishers are employing fewer staff writers which means that more freelance writers are entering the marketplace. We’re also seeing explosive growth with independent social media influencers who conduct product reviews. These trends come with both pros and cons for publicists. On one side, it means we have more people to pitch to. On the other side, it can be difficult to know who to trust for product recommendations. We have to look out for what we call the sample seeker.
The changing editorial dynamic
Former editorial staff writers turned freelancers will continue to work with publicists to gather the latest and greatest products to review and write about. But with one big difference – sometimes they’re writing a piece that hasn’t yet been commissioned. That means they are also pitching it as a story idea to their editors. It means even if they love our pitch and agree to review and write about it, the story might end up in a different publication than we might expect, or worst case, it doesn’t get picked up at all. Best case, it ends up in an even bigger outlet than we might’ve secured otherwise.
This isn’t always the case though. Sometimes writers have an approved article topic and will reach out to us with a theme (Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, etc.). We can then look at our roster of clients and pitch them products and ideas that are relevant to their stories. This is why having a PR team with strong media relationships is critical to PR success.
In either situation, it’s our job to weed out trusted contacts who generally have an interest in the products we are pitching, as opposed to those who say “yes” to every pitch and ask for a sample. Those people become what we lovingly refer to as “sample seekers.”
Why should I send product samples to journalists?
We always recommend our clients send product samples when one is requested. It’s impossible to review or write about a product when you haven’t seen or used it yourself. Journalists need those samples in order to do their job.
When we ask a client to send a sample to a writer or editor, it’s been vetted through our channels to ensure we aren’t supplying gifts or freebies to someone who has no intention of covering the product editorially. This is where we see the need for transparency from our firm, for our clients and the media contact/writer. Our clients trust us that we are requesting samples for potential features that will help spread brand awareness, and hopefully in turn, sales.
Sample seeker red flags
Our Pod works together with an open line of communication. If something sounds fishy, it probably is. We’ve seen requests from a writer of a low metric website requesting five of the same product to “review.” This is a red flag. We understand some writers need to share samples with someone else for a thorough review, or if it’s a TV presenter, may need two or more samples for proper coverage. But a request for five samples without explanation feels unnecessary.
Other red flags are writers who continually request every product you pitch them, and then respond when we follow up that the items “weren’t a fit.” This raises concern when you send vastly different items (kids’ games, beauty items, fitness products, etc.) all with very timely pitches, and after requesting one of everything, the writer says not a single one is a fit for their outlet or story. If we see this trend with the same individual over a period of time, we will definitely think twice about working with this person going forward.
Another red flag that gets our blood pressure up is when a writer requests a sample(s), claiming the product is a perfect fit for the article they are working on, and they go completely silent upon follow-up. As diligent publicists, we scour the intent, media databases, and social media searching for possible write-ups every time a writer requests a sample, but if this happens more often than not… we are definitely taking mental notes to tread lightly with this writer going forward.
How Orca Communications handles sample seekers
Oftentimes, our Pod will internally call out these “sample seekers” to warn each other. We even keep a constantly updated Google Document that includes writers who have burned us in the past. We try to do our very best to communicate within our firm, so we can learn from each other.
This is one of the reasons businesses hire us, and we tout our “power of the pod.” Since we constantly update this document with a list of writers who are up to no good, we are able to pass along this information to our clients so that time and money are not wasted. There have been times this extended beyond writers not responding to our follow-up attempts or requesting a handful of samples that they have no intention of covering. We have even seen (more than once, unfortunately) client samples end up on eBay! These so-called writers are profiting from our clients’ generous acts of sending samples, hoping for feedback or coverage, and spreading their brand awareness. When this happens, be sure that we send an email to all staff alerting everyone so that it never happens again. Truth be told, we haven’t seen this extent of blatant disregard in quite a few years. Know that if you hire Orca PR you are entrusting us to be the face of your business during our media outreach and media coverage. We don’t want our clients blindly sending samples to sample seekers, and we do everything within our power to avoid this. The bright side is, sometimes we’ve had writers reach out to us months (sometimes even a year or more) later and let us know they were waiting for the perfect placement for our client, and low and behold… they deliver an amazing piece. Those times remind us of the importance of playing the long game, and we see all of our patience…and our clients’ willingness to send samples…pay off!