If it’s fall, it’s budget season, and as outdoor gear companies craft their fiscal 2014 plans, they’re finding an unexpected and unwanted new development: The dramatic increase in the cost of good gear reviews. No longer can the public relations department rely on the strength of a product’s performance, longtime relationships, or even good will for a positive review in a magazine, newspaper, or blog. Nope.
“Dude, it’s just killing us,” said one outdoor industry PR exec. “Back in the day it was enough to have made some turns with a gear reviewer, maybe share a bowl or the bota, and if you had a decent product you knew you’d get some nice coverage. But man, the mellow is over.”
Marketing experts say that the boom in media outlets, rather than driving down the cost of gear reviews, actually has concentrated the power in a handful of respected reviewers.
“Oh sure, I can get a decent review for the cost of a returned email and a few stickers,” said one, “but that’s at a blog with a daily readership of 42 and a URL that ends in .net. If I want one of the big guns to rave about my products, I’m looking at months of flattery, boxes of swag, and maybe a press trip. Meanwhile, my clients don’t give me enough product to spread around, then grind me because they don’t get the coverage. Oi.”
Manufacturers also say that journalists are demanding up front that all positive reviews be shared via that company’s social channels. “Our social media people bust ass and our brand has a much higher profile,” said one in-house director of public relations. “We do all the work and they ride our coattails. Hey, you said this was off the record, right?”
The North Face, for example, has 3.4 million fans on its Facebook page, while a typical media outlet like Adventure Journal has…oh, let’s just say “a lot less.”
For now, companies are willing to play the game, but increasingly they’re looking at other avenues for seeding product.
“User reviews can be incredibly powerful influences,” said the in-house exec. “And unlike a lot of outdoor journalists, the general public seems to actually use the stuff.”
The Adventurey Report is almost certainly not true.
Photo by krissen/Flickr