France: Special Report

Burning cars in the banlieues, students fighting riot police, countrywide strikes, queues of job-seekers, an economy going backwards and a government that has lost the plot - this is a view of France that has captivated the foreign press, but the reality is not quite so bleak.

Yes, France's economy grew by a modest 1.5 per cent in the first quarter of this year (below the European average of 2 per cent), but at least unemployment is on the wane. In April, the number of jobless fell from 9.5 to 9.3 per cent, and there are signs that the gloom that has hung heavily on the French public for so long is lifting at last.

Confidence is returning to the high street, albeit slowly, and the improving economy is encouraging advertisers to spend again, thanks to ferocious competition in the telecoms market and a fight-back against cut-price retailers by the big food companies. Frederic Girard, the head of planning at Callegari Berville Grey, observes: "Companies in France have rediscovered that a brand is something to fight for."

A disappointing 2005, when adspend growth slumped from 3.4 per cent in 2004 to 2 per cent, has been replaced by bullish predictions of around 3 per cent for this year. A "quietly confident" Pascal Clavreux, the Universal McCann France president, says about half of this growth is coming from the internet.

This may come as a surprise in a country famous for its resistance to all things new. But digital media is turning out to be the silver lining to France's persistent cloud. Characteristically hesitant at first, French advertisers are warming to its flexibility and low cost.

The lifting gloom is precipitating a quiet revolution on the creative front too. At last, the market has welcomed a newcomer to the agency scene worthy of genuine excitement (this page), and the creative product is showing signs of clients getting a bit braver (page 29).

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).