Public Relations Needed To Cultivate Trust, Goodwill
In this era of public unawareness— and in some sectors antagonism toward the safety forces—fire departments are faced with selling themselves and their programs to justify their own existence.
Government officials and the overburdened taxpayer sometimes lose sight of the benefits many fire department programs render, particularly when a dollar value must be placed on them. Thus, a conscientiously applied public relations program looms as a necessity in every department’s future plans, especially if it wants to effectively counteract the rising tide of public apathy.
To define public relations, one might say it is a continuing art of bringing about a better understanding of policies, services, and actions in a manner to assure public confidence, goodwill, and appreciation for any individual or organization. An indepth look at a few key words of this definition will be indicative of the type of program you can implement.
Continuing means that you must systematically work toward this program. You can’t give it a one-time best shot approach but you must work at it year-round, never letting down or relying on past laurels. It must be an art— something to be studied, molded and formed. The definition says it brings about a better understanding and, of course, to attain this, you need communications to get your story told. You paint this picture to your advantage but tell it like it is. Be factual, informative and interesting, always remembering this might be the only exposure a group will have to your program.
Relating to policies, services, and actions, we must see the whole. All phases of your program must be pointed toward the end result. People judge the whole by the parts they know. Therefore, it is important to coordinate all segments to present a favorable image.
Must cultivate respect
When we talk about confidence and respect, we see the importance of reflecting a favorable attitude that will earn this respect. You can’t demand it. You must cultivate and build a trust. This will bring about the goodwill and appreciation necessary to the success of your program. Our definition referring to the individual and the organization emphasizes the ‘one for all, all for one’ adage. Your total program will reflect only as well as each individual impression. Therefore, you can’t tolerate a weak link that might detract from the end result.
Now, with a little insight into effective public relations, where do you start implementing such a program? Three definite areas that must be considered include: governmental officials, the news media and the public.
Government officials at the local, state and even national level have the power to impose the regulations you must work within. By maintaining a rapport with them, you can indicate a direction favorable to your cause. You must be able to factually show your needs, benefits you can provide, and values to the electorate. Without their cooperation and blessing your efforts can be futile.
The news media is an area vital to the success of your program. You must work with the media, remembering it has a job to do and in many ways, you can make it easier. You must establish a professionalism in your approach and always extend courtesy at fire scenes, special events and public meetings. Realizing that members of the news media are not fire fighters, you must be helpful in explaining your problems and techniques.. Show interest in their priorities and deadlines, but most important, establish a mutual cooperation that will be benefificial. Their coverage of a given situation might be the only insight people will have to your department.
The third and possibly the most difficult area to contend with is the public. This must be a continuing promotional effort to contact a large percentage of the population. This can be done through talks and demonstrations, fire prevention activities, programs in the schools, and participation in service groups. Public relations must also be part of your everyday routine, such as courtesy in driving. Always remember your apparatus is a traveling billboard.
Salvage work at a fire scene can be one of the most effective public relations tool you have. Extra effort over and above routine salvage will go a long way toward expelling the ax-happy, water-damaging stigma so often associated with the fire service. Positive action and an affirmative attitude in all your daily projects and duties will build a favorable public image.
There are various methods you can use to coordinate these various segments, but as in any operation, its success will hinge on the leadership of the person in charge—whether he is a public information officer, fire prevention bureau officer or chief of department. A dedication to the cause is a must, and with special efforts, the fire department image will emerge victorious over the general apathy that has developed in our society.