News Analysis: A new approach for Mrs Beckham

Following Victoria Beckham's hire of a new publicist, Alexandra Jardine asks celebrity experts about the star's PR strategy and the health of her 'brand'.

Victoria Beckham, perhaps not coincidentally, is back in the news.

Just as she gave birth to her third son last month, it was announced that she and husband David had signed a £5m deal with cosmetics house Coty to launch a range of fragrances. Then last week, PRWeek revealed that Victoria has a new publicist: Henry's House director of talent Jo Milloy.

Her erstwhile publicist, Charlotte Hickson of 19 Management, has decided to work exclusively on artist management alongside 19 owner and Henry's co-founder Simon Fuller. Henry's has been involved with the Beckhams' PR since they hired 19, and Milloy says her new role is simply a shift in day-to-day responsibilities.

But Milloy takes over Beckham's PR at a crucial time for the former Spice Girl. Having failed to cut it as a solo singer, and with her public popularity apparently on the wane, she has indicated a desire to become a fashion icon.

Prior to the Coty deal, Beckham had dipped her toe into the fashion world, first by modelling for Rocawear, then designing jeans for Rock & Republic.

She is now rumoured to be extending the jeans into her own fashion range, dubbed VB.

Rocky media relationship

Milloy is also charged with managing 'Brand Beckham', which has endured a love/hate relationship with the press. From the sale of their wedding snaps to OK! to posing for paparazzi shots in the Alps at the height of last year's Rebecca Loos scandal, the Beckhams have courted the media assertively since their relationship entered the public arena in 1997.

Astute media management helped propel them to iconic status - at the time of their wedding in 1999, the Beckhams were even dubbed the 'new royal family'.

Beckham's former publicists have included Caroline McAteer, dubbed 'the rottweiler' by some showbiz journalists and accused of placing positive stories in 'tame' publications such as OK!. McAteer firmly denies such jibes. But Milloy has promised a more 'open and honest' approach to PR, although she declined to disclose details on her new charge and the scale of the task ahead.

Fellow celebrity publicists say it will be a challenge to promote Beckham in the wake of her failed music career and the scandal that engulfed her marriage last year. 'The biggest problem is that she just isn't liked by the British public,' says Max Clifford, who broke the Loos allegations. According to Clifford, any publicist for Beckham faces two hurdles: firstly, all her ventures since the Spice Girls have struggled; secondly, she is widely disliked.

Meanwhile, Ashley Mann, managing director of Coalition Total Communication and PR adviser to model Sophie Anderton, says Beckham's public image is 'about equivalent to that of Camilla Parker Bowles'.

Clifford adds: 'I have never met a journalist with a good word to say about her, and despite a succession of PROs her popularity continues to decrease. Everything she has tried has failed miserably - and even now, what does she really know about fashion?'

Mann agrees that promoting Beckham as a fashion icon will be tricky, particularly as it involves targeting a female audience that has shown itself to be largely hostile to her. 'When the Loos stuff came out, even women blamed Victoria more than David, which was incredible,' he points out.

Mann suggests Beckham needs to go 'back to basics' and focus on promoting her role as a mother of three before pushing her fashion career.

Martel Maxwell, contributor to The Sun's Bizarre column, echoes this: 'What needs to be promoted now is Brand Beckham - which is Victoria, her husband and the boys, who conveniently for the press have very memorable names. David has many marketing deals behind him, but Victoria can't match up to that.'

Footballer's wife

But Caroline Hedley, contributor to the Daily Mirror's 3am column, believes the focus on fashion will work: 'Victoria is the archetypal footballer's wife and a style icon for millions of women so it's a very sensible move.'

Jane Clinton, of the Sunday Express's Showbiz Secrets column, says PR needs to focus on damage limitation before fashion: 'She has taken a bit of a back seat recently and even been accused of becoming a hermit during her pregnancy - but that's probably a good thing. The PR problem for the Beckhams has been overexposure.'

There are also signs that Beckham is targeting her 'brand' at a different market: her first interview following the Loos allegations was not with a celebrity title but with women's glossy Marie Claire. While some suggest she could be targeting magazines because they are more likely to allow copy approval than newspapers, the move has also been viewed as an attempt to gain more sympathy with women.

Others believe Beckham is likely to focus her publicity efforts on areas such as the Far East, which has been less hostile to her in the wake of her alleged marriage troubles.

While she is married to David - and his football career continues - Victoria will never be far from the limelight. But as Brand Beckham evolves, it's clear that it will take a clever and focused PR effort to ensure positive coverage of Victoria's career and personality.

Yet perhaps the wider question is whether she should even go on trying.

As Clinton puts it: 'The problem for all the ex-Spice Girls is that they made it so big so young and are now grappling with how to follow that.

But at some point you have to accept that maybe it's not going to happen and you never will be as famous again.'

PROMOTING POSH: VICTORIA BECKHAM'S PR HISTORY

- 1995-97 Promoted by Simon Fuller as part of the Spice Girls, Britain's most successful girl group (selling more than 80 million records).

- 1998-2003 Promoted by Caroline McAteer, first through The Outside Organisation, then via McAteer's own outfit CM Publicity. Brooklyn is born and OK! magazine covers spectacular Irish wedding. After Spice Girls split in 2001, Victoria launches a solo career, but is later dropped by Virgin Records.

- Autumn 2003-February 2005 Promoted by Charlotte Hickson at 19 Management; Romeo is born; Victoria signs record deal with Telstar and modelling tie-up with Rocawear; revelations about David's alleged affair with Rebecca Loos, followed by love-reaffirming interview in Marie Claire.

- February-March 2005 Cruz is born; Beckhams sign a £5m deal to promote Coty fragrances; Henry's House's Jo Milloy takes over as Victoria's publicist.

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