Getting Real, Now: A Marketer’s Quick Take on a Looming Crisis

One of the few great things about being older is the ability to enjoy the twin gifts of perspective and experience. I can remember when the idea of marketing the fire service was seen as a bit strange. The approach then - as now - is not really to market in the way many people think of marketing: selling. Marketing, of course, is the combination of a number of strategic and tactical tools to demonstrate the effectiveness and superiority of a product or service based on the needs and desires of the customers the marketer serves. Like all of you I love the fire service; and when it’s threatened, I get upset. But, when some fire service folks set their own houses on fire that is a problem!

The public aspect of marketing the fire service becomes very difficult when our actions don’t jive with our words. And, unfortunately, that is where we are now. I am not just talking about marketing. That is what we say about our actions. I am speaking about reputation. That is what the public says, and that is what defines our future.

The image of the firefighter as the hero who protects the public 24/7 is beginning to erode into the fat cat living off the public’s hard-earned taxes when many, many people have no jobs let alone amazing benefits. In the midst of many very good departments’ efforts to show the public what we do and why it is so important, we are now faced with many in the rank and file who just don’t get it. Wake up guys! Here’s a fact of life: keep up with this behavior and you won’t be in business -very soon. Things can change in the blink of an eye. Especially now in the age of social media.

About five months ago, I saw an ad on TV from my native state of Oklahoma using the heroic role of the fire service in the Oklahoma City bombing. The tagline was: “We were there for you.” The intimation is: “You need to be here now for us.” Are you kidding me?! Keep up that kind of stuff and you can kiss public support good bye. Enough is enough! Wake up and smell the coffee or you won’t be waking up as a fire fighter because companies like Wackenhut will be looking down your throat. This is part of a much larger conversation. And more to come.  

For now, let’s just stop shooting ourselves in the face.