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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40 Responses

  1. Little Black Book

    At first I didn’t even dare ask any company or brand for any samples to review, strangely some up and coming designers came to me sending me an email requesting me if I was interested in reviewing/posting about their label and designs.
    Other times if I’ve really liked the product I will always offer to purchase the item (perhaps at the wholesale price) if they haven’t stated that I could keep the product.
    I have been sent some eyeliner without even realising that the company wanted me to write about it and to give a review, only receiving a confirmation email of the delivery.

    Now that I have gotten more experience I have the courage to enquire via email to labels that have caught my eye, though I still do get alot of knockbacks.

    My advice is to persevere, don’t get disheartened if you get rejected once or twice or a few times. It happens.
    Keep trying 🙂
    .-= Little Black Book´s last blog ..Street style: Miss Cassie Rea =-.

  2. grechen

    great advice sonja! honestly, i started doing reviews 6 years ago with stuff i purchased myself, i photographed outfits, etc., and just started making tons of blog posts about designers and products i found online that i loved. and the designers/boutiques came to me…i think it’s a bit different now – there are more review/shopping blogs out there, and a lot of competition, so you have to really go after what you want, but when i started, i was doing it for fun – it wasn’t until 3 years ago i started working with PR companies to request products to review. even so, i still work mostly directly with designers (i prefer that anyway) and find them a joy to work with.

    i think we all have different niches, and one might require a different tact than another, but the general approach is the same, i think – create a relationship with the PR person, designer and/or boutique, choose designers/products you love, maintain a nice, clean, easy to read blog, communicate frequently with designers/PR companies you’ve worked with in the past & reach out to new ones, and the rest will fall into place.

    i don’t know…to say that you have to “earn” your contacts as advice did is a little high & mighty IMO – i mean, everyone has to start somewhere, and that’s what this article is about: how to start out approaching PR firms for product samples. yes, over time, you have to maintain your contacts’ trust and continue to show them that you’re an important editorial outlet for them, but i think too many review bloggers out there think they have a monopoly on PR contacts and if you’re just starting out blogging, you shouldn’t have access to them…BS…..

    i also think that said review bloggers try to make it sound way more difficult and intimidating than it is to create relationships with companies for product reviews. it’s really not. you just have to find the right person, communicate honestly and let them know exactly how you can provide value to them – as sonja mentioned – and you’re good to go.

  3. Advice Sisters

    I am the creator of the Advice Sisters Online Publications http://www.advicesisters.net and I have been reviewing products for more than a dozen years–all online. Your advice is ok, but a bit elementary. There is so much more to the fine art of writing, reviewing, and soliticing products for review. Credible reviewers have to EARN their contacts, and the respect of the online community. The process is no less taxing or easy or fast than if you were in traditional, print, publishing.
    .-= Advice Sisters´s last blog ..Kiss EverLasting French Manicure Limited Edition in Neon Brights – a Fun Way to Lighten up =-.

  4. Jennine

    advice… don’t you think you’re being a little harsh? i mean, i didn’t know how this worked….

  5. Ashe Mischief

    I agree with Jennine– Advice, I do think your comments are a bit harsh. IFB caters to bloggers of all levels, and many bloggers are unfamiliar with the pitching process. There’s nothing wrong with what you call an “elementary” level post especially if it will help those who may be new to the territory.

    Sonja & Jennine, I actually recently pitched my first “review” to a company who I had written about before (it was actually suggested to me by another blogger). It took them months to get back to me (site design + lots of new merchandise in), but when they did, they were SUPER generous and gracious. I think it helped a bit that they had a former post of mine that was in favor of their products. They were so generous that it almost feels too good to be real… I’m tempted to offer a couple months free advertising just because I was so pleased with the experience!
    .-= Ashe Mischief´s last blog ..Eco-Friendly Clothing Options For All Sizes =-.

  6. Ondo Lady

    I think Sonja has nailed this perfectly on the head. I have been liaising with PR peeps for nearly ten years and although it is not rocket science there is a slight art to it. When I first started out I was very intimidated and it took me a while to engage properly with PR companies. It would have been really useful to have advice like this back then but hey sometimes it is good to learn the hard way. Most of my PR contacts are in book publishing, events, music and film but aside from a few bits and bobs from the lovely peeps at MAC I have never really got into the beauty PR thing. I think Sonja’s idea about going down to the PR company’s office is an excellent one and shows a lot dynamism. Don’t even think about getting put off if you do not get a reply back from a PR as they get just as manic as we do. Having worked in PR I can vouch for how crazy things can get and as Sonja says a gentle nudge does wonders. If a PR becomes unobtainable then try contacting their colleague or just picking up the phone, I have done that many times and got what a wanted the next day. Not much else I can add to this about from the obvious; just be honest and don’t get over wowed by the freebies, just treat it like any other job. Oh yes and never be afraid to say no to featuring a product on your blog if you feel it does not fit in with your ethos. I am sure the PR will admire your honesty than a luck lustre review.
    .-= Ondo Lady´s last blog ..Topshop NYC in 24 Hours =-.

