Inside the Marketing Plan: Putting Ideas into Action – Part 1

The next few Marketing ICS columns will focus on one of the most critical areas contributing to the leadership of any fire department: the development of a marketing or public affairs plan. In working with small and large departments, as well as many...


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The next few Marketing ICS columns will focus on one of the most critical areas contributing to the leadership of any fire department: the development of a marketing or public affairs plan. In working with small and large departments, as well as many national fire service organizations, I have become acutely aware that the difference between success and failure is directly related to leadership’s ability to develop and execute a realistic plan.

Most fire departments and fire service organizations understand the need for planning and its important contribution to the mission of protecting the lives and safety of its constituencies. The proof of any plan’s success is the department’s ability to understand five points:

• Establish a compelling need to create and execute the plan.
• The department’s mission and vision must actively contribute to the foundation of the plan.
• Understand how the marketing plan will make a significant, measurable contribution to the department’s overall goals to protect the fire and life safety of the community.
• Change and adaptation must be built in to the plan so that it is action-oriented with a feedback and modification loop.
• The plan’s major components are a part of the daily objectives and actions of each member of the department.

There is nothing like a crisis to stimulate action. Many organizations perform at their peak when faced with a crisis. In fact, some of the recent literature on corporate planning notes that it is sometimes helpful to establish an atmosphere of crisis in a planning group to emphasize the need to be ready to adapt to the rapid change of the business environment, policies, markets and technologies.

The fire service developed over the years in an atmosphere of crisis. Our reason for being is based on our ability to respond to multiple crises simultaneously within our various jurisdictions around the country. Yet, when confronted with the critical need to plan for making a greater contribution to our citizens’ safety through the development and growth of our own department, we sometimes behave as the frog in a pot of slowly heating water: "250 years of tradition unimpeded by progress."

This idea of complacency is changing and none too soon. There are two ways that an organization can change. The first is to adapt to its environment and the second is to change it. The best plans include both. This means accepting the premise that things change rapidly and plans are "messy" at best. Any incident commander or firefighter knows the truth of rapidly changing situations. We are always ready for action. It’s who we are and what we do. We plan for it. Let’s remember to keep a bit of that crisis-action mentality when we write our long-range plans.

The department’s mission and vision must actively contribute to the foundation of the plan. Most departments take their mission statements seriously. A mission statement describes the purpose of the department, its values and beliefs; the business it is in and the strategy to carry out that business.

The vision statement is a bit different. It is a picture of the future. It describes how the department and the community will be improved, changed or different if the department achieves its purpose. This is why it is so important to take the time to create a mission that truly reflects the exact nature of your particular department and the people in it. For example, if fire prevention and education are a significant part of the mission, make sure that the department’s goals, actions and budgets really reflect this. I use prevention and education because many departments pay lip service to prevention and education, but fall short in action.

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