Company Officer Leadership: Public-Relations Campaigns are Tools for Relevance

What makes you relevant in your community? I would imagine most of you believe your quick response, willingness to take meaningful risks and professional competence are the foundation of your indispensability.

So how do we reach out to the community and show them how relevant—and indispensable—we really are?

We’re surrounded by emergency-response agencies doing things like hosting birthday parties in the stations, attending grand openings of businesses, hanging out and eating barbecue at 4th of July parties and wearing pink for breast-cancer awareness.

Let me be a curmudgeon here: none of this has anything to do with our core mission and does us very few favors where we need them.

Being a good neighbor in our community isn’t the same thing as being indispensable, and they aren’t paying us to just be a good neighbor. When tough choices are made about money and resources, we need people to know first how good we are and then that what we’re good at is essential. That’s the sine qua non of relevance and, more importantly, an ethical imperative.

Department officers must hone their ideas about relevance and make sure their day-to-day priorities reflect those ideas when interacting with the community. Becoming relevant by inventing a popular public-relations scheme will quickly prove superfluous when the going gets tough.

Getting out and talking to people is essential, but don’t confuse it with why you’re on the job. Tailor your public-relations activities to deliver a message about one or more of your relevant programs and services. How does any given activity advance your programs?

Being seen is not a program in and of itself. Do you have a top-flight technical-rescue team? Show your community members what that means.

Are your out-of-hospital cardiac-arrest numbers some of the best in the state? Show them how important that is in the chain of survival.

Public-relations activities like these will remind people why they pay their taxes and, hopefully, give them the sense that they’re getting a good return on the investment.

If you can’t clearly identify why you’re important and come up with a way to demonstrate that value, you must rethink things. Not everyone is worried about fire. Not everyone is worried about having a heart attack. Very few are worried about being stuck under a collapsed building.

We know, because of our exposure, that these things are worth being concerned about and planning for. We’re relevant, whether the community realizes it or not. Your public-relations campaigns should be your tools to enlighten them.

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