South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service wanted to challenge the view that firefighting is a male-orientated role and attract more women to apply to the service. Corporate communications manager Alex Mills tells us how they enlisted the help of serving firefighters’ children to create a social media recruitment campaign which delivered results and secured them a 2018 public service communications excellence silver award.
Fire services across the UK need to reflect the communities they serve by attracting a diverse workforce. Unfortunately, firefighting is often perceived by the public to be a male-only profession. Despite numerous campaigns to attract more women to apply for the role of firefighter, around 95 per cent of firefighters in South Yorkshire (and the rest of the UK) are men. With several new rounds of recruitment on the horizon we wanted to do something more targeted to buck this trend and increase the number of women registering their interest to become firefighters.
We started with research. We spoke with our own staff about their motivations for joining the service and carried out a detailed analysis of our own previous recruitment campaigns and those from other sectors. This showed that our target audience should be women between 18-35, as this is the age range most likely to consider a career in the fire and rescue service. For many women, that age bracket also coincides with when they become a parent - a point when many people choose to re-evaluate their careers and potentially consider an alternative vocation.
We also knew, from our experience of delivering fire safety campaigns, that children can be powerful ambassadors for important messages. All of these insights informed the creative direction of our campaign.
Our strategy was to create engaging, shareable digital content which would specifically appeal to our audience and prompt them to take the desired action- that is, to register their interest in our next round of recruitment. Once we had generated their interest, we would then be in a position to provide them with further interventions and information.
Inspired by the popularity of the TV shows such as The Secret Life of Four year-olds, we created a video where the children of serving female firefighters spoke about the qualities that made them proud of their mums- from cooking their favourite meals and playing their favourite games, to making them laugh and caring for them. We deliberately wanted to emphasise what are traditionally seen as ‘feminine qualities’, setting things up for the end scene where the mums of the children are revealed to be firefighters – a traditionally ‘masculine’ role. The element of surprise meant the video really cut through with our audiences and prompted hundreds of people to share it online.
We published the videos across our digital channels on International Women’s Day, which offered a natural hook for our campaign. We followed this up with additional online activity on Mother’s Day, which took place just three days later.
To make sure our campaign was integrated across a range of communication channels we briefed our local media on it - giving them a sneak preview of the video and setting up interviews with key staff – including our longest serving female firefighter and the highest ranking female fire officer ever to have been appointed in South Yorkshire.
Since launching the video it has been viewed more than 30,000 times across multiple platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and also generated a double page spread in The Star newspaper. We were also able to get a slot at primetime on BBC Radio Sheffield.
While the coverage is great, the crucial impact of the campaign was that 59 women registered their interest in a career as a firefighter in the two weeks following the launch of the video (8 to 22 March 2018). This was four times the number of registrations received during the two weeks before the video launched (21 February – 7 March). The number of registrations received during the whole month of February 2018 increased by 37 per cent. The campaign has generated a lasting impact for us as a communication team – with senior officers and female colleagues more willing to put themselves forward as ambassadors for future campaign activity in this area.
Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it
A big part of the success was our use of Facebook groups to share our content as it helped us to target and reach our most important audience. Engaging local media beforehand also helped to really amplify the coverage for the campaign. Crucially, we didn’t brand the video so it made it easier for other fire and rescue services to use and share. We’re all publicly funded at the end of the day- so why does it matter which organisation’s logo is on the material?
We learnt some key things. When speaking with our staff, we went directly to a handful of them and asked them if they wanted to be involved. On reflection we should have opened it up to others as a few people were disappointed they hadn’t been approached. Looking back, we could perhaps have also been a bit more prepared for the (albeit very small minority) people online who wanted to know what we were doing to celebrate the men who work for us. In the end, we did do something fairly low level around father’s day.
Want to know more
For more information about this campaign please contact corporate communications manager at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Alex Mills (Amills@syfire.gov.uk).