Even if you are on painkillers and muscle relaxant drugs for a sore spine/hip/leg/ankle… when you get an email from an unknown person called Xander with the heading TRACTORS: BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST – as I did three days ago – you tend to open it immediately.
Tractors are currently amusingly sexy in the UK because, a couple of weeks ago, MP Neil Parish had to resign after he was ‘outed’ for watching porn on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber. He said he had been looking at a tractor website and, accidentally, he had then found himself watching a porn site.
The email I got was a PR pitch plugging a new Channel 5 series (starting tonight) called Tractor World.
Increasingly prestigious as my blog may be, I am surely not the first choice for publicising a TV farming series about tractors.
I thought: Either this is a wild mistake or it is an admirable piece of lateral thinking – Because of the Neil Parish MP link, you might as well pitch a tractor story to what is sometimes called a comedy blog.
So I asked Xander (Alexander Ross), co-founder of Percy & Warren – a PR agency specialising in the film, TV & entertainment industry – why he had sent me the email…
JOHN: Why did you contact me?
XANDER: We go to databases to put together relevant lists of people and you filtered through on Comedy and TV.
JOHN: You contacted me, presumably, because of the Neil Parish tractor porn story.
XANDER: Yeah, we were chatting about Tractor World and thinking maybe we could do a slide show of people and tractors with a romantic Barry White song over the top of it. That might be a little too on-the-nose, but quite fun. You’ve got to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself and it just so happens now that a documentary series on tractors is coming out like a couple of weeks after the MP story.
JOHN: The producers, RawCut Television, didn’t mind you being lighthearted about their serious documentary series?
XANDER: We spoke about it and they wanted something that could make them laugh as well. It was actually a hard brief, but…
JOHN: A hard brief?
XANDER: Well, it’s a lot harder to make somebody laugh than it is to make them cringe.
A lot of the (serious) shows that come out on Channel 5 have got that sort of popular edge to them:. You take something that’s not about the London metropolitan elite or whatever but is for a more dispersed crowd – not your office worker living in the suburbs of London.
Actually, Tractor World HAS been quite a fun one to work on. If you get something like Star Wars or whatever, you’re turning down opportunities of coverage whereas, with something like this, you have to find a way to publicise it that is a little bit different or maybe even a little bit tongue-in-cheek.
For Channel 4, we do Devon and Cornwall, which has been a huge ratings success for the channel. It’s massively popular: a wholesome, kindhearted sort of programme.
JOHN: I know nothing about agriculture or tractors or muck-spreading techniques. Why should I watch a TV series about tractors?
XANDER: If you like things like Clarkson’s Farm and you’re interested in finding out about other lifestyle worlds… Good documentaries are the ones that make you interested about something in which you have no expertise. So, if you can find something that’s nice and warmhearted and has a bit of fun to it, I think you’re onto a good bet with that.
JOHN: I once stumbled on a BBC documentary series about the history of British motorway service stations. I have no idea how it got commissioned, but it was fascinating. It was amazing. Who knows? Maybe, in advertiser talk, tractors are now ‘sexy’ too… A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian was a bestselling book only a few years ago.
XANDER: As I say, we’re working on Devon and Cornwall at the moment. We’ve also been working recently on The Great Big Tiny Design Challenge with Sandi Toksvig – another Channel 4 show. It’s about making miniature houses and stuff like that. Shows like The Great British Bake Off do very well at the moment. People like nice and warmhearted and a bit of fun.
JOHN: Your company mostly does glamorous media-type things – a master class with film producer Jeremy Thomas, the return of BBC Three to terrestrial TV…
XANDER: Yes. We were born out of the pandemic in July 2020. We were a company that sprang out of another company – Franklin Rae PR – that expanded into loads of different areas.
They had been a film and TV specialist for about 20-odd years and had moved into architecture, financial technology and stuff like that. I was heading up the (media) division, but when we were pitching for new business, people would say we were too generalist.
So we asked the CEO if we could spin it off into a separate company. We did that in July 2020 and we’ve just gone from strength to strength, very much with an international outlook… Clients in Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Canada, the US; done stuff in Brazil; done a little bit with Japan, although Japan can take a lot longer than other countries.
XANDER: Just that decisions are taken a lot more slowly. You get moved through hierarchies. You have to establish trust with one person, then move on to establish trust with the next person. Eventually you reach the decision-maker and then they decide Yes or No. It just takes a longer time to go through all those networks, but it’s worth it.
JOHN: What’s the most bizarre and interesting account you’ve worked on?
XANDER: I worked on a show a few years back called The Penis Extension Clinic.
JOHN: Who did you approach to get PR for that?
XANDER: Oh, you go straight to the tabloids for that sort of stuff.
JOHN: Presumably for Tractor World, you have been going for the agricultural community.
XANDER: Yes, Farming Life and so on. Agribusiness. It’s in Farmers World today, but it’s also in the Daily Telegraph.
JOHN: What’s the Telegraph’s angle?
XANDER: They’ve said it’s something for Neil Parish to watch.