Case study: South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue uses mother-child bond to fuel recruitment boost

A YouTube film published on International Women's Day in which kids sing the praises of their firefighter mums formed the crux of a social-driven recruitment campaign for South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue. It achieved a fourfold boost in registrations, as well as being shared by fire services as far afield as Canada.

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue: Capitalised on the bond between women firefighters and their kids
South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue: Capitalised on the bond between women firefighters and their kids

The campaign, which kicked off on 8 March, sought to increase the number of women applying to be firefighters in what is widely perceived to be a male-dominated profession – 95 per cent of South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue's applicants are typically men.

The campaign's target audience was women in South Yorkshire aged between 18 and 35 years, given that analysis of previous campaigns had shown this as the age bracket most likely to consider a career in the fire service.

Content was designed to be shareable across social media, aimed at first getting women to apply and then following up their interest with further action and information.

Pester power

Built on the insights that many women re-evaluate their careers when having children and that children themselves can be powerful ambassadors, kids and their relationships with their mothers became the foundation of the campaign.

At the heart of activity was a YouTube video entitled 'Kids talk about their firefighter mums', inspired by real-life TV shows such as Channel 4's The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds.

The video uses anecdotes and comments from children describing the virtues of their respective mothers, with an emphasis on what are traditionally viewed as female qualities, a point designed to maximise the film's reveal.

"Is your mum silly?" asks the interviewer.

"Yeah," replies the child.

"What does she do?"

"Er... Bit crazy?"

Another schoolgirl explains that "we have a festival every year and she dances in the middle of the stage and then sings with my uncle".

The children talk about what games their mothers play with them, while one speaks admiringly: "She helps people and she's the top dog."

Another says: "She inspires women to say they can do anything they want, and if you put your mind to it you can do anything."

Following the interviews, copy appears on-screen – "Women" in enlarged text at the centre, surrounded by words that have been used by the children fading in and out, including "good bakers", "stage dancers", "hard workers", "stir fryers" and "strong". Most of the words eventually disappear leaving just "Women firefighters" set against the white backdrop.

The video ends with the reveal — a montage featuring each of the hitherto only talked about women, dressed in their firefighter garb and alongside their respective son or daughter.

While the video itself went live on International Women's Day on 8 March, local press were shown sneak previews prior to launch and set up with interviews with staff, including the longest serving and highest ranking firefighters in the service.

Mother's Day was three days after the launch and it saw an additional raft of online activity.

The video was also deliberately unbranded so that it could be shared with and disseminated by other fire services across the UK.

Spread like wildfire

The campaign video and messaging spread like wildfire across social, catching the public's imagination and achieving its desired effect. The video was viewed more than 30,000 times across Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, while coverage spanned a double-page spread in The Star and a primetime slot on BBC Radio Sheffield.

The campaign not only achieved widespread coverage via South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue's own channels, but because of its unbranded nature was picked up and used by other fire services. Eight shared the film on Facebook, including Leicestershire, Staffordshire, Essex and even Fire Service Women Ontario.

Fourteen other fire and rescue services used Twitter to share the video, including Lancashire, West Midlands, Cleveland, West Sussex and Hampshire.

Most tellingly, within two weeks of the campaign launch, 59 women registered an interest in a career as a firefighter. This marked a near fourfold increase in the number of registrations since two weeks before the campaign and a 37 per cent increase in the number of registrations received during the whole of February.

Comms team boost

Alex Mills, corporate comms manager at SYFR, said the campaign's impact has also had a positive effect for the comms team, with senior officers and female staff so impressed that they have expressed a greater willingness to put themselves forward for future campaign activity.

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