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So You Want a Review Sample

woman makeup in a mirror

This post is by Sonja, the beauty editor at The Coveted I asked her to write this post because of the great way she's built relationships with beauty companies over the past months since she's started to write on our blog. ~Jennine

The Challenge

You see pics of lovely clothes and beauty products and want to write about them. Sure, you can write just from seeing pics. But you could write something more engaging if you could

• touch the fabric – is it sumptuous or scratchy?
• see how something fits – did they design it for a body type with no curves?
• see how the makeup looks on your face – is it fabulously flattering? does it slide right off your face in the heat?
• see how a skin cream feels on your skin – does it rid you of wrinkles or make you break out?

Of course, you could traipse on over to a store and have a look. You can even buy the goods yourself and see how you like them. But if an item isn’t available in your area or you don’t have all the time and money in the world, it would be awfully nice to get those products sent to you for review.

The Solution

As you probably already know, companies have public relations and marketing reps to promote their brand and products. Besides sending you pics and product descriptions, those reps may be able to send you product samples so you can check out the goods first hand, for free – something that fits into any budget nicely.

How I Know

I learned about review samples when I reported and produced TV news in major markets, like New York and San Francisco. Companies would send me stuff all the time in hopes of getting products mentioned or recommended in a major media outlet. The bigger the name or show, the more stuff they send. Occasionally, I would work with Matt Lauer. There were product samples everywhere around his office and all around The Today Show offices. They would get so many toys sent to them around the holidays that they would make gigantic donations to charities.

When I was specialized in health and technology news, my desk was strewn with gobs of books and software. I even got a Dr. Barbie once. Companies also sent me entire sets of pots and pans when I did a feature on cookware that could make cooking a healthier affair. I tested the goods with a chef. That was such a fun report.

Once I started blogging about beauty for The Coveted, I began contacting PR reps to get samples for review and soon had plenty of things to test and write about.

How to Get What You Want

To find a press contact, go to the company website and do some digging. I usually don’t find anything on the press page. That’s generally where they post when they’ve been mentioned in the press. I have better luck on the pages about the company and those with contact information. Sometimes I find nothing except general customer service contact info or a contact form, which is fine. When that happens, I just email or call and ask for PR contact information. They usually at least have an email address they can send.

For the bigger companies, like Dior or Guerlain, there may be no contact information whatsoever. If I’m feeling bold or ambitious, I head to Google Maps and search for the address and phone of the main offices. There’s usually an office listed in New York. I call the main number and ask for the PR office and make my pitch.

The Pitch

Anytime you request a sample, you need to quickly convey to them that it’s worth their while to send a product sample. You need to show them that you have a large, engaged audience. Provide a number if possible, like how many unique site visitors or overall page views you get per month. Do you have a loyal audience who visits your blog regularly? If you just started your blog and only have an audience comprised of your mom and a few friends, they will probably pass. Build up your audience and try again later.

Keep it short and simple. PR reps tend to be very busy and get tons of requests all the time, especially with the proliferation of bloggers. If I recall correctly, my contact at Benefit Cosmetics said she gets hundreds of requests from bloggers every week or every day so you really have to get their attention fast to stand out from the crowd.

Be careful about putting images, like a logo or whatever, in your email. Seems like PR companies use strong spam filters and that will likely put you in the junk folder and your email may never be seen. Always include your address. They might not reply and simply send you the product you requested. You might also consider including your phone number. Someone at a smaller company who doesn’t work with the press much might want to call for more information and kind of feel you out to see if you’re legit.

Here’s my basic pitch in an email request:

“I blog about beauty for The Coveted (I embed a hyperlink here), a fashion and beauty blog with a loyal international following of more than (latest stat) each month. I’m putting together an article about (whatever) and would like to know if it would be possible to get a sample of (product name) for review. I think it could be a great fit for my article.”

If I don’t have a particular article in mind and want to keep up with what’s new, I write something like, “I like to inform my audience of what’s new and would love it if you could keep me posted on news from (company).” At that point, I don’t request a sample then. I wait to get the news, see if I’m interested, and request the sample then. It’s highly unlikely they’ll just start sending samples of whatever’s new anyway. Although a couple companies have done that, surprisingly.

Over the phone, I say pretty much the same thing; but first I give them my title, the name of the blog, and the size of the audience. Then I tell them I have an inquiry about the line and ask if they’re the correct person to speak with. Once I have the right person, I ask them if they can send a sample or email me updates on the line.

The Blogger Challenge

Some companies realize that bloggers can wield great influence so reps may seek you out or give you a warm reception when you contact them. Some companies already get tons of press and won’t give you the time of day. However, if they don’t respond to an email request, you might want to try them again in a few months. I‘ve had people respond after a bit of gentle nudging. Some are just overwhelmed by the number of bloggers who contact them and simply can’t accommodate them all with samples so they may just not respond. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. You never know.

As Time Marches On

I started with smaller companies that don’t get their products reviewed much. Most of them were happy to send samples and thrilled to see their products reviewed. As I got more posts under my belt and had a larger body of work to show for, I found that larger companies were more responsive. More posts also show that you’re dedicated and aren’t just looking to run off with their stuff.


It’s tempting to request every cute thing you see. But practice some restraint. Are you really going to have time to properly review and write about all those products? You might start getting lots of products, which is very exciting, but you may develop a backlog and not get around to writing about something until months after it arrives – perhaps after your PR contact has lost that account or moved on to another agency. I’ve learned that there’s a lot of turnover in PR. It seems to happen even more these days in this nasty economy.

I find that it helps to keep an editorial calendar and to not book it completely. When I first started, I came up with tons of evergreen article ideas only to find there were a lot of product launches or time-sensitive news I was very interested in writing about, so I got behind on my evergreens.

Be Courteous

If someone sends you something and you write about it, do give them a heads up. If you decide you don’t like something and won’t be writing about it, let them know why. You don’t want to look like you’re just asking for freebies and taking advantage of them. If a sample needs to be returned, do send it back soon after you do your post. Be courteous and respectful, and nurture your relationship with your contacts. You may end up working with them for a long time to come.

Well, that’s everything I can think of. Let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help.

Do Tell

Have you been in touch with PR reps and gotten samples for review? What’s your experience been like with PR reps? Do tell.

image by Katie Tegtmeyer

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Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB) is a community of fashion bloggers who share their experiences and resources to build a better blog.

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