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No Sneak Previews Of My Reviews

Most weeks, I typically get an e-mail along the following lines from the publicists for whatever product I'm looking at this week:

"Would you mind giving a sense of how you liked the product, so we're not completely surprised when the review shows up?"

It's an understandable request, but one I can't fulfill. Telling the subject of a review the conclusion of that review gives them one last chance to spin the writeup in their favor--assuming, of course, that the review has actually been written in the first place, which can (ahem) be a generous assumption.

So I politely decline each time. (Though with some companies that cloak their own upcoming products in secrecy, I have been known to take a certain amount of glee in throwing their standard no-comment line back at them: "It's Post policy not to comment on unreleased products.")

That question is often accompanied by a query like "and how would you improve the product?" That's even more off-limits; I'm not here to be a developer's unpaid consultant. The only suggestions I may make on those lines will appear in public--in my column or this blog, where everybody can see them, not just one company's reps.

Thing is, this little runaround often isn't necessary in the first place, mainly because routine fact-checking inquiries can provide a pretty clear indication of what I didn't like. If I have to ask a publicist "Any reason why this handheld software still doesn't include any kind of notepad program?", "Do you really think you're going to erase this program from every single Web site in existence?" or "Can you explain why I couldn't set up an account for your traffic service?" it's probably not good news for the product in question.

Got any other questions about how tech-industry PR operates? Ask away in the comments!

By Rob Pegoraro  |  August 21, 2007; 11:05 AM ET
Categories:  The business we have chosen  
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Comments

Rob -

I try to stay aware of your writings, but I haven't seen a review from your pen on Apple's new iMac's. Have I missed this one or have you not done a review? If not, do you plan one? If you have, is there a link I can go to to read it? I really enjoy your writing and viewpoints on technology.

Posted by: John | August 21, 2007 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Only one question, which you probably will decline to answer...

If any given tech company offered you a position as a flack for two to three times your salary, would you go to the dark side?

Posted by: J | August 21, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Curse you, J, for using the magic phrase "you probably will decline to answer" :)

No tech company has offered me a job as a flack, but I can't imagine I would enjoy the work. There would be far less writing overall, other people would tell me what I could write in the first place, I would have fewer opportunities to exercise whatever creativity I may possess... and worst of all, I'd have to deal with people like me all the time!

And if I won't enjoy the work, why do it? It's not as if the alternative to working for "the dark side" is a life of grinding poverty. (It's more like genteel shabbiness.)

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | August 21, 2007 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Good answer...just curious. :)

Posted by: J | August 21, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Rob,

How do you go about choosing the products that you review? Are they generally something you see, would like to review, and ask the company for a review unit, or do companies approach you and ask you to review their product? Keeping review units would seem to be a conflict of interest, so I assume you have to return the units a company gives you. Does the WP ever have to purchase a review unit if a company cannot or will not provide you a review unit?

Posted by: PT | August 21, 2007 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Doesn't Walter Mossberg (WSJ) tell companies how to improve their products? I recall reading about this in a profile of him several months to a year ago (perhaps in the New Yorker?).

Posted by: David | August 22, 2007 2:58 PM | Report abuse

PT: I only review things that I think are interesting; sometimes the company calls/ e-mails first, and sometimes I do. All the review hardware goes back, since allowing me to keep it would be indistinguishable from bribery. Review software either gets auctioned off for charity or, in some cases, kept around for reference purposes.

(I should write up a full post on that subject... a lot of people I've met seem to think that I get to keep everything I review.)

David: As I remember that story, it was a tech-industry publicist who described my competitor as a consultant of sorts, but Walt objected to that characterization.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | August 22, 2007 3:44 PM | Report abuse

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