The North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) banded together to address a critical volunteer firefighter shortage in North Carolina. Research showed that nearly 70 percent of North Carolina firefighters were volunteers, and this number was plummeting by approximately 12 percent annually. In 2018, these organizations secured a federal SAFER Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) targeting 15 high-risk counties in North Carolina needing volunteers. The NCAFC turned to Clairemont Communications and The Felice Agency to launch a community relations campaign to recruit volunteer firefighters across the state.
The agency team established a strategy targeting two main audiences: 1) North Carolina media, especially those covering the rural counties in the grant, and 2) potential volunteers ages 16-60 located in the 15 rural counties in the grant.
The IAFC and NCAFC conducted a Geographical Information Study (GIS) to create the persona of the candidate most likely to volunteer, including details like location, career, education, political affiliation and even radio station choices. Based on this and other research, we crafted a comprehensive campaign leveraging a combination of traditional recruitment methods. Media pitches targeted reporters with stories on how this shortage would affect their immediate neighborhood, economy and lifestyle. Our partners launched a website, and social and digital marketing coupled with a texting campaign creatively reaching a younger generation.
Our campaign spread the call for volunteer firefighters across the state like wildfire, increasing visibility and securing new recruits to revitalize the North Carolina fire station system.
- With the goal to secure 20,000 annual page views and 6,500 new users on our website, the agency team secured 26,113 page views with 8,337 new users by May 2019.
- With a goal of 200 applications and 150 volunteers, our campaign secured approximately 600 applications with 280 new volunteers since launching the campaign in 2018.
Clairemont and The Felice Agency faced the challenge of reaching a broad, diverse audience with a limited nonprofit budget. Creative depictions of the need proved to help laser-target our demographics. These included:
- Our Everyday Hero: The agency team crafted a hero for the NC public, a face to personify the nebulous “volunteer firefighter.” This creative served as the cornerstone for collateral, online promotions and advertisements.
- “This Is Our State” PSA: The agency team worked with the NCAFC to film a public service announcement – one designed to imbue each viewer with a sense of ownership and pride as part of the North Carolina “family.”
- Winning Websites: The agency team delivered the campaign messages through a new URL that included easy navigation and effective SEO, peppering the site with fresh content, stories and the PSA.
- Texting … Saves Lives: We established a texting campaign, providing potential volunteers or concerned neighbors easy access to information. By texting the word “firefighter” to 88799, subscribers were kept up to date on events, invitations, news stories and calls to action.
- Lighting Up the Media: Clairemont crafted fiery, individualized pitches to major outlets across the state as well as hyperlocal media in the campaign’s 15 rural counties. Clairemont secured 49 stories across print, television and online in less than a year.
- Getting Social: The agency team developed a strong social media presence. We leveraged the Facebook pages of individual fire departments to post volunteer opportunities on the Facebook jobs board, highlight fire safety tips and post visuals, such as graphics of volunteer positions.
The work Clairemont Communications conducted in partnership with the North Carolina Association of Fire Chiefs (NCAFC) and the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) earned both an Award of Excellence and Best in Category by the North Carolina Chapter of Public Relations Society of America. We are proud that this campaign is represented in the 219 awards we’ve received since starting Clairemont in 2010.
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