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Answer: Show value of your service to the public on a simple report card in the public's terms.
Every organization, whether private, non-profit or governmental, can best demonstrate its effectiveness through a series of measurements that the organization's various publics or customers can accept as realistic, legitimate and standard. This standard must convince the public and its officials that the tax dollars and funding that a department requests reflect superior service and value.
Since 9/11, the image of the firefighter has become a welcome constant in any number of public and private venues in America. Newspaper and magazine articles profile local firefighters and their contributions to the community, not only as a group but individually. An art museum in Tampa, FL, recently featured the photography of a firefighter from Tampa Fire and Rescue taken at ground zero.
While the public has always had a low-level awareness of firefighters, the last year has catapulted us into the limelight not seen in recent times. A spate of books from authors as prestigious as David Halberstam with his excellent work Firehouse and Dennis Smith's Report from Ground Zero to many others featuring personal accounts and commentaries of the events of 9/11 have flooded the market. In Atlanta a local marketing company created action figures named for actual firefighters in the Atlanta Fire Department. FDNY and Mattel created the Billy Blazes action figures, now marketed throughout the country. We are all now familiar with the numerous TV specials from cable and major networks about the work and the lives of firefighters. Private enterprise, long a user of firefighters to sell products, has escalated its push into the market with the use of firefighters to sell everything from insurance to bathroom cleaners to eggs.
As a marketing specialist advocating the fire service, this increase in awareness could certainly be seen as a step in the right direction. However, when we look deeper, we need to ask the question: Where is this exposure really taking us? And before we ask that question, we need to know where we want to go as a public service. Can you imagine how effective a nationally directed strategic marketing plan might be with a clear direction?
In a column titled "Who We Are And How We Are Known" (Firehouse®, August and November 2001), I noted that the present interest in and public adoration for firefighters would be the fad of a fickle public. The same "captains of industry and business" who were the models of public adoration less than a year ago are now choking on the regret of their past acts as they hang out to dry for public ridicule. This is just the reality of the marketplace. That is not to say that firefighters have not risen to a new level of appreciation and awareness. The fact remains, however, that we are a public service, financially accountable to the citizens in our jurisdictions. This is a constant of our business regardless of public image.
We might compare this to the accountability of a business and the fiduciary responsibility to stockholders. There are many differences; the biggest is that we do not make a profit. If we add more overhead costs in the form of additional firefighters, equipment or programs, it is not always easy to demonstrate the added value for the public. This will always be a one of our greatest challenges. Marketing can support us in meeting this challenge if we use it to manage the evidence. This means showing the public how the added costs will maintain the service as it adds value. Measurements are part of that equation.
What Gets Measured Gets Funded
Each department has a method of accountability. The result of these measurements can be marketed to the public as well as to the various institutions and businesses within the department's jurisdiction. This should be done in a way that customers understand how the department is using their support dollars to run an effective and efficient department.