A new approach…… The subtle fire prevention message
HAVING TROUBLE getting your fire prevention messages into print? And when you do, are you experiencing difficulty in getting the public to read them? If your answer is yes, then move over, brother, you’ve got plenty of company.
This is the age of the “hard sell.” Our poor public is pressured from every source to buy more and better mousetraps. So you already own a house full. Add on another room and fill it, too! Sex, sirens, and syrup go into these sales pitches to separate us from the hard-earned buck. Scientists conduct costly research to evaluate our sales resistance and devise new ways to breach the bastions of our nopower. College professors while away weary hours inside the hallowed, ivycovered walls of old P. U., grinding out graduates who are dedicated to this same end. They pop out every spring confidently clutching a duly inscribed goat hide in their eager grasp which certifies that they have then and there become “sales psychologists, marketing economists, sales analysts” or some such title which is wont to suggest the epitome of lofty, erudite accomplishment. These graduates are then pitched into the miserable maelstrom of marketing procedure the world over. Using the goat hide from old P. U. in much the same manner as the average American hunter would an unlimited license to take game on the Sarangetti Plains of Africa, they level their big guns of salesmanship upon the public and blast away. So, we have the “hard sell.”
The fire service feels the results of this type of sales campaign. With mounting fire losses year after year, budget problems, manpower problems, and other plain old problems, the average fire chief is hard pressed to come up with any kind of an objective attitude toward a publicity program to sell fire prevention. After all how can he even begin to compete for public attention against such pros as the scientific grads from old P. U.? To even make a brave start would require a budget about as fantastic as one designed for rocket research. The city fathers would need emergency treatment for smoke inhalation after they got through scorching the poor old chief’s carcass if he had the temerity to even as much as broach the subject.
So what do we do? Shall we let our cities and towns continue to burn down around our befuddled heads? Or shall we go on our merry way grinding out such hackneyed phrases as “Dear Public, don’t do this or your house will burn down; Beware lest your factory fall in flames; Take heed else your business burst into blazes”! All good messages, but who reads them? More than that, who prints them?
I wonder how many good, publicspirited editors wince every time the chief shows up with a handful of this type of copy? More than we’d care to admit.
Value of newspapers
Newspapers are one of our best allies in presenting the fire prevention message. Every day, every week, every month all year long these papers are going into homes. The reader naturally opens it to his first point of interest. This of course may be a racy tidbit concerning the trial of some shapely doll accused of the long overdue demise of her faithless paramour. Or the reader may prefer a particular by-line story. Then there is always the intellectual who prefers the initial stimulus of Little Ragged Rannie in the comics. But be this as it may, once the reading eye has perused its first prize, then it moves on to the second most interesting point, etc. Once the eye catches an interesting line or phrase, it pauses to read the opening paragraph. If this is intriguing enough, the reader is usually hooked for the balance of the story.
Newsprint costs money. It takes a fair bundle of bills just to buy it, and a whole lot more to get it on the street with your copy on it. Publishers have to make a living no matter how publicspirited they are. They can accept only just so many, “don’t burn down the barn” messages and no more. According to the dictates of dollars and cents there just isn’t room for them.
But don’t give up. There is a way. Take a tip from the writer’s favorite editor, Turk Smith of the Arizona Republic in Phoenix. Turk is the sneaky type. He puts it this way, “As long as your information is in news form or otherwise has reader appeal, we will take everything you can give us.” And he does. Rarely a week passes that the Phoenix Fire Department doesn’t have a by-line feature in the big Sunday edition of the state’s largest daily newspaper. This story reaches some 250,000 Arizona homes. When we do miss an issue it was only because we didn’t make the deadline.
Keep it “sneaky” .
Now the problem is how do you keep a fire prevention message “sneaky,” as Turk says. It isn’t too difficult once a formula has been established. The one we’ve been using in Phoenix is to pick a subject with reader interest. Stoves for instance— the old, sentimental, pot-bellied stove of yesterday, the depot stove, the stoves of yesteryear which are now collectors’ items in antique stores— these are of interest to readers. The modern heating unit by comparison is a mechanical marvel, but also presents complicated problems of fire, explosion and asphyxiation not experienced in the “good old days” of its pot-bellied predecessor. The general discussion of stoves leads into these and the reader is always left with a fire prevention message concerning the heating problems of the home.
Home gasoline storage is a particular problem in the Phoenix area. The gasoline-powered lawn mower, the outboard motor and the weekend camper are the main sources of such storage. Where and how this gasoline is kept becomes a great concern of the fire department. A sudden sharp rise of fire deaths among small children pinpointed this problem in Phoenix. Home Inspection programs began turning up more and more gasoline storage, often in glass gallon jugs. Not only this, but a great deal of storage was done in areas containing an automatic, gas-fired hot water heater!
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The Phoenix fire department had several articles published on this subject. None of these was the same except for ultimate safety message; if you have to keep gasoline around the home, store it as it should be stored and never near a source of ignition. The lead thoughts in some of these articles were: Glass jugs and their contents, outboard motor boats, and the power mower.
The gasoline storage problem in Phoenix hasn’t been whipped entirely, but it has been quite a while since we’ve dug the charred remains of a child out of the blackened rubble of a storage room fire.
Another approach to reader interest is the amusing incident Any fire department can produce its share of these “funnies.” When they can be related to the fire prevention story you’ve got a sure-fire subject. Also most departments can usually produce a cartoonist who can draw reasonably well enough to illustrate this type of article. Editors usually like this combination. Why? Because their readers like them and that’s what sells newspapers. Test yourself in your local paper. Flip down through the pages. Doesn’t the amusingly illustrated article catch your eye?
Seasonal articles are good copy too, spring cleanup, fall weed problems, heater and air-conditioning servicing, and special fire department activities. These articles can usually be a little broader in content due to the nature of their subject. A conference with your editor is suggested in these cases.
The field is wide open for these fire prevention messages. You might be surprised how many publications are available to you in the average city and eager to be of public service. The writer was. Phoenix has two majorcirculation daily papers. In looking about for other outlets for articles, the writer found no less than an even dozen publications that hit the streets anywhere from twice a week to once a month. Their combined circulation was over half a million.
Don’t overlook these small publications. They may be far more important than you think. For instance, we were having trouble in a newly annexed area with our home inspection program. We were plagued with an unusually high percentage of refusals due to suspicion and misunderstanding of our motives. Several articles on the purpose of home inspections and fire hazards in the home were published by the two local weeklies serving this area. Doors began to open for us. Inside of one month the refusals dropped some 500 per cent and are now on the same level as the rest of the city.
Visit your local editors. They are nice guys. Have a talk with them concerning your problems and theirs. Maybe you can work something out. Be sure and take a tip from Turk. Be “sneaky.” Wrap up your fire prevention messages in tinsel packages with bright ribbons. Make them attractive. When you do, your editors will be more inclined to “buy,” and they will be passed on to a reading public.