  7. francesca

    Very useful tips, Sonja.
    And I must say, most of the time PR people will be more generous than expected!
    .-= francesca´s last blog ..Style pick of the week: Edun ONE Tee =-.

  8. Advice Sisters

    I am glad this post helped so many newbies and I’m not passing judgement on the good intent of the post. I’m worried that the post doesn’t go far enough. I’m just saying that in light of the new FTC regulations I am sure you must all have read about by now, it’s a bit elementary. I had to a lot of things the hard way.

    But I’ve been online a long time. Live and learn by doing!
    .-= Advice Sisters´s last blog ..Kiss EverLasting French Manicure Limited Edition in Neon Brights – a Fun Way to Lighten up =-.

  9. lisa

    Great tips Sonja!
    .-= lisa´s last blog ..F As In Frank Grand Opening =-.

  10. Alicia

    Great article, Sonja. Thanks for the information.
    .-= Alicia´s last blog ..(Be)Cause I Love You (Pt.2) – UPDATED!! =-.

  11. Julia

    Sonja-great article – I think a lot of bloggers initially are timid about the subject of doing product reviews. I think your advice takes a professional approach to boost the status of bloggers doing reviews-terrific! I’ve found too that PR companies have become more and more understanding of the power of the blog, and know that if they want to get the word out there, they’ve got to come to us! One note: if you do get news/press release info, be sure to check for immediate release or a specific release date; it could backfire and somewhat make the PR company upset and ask to remove a post if the info has been released too soon! This has yet to happen to me, as I always verify the release date, but it seems that sometimes PR contacts forget to emphasize that!

  12. Sonja

    Advice Sisters, I’m simply writing from my experience and meant for this to be a basic introduction, a 101 of sorts. It was not intended to be a compendium on review samples and working with PR people. I agree that you have to be a credible reviewer – oftentimes that’s proven by the audience size and certainly a PR rep can look at your work and evaluate that. But this article is not about how to be a credible reviewer. That could certainly be an article unto itself. The FCC issue is also something merits it’s own article and will certainly spark a lot of discussion.

    I’m relatively new to writing for online media but have worked in television news for several years. I have found the process of requesting samples to be pretty straightforward and similar in both cases. The only real difference I noticed is the level of responsiveness from PR reps based on how large one’s audience is. In both cases, it’s always important to cultivate relationships, which I mentioned in this article. And certainly people’s experience will vary so it’s nice to hear back from everyone about individual experiences.

    Jennine, I’m glad you found the information helpful.

    Ashe Mischief, how awesome for you! Sometimes I’m also surprised by the generosity. I think more and more companies are recognizing the impact bloggers are having. Clearly, the FCC has taken note. And that’s a great point about having a previous post to refer to them. I do think they are more enthusiastic if they see that it’s more likely you’ll write something nice, because you’re already a fan.

    Little Black Book, isn’t it fun when someone approaches you? I had a similar experience when I reviewed something non-makeup. I offered to buy it and they replied that I could just keep it. That was a nice surprise. 🙂

    grechen, thanks! Good point about the proliferation of bloggers. It’s amazing how many there are these days! That’s so cool that you work directly with designers. Certainly, that can provide more insights into the designs and such. It’s been very exciting for me to send questions to Bobbi Brown and Trish McEvoy, my makeup heros. Trish actually wrote me a very nice, long letter thanking me for a post I did. Such a lovely surprise. And indeed things fall into place over time as we keep at it. Thanks for sharing your experience. I really don’t think the whole thing is very complicated.

    Ondo Lady, thanks for the great feedback and insight into the PR world. I’ve never worked in PR but it certainly seems to be a crazy, fast-paced life – even before this economy. And good point about just picking up the phone. It’s nice to have that personal contact and get a sense of the person. One PR person I worked with via email most of the time seemed very stern. But once I spoke with her, I learned that she was incredibly sweet and nice. So much personality and tone gets lost in emails. Emoticons can only go so far. haha!

    Francesca, thanks! I agree about generosity. Some can really surprise you.

    Lisa, thanks!

