NEWS ANALYSIS: Carla puts the ooh la la into UK media

French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his glamorous wife Carla Bruni caused a media furore last week during their state visit. Clare O'Connor finds out why.

Carla Bruni
Carla Bruni

Last week's state visit by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and first lady Carla Bruni was greeted by the media with the sort of breathless coverage generally reserved for the Oscars' red carpet. While camera-friendly Bruni's appeal is obvious, the vast amount of coverage surprised media insiders and PROs alike.

PODCAST: See Open Road CEO Graham McMillan analyse Bruni-mania  

The generally rational Daily Telegraph compared Bruni to iconic American first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis and asked whether the Italian model was 'the new Princess Diana'. National newspapers not renowned for their love of continental politics joined in, with the Daily Mail and the Daily Express devoting multiple pages to glowing reviews of the visit, despite their usual Euro-scepticism.

Sarkozy/Bruni media coverage
Number of pages devoted to this topic
- Daily Mail Thursday 7 Friday 6
- Daily Telegraph Thursday 5 Friday 3
- Sun Thursday 4 Friday 3
- Independent Thursday 2 Friday 3
- Daily Express Thursday 3 Friday 1
- FT Thursday 3 Friday 0

'I thought the visit would get mega-billing, but if you'd told me how much a week ago, I'm not sure I'd have believed it,' says Nick Wood, a former journalist at the Express and the Times who now runs consultancy Media Intelligence Partners. 'However, Carla Bruni is fantastically photogenic and it's almost irresistible for newspaper editors and picture editors to have someone with her looks on the cover.'

Snap happy
The visual editor of the FT, Jamie Han, agrees Bruni's glamorous appearance prompted media interest, but denies the visit garnered disproportionate coverage. FT.com ran a 19-page slideshow of large, glossy photos of the president and his wife last week, complete with long-winded captions reminiscent of a Hello! magazine celebrity spread. 'There have been a lot of images coming on the wires,' admits Han.

'But I'm not sure we have that much on our website compared with US election coverage, the Tibet crisis or the credit crunch, for example. Any state visit is a very photogenic event and a lot of the newspapers are very interested in Sarkozy's new wife at the moment.'

Despite the appearance of a media free-for-all, the comms teams at Buckingham Palace, Downing Street and the House of Commons have carefully orchestrated the entire operation, according to Wood, who has had experience on both sides of such large-scale events.

'There are access and pooling arrangements, all very tightly controlled,' he explains. 'Number 10 and the House of Commons will allocate particular places inside the House. It's a sketch writer's event so they'll get a ticket from each respective paper. The Press Association will be given pride of place. You can't allow a free-for-all.'

For lobbyists, Sarkozy's visit provided an opportunity to target both the French and British governments and to exploit the proposed 'entente formidable'. Notable success stories from the past week appeared to include the multibillion-pound defence contract handed to Airbus parent company EADS, and French energy giant electricite de France's British nuclear power station deal.

Carla Bruni coverageHowever, according to a top lobbyist, these agreements would have been cemented well in advance of the state visit as a result of years of campaigning. 'The agreements signed at the Emirates stadium were sewn up months ago,' says Graham McMillan, CEO of corporate comms consultancy Open Road.

'It's a big PR thing; it could have been announced long before the visit. These summits are pretty meaningless. EADS was going to happen anyway. That was straightforward commercial negotiation. The nuclear lobby, like electricite de France, will have been talking to the French and British governments very closely for months, if not years.'

McMillan sees the anti-China interest groups as particularly savvy in their use of the presidential visit to secure coverage. 'The Tibet campaigners have been all over the media; they're in touch with all heads of state,' he says.

However, McMillan understands Sarkozy's opposition to the Beijing Games as a personal view rather than a response to the human rights lobby - and a luxury that Brown cannot afford.

'This summer, there will be an eight-minute televised handover to London 2012. For Britain not to be there would be inconceivable, and Brown knows that. The problem doesn't exist for Sarkozy.'

Exposure
Meanwhile, PROs and journalists alike wonder whether Sarkozy's visit and the accompanying media frenzy has actually improved the president's reputation? Wood isn't sure. 'The UK public now know that Sarkozy is a little guy with a gorgeous wife,' he says. 'However, he does seem to have a genuine interest in relations with Britain.'

The Times features writer Sarah Vine is more optimistic - especially for Bruni. 'What had been a dreadful romantic embarrassment is suddenly looking like a PR triumph,' she writes. 'That is what we saw this week: the first sparks of a potentially stratospheric, old-style first lady.'

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

Seeing red: giving PR teams a real business objective

Seeing red: giving PR teams a real business objective

Speed Communications director John Brown talks client behaviours he can't stand.

Growing number of clients plan PR budget increases

Growing number of clients plan PR budget increases

The number of marketers planning to increase their PR budgets during 2014 has climbed, according to the latest quarterly Bellwether survey by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations tomorrow

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations tomorrow

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford has been sent home after a second day of deliberations about its verdicts on 11 charges of indecent assault.