For Fire & EMS departments the “common wisdom” regarding marketing has been primarily, “We don’t need to market our services. When people have a fire, the call 911 and we respond. They don’t have a choice. It’s not like deciding what store to shop at.”
The reality that’s “hitting” home with many Fire & EMS organizations today, however, is that their citizens do have a choice. In the current economic climate, where most local governments are having to make tough fiscal decisions, elected officials and their constituents are making “buy” or “no buy” decisions regarding the public safety services for their community. Don’t believe it? Look at how many cities, towns, and counties are laying off personnel, closing fire stations, cutting back on non-emergency services, etc.
Fire & EMS departments can have a positive influence on that buy/no buy decision through the development and implementation of an effective marketing plan for their organization. Beginning with this post, and continuing on for a couple more later, we’re going to show you how to develop just such a plan for your department.
In the world of marketing, the foundation of any good marketing plan consists of the “4-P’s”. What better way to start this blog on marketing for your Fire & EMS department, then to define and address these “building blocks” as they relate to the Fire & EMS community at the department, company or station levels.
Before we go on, keep in mind that this blog is just your “introduction” to the principles and practices of marketing…there’s much more to come in future posts. Thus, we’re going to keep this brief.
This is where you answer the “What?” question in your marketing plan. What are the services and products that you provide or make available to your customers? Never take for granted that they know what you and your people do.
Or in other words, distribution for your product. Distribution is about getting your department’s “persona” in front of the right people. How can your customers, that is, the individual citizens, business leaders, and community leaders in your community, get to know their Fire & EMS department? Where are the best physical locations where you can have interaction with the greatest number of people, and at a time when they are most receptive to your “product”? What media, e.g., TV, radio, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are your customers more likely to turn to hear about your product?
It’s much better to be seen in a positive scenario—when people don’t need your services—then in a life threatening one.
In the context of the marketing mix, promotion represents the various aspects of marketing communication, that is, the communication of information about the service you provide with the goal of generating a positive response. Marketing communication decisions include developing a promotional strategy that makes the most effective and efficient use of:
- Website content and design;
- What social media to use;
- What print media to use;
- What public relations and publicity tools and techniques to use; and
- What is the community’s level of awareness on the subject?
Remember this—another marketing “mantra”—A single message, communicated through multiple mediums, multiple times.
This is where many Fire & EMS departments will need to do some “homework” in order to show their customers the value that they’re receiving
from their financial support of your organization. Many people say that, “you can’t put a price on what firefighters and EMS do.” That’s not entirely true. Some basic examples to use as starting points might include:
- How much does your “product” cost your citizen’s per capita? (Example: Town of 25,000 with a Fire & EMS budget of $6M has a per capita cost for the “product” of $240/person).
- How many firefighters are there per capita? (Example: Town of 25,000 protected by 36 full-time firefighters has 1 FF per 694 residents).
- How do these compare to other Fire & EMS departments that provide a similar product in a similar community?
By being more visual and on the mind of your citizens 24/7/365, you significantly increase the likelihood that they will willingly “buy” your “product” when it’s offered for “sale” during a vote on your operating budget or a bond referendum or a fund-raising campaign.
Product, Place, Promotion and Price are the “4-P’s” in marketing. Now that we have touched on each one we can dig a little deeper in to each one in the next blogs. See you next time?