Case study: Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue viral video recruitment drive outstrips targets

Hertfordshire County Council's "Join our team" campaign drew on the viral power of social media and the appeal of a tongue-in-cheek video to beat its own goal to fill two annual training programmes with new recruits.

Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue: A new recruit
Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue: A new recruit

Firefighters must respond quickly to emergency calls. Many people assume that most fire stations across the UK are staffed 24/7 by full-time employees. The reality is that many stations have on-call firefighters who must drop what they are doing – at home or work – and make their way to their station to go out on a "shout".

But Hertfordshire County Council’s Fire & Rescue Service (50 per cent of whose staff are on-call) had gaps in its on-call crews, meaning that certain areas had to rely on support from neighbouring towns' "wholetime" crews, leading to an increased response rate to calls and a thinning of coverage elsewhere.

A broader-brush approach to local recruitment

While stations were already promoting on-call roles locally, the council realised that to maximise recruitment it needed to run a country-wide campaign using Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Its main objective was to fill 18 spaces for each firefighter training course (of which there are two a year), targeting men and women aged 18 and over who could get to their chosen fire station, from home or work, within four minutes.

Parodying how football clubs typically use social and video to announce new signings around transfer deadline day, the campaign's messages included "Join our line-up", "We need you this season" and "We want to sign YOU for Hertfordshire". The campaign highlighted the parallels between footballers and firefighters – an interest in physical fitness, supporting communities and being part of a team.

Going live on deadline day (31 August 2017), the tongue-in-cheek YouTube short features a dramatic musical score. The 70-second film depicts firefighters responding to a call, gearing up, boarding their fire engine and driving off to the rescue. The action is intercut with a still of a tweet saying "Big announcement this week #watchthisspace" and a reply from people including Fire Fan 999, who tweeted: "This had better be signing news!"

The video climaxes with on-screen text reading "The wait is over", at which point the music cuts out and a woman is seen walking her dog.

"We've signed Gemma Fraser for Hertfordshire #FraserAnnounced" the copy tells the viewer. "#JoinOurTeam. Become and on-call firefighter", it adds as Fraser's pager beeps and she runs to answer the call.

The film was accompanied by the hashtag #deadlineday, which was used by regional partners who retweeted the video.

Social support

The requirements for becoming an on-call firefighter had historically made recruitment difficult, with applicants having to live or work within four minutes of a station and be available for 90 hours' cover a week. Therefore these requirements were woven into the social activity and media interviews.

Meanwhile, targeted Facebook advertising was aimed at those potential recruits who lived within four minutes of a station.

The campaign ran initially for one month, breaking with the video and and adding more in-depth content such as case-study videos across its duration.

The call of duty

The story and video were picked up by traditional and digital local, regional and national media, with chief fire officer Darryl Keen interviewed on Sky Sports News from local football club Watford (see tweet below).

Given the coordination of the campaign's launch with football's own transfer day, using the #deadlineday hashtag alongside #JoinOurTeam gave it exposure to football fans seeking player news.

Hertfordshire County Council said the video has attracted "100,000 significant views", but most importantly, the campaign had the desired effect: it garnered 64 applications from eligible candidates within four weeks of launch – enough to fill more than three training programmes.

Social-media engagement was measured and analysed, pinpointing what content was driving people to click through to the campaign page, which accrued 2,226 visitors in the first week. About 1,300 of these accessed the application page.

The campaign – particularly its use of video, tone of voice and use of staff – also drew the attention of broader local and central government communications teams. Grace Fordham, Hertfordshire County Council's campaigns and communications officer, was invited to present at the LGcomms and GCS Campaigns Showcase.

A second phase of "Deadline day" was run across this January's transfer window which has already resulted in a further 15 further applications, while social activity is maintaining momentum.

Nick Pearce, Hertfordshire County Council's comms and campaigns manager, said: "The great thing about the campaign was that it tapped into something really current. We focused on creating content that resonated with our target audience that was also shareable. We’re proud of the campaign and the results have been impressive too."

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