Market Your EMS Agency

“Innovation requires us to systematically identify changes that have already occurred–in business, in demographics, