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. These organizations secured a federal SAFER Grant from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) targeting 12 high-risk counties in North Carolina in need of volunteers. The NCAFC turned to The Felice Agency and Clairemont Communications to launch a fully integrated communications campaign to recruit volunteer firefighters across the state.
Together, the agencies established an integrated communications strategy targeting two main audiences: 1) North Carolina media, especially those covering the rural counties in the grant 2) potential volunteers ages 16-60 located in the 12 rural counties in the grant. We crafted a comprehensive campaign in which The Felice Agency spearheaded advertising and digital marketing while Clairemont led media relations and event support. Our strategy leveraged a combination of traditional recruitment methods along with advancing technology to pinpoint with high accuracy the communities likely to yield ready candidates.
Our objectives were as follows:
- Increase awareness of the critical need for volunteer firefighters by securing at least 10,000 website page views with 4,000 unique users by the end of 2020.
- Boost visibility for the campaign through at least 25 news stories (approximately two/county) by the end of 2020.
- Secure 290 applications and land at least 230 volunteers by the end of 2020.
Our Everyday Hero: First The Felice Agency crafted a hero for the North Carolina public, a face to personify the nebulous “volunteer firefighter.” The key graphic painted firefighters as an endangered species; their loss could mean our peril. The imagery depicted a firefighter in full uniform amidst the station’s fire trucks, but his image was slowly fading into the background – as if he, too, was disappearing. The agency team paired the visuals with poignant data, such as the daily rate of lives lost due to fires, to create a sense of urgency and drive home the impact on every citizen. This creative served as the cornerstone for collateral, online promotions and advertisements.
“This Is Our State” PSA: We worked with the NCAFC to produce a public service announcement – one designed to imbue each viewer with a sense of ownership and pride as part of the North Carolina “family.” The 30, 60 and 90-second versions depicted actual North Carolina firefighters saving children from burning homes or cutting crash victims from a car. The voiceover told the tale of neighbors helping neighbors, encouraging viewers to bind together to make their state stronger.
Winning Websites: NCAFC’s current recruitment website (volunteerfirenc.org) was revamped to target audiences beyond operational firefighters. We peppered in sections to showcase clear ways teachers, students, churches and businesses could join the recruitment cause. Fresh content, new visuals and short, compelling copy all created an easy user experience to increase navigation and website performance.
Neighbor to Neighbor: Since many of the target areas were in rural counties, grassroots efforts became critical in recruitment. We crafted partnership ideas for local fire departments to host virtual demos (during the socially distanced pandemic) at local high schools, partner with churches, display mannequins dressed in firefighter gear at hardware stores, or host socially distanced BBQ cookouts. Firefighters lined the event parameters with branded yard signs and sported face masks touting the NCAFC logo and a call to action to “Join Us.”
Lighting Up the Media: Clairemont crafted fiery, individualized pitches to major outlets across the state as well as hyperlocal media in the campaign’s 12 rural counties. We tied in staggering statistics of the decline in firefighters coupled with the impact, such as lives lost. We offered personal accounts from volunteers, fire chiefs and even inspiring stories, such as the first Black female cadet to graduate from the junior firefighter program in a county. Clairemont leveraged clever how-to videos with the fire chiefs, such as Halloween safety tips and a Macaroni Surprise Firehouse Recipe demo by the fire captain. Throughout 2020, Clairemont secured 38 stories across print, television and online with approximately 15 more in early 2021.
Getting Social: The Felice Agency developed a strong social media presence; for example, we leveraged the Facebook pages of individual fire departments to post volunteer opportunities on the Facebook jobs widget. We created branded cover images as well as profile stamps with a call for volunteers. An ongoing editorial calendar highlighted fire safety tips and engaging visuals, such as recent news coverage, tips for care and grilling safety, and graphics of volunteer positions. Utilizing the demographic profile provided through the GIS reports, we crafted a targeted social media campaign; we secured more than 200 applicants from Facebook ads alone, and we doubled the number of followers on Facebook.
The Felice Agency and Clairemont launched a successful integrated communications campaign that exceeded every goal and objective:
- With the goal to secure 10,000 annual pages views and 4,000 unique users, the agency team surpassed the goal and secured approximately 11,000 page views with 5,600 unique users in 2020. Note: Due to Google Analytics reporting complications, these metrics only reflected November – December of 2020; the website in actuality secured much more traffic than even reported!
- We surpassed our goal of 25 stories by securing 38 stories across the state with several more in the works.
- With a goal of 290 applications and 230 volunteers, our campaign secured approximately 305 applications with 237 new volunteers in 2020.
The integrated campaign crafted by The Felice Agency and Clairemont Communications incorporated traditional public relations with digital marketing to 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.
Click here to read more about our work with the NCAFC.