In Marketing, Bigger Is Not Always Better

Question: Does a fire department need to be large with a significant budget to effectively market itself to the citizens, organizations and institutions in its jurisdiction? Answer: Most fire departments and EMS agencies in the U.S. are small. They...


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Question:

Answer: Most fire departments and EMS agencies in the U.S. are small. They protect communities with populations of 10,000 to 50,000. From a pure marketing perspective, it is easier to make an impact in a smaller area than to construct and implement a marketing plan for a large metropolitan area. Size invites complexity.

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Photo courtesy of Satellite Beach Fire Department
A Satellite Beach, FL, firefighter provides a lesson in fire safety to a group of schoolchildren as part of the marketing-savvy fire department's year-round fire prevention activities.

Having said that, once a large department has developed and honed a plan that works, the impact can be quite significant. But a large department can be most successful if it still considers each neighborhood as a separate "market" and designs its tactical local plan from the overall departmental strategy. Remember, "you eat an elephant one bite at a time and there is no such thing as a small project."

Other reasons why a smaller department can be more effective are simply a matter of physics. There are not as many "large-scale, big-city" events going on in a small city, so people become more focused on the organizations, events and activities around them. Those activities take on more significance to the local population.

Smart marketing organizations now target what are called "second-tier" cities to promote their products because the reaction is stronger and the market is more controllable than in larger cities. Your message has a much better chance of being received. In today's fast-paced, instantaneous communication environment, the average citizen receives 3,000 advertising messages daily. In a smaller community, the messages from a local, credible agency such as a fire department can provide the basis for effective marketing.

There is a saying in sales: "Proximity breeds sales." This means that one is more likely to be successful when one is around the customer most of the time. Things just happen when you are out and about among the citizens, businesses and institutions you protect. You ask them about their safety needs and uncover new uses for your services. It is just physically easier to send and receive messages among less people in a smaller community. The fire department can be the community hub. It is easier to establish and implement an effective marketing plan in a smaller jurisdiction.

Satellite Beach Fire Department

One such department is in Satellite Beach, FL. Chief Daniel Rocque, a bright and eloquent man with years of experience in his department and a passion for marketing, strongly supports marketing's contribution to his department's success. He notes that while smallness can present obstacles in relationships with larger departments, it lets Satellite Beach initiate change rapidly and view the results of that change in a short period.

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Photo courtesy of Satellite Beach Fire Department
Blood pressure screenings are available without appointments, courtesy of the Satellite Beach Fire Department.

Located on Florida's east coast, just south of Daytona, Satellite Beach serves a citizen base of 10,000 in a two-square-mile area. The department has 11 career personnel and 15 volunteers, and it operates two advanced life support (ALS) engines, a squad and three staff vehicles. The department offers an array of services to its citizens based on their needs.

Members of the department are always checking the market to make certain that the services do not become outdated or that he is not missing a need yet to be identified. Rocque does this by making sure his firefighters are out among the citizens when they are not on a call or training. They are at schools, shopping malls, community functions, skate parks, dance halls and any other place where people gather.

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