Create an Effective Marketing Plan for Your Department Now: Here's How

There has been so much written about plans over the years that the very thought of it can cause a fire officer’s eyes to glaze over. On the other hand, think about it this way: Would you allow your firefighters to attack a fire in your jurisdiction...


There has been so much written about plans over the years that the very thought of it can cause a fire officer’s eyes to glaze over. On the other hand, think about it this way:

Would you allow your firefighters to attack a fire in your jurisdiction without a pre-fire plan? You wouldn’t begin to deal with simple house fire without establishing incident command, would you? It is the same with a marketing/communication plan. I lump in communications with marketing because it is a part of the marketing; it is the “carrier” of the plan’s implementation.

Keep it Simple and Just Do it with Three Key Elements

There are three key elements that dictate the success or failure of effective marketing. The first is the demonstrated commitment of the chief and senior officers of the department in the use of a marketing plan as an integral part of the department’s success. The second is the creation of a working marketing plan. The third is implementation of that plan.

A Marketing Plan is the Department’s GPS

A marketing plan is nothing more than a roadmap to assist the department to achieve its marketing goals. The most effective plans are created in coordination with the department’s strategic plan. Used in such a manner, it is created as an “action-plan” based on specific goals from strategic plan. In this case, the marketing plan assists the department in achieving goals that are specifically community-oriented such as tackling a persistent problem such as abnormally high fire rates from a particular part of the city, or assisting the police with abnormally high rates of traffic accidents.

In other cases, there could be a perception problem. For example, the public may have a misperception of how emergency equipment is being used. Citizens in one community could not understand why so many pieces of apparatus were dispatched to simple traffic accidents or to good intent calls from a particular apartment complex.

Still other examples might include changing elected officials’ misperceptions about expenditures. In a recent series of seminars I conducted in Minneapolis, we found that most of the major problems and departmental initiatives revolved around marketing problems. The point here is that the marketing plan and the departmental strategic plan are inextricably related. A marketing plan should not be a complex, multi-page binder. In fact, in most situations it can be a simple document with a few objectives.

A Marketing Plan is a Call to Action

Too much has been written about the creation of complex “pretty” plans that are ineffective and not reality-based. Many plans can be created from one or two simple objectives that can have optimum impact in the department and the community. You can create a more complex plan from the results of these simple actions. The main point is to do something.

If your department is very small and strapped for human resources, you may be able to enlist the support of a local community college’s marketing department. In this way, you leverage community resources that are focused on the marketing discipline to apply to the real world. This can be quite effective and demonstrates community involvement. The creation of the new Fire Corps provides another path to tap into the civilian resources of marketing expertise, perhaps from a marketing executive living in your community.

Creating the Plan

The creation of a marketing plan very closely shadows the strategic plan. Your department can establish a specific committee, made up of a small number of members, to create the plan. Senior management can then assign roles to execute the plan with consistent input from the committee. The committee should include a public information officer (PIO), public education officer (PEO) as well as an operations battalion chief and or the administrative deputy chief. You may wish to include an elected official and/or ancillary community leaders as well as a health care official from the local hospital who understands your objectives.

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