Fire Service Marketing Management: The Emergence Of A New Discipline – Part 1

Ben May explains why fire departments are finding it necessary to better manage their marketing efforts and the image they present to their customers.


I wish my wife, my mother, everyone who has ever asked me why I do what I do could see the humanity, the sympathy, the sadness of these eyes, because in them is the reason I continue to be a firefighter." Dennis Smith, Report from Engine Co. 82 Most people really do not know what we do...


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What Does Marketing Do?

So what does marketing the fire service really mean? How does a department market itself and for what purpose? How do you do it? What kinds of tools do you need? How do you know you are doing it successfully?

Many people, even in the marketing profession, believe that the primary definition of marketing is selling or persuading someone to buy a product or service. In the fire service, an example of this might be making a "pitch" for the resources a department needs to protect the community at budget time. Perhaps we risk losing dollars to a competitive agency or risk downsizing by an unfriendly administration or a skeptical public. Selling is only one tool in the marketing mix.

The definition of marketing is simple and it has two key aspects. First, it is an exchange for mutual gain. The public receives fire and life safety protection while we receiver tax dollars for that protection. Marketing is the comprehensive, disciplined framework for action concerned with every aspect of fulfilling our citizens' safety needs and gaining the support to maintain this mission.

Marketing is selling, advertising, education and public relations. It is public information and safety education. It is community relations and customer service, and it is strategic planning. Elements of all of these disciplines are included in a balanced marketing system and its working plan; however, each is not an end in itself.

Second, marketing is a clear understanding by the public of the promises we keep. Our customers experience our service in the most intimate and needful manner (always a critical relationship in their eyes - it is their emergency). There is simply no stronger relationship or bond that can be created between a citizen and an emergency service than the experience of an incident.

Integrity in marketing means demonstrating the evidence of deeds performed. It is the fire service-marketing professional's task to make deeds and perception synonymous. This public acknowledges this when it supports us politically and financially. When both of these objectives are achieved, we have come very close to a perfect marketing balance.

Fire Service Marketing Management

Fire service marketing management is the analysis, planning, implementation and control to maintain the balance between our service delivery and our support. The goal of successful fire service marketing is to position our departments with a positive public perception based on promises we have kept in our organizational mission.

It is our citizens' positive perception of the organization that must be systematically and proactively developed. This means demonstrating the good job we do daily through many forms of marketing communications: media, neighborhood meetings, home inspections, public education, department presence at public and political forums, CPR classes, disaster-planning seminars and public demonstrations. These activities have a critical place in our mission, and they also are vital parts of any marketing plan.

All citizens and institutions provide dollars for our services, but there are many who will never use emergency response or code enforcement. These visible and participatory activities provide value-added prevention and education services while bringing an awareness of our value to the public. Constantly changing needs dictate that marketing be a dynamic system inside and outside the fire department. Before the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, most fire departments were not concerned with terrorism. Therefore, we see many departments considering contingency plans for the results of terrorist acts.

The astronomical growth of non-emergency calls has brought up the question of the use of emergency vehicles for such needs. A few departments have established non-emergency care teams to deal with these kinds of special needs. As the population ages, this kind of service may grow dramatically, freeing up emergency teams for critical incidents. The use of the ladder-tender is an example of a fulfillment of this need. This makes more economical sense than sending an aerial truck as a taxicab and a heavy-utility vehicle to a low-level incident.