The 3rd “P” of Marketing: Promotion

By:  Michele Nitsch with Robert Avsec

The placement or distribution of your product is one of the most important aspects of marketing. Growing up most of us have probably been told, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression”!  This is also true in the market place for any business, organization or individual.

So now the question is HOW?  How do you get your Fire & EMS organization in front of the right crowd?  How will you control your message and put that message in the right avenues to get the most benefit?

Start by truly understanding what the community expects from its Fire & EMS department.  Next, make sure you know what product you have to offer to meet those expectations.  Successful marketing is based upon this relationship between what you have to offer, the customer’s expectation, and how your product will meet their expectations and add value to their lives.

See Related: What Product Do You Want Your Community to Fund?

Standing out in Today’s “Market”

Try this concept on for size.  You’re not trying to “sell” your product, e.g., fire protection or

For example, in 2007, when Robert was finishing up his 1st career with the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire & EMS Department, the School Board in Chesterfield County received 70 cents of every tax dollar collected in the county. That meant that Fire & EMS was one of 54 county departments that had to be funded out of the remaining 30 cents).

EMS, to the people in your community.  Rather, you’re asking them to “invest” in an organization whose products they may never need.  (Very few people believe that they will ever have a fire in there home, right?).

We’re guessing that your Fire & EMS department is not the only organization in your community that’s looking for “investors”.  If you department is an agency of local government, you’re competing with the other agencies, e.g., law enforcement, public works, social services, etc., for your piece of the tax dollar “pie”.

For volunteer Fire & EMS organizations it doesn’t get any easier because you’re competing for those “investment dollars” with every other non-profit organization (NPO) in your community and region.  When the U.S. economy is not doing so well—like it has been since 2008—people cut back on their charitable giving and that affects all NPOs.

See Related: Setting up a NPO for Operating Your Fire and EMS Department

It’s Not About the Truck

Too often we see Fire & EMS organizations doing “marketing stuff”, e.g., posters, slideshows, videos, brochures, etc., and the thing most prominently featured is the fire truck.  We like fire trucks as much as the next person, but the only investors you’re likely to attract with that symbolism are fellow firefighters and other people who like fire trucks.  You want to attract investors to your organization and all the wonderful services that make up your “product line.”

Developing Your Brand

Your brand is the expression of the essential truth and value of your organization and in this case it applies to all individuals that have chosen to make “service to others before self” their life’s work.  It communicates the character, values and positive attributes of all involved.  You build your brand from many things including the experience and history or your organization.   What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you see each of the following symbols:

The fire service has a huge advantage in this area. The Maltese cross is known around the world as the symbol of the fire service.  The goal in bringing up the universal brand of the fire service is for you to understand that this industry already has a very successful brand (This is why it pains us every time we see a firefighter or officer in the news for the wrong reasons.  Each of those incidents “chips away” a small piece of that universal fire service brand).

When you look up different departments or fire service companies in the fire industry, nine times out of ten you will see the Maltese cross in their logo, patch or signage. This is the badge of a firefighter and a symbol of honor, courage, protection and dedication. You can leverage this to help you department to identify and work from the reputation that already surrounds the fire service in developing your own brand.

So, besides the Maltese cross, what are some of the other characteristics of this “universal” fire service brand?  How about some of these:

  • We’re prepared to manage whatever emergency threatens our community or individual;
  • We provide our services to the best of our ability to everyone who needs them regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.; and
  • We’re good stewards of the resources provided to us by our community.

Reputation is the number one major factor in developing and maintaining a positive brand. It develops value, trust, increases profits, community loyalty and a huge support base. Branding your services makes for loyal advocates.  This part of marketing is vital to the success and an essential foundation for a thriving operation.  Understanding branding will help you in product placement effectiveness.

Connecting with Your Customers

Customers develop opinions about the performance, appearance, media (good or bad) and creditable facts that are put out by your department whether you or others do it.  Obviously you’d prefer that all communications clearly articulate your services and unique points of differences to the member of the community.  Here are a couple of things that can help make that a reality:

  • Single out the one element that creates your benefit and makes your services one of a kind (The WHAT);
  • Define why this makes your product important and compelling and relevant to the citizens? (What’s in it for me?)

The message you put out should address all of the following:

  • SINGLE-MINDED – Does it convey one primary message at a time?
  • MEANINGFUL – Will it connect with target audience?
  • DIFFERENTTIATING – Does it contrast your strengths against competition?
  • IMPORTANT – Is it pertinent and significant to the audience?
  • SUSTAINABLE – Will it resonate with the citizen or consumer?
  • BELIEVABLE – Will it ring true?
  • CREDIBLE – Can you clearly substantiate your claim?

Placement or Positioning of Your Brand

How can you get your brand to “pop into the mind of the public” and instill the value of your brand in your communities?

Get your message out there!  Where does the public turn to hear about firefighters, the fire department and the community?  Find out what outlets are available in your locality:

  • Radio (Local news, public interest programs, Public Service Announcements);
  • Television (Local news, public interest programs, local government cable access channel, etc.);
  • Newspapers and magazines (Look closely at the locally targeted “community shopper” and “tri-cities news” format papers that are on display for free in your community or that come directly to your mailbox.  These “little papers”, especially those that travel by mail, have a big reach for little or no cost to a Fire & EMS organization);
  • Internet (Do you have links to useful and informational websites in your community prominantely located on your website’s homepage?  You do have a website, right?); and
  • Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram, Google+, etc.)

The critical need for any of these outlets—whether it’s your outlet or somebody else’s—is original content.  The “owners” of these outlets have to provide original content that their readers and followers will read!  (Take it from us, original ideas for new blog postings don’t always come easy or come when we need them!).

So help them out.  Develop regular lines of communication with the available outlets in your community.  Find out who the active bloggers are in your community, who’s the editor for the “community shopper” newspaper, who covers your area for the local radio and television stations, and more.  Learn what kind of content they are looking for and what kind of content you can provide that promotes your organization’s brand.

Best times for Social Media Marketing

Best Times to Post on Various Social Media Platforms. Click on image to enlarge for better viewing.

Using Social Media

Social media is an extraordinarily effective way to spread a message and target your marketing audience. In social media posting information does not seem like marketing or a sales pitch, instead it makes the viewer learn and have feelings for you. In social media, the element of time is a huge factor. Effectively figure out the best times to post or engage your fans and community to maximize your exposure. Achieving prominent audience exposure will bring visibility, attention and interest. Over there on the right-hand side of his page is a chart showing when are the best and worst times to post your messages on the various social media outlets.

See Related: Learn to Use All the Tools to Market Your Fire and EMS Department

What’s the brand for your Fire & EMS organization look like?  Share it with us and your fellow readers of this blog using the Comment Section below, OK?


About the Author

Michele NitschMichelle Nitsch is the Director of Sales and Marketing for FD International, Inc., based in the Dallas/Fort Worth, TX area.  FD International has over 65 years of combined experience in: Nuclear Power, Refineries, Gas & Coal Power Plants, Municipal Fire Departments, Career & Volunteer Fire Departments, Petroleum Tanker Platforms, Petroleum Pipelines and Petroleum Terminals.  Michelle can be reached by Email:



About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,