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How the profiles of Michelle Obama, Sarah Brown and Carla Sarkozy impact on their husband’s reputations

Sarah Brown, Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Veronica Lario generate plenty of publicity, but not all of it reflects well on their spouses. Gordon Brown will never win any popularity contests, but Sarah Brown fares much better in the press. PRmoment analyses coverage of Mrs Brown and other international leading ladies, Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Veronica Lario.

Research commissioned by PRmoment comparing global online coverage of Sarah Brown, Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Veronica Lario, shows that Obama’s wife dominates the news, with 47 per cent of the stories being about her, compared to just 5 per cent concerning Sarah Brown. Bruni-Sarkozy is also a media star, with 35 per cent of the coverage, while Berlusconi’s wife is mentioned in 13 per cent of the stories.


Supplied by Echo Sonar

Not surprisingly, the separation of Lario from Berlusconi makes up a large part of the media stories about her, while for Obama, it is her role as first lady that captures journalists‘ interests. For example, on 3 June at a story states: “Lady Michelle Obama is the best-looking first lady ever in that White House. Even her dog of choice looks better.” For Brown, it is interesting to see how the majority of stories focus on her updates on social-media site Twitter.

Brown has also generated a lot of positive coverage thanks to being the patron of the Wellbeing of Women charity, with recent work for this including guest-editing a special edition of Fabulous magazine, that came free with News of the World for the Wellbeing of Women Charity earlier this month. A spokesperson from Wellbeing of Women says that both Sarah and Gordon Brown are longstanding supporters of the cause and that the charity is understandably pleased with the press coverage of Brown’s involvement. On Brown’s regular updates on Twitter, she also often talks about women’s health issues. For instance on July 20, she tweets: “UK breast cancer screening saves over 1,400 lives a year (one-third of all breast cancer detected with screening) – stay healthy”.


Supplied by Echo Sonar

Obama is often in women’s magazines being applauded for her style (which is not such a regular occurrence for Brown), and of course, for her toned arms – but her charity work, particularly in the healthcare sector, is also regularly in the news. An article in the New York Times on July 19 discusses how she has become one of the “Obama administration’s most visible surrogates on healthcare”.

Obama’s wife may grace fashion pages more than Brown’s, but the prize for being a fashion icon has to go to Bruni-Sarkozy. Formerly a top model and currently a musician, Sarkozy’s wife has the most glamorous past, and this regularly gets mentioned. For instance, in a story on on 19 July about Bruni-Sarkozy singing at Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday celebration, it says: “ Bruni-Sarkozy, 41, a former girlfriend of Mick Jagger, vowed not to hold concerts while her husband was in office, although she has appeared on numerous television shows.” However, Bruni-Sarkozy’s charity work also helps to reflect well on her and her husband. In the same story at, it says: “Organisers of the Mandela Day concert said [Bruni-Sarkozy] had been persuaded to take part because of the Aids prevention work of the charities involved. The first lady's brother, Virginio, died of the disease in 2006.”

Silvio Berlusconi’s wife, Veronica Lario, on the other hand, who is very publicly no longer standing by her husband’s side, is generating quite different sorts of publicity. Adriana Di Liberto, assistant professor of economics at the University of Cagliari, discusses how she is portrayed in the Italian media: “In Italy, the media are hardly unbiased and impartial about anything concerning Silvio Berlusconi. As a result, after Veronica Lario’s divorce decision, they tend to portray her either as an opportunistic ex-TV hostess and a puppet in the hands of the centre-left opposition (this is the pro-Berlusconi media view), or, conversely, as a reserved and brave mother that had the courage to turn against the most powerful man in Italy (the anti-Berlusconi media, the few remaining ones, I must say). For some, she has even become a sort of icon of women’s rights in one of the most chauvinistic developed countries.”

Di Liberto believes that the opportunistic story is very hard to believe. She says, “Veronica seems to have dedicated her whole life to her three children. But she would also be a strange feminist icon and an even more strange champion of the government’s opposition, since her status has been entirely determined just by her wedding to Silvio Berlusconi. So, where’s the truth? Difficult to say, as often happens with Italian facts.”


PRmoment asked Echo Sonar to analyse global online media coverage of Sarah Brown, Michelle Obama, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy and Veronica Lario. The research period was from 12 May to 20 July. Metrics included share of voice and volume of media topics.


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