We get asked why we provide pen samples to reviewers quite a bit. It’s one of the top questions we get right behind “Are you going to use titanium any time soon?” and “How can I become a reviewer?”. To my knowledge, it’s not a question we’ve answered before. I figured I could take a quick break from the “On Writing” series, and I’d address this question.
The simplest answer to this question is that when we went out on a limb with the design and release of the Render K pen, we had no “clout” in the pen community. Karas Kustoms was a nobody in the realm of writing instruments, but we had started building relationships in the Everyday Carry community on several forums that catered to the watch/knife/backpack/etc. collector crowd. Several people that were active in these communities had started or would go on to start “pen blogs”, so our relationships with these people were made relatively early on in both our journey and in their journeys. It was mutually beneficial for us to send samples to these bloggers and reviewers because it helped grow our brand and helped them establish themselves in an industry that was in its infancy.
People can and do have all kinds of feelings about “professional product reviewers”. Distrust and even animosity are commonplace when it comes to how people view pen reviewers. As time has gone on the line between unbiased-person-reviewing-a-pen and reviewer-that-receives-paid-sponsorships-from-pen-companies has been blurred quite a bit. We take all of that into account when we are approached by a reviewer asking us to provide sample pens, or when we’re approached by a reviewer asking us to advertise on their platform.
The fact is our product reaches a limited number of eyeballs organically or via our marketing platforms. Providing sample pens to reviewers that have small, medium, or large audiences expands our reach but also continues to lend our brand credence in a niche but growing market. It’s a strategic decision on our part to engage, not only with the community at large but with a select group of people that have been appointed gatekeepers of the pen community.
I can’t comment on how other companies interact with these reviewers and what they ask or demand the reviewers write or don’t write about their product. I can honestly say we are extremely upfront about our desire that the review is completely free of pressure and bias from our company. We’ll provide product and company background information along with the item, but we like to stay as hands-off as we can during the process. If the reviewer has specific information they want or need, we’ll provide them the information if we’re able to, but we don’t ever want to be accused of influencing a review. I’m very careful to stress that there are no requirements being placed on the reviewer in their receipt of product from us. We don’t expect a review, but we’re hopeful of one, and we rely on the quality of our product to influence the final outcome of the review itself.
This has led us to a point where we feel we have really good relationships with a large majority of the reviewers that are active both as bloggers and vloggers. We value these relationships and just as much as we love the chance to have our product be featured to their audiences, we enjoy supporting these people that helped us on our journey as a pen manufacturer. To say it’s a symbiotic relationship removes the friendship and emotions aspect from the equation. It’s similar to our dedication to working with other small manufacturers like Rickshaw Bagworks, Jonathon Brooks, Turner’s Workshop, and many others. As big as the pen community has grown, it’s still pretty small and tight-knit. It’s still a lot more like a family than a fandom in some aspects, and this is one of those aspects.
A decade after we made our first pen, we're at a completely different spot as a pen manufacturer and retail brand. It's not as vital that we have interaction with pen people everywhere they gather. We'd love to be able to get featured on every blog, vlog, magazine, podcast, and other outlets that talk about pens. We also understand that just isn't a reality. We're REALLY busy and while we make time to hit up virtual pen meet-ups, podcasts, and blogs we can't be everywhere. But we value the friendships and relationships we have with a handful of pen reviewers, and we'll offer them products when they ask or when we release something we feel they'd enjoy featuring. We feel that these relationships mean too much to us as people to simply abandon them, and that's why we continue to send products to pen reviewers.