  13. Sonja

    ❤ maria, you’re very welcome!

    ❤ Julia, thank you! Very interesting point about dates. So strange that reps wouldn’t be super clear about dates if they’re providing info before it’s supposed to be released.

    ❤ Alicia, thanks so much! You’re very welcome! Hope it helps.

  14. Mikelle Street

    I love the article. I’m working so hard right now attempting to build readership on my two blogs and I’m kind of aware that I don’t have a small “cult” or large following. My bounce rate on one of my blogs is over 70 percent and the other, Posh Mag, I’m not sure about the stats. I’m reading this info for when I do need it, so that it’ll already be there when I have to act and I won’t make a mistake. I thank you for your assistance.

    Now my eyes are tired, but I have about 2 or 3 more Haute Couture posts to do… so sleepy! Ciao though.
    .-= Mikelle Street´s last blog ..Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week F/W 2010: Alexis Mabille =-.

  15. Sonja

    Mikele, so glad you found the information helpful. You’re very welcome! Best wishes to you as you develop and build your audience!

  16. jillsabs

    I had a bit of an advantage when I started my blog because my boyfriend wrote for a newspaper here in the Philippines and was quite familiar with the PR companies. When my blog began to have a steady following, he informed his PR contacts about the blog’s existence and soon enough, I received products for testing and invitations to product launches.

    But without that initial advantage, it would have probably taken longer for my relationship with the PR companies to develop.

    However, PR companies here in the Philippines are really starting to become blogger friendly, probably acknowledging the importance of bloggers in their respective niches. And the PR companies here take the first step and scope out the bloggers in an effort to pitch their products.
    .-= jillsabs´s last blog ..Will Work for Shoes =-.

  17. Gareth

    I have just started our online store, so was actually browsing fashion blogs to see how we could get some coverage for our site, and this is one of the most affordable ways. I landed on your page and it was like “so you want a review sample”.

    This is great advice and I think I will be posting a specific page on my site for future visitors. If anyone wants a review sample for a men or womens fashion blog focused on the UK or Europe. Feel free to send me an email.

    We only do mens underwear I’m afraid, but, women buy alot of men’s underwear : |.

  18. Brad

    Advice Sonja gives is exactly what I have experience with the Bloggers. I have been working with few bloggers on this basis and I have built a very good relationships with them… and the value they bring in to your products are as good as traditional advertising.

    If any of you looking for samples please contact me brad@aftershockplc.com

  19. rah

    your advice contrary to what miss lady said was awesome; totally summed it up.. most blogs post one or two things probably with the intention that if they tell the truth another blog might surpass theirs. I definitely picked up Mr. Brads email address for after shock..

    kudos and well done!

  20. Sar.

    wow, this is loads of info – thanks sonja! I must say, these basics are exactly what I can digest being not only quite new to blogging but the online community too…It will actually take me a while still until I feel ready to “Pitch” for samples but I will keep this in mind and probably come back when I’m ready to read on…Thanks to all teh useful comments as well 🙂

  21. Trendspotter

    Hey Sonja!

    Great post. I thought your advice was great. I was wondering if you could provide more detail on what to do if you DON’T like the products a PR rep has sent you. (Besides just informing them, etc.)

    Am I wrong to think I owe it to my readers to let them know a product wasn’t that great, especially if it’s something that’s receiving lots of hype? Can you do this and not burn bridges?

  22. Tor (fabfrocks)

    Thanks for the advice – this article was really great!

    I have a question though – if you are sent a sample and then asked to send it back (which of course I am happy to do!) who is responsible for the return postage?
    It’s just that it is a crazily heavy product and I don’t think the postage will be cheap!! :-s
    .-= Tor (fabfrocks)´s last blog ..Taking one for the Team-o! =-.

  23. Sonja

    ❤ Thanks everyone for all your comments. I’m glad to hear that the info was helpful! So sorry for my slow reply!
    ❤ Trendspotter, if I don’t like a product or find it to be simply ho hum, I simply don’t write about it. I try to take a positive approach and share what I think is really great and what I think other people might also like. There are a bajillion things to write about. I don’t have time to write about everything so I aim for a positive focus. It’s sort of like what I share with my friends. I let them know about the awesome things. They don’t need (or want) to know my opinion on everything. 😉

    ❤ Tor, I think it’s up to the company that sent an item to provide return shipping. It’s their professional responsibility to complete the loop as it were.

