Case study: London Fire Brigade social campaign challenges outdated perceptions

Challenging online negativity towards a campaign to fight sexism around firefighting has helped raise its profile and foster creativity in terms of social media support for the crusade.

Campaign: LFB commissioner Dany Cotton with Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick
Campaign: LFB commissioner Dany Cotton with Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick

London Fire Brigade’s #FirefightingSexism campaign has already garnered a significant response from social media users, celebrities and high-profile public figures, according to the service’s initial analysis of the work. 

The main aim was to change perceptions and end the use of the word ‘fireman’, reminding the media and public that 'firefighter' is the correct term for the role, and has been in use for 30 years.

Dealing with negativity

But it was some of the negative reactions to the campaign’s messaging that proved most helpful in raising its profile and tackling the ongoing issue of firefighters being described as ‘firemen’. 

Rob McTaggart, senior comms officer at LFB, told PRWeek: "We wanted to push the conversation out from our feed and get people talking about it, and it has already garnered more response than we anticipated.

"It has been interesting to see some people’s vehement opposition to the campaign, [which they see as] down to political correctness.

"But we responded with dry humour and found that meant more people put their head above the parapet to say they were supporting the campaign." 

The campaign debuted with a soft launch on 16 October at the Women of the Year Awards, where LFB commissioner Dany Cotton had a chance to share the message with high-profile and inspiring attendees as she accepted an award for leadership. 

The initial comms tools included a hashtag board that could be used in photos, featuring the phrase #FirefightingSexism, as well as a Facebook frame, for all digital media platforms, while LFB urged people to post a selfie in support of the campaign.

A bank of 10 short videos was created, featuring staff sharing their reasons for fighting sexism.

Social reach

On the day of the launch, the hashtag was used on Twitter 507 times, with a combined reach of more than 2.6 million, while the Facebook frame was used 106 times in one day, and there were 483 engagements with the related Instagram post. 

In addition, during the first three days of the campaign, LFB had 2.3 million impressions on Twitter. 

Meanwhile, a press release issued ahead of the awards event was picked up by media outlets including The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Huffington Post. 

Cotton also appeared on the BBC’s The One Show, ITV’s Lorraine and BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour to discuss the campaign, while high profile supporters included Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, TV presenter Christine Bleakley, Paralympian Claire Harvey, Met Police commissioner Cressida Dick and Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

However, the campaign prompted negative responses from people concerned about LFB spending, and asking ‘why now?’, added McTaggart. 

"It was important for us to know why people disliked the campaign and the questions kept coming up about why we were doing it now, and haven’t we got better things to do?" he revealed.

"It has been a busy time for the brigade, but you could say any time is too busy as there’s always something around the corner, whether that’s the 7/7 bombings, the London riots, the Olympics, or the Grenfell disaster." 

LFB also pointed out that no additional spend had been allocated to running the campaign, but it was amplified through external social media accounts that picked up on the idea.

Creativity unleashed

The campaign inspired some of the capital’s fire services to add their own creativity to the message, with Greenwich’s media team using iconic album covers to share the #FirefightingSexism hashtag. 

Tweets featured firefighters recreating the record covers, in a double image next to the original with a play on the band’s name or album title. 

As well as a mock up of the Madness record One Step Beyond, the service also used Take That’s Progress album cover to emphasise the campaign’s theme, with musician Gary Barlow quoting the tweet and calling the idea "amazing!".  

"We have seen some very innovative work from our staff," added McTaggart. 

Running alongside the LFB’s recruitment drive aimed at boosting numbers of women and those from BAME groups, the #FirefightingSexism campaign is part of a wider 10-year strategy called Safer Together, aimed at increasing diversity in the service.

The next step for this particular campaign will be a pledge, said McTaggart, with political figures, celebrities, large organisations and the general public encouraged to pledge to use the term firefighter rather than fireman. 

"It has become a discussion piece, but it’s nowhere near the end of it," he added.


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