Working with Marketing Firms: Lessons from Bend, Oregon
September’s Landowner/Homeowner Engagement Community of Practice webinar featured Project Wildfire’s Alison Green. Alison talked about two campaigns that Project Wildfire worked on with marketing firms, and a related, newer campaign underway for the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project.
Following the devastating Awbrey Hall wildfire in 1990 and the Skeleton Fire in 1996, the Bend Fire and Rescue fire marshal and others realized that their highest wildfire preparedness priority wasn’t buying more fire trucks, it was to educate homeowners and “market preparedness like Coke markets Coca-Cola.”
And so they obtained some funding, hired a marketing firm, developed a list of 10 steps homeowners could take in a weekend to prepare for wildfire, and used TV, radio and newspapers to get their messages out to the community. They also devised their very first “FireFree” event (which is still an annual event) and sent postcards out to residents. The results were pretty good, at least measured by the amount of participation in the FireFree events. Alison said that having specific steps for homeowners was key to inspire residents to take action. Including a step related to evacuation was also important.
In 2008 Project Wildfire obtained a $500,000 FEMA Assistance to Firefighters grant to conduct a variety of outreach activities. They wanted a new, simpler logo, and although the “Ten Steps” didn’t change, designers created a brand identity for the organization that made Project Wildfire’s and FireFree’s products more recognizable. The first firm they hired was replaced because Project Wildfire staff weren’t happy with their design work.
In 2014 members of the Deschutes Collaborative Forest Project decided to ramp up their outreach efforts in preparation for implementing the West Bend Forest Restoration Project. To inform their campaign, the group hired a company to talk with 300 registered voters about restoration practices, what values they hold dear, how they used the national forest, and whom they trusted to provide reliable wildland fire information.
The collaborative hired a firm to design a logo and create a marketing plan based on the survey results. The firm then worked with a subcommittee of collaborative members to revamp their logo, develop outreach items and an outreach strategy. This step turned out to be unnecessarily difficult, and Alison said that if they had it to do over again they would involve fewer collaborative members in the initial stages, and be sure that all subcommittee members have a good eye for design.
Engaging the marketing firm before the group was crystal clear on its outreach vision also dragged out the process.
Despite the fact that the project encountered some delays and bumps, collaborative members are now believers in working with creative design professionals for projects like this.
Have you ever worked with a marketing firm or other communications professionals to help you with your messaging? Share your lessons learned in the comments below.