Fire Service Marketing Management: Part 2 - "Selling" The Fire Service

Ben May focuses on how fire departments use points of contact with the community to develop sources of financial, political and popular support.


A wise fire chief once said that when a working fire broke out, the fire prevention system had broken down. "Selling" the fire service is firefighting after the marketing system has broken down. Keep in mind, however, that there is a definite place for selling in the same way that there is a place...


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A wise fire chief once said that when a working fire broke out, the fire prevention system had broken down. "Selling" the fire service is firefighting after the marketing system has broken down. Keep in mind, however, that there is a definite place for selling in the same way that there is a place for fire suppression. There are now four critical aspects of our service:

  1. Prevention
  2. Public education
  3. Emergency response
  4. Customer service

There is a place for each aspect in our system.

As a point of comparison, here is how private enterprise marketing basics contrasts with emergency services marketing.

Marketing basics teaches the "Four Ps": product, price, place and promotion. Emergency services marketing defines its basic building blocks in the following manner:

  • The product is safety.
  • The price is taxes.
  • The place is any point of contact between the fire service and its customers (an incident, the firehouse, a public forum, public education or budget review). Firehouses are in every "market," every neighborhood.
  • Promotion is the safety message.
  • The department's representative in the field: all organizational members.

Any marketing or public affairs plan receives its marching orders from these four foundation blocks. The broad elements of a basic plan revolve around four external and internal customer-centered areas:

  1. Needs analysis
  2. Perception
  3. Need fulfillment
  4. Feedback

Marketing is the care, feeding and growth of the system itself. Successful marketing is inversely proportional to the need to sell. When you have to push hard to sell your department, it is generally too late to worry about marketing. Marketing must begin when people are reasonably receptive to the message.

A Marketing Plan

There is a time and place for the use of each marketing tool, but in a manner that fits into a working plan. Each sector of incident command is not the sole solution to the resolution of the emergency. The sectors working together create the solution, based on the total needs of the situation. Tactically speaking managing a marketing system for a fire and life safety agency is like managing an incident. The major difference is the nature of the "fireground" and the time horizons involved.

There is a systematic framework for daily marketing action, which can be applied to each department's specific goals and needs. Most significantly, the marketing function must be implemented each hour of every day in emergency as well as non-emergency conditions and environments.

There are 10 key elements of an operating marketing or public affairs plan. Such a plan should be created from the departmental strategic plan. In fact, many of the elements may be the same. It is the perspective, emphasis and actions that are different.

  1. Begin with a complete understanding of departmental mission, goals, strategic direction and needs.
  2. Jurisdictional mandates and codes.
  3. A detailed analysis and understanding of our various markets, including the internal ones. This means citizen demographics, corporations, organizations and institutions.
  4. A complete delineation of relationships affecting our department (political entities, civic leadership, liaison agencies).
  5. An understanding of how we are known to our markets and constituencies. This includes firefighters and officers. What are our internal and external images? How does the public view our services?
  6. Complete a needs analysis of our various publics. Can we eliminate some of our services? Should we add others?
  7. Determine realistic goals we can achieve based on departmental needs and those of our markets.
  8. Determine strategies and resources to achieve the goals.
  9. Formulate specific action-plans to put in place daily.
  10. Establish continuous feedback loop to monitor and modify the plan from real world experience.

The Marketing Mix

Once a strategic marketing plan is formulated, elements of the marketing mix must be chosen. The mix comprises those tactical tools that will achieve the short and long-term goals:

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