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Enlisting military marketing ideas into your volunteer fire and EMS recruitment efforts

What can the fire service learn from the U.S. military’s messaging, marketing strategy and tactics?


While there’s no contesting that the United States Armed Forces would win any recruitment war mounted against them, what can the fire service learn from their messaging, marketing strategy and tactics?

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This article was originally printed on First Arriving. It has been reprinted here with permission.

By Tiger Schmittendorf

First Arriving

A recent highly-unscientific analysis of a single day-per page National Guard Desk Calendar revealed some interesting insight into military marketing. While there’s no contesting that the United States Armed Forces would win any recruitment war mounted against them, what can the fire service learn from their messaging, marketing strategy and tactics?

Can something as simple as a branded daily calendar be a marketing element, a recruitment tool? You bet your armored Humvee it can! While a desk calendar may be “out of date” in today’s online world, it may still be a viable marketing tool in other forms or perhaps we can strip it for parts to use in other efforts.

I literally tore the calendar apart, page by page, day by day and here’s what I learned.

Flanking your main message

They used 27 different categories or formats of information to share their message ranging from topics you might expect like education and benefits, to fitness and a topic called “Guard Garage” that showcases some of the “hardware” the military uses in their fight to protect America. While the subjects were different each day, what wasn’t different was the layout, color, graphics and the ‘voice’ they used to deliver the message.

Here’s how it broke down in order of the frequency these themes were used:

  • Service-29
  • Fast Facts-27
  • Go Guard-25
  • Education-24
  • Training-23
  • Benefits-17
  • Leadership-17
  • Special Forces-16
  • Q&A-12
  • You Can-11
  • Guard Garage-8
  • Values-7
  • Operations-6
  • Guard Events-6
  • Fitness-3
  • Guard Outreach-3
  • Guard Programs-3
  • History-3
  • Mission-3
  • Patriot Academy-3
  • Did You Know?-2
  • G-RAP-1
  • Success Stories-1
  • Guard Publications-1

Fishing (& racing) for recruits

If you do the math, you’ll notice that these subjects only add up to 257 pages/days on the calendar. That’s because 44 pages/days were dedicated to promoting Guard Racing and another dozen pages/days promoted fishing. Why those still don’t add up to 365 pages/days on a calendar is not the point (or do I have the answer to that!). The point is that they dedicated 56 pages or days (18%) to promoting racing and fishing, two things the Guard promotes but that you may never do as a member of the Army National Guard.

Why? Why would they invest so much in marketing real estate into highlighting two diverse sports? Was it just to fill the days, literally and figuratively?

I would propose that they wanted to accomplish three things:

  1. Demonstrating that the Guard is more than just training, education, operations and special forces;
  2. Encouraging and acknowledging that prospective or serving Guardsmen to have outside interests; and
  3. To attract men and women to the National Guard who are attracted to activities like fishing and NASCAR racing. They’re clearly targeting their desired audience.

Let’s explore this a little further. Fishing and car racing are two distinctly different activities. For one, fishing requires you to get off the couch and at least to the water’s edge, if not chest-deep in it. While fishing may not take the highest degree of physical fitness, it’s clearly a more active activity when compared to simply easing into the easy chair to watch a weekend-full of left-hand turns.

But there are some similarities. Fishing is a relaxing sport that takes both skill and patience, there’s an infusion of an adrenaline rush when you catch a fish on the line, and there’s a payoff when you land the big one. Some may consider watching a couple of dozen beefed-up cars driving around a big oval to be pretty boring while others may find it relaxing, even mesmerizing.

There’s certainly an adrenaline rush when there’s a crash, or even a rubbing or bumping near-miss. And of course, the payoff is at the end when their favorite driver gets the checkered flag.

So what might that say about the people who participate in both of those sports? It says the National Guard is seeking individuals who are both patient and passionate about their interests, who drink in the bodywide charge that comes in different forms — for different forms, and people who are focused on victory. Do those attributes translate to the volunteer fire service? Absolutely!

That’s enough to think about for now. Regardless of whether you’re patiently fishing or rapidly racing for new recruits, we’ve hopefully loaded some ammo into your thought chamber as to how we can effectively enlist military marketing ideas into your volunteer recruitment efforts.

The next wave

In the “second wave” of this four-part series, we’ll recon the topics the Guard used in developing their desk calendar obviously targeted at recruiting their next soldier; and we’ll see how we can apply the same or similar subjects, messages and images into locking in on our next volunteer firefighter or first responder.

This article, originally published in 2021, has been updated.