Award-winning campaign that galvanised countryside alliance

As I suspect most of the best ideas do, the one for the ‘Fair Trade for British Farmers’campaign came from a casual comment made during an unrelated conversation.

I was sat in a rather stuffy room, part of a judging panel for some food and drink awards, and next to me was Liz Kershaw, executive group publishing director for the Good Housekeeping/Country Living Group. When we discovered a mutual love of horses, the chat flowed easily and soon broadened out into countryside issues and farming.

When I huffed that fair trade was an admirable concept, but it was a pity it didn’t start at home, a light came on in Liz’s eyes and we both said: ‘That sounds like a campaign!”

Meetings with Country Living’s editor Susy Smith followed, and ideas were discussed, enlarged, rejected. The bringing together of a business title like Farmers Guardian and a heavy-hitting consumer magazine like Country Living was very appealing. This was the perfect way to speak straight to those consumers.

For all the enthusiasm on both sides, though, it would be two years before the campaign finally came to fruition. As it was rather a last-minute green light on the project as well, there was no money in the budget and no grand plan here at FG about how the campaign would progress. Fast talking between myself, my assistant editor Vickie Rogers, and the marketing department produced an outline strategy, and then we just launched ourselves into it.

Probably the key aspect of the campaign was the petition, and the credit for that goes to Vickie. When we started out, we whispered to ourselves that 50,000 signatures would be our secret target, but I’m not sure we ever believed it would happen.

Perhaps we counted without the passionate buy-in of staff at FG – many of whom gave up weekends and evenings to collect signatures and chat to the public about the campaign.

The response from the public was overwhelming. At shows they literally queued up to sign the petition. The signatures also flooded in online, and we finished up with 52,000, an amazing achievement.

The best campaigns tap into the zeitgeist, ride that imperceptible wave which suddenly crests, and that is undoubtedly what happened. In its wake, supermarkets have made a series of pricing announcements, and the Competition Commission has taken its boldest strides towards a fairer, more transparent food chain.

Now that momentum needs to be maintained – because without our farmers, you can be sure the campaign slogan of ‘No cows, no countryside’will become more true than you can imagine.

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