Worldwide Advertising: Country Profiles - France/In France, President Chirac must modernise the economy if the nation is to enter the EMU. In the coming battles, the French media plan to be on the winning side. By Steve Shipside

As the French prepare to go to the polls at the end of May, France is taking stock of developments since Jacques Chirac came to power in 1993. For many, it’s not proving a pleasant experience.

As the French prepare to go to the polls at the end of May, France

is taking stock of developments since Jacques Chirac came to power in

1993. For many, it’s not proving a pleasant experience.

The past year was marked by crippling strikes and industrial action by

truckers, Air France staff, fishermen, postal workers and the healthcare

sector. Baron Hausman’s boulevards were packed with protesters after

Renault, reeling from a FF5.2 billion loss on the year, announced the

closure of a factory in Belgium, with heavy job losses. The news that

the hi-tech company, Thomson Multimedia, was being offered to a Korean

company for the less-than-princely sum of one franc led to further

outraged demonstrations in Paris.

France is having trouble adjusting to the increasing globalisation of

the market. The cheapness of foreign (including British) labour is being

blamed for the woes of French industry. The employed are turning to

unions to protect their jobs and standards of living. The truck drivers’

strike was over the right to retire at age 55. The strikers won, making

it more likely that others will follow, creating a situation where the

government must either raise taxes or pass the cost on to employers. Not

surprisingly, the Kent development board reports an increasing number of

French companies, particularly in light industry and computing, setting

up shop in the UK to benefit from the less restrictive labour


EU figures show that French unemployment has hit a post-war record of

12.8 per cent. That’s higher than Germany or Italy, and way ahead of

Britain’s 6 per cent. Things are not about to get any easier - the

reason Chirac has called the election is to get a mandate for the

austerity programme required to achieve the criteria for a single

currency. To do that, he has to get the public deficit down to 3 per

cent of GDP. For a country where government spending represents half of

the GDP (as opposed to under 40 per cent and falling in the UK), that is

going to require some rigorous belt-tightening. Chirac is going to have

to curb spending, take on the unions, and tackle a national mentality

used to a tightly regulated job market and heavy state subsidies.

Extracting himself, and his country, from this mess will not be


Chirac has publicly complained of the difficulty of changing such a

profoundly conservative country. But change is afoot, and media and

communications companies are among the first to take the plunge.

Switch on the TV in France and you won’t have long to wait before you

see an earnest and long-winded ad that painstakingly explains France

Telecom’s financial performance and prospects. For Thatcher’s children,

used to Sid and cashing in, this unfamiliarity with privatisation is

laughable, but the important thing is that it is happening. Wholesale

privatisation is unlikely, but the deregulation of the telecoms industry

should help open up the French market and give a boost to the slow

adoption of online media. Internet provider/publishers are struggling:

Infonie, the leading light of the talent in this arena, has just posted

a FF149 million loss despite the allure of Asterix online. Hopefully,

privatisation will help turn that around.

French homes are now being bombarded with advertising for the

forthcoming digital satellite channels. The French are already familiar

with set-top decoders thanks to Canal Plus, the premium channel that

pioneered the way more than ten years ago with a heady mix of sport,

film and hard-core pornography. Since then, Canal Plus has thrived and

diversified, spawning Canal Plus Multimedia and the innovative Canal C,

a channel dedicated to computer information. Canal Plus remains one of

the good news stories of the French market, breaking into the top ten

media companies in Europe and with a net result up 11 per cent to FF741

million last year, with turnover up to FF11.58 billion in 1996. The

knock-on effect on the print press is already visible with the recent

launch of Television Monthly, which has a circulation of 400,000.

Opportunities like these are welcome in a hard-pressed print sector. The

national press, in particular, is having a tough time of it. Infomatin,

launched two years ago, has closed. Liberation, the paper founded by

Jean Paul Sartre, is desperately hunting for finance after announcing a

FF180 million loss. France Soir is widely tipped to close. Fifty years

ago, Le Monde Diplomatique reports, a Parisian could accompany his

coffee and croissants with any of 28 titles which sold a total of 6

million copies a day. Today, the breakfast browser has just seven to

choose from, amassing 1.3 million copies between them. Fewer competitors

has not led to richer pickings. The certified ad revenue for Le Monde in

1995 was reported as being no higher than the figure for 1986.

Tellingly, the area taking the biggest hit is that of recruitment


According to Havas’ Europub survey, the total French adspend did rise

last year by 2.5 per cent, although that was weaker than the previous

year which saw 3.4 per cent growth (7.3 per cent in the UK). The real

lesson is a shift in the way the French consume their media. There is a

buoyant news magazine market, with French readers abandoning dailies in

favour of monthlies such as L’Express. But the real winner is

television, with terrestrial channels rising to seven from five two

years ago, and an average day’s viewing reaching up to five hours

(including satellite and cable options), as opposed to two hours

listening to the radio and less than 30 minutes reading.

The great hope of all the media in France right now is next year’s

football World Cup which should help fuel the audio-visual markets and,

with a bit of luck, the press as well. Just to prove the point, no less

than eight new football titles have appeared on the market. Fever pitch

is coming to France.