Six lessons from a year of campaigning

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue corporate communications manager Alex Mills reveals his six learnings from the past 12 months.


The Government Communication Service’s Campaign Highlights 2018/19 inspired my team to develop our own anthology of work.

Our Campaign Highlights 2019 brings together 18 months worth of campaign evaluations in one place and has been published for two reasons:

  1. To prove to the organisation we work for the value the communication team brings
  2. To show that you don’t have to be a massive team with huge resources to deliver results

We took some key learning from each of the 11 campaigns we delivered and these are some of the best lessons we discovered:

Think big to make a difference

It’s easy to fall into the trap of sending out a token tweet to tick the box for something like Black History Month, but by thinking big and creatively we staged a fine art photography exhibition which toured the county and led to a marked increase in the number of BAME people registering their interest in firefighting as a career.

Facebook Groups are powerful for reaching specific audiences

When you’ve got a very specific audience- for one of our campaigns, it was younger women living in South Yorkshire, ideally with an interest in physical fitness- you have to take your message to where those people are. For all the vanity metric video views, likes and reach for our work around International Women’s Day, it was using Facebook Groups which led to the big uptick in female firefighter recruitment that we were looking for.

Harnessing respect for frontline staff is powerful

Trust in leaders and institutions continues to wane, yet respect for frontline is still powerful. That’s why we used frontline staff to front our drive to stop people deliberately starting summer fires, getting them to talk about the impact arson has on them and their community, instead of the old-fashioned safety warning delivered by a senior leader.

Stay proactive- even in an emergency

Major incidents, like the severe flooding which hit South Yorkshire in November, inevitably result in a relentless barrage of press interest which can be hard to keep on top of, even for larger comms teams. But it’s so important to stay proactive if you can, sharing relevant safety information on your established channels and sharing human stories about the work of your frontline staff.

Your target audience isn’t always your most obvious one

We’ve learnt that in some cases, a hard to reach audience is just that- hard to reach. We know for example that over 65s are much more likely to suffer a fire in their home, yet we find them harder to reach through traditional means. That’s what prompted a switch in audience for one of our campaigns, in which we instead targeted the children and grandchildren of older relatives in a bid to prompt them to take action to keep their loved ones safe.

Sometimes a simple thank you is all it takes

We’d been scratching our heads trying to work out a way to make more of the fantastic feedback we get for the work of our frontline staff. We know our staff are turned off by things like glitzy award ceremonies or corporate recognition schemes, so our solution was to send a letter from the Chief Fire Officer and a small box of goodies to every person or team mentioned in dispatches.

Posted on 11th February 2020