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Guns and Hoses: What I learned about marketing from the guys who save lives

Guns and Hoses: What I learned about marketing from the guys who save lives

 One room. Ten cops. Forty hours. Last month I was required to attended a week of emergency response training, I guess because I am the closest thing my organization has to a public information officer.  The class was taught by two retired fire chiefs but most of the other people in the room were in law enforcement. As a marketing wonk I’m usually hanging with designers, writers, and web folks so it was quite a switch to be surrounded by guys with guns, even if they were safely stowed in their holsters.  Consensus? Hell no. Competition and testosterone? You bet.

There’s a lot we professional communicators can learn from people whose crisis communication (along with their guns and hoses) saves lives.

  1. Recognize the importance of informal communication. Like first responders, we should gather and listen to information “from the field” but take direction only from our bosses.
  2. If you have something important to say do it in person. In a crisis leaders meet at a command center to map out a strategy. Technology can’t duplicate the strength of a face-to-face meeting because there are too many non-verbal cues that are impossible to capture.
  3. Training equals participation.  Training is the reason soldiers go into combat, firefighters run into blazing buildings and police charge into crime scenes. Training everyone in your organization with some sales skills and providing them with talking points will encourage them to share your story often and well.
  4. Overwhelmed? Consider your span of control. A popular management theory from the 30s, span of control has to do with how many subordinates one person can manage effectively.  As organizational hierarchies flatten, span of control considerations become less relevant. But if you have too many people asking you questions, looking for direction, getting OKs, sending you emails, and basically driving you crazy, you may need to put a layer or two into that pancake you call an org chart.
  5. Feed and “sleep” your people. In all our logistics exercises we had to make sure responders got the sleep and food they needed.
  6. Don’t underestimate the attraction of a message by a passionate participant. I was not looking forward to 40 hours of training about JICs, COOPs and HSEEP (Joint Incident Commands, Continuity of Operations Plans, Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program). But the instructors were guys who had fought forest fires, cleaned up Katrina and searched for the Challenger wreckage.  Engagement is contagious.  Whether you’re talking about a wildland fires or an on-fire zinfandel, passion makes the message stick.  You might even forget that you are surrounded by guys who are packing heat.


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