South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service – Operation Chip Pan safety campaign – public sector communications excellence awards – bronze winner

December is traditionally the fire service’s busiest month for house fires, and many of those involve chip pans. Alex Mills, Corporate Communication Manager for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service explains how the service found a creative way to bring the issue to light in December 2016.

Communications support

The challenge

In December 2016 we set ourselves the target of reducing accidental house fires in South Yorkshire by 5 per cent compared with the average for the same month in the last three years. With more than half of the fires we attend being caused by cooking incidents, we knew that we wanted to focus on chip pan fires, but we needed to find a way of delivering our messages in a way that would be engaging to our target audience. Analysis of previous incidents and MOSAIC insight revealed that victims of house fires tend to be aged over 45, male and less likely to engage with traditional ‘top down’ public service messaging. we had to think creatively to stand a chance at achieving our objective.

The solution

We decided to tap into the public appetite for humorous, shareable digital content. We approached a popular local parody band (the Everley Pregnant Brothers) as they had already released a comedy version of the Kings of Leon’s single Sex of Fire about chip pans. We asked if they would be interested in re-recording it with red watch firefighters at Central fire station in Sheffield to help raise awareness of the dangers of chip pan fires. They jumped at the chance and we made a music video featuring real fire fighters. We used the music video as a hook for our campaign, which also included other shareable, digital content. We created our own memes, released a video clip of our firefighters completing the mannequin challenge and also recorded a video plea to stay kitchen safe from the young daughter of one of our firefighters. With the digital content gaining momentum we announced that we would be making a bid for the Christmas number one spot with our chip pan on fire song which catapulted our campaign to new heights, extending its reach from shareable online content to traditional local, national and international media, from newspapers to television. 

We also supported this activity with active stakeholder engagement. We mobilised the support of local celebrities, involved our staff and met with local business leaders and partners to encourage them to back our safety campaign. Involving partners and the charity sector also helped us to share secondary messages, such as raising awareness of the emergency service personnel who would be working over Christmas and highlighting the work that the fire service does to support older and vulnerable people in our communities.

The impact

Although we didn’t succeed in knocking Clean Bandit off the Christmas number one spot we did see enormous successes. We secured 72 pieces of local, national and international media coverage including two live national television appearance. We achieved a social media reach of at least 5 million, our music video secured 6 million views across multiple platforms and we raised £4,311 for two local charities from the sale of the single.

Most importantly, our statistics showed that the campaign helped to generate an 18 per cent reduction in house fires, with just 49 accidental house fires in the area in December 2016 compared to an average of 58 for the previous three years. We achieved all of this with just a £70 spend on campaign t shirts. Even with staff time factored in our campaign costs came in at less that £2500.

Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it

The success of the campaign rested on our strong understanding of our audiences. We spent time analysing our data to really get to grips with who our target audience was and the type of content that they would engage with. We also made effective use of local influencers. The Everley Pregnant Brothers already had a cult status in the local area so partnering with them allowed us to bring our content to their audiences. Finally, by focusing our efforts on creating fun, shareable content we were able to let the reach of our message grow organically as our audience wanted to share the content with their friends and families. We made something that people wanted to engage with so we didn’t have a battle to extend its reach.

Lessons learned

Sustaining a campaign which attracted such significant, national and local attention became hard for a small team of three people as often it meant working additional hours and going the extra mile to achieve the challenging targets we’d set ourselves. A key lesson for the future will be harnessing the good will of people across the organisation- including those not necessarily working directly in a communications role- to help us deliver on some of our objectives and also to give ourselves a longer lead-in time to the campaign, so that we could get some of our content lined up and ready to go before we got into the midst of the campaign proper.

Want to know more?

For more information please contact Alex Mills, Corporate Communication Manager at South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.