What Public Affairs could learn from Borgen

December 31, 2012

To anyone who hasn’t seen (or indeed heard of) Borgen, you’re missing out. Think The West Wing but better: the characters are compelling yet not all exactly the same as on TWW i.e. bright and fast-talking yet quirky, high-strung and useless at personal relationships. Plus it lacks the syrupy moments featured too frequently on TWW.

What could Public Affairs practitioners in Brussels learn from Birgitte, Kasper, Bent et al?

Reflect public sentiment

PM Nygaard succeeds when her views are somewhat reflective of prevailing public sentiment. However many times they fail, some Public Affairs practitioners still believe in wars of attrition: say it enough times and you’ll wear them out and win. Doesn’t work that way: you need to show your world-view is the prevailing one – or at least that you’re moving towards it – not just repeat insular clap-trap a thousand times.

Put yourself about

Whenever our heroes need to win an argument, they raise the noise levels and put themselves about, usually starting with a feature interview on the fictitious TV1. Public Affairs folk take note: don’t hide in case you put a foot wrong, or think everything is decided face-to-face. Get out there.

Timing

In Public Affairs, things are often put off, even when the legislative calendar makes it pretty clear when stuff should happen: “we need to consult everyone before we decide on anything: we’ll do so at the next meeting” (in 3 months’ time). In Borgen, Birgitte and her band of merry men and women meet at any time, day or night, and put a plan into action there and then.

Express emotion not “messages”

I’m tired of “messaging”. Birgitte doesn’t always need it, why should we? She often wins by talking from her gut and showing emotion.

Hire smart communications people

Kasper, the brilliant sidekick, is a comms guy. He gets policy inside out but his job is to package it. In Public Affairs, comms is frequently treated like an afterthought or left to the most junior person in the room (if they even get into the room in the first place).

Leave the Bubble

In an early episode, Birgitte visits Greenland, and only then truly understands the issues facing it. Who says Public Affairs folk can’t leave Brussels once in a while and visit local communities, factories, trade unions, churches, farms etc. and get a sense of real world issues?

Work with opponents

Our crafty protagonists will often work out deals with parties or individuals that in no way share their world-view in order to get things done. In Public Affairs, we often refuse outright to even acknowledge the other side, let alone work with them on compromise measures.  More of it please.

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5 Responses to “What Public Affairs could learn from Borgen”


  1. Great post Steffen. I know it’s fiction, but if you’ve spent any time working in comms you can’t help but admire Kaspar’s skills. Would that every politician had an advisor like him (minus the murky moral quandaries, obviously)

  2. Richard Says:

    I enjoy Borgen (and the Killing for that matter) but the obsession with calling press conferences several times an episode makes me wonder how realistic they are. In the UK you’d be lucky to get anyone showing up to a press conference for anything other than a major policy announcement. Mind you, we may have to get used to coalition politics and the endless negotiations …

    • Steffen Says:

      Good point! I suspect you’re right, although given the interest in politics in Denmark (+80% turnout rates are the norm) perhaps it’s easier to get hacks to show up there than in the UK.

  3. Richard Says:

    Catching up with final episodes of last series – how come in socially correct Denmark, Katrine’s boss at the TV station can ask if she’s planning to have a baby?! This would have caused a sharp intake of breath across the UK.


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