Nearly all of Norway’s government ministers were live in person this week at what’s come to be called a “political festival” in Arendal, while hundreds of other power brokers were also huddling both publicly and privately. Top officials from a wide range of the country’s special interest groups and organizations, major companies and not least public relations firms also held high profiles at the event, in hopes of furthering their causes or drumming up more business.
They were all taking part in the largest version yet of the week-long event called Arendalsuka. In addition to giving the general public a chance to meet and greet decision makers and debate issues, commercial interests use the event as a means of promoting their own services.
“Arendalsuka has developed into being Norway’s biggest meeting place for lobbyists,” Ketil Raknes, a faculty member at Kristiania University College, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “All groups in Norwegian society with political influence are represented.”
They include trade union confederations, employers organizations, industry trade associations, humanitarian and environmental organizations and not least public relations firms. “The PR branch is based on relations, it’s all about building up contacts and networking,” Raknes told DN. “They don’t necessarily need to strike new client deals now, but at a later point.”
Many claim they’re in Arendal to back up clients they already have who are active at the huge political gathering. “We’re here first and foremost to support our clients and their activities,” stated Henrik Halvorsen, head of Gambit H+K, stressing that the PR firms aren’t fighting amongst themselves for new clients in the influence peddling business. “Doing a good job for our (existing) clients is what we want to achieve. In addition we of course take advantage of the opportunity to meet potential clients and colleagues and discuss current issues.”
Arendalsuka is an event where it’s entirely possible “to have five breakfast meetings before lunch,” wrote DN’s political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim on Thursday. Jan Ottesen of Gambit was among those serving bagels at a McDonald’s restaurant, for example, while client McDonald’s Norge arranged a debate on Norwegian agricultural policy.
“Arendalsuka is a summer camp for Oslo’s elite, and an attempt to set a record for breakfast meetings,” Alstadheim wrote. Other meetings featured an industrial debate between Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre and Trade Minister Monica Mæland, a discussion about the transition to a lower-emission society involving the Socialist Left party’s Heikki Holmås and a director of Norsk Hydro, and debate over new taxes in the finance industy led by the industry’s own leader Idar Kreutzer.
The most important, it seemed, is simply to show face and have a visible presence. Per Høiby, one of the founders of Arendalsuka who also became chief of the First House PR firm known for recruiting top former politicians, claimed it would be sad if the event evolves into a arena for public relations players.
“Arendalsuka is first and foremost a meeting place for business and organizations and politics,” Høiby, a brother of Crown Princess Mette-Marit, told DN. “It’s an event that shall contribute to increased knowledge and understanding between these players.” First House organized two debates at this year’s Arendalsuka and planned to have two to three of its own staff on hand every day, but Høiby denied his firm’s presence was aimed at soliciting new business: “We go to Arendal to aid our clients who are there and we have a few events of our own to share knowledge.”
Arendalsuka was due to climax Thursday night, with its annual debate among the leaders of all political parties represented in the Norwegian Parliament. The debate is televised live on nationwide TV, with Prime Minister Erna Solberg now in Arendal herself, just a day after holding funeral services for her mother, who died earlier this month in Bergen.