  24. Marsadie

    I felt this was an informative article. Not sure why the first commenter is passing themself off as an authority in efforts to somehow undermine the author’s piece… There is no “fine art” to the solicitation of products for review. If you can prove yourself as an actual authority in the blogosphere in any niche and simply reach out to a brand, most are happy to get their product into your hands for review. This was a very well-written and helpful article for those less experienced in dealing with brand public relations persons.
    .-= Marsadie´s last blog ..Pamper Your Skin With Vitamin C Skin Care =-.

  25. Fashion Marketing

    I have really found this article very informative and I would surely want to get more information from your side..

  26. DiYa

    Not all big name companies will send samples. I blog and write for a national publication, and can tell you some companies like Laura Mercier and Nars won’t even bother.

    Did I include them? Yes, but I had to drive down to my local Nordstrom’s to test out the liners and creams. Needless to say, the hassle wasn’t worth it, so they are now on my black list.

  27. Sonja

    ❤ Marsadie, thank you. I appreciate your kind words.
    ❤ Fashion Marking, so glad you found this helpful!
    ❤ DiYa, yes, it’s always a crap shoot. I think everything depends on who’s doing the PR at the time. Some people are great. Some suck. I’ve never gotten a response from Nars and don’t know anyone else who has.

    I got a really nice Laura Mercier spring palette and some of her products from last year’s holiday kits. I think I had luck with the palette, because I requested mid-season, after the product launch, when demand was lower. But some of the holiday kit items were dark shades and seemed like leftovers no one wanted. Some of the things were nice though.

    I think a lot the response to bloggers has to do with the beauty company or PR company opinion of how much impact blogs have. Some seem to embrace blogs. Others seem behind the times or just don’t feel it’s worth their time.

  28. lee

    Thanks for the info Sonja. I find it very helpful. I reached this by googling for this exact info. I have a fairly new blog and have begun to attempt to do reviews for several reasons. I find the challenge exciting, I want to inform my readers, I like new stuff and it promotes my blog as much as the product hopefully. I tend to be pretty straightforward, honest yet courteous and persistent. I’ve had more than one PR contact me via twitter, my blog or email and I was so surprised the other day when I opened my email and a PR person had contacted me via my blog requesting a review. I had not even heard of this company yet find their product (scarves by Nepali Tdmdesigns) very attractive. I can’t wait to receive it and do the review. I have contacted others and look forward to possible long-term relationships. I am a little dog on a big porch it seems but getting bigger all the while. Also I am a male and not to many, at least I haven’t seen too many, blogs do male review products. This helps, but I also review women’s apparel and such as what guy doesn’t like to share what looks nice on a woman. I just usually let my friends help with the feedback. Overall I appreciate your information here, it has been helpful. The most helpful part for me is the explanation of the pitch and pitch in email. Sometimes I’m not sure what to say but got a better idea for sure now.

    • Sonja

      Excellent! So glad you found the information helpful and that things have been going so well with your new blog. It’s nice to see a guy out their blogging about fashion!
      .-= Sonja´s last blog ..Benefit Sugarbomb: Hello, sweet cheeks! =-.

  29. Jacks Underwear

    Great post! I absolutely believe that if you just ask you will receive. Actually it also helps if you have a blog you should put up a page called Opportunities or Requests…

    And then mention that you do reviews on websites, services and products in the industry you are in. I find that people actually come to your site and read that page and contact you. Just my 2 cents.

    • Sonja

      Thanks for the great tip!
      .-= Sonja´s last blog ..Benefit Sugarbomb: Hello, sweet cheeks! =-.

  30. rah

    I know it’s months later but I believe that when someone helps me it’s only right, I thank them. I commented on your article back in July (rah that’s me) I had just started my blog seriously, (it was up since february 2009 and I really started blogging in June) and went crazy with the sample requests. I thank you! Because of your advice I have a connect at 5 brands including Dollhouse and Trash and Luxury. Without the proper direction, it probably would not have been possible. Thank you again!

    • Sonja

      How awesome! I’m so glad this was so helpful!
      .-= Sonja´s last blog ..Yummy alternatives to sugary drinks =-.

  31. Kasper Suit

    Getting reviews on anything is the hardest thing of all unless you are already someone in the market.

    Having said that we all have to start somewhere dont we?

  32. węglowodany

    I am glad to be one of many visitors on this great internet site (:, thanks for putting up.

  33. Digital Mom

    Tbanks for the post. While I do many reviews, it’s of either things pitched to me or personal everyday items. This is totally helpful as we continue to expand our niche. Thanky!

  34. The Prague Blog

    Any advice for a young blogger? Do you think (once I build up a bigger audience) companies would consider sending me products to review? Thanks for the article, very helpful 🙂