Underneath the Archers. 30 January 2012

How a BBC Radio 4 institution got its PR so right. 


The Archers omnibus edition on Radio 4 on Sunday morning performs a quasi-religious role in my life. Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from spiritual and I’m not an Ambridge obsessive, but the weekly routine of listening in to the events in Borsetshire has taken on the role that can only be compared to a religious ritual.

It has similar loose rules of observance (you’ll soon catch up if you miss a few), the ritual is comforting, and the experience nearly always leaves me feeling a bit annoyed and frustrated at the time I have just wasted, and the people I have just experienced.

Yes, I accept, there’s a degree of masochism inferred here.

So, as I stared from my window at the turbulent Loch Fyne last Sunday listening to the problems encountered when you have badger sets on your land and the blossoming romance between Jim and Christine I was jolted awake by the mention of Public Relations! That horrific man, Brian Aldridge, calls in the experts to deal with the problems he and his colleagues at ‘BL’ (Borsetshire Land, for the uninitiated) are having over their plans to build and run a new intensive dairy unit on the company’s land.

It was remarkable for so many reasons. The primary one has to be the fact that Rufus, from Moynihan & Parker, Felpersham’s ‘top agency’, did not conform to the usual media or drama stereotype of being a cross between Max Clifford and Arthur Daley. He was grown-up, professional and gave good advice. I even found myself nodding involuntarily as he spoke and thinking how that’s exactly the advice I would give! I also rather admired his business acumen; he suggested multiple small, easily achievable ways of spreading the word but each of those ideas would be a chargeable service that I am sure, as Felpersham’s ‘top agency’, M&P would be drawing up a healthy invoice for.

The Archers has always prided itself on its thorough research and this storyline is no exception. This scene was plausible and real. There was lots of common sense, a bit of psychology, and a ‘feet on the ground’ understanding of the real world – all of which I like to believe are the hallmarks of a good PR professional. Might this be the best PR the PR industry could ever have wished for? When I meet someone and answer the inevitable question with ‘I’m a publicist’ will I no longer get a blank look? Is Rufus the new mentor? The new hero-figure?

The ultimate gratification came though as Brian succumbed to the temptation that so many clients do. Having been given lots of good advice and agreed a time sensitive, proactive campaign which made it feel easy and manageable, he then used the confidence gained from the meeting to go out and try to do it himself! I hope we’ll hear more from Rufus as he tries to unpick Brian’s clumsy attempts at public relations.  

Ryan Petersen

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