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Answer: The short and definitive answer is absolutely “yes…if.” However, this is the same kind of answer one would give if asked, “Can marketing itself make a significant impact on a department’s strategies and goals?” Yes, if done correctly, strategically and always with an eye to managing the relationships involved.
Alliance development as a marketing discipline has come a long way in the past 20 years. Sponsorships and alliances continue to outpace more traditional marketing mechanisms in the private sector. Many fire departments are old hands in this area, especially in public fire education, fire prevention and resource acquisition. Many of the success stories involving community, governmental, corporate and institutional support of fire departments are based on alliances and sponsorships. Sometimes these are referred to as public-private partnerships.
Why are alliance development and sponsorships becoming popular? First, let’s look at the environment in which we operate. According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the typical American receives 4,000 media and marketing messages daily, up 50% from five years ago. These messages include those we receive from TV (major networks and cable), radio, newspapers, newsletters, magazines, the Internet, signs, direct-mail solicitations, retail “in-store” ads and retail ad packages sent directly to homes. There are even company-directed “plants” or sales contractors who engage (read “ambush”) people, say in a bar, to demonstrate – subtly – the benefits of a product.
The public absorbs and discards more products than ever before. Rapid communication and information (marketing and communication mechanisms) dictate that the “product life cycle” (the time a product or service enters the market, becomes popular, plateaus and then diminishes in popularity) becomes ever shorter. The marketing life cycle for a product or service also becomes shorter. The marketing life cycle is the period during which all of the advertising and public relations efforts are directed to potential customers.
All of this simply means that marketing has never been more competitive. The result is that “the market” – our public – has never been more saturated with products and services, or more cynical about commercial marketing. In my opinion, these observations point to the fact that opportunities for public service marketing have never been greater.
Alliance development and sponsorships offer significant immediate and long-term benefits. They are increasingly popular because they leverage two or more organizations for mutual benefit to build something called brand loyalty. Also, they offer a different approach than the normal marketing, which no longer affects consumers. Finally, alliances and sponsorships can grow and evolve as the partner organizations’ goals and needs change.
The good news is that alliances are familiar to the fire service. Our history of alliance development began when communities needed additional help for major incidents. We continue these mutual aid agreements to this day. Some jurisdictions contract with others for services like vehicle maintenance. We also have myriad intergovernmental alliances and agreements with water, police, weather, emergency management and environmental agencies, so we understand the benefits of alliances. The alliances discussed here deal with the achievement of financial, in-kind and community support from a marketing perspective.