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 utterly compelling yet not all exactly the same in all but appearance like on TWW (where everyone is bright and fast-talking yet quirky, high-strung and useless at personal relationships). Plus it lacks the syrupy ick moments featured frequently on TWW.
Its unbridled excellence got me thinking: what could Public Affairs practitioners in Brussels learn from Birgitte, Kasper, Bent et al?
Reflect public sentiment
Duh. 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.
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”
God 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). Big mistake.
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.