Marketing the Fire Service: The Long Burn

Marketing for the Fire Service Today 

 What is it Marketing Anyway?

We can’t really talk about marketing until we have a definition upon which we all agree. And before we go through that exercise we should ask ourselves if we can benefit from the discipline of marketing in the first place.  As one chief told me last year, “I don’t think our department needs marketing.”  That was just before his department suffered massive cutbacks due to the recent recession.  I have been involved in marketing for the fire service over 25 years and this is the first time that a chief said something like this.  He is a very good chief of a large county jurisdiction so I really did begin to question myself about all of this marketing stuff.  Then I came across a department in the same state that had the same economic issues but did not lose one fire fighter or program. There were many differences between these departments, but the main one I observed was that the latter department had a strategic plan as well as a marketing plan.  They had a specific marketing action plan in place. They had been working their marketing plan for three years so that when the economic crunch did come, the community knew the specific services they were delivering and the value of them. They knew this because their fire department made sure they did.  Marketing is a simple concept, but can be hard to implement. 

Marketing-Exchange for Mutual Gain- is the Truth…Well-Told

Marketing is exchange for mutual benefit. It is the truth, but well told.  The challenge most departments face is that they don’t even know what elements of the truth they should be telling, to whom and how.  The average American receives 6,000 messages daily according to the American Advertising Association. Couple this with heightened distraction and a skeptical public and you can see how difficult it is to get a message across to anybody. Marketing is not advertising or selling or manipulating.  It is simply a conversation in which the marketer is trying to understand a problem to solve within his or her area of expertise.  And as long as there is some kind of choice, marketing is not going away anytime soon.  So, you may think, “That’s easy.” “There is no choice since we are the only fire department.” Wrong! There are many choices-from the kind and size of department your citizens want, to whether they want you to be that department.  And the more information there is available, the more choices they have.   Make sure they choose you and what you think are the right fire and life safety services for their needs.  Are you in that position now?  If you are suffering cuts maybe you haven’t marketed effectively enough for your citizens needs. “It’s happening to every department” is not a good answer.  And, of course, the really good to great departments manage to do just fine. Think about it this way.  We read and hear about the mortgage crisis.  And we hear and see the stories about how many people lost money in their 401Ks. Some people did not invest in the stock market. Some people paid off their mortgages instead of leveraging them for more stuff.  Some people saved instead of spending.  I know this is so because I am married to a person who did just that.  My point:  if you know what to do and how to do it in terms of marketing and planning, you can be the department that stays on top for your citizen, your fire fighters and their families.