11 February 2000

Getting the message

across – Clifford

FARMERS would stand a better chance of getting emergency support if the public could relate to their plight, claims Max Clifford, the publicity guru who handles media relations for famous people involved in high-profile cases. The problem with farmers is that the public only hears from them when theyre moaning, he told farmers weekly.

"No farmer has ever, to my knowledge, stood up and said how wonderful business is and what a great living theyve made. Unfortunately, unless you address that, youre never going to get public sympathy."

Mr Clifford said the plight of farmers had lost its impact over the years because the public was tired of hearing it. He added: "Its the only message you ever get and yet the British public feel they know of farmers who are worth an absolute fortune. So the message about the crisis doesnt get across effectively."

But farmers benefited from this months chocolate eclair attack on farm minister Nick Brown. The farm crisis was propelled to the front pages, even in urban-based papers such as Londons Evening Standard. Mr Clifford had nothing to do with the stunt, he said. Farmers should build on the publicity.

"I would be looking to create somebody who is media friendly, who is appealing to the public. Someone who epitomises farming and the message that you want to get across. Someone perhaps with a young family who maybe hasnt come from a farming background but who epitomises the modern breed – someone who is suffering most, up against it, and damaged by government policies."

Mr Clifford is no stranger to rural issues. He has waived his usual £10,000-a-month fee to give free advice to Tony Martin, the farmer charged with murder after a youth was shot dead on his farm. Mr Clifford said: "Its something I feel very strongly about. Ive had several chats with Tony and Ive been helping him behind the scenes for the past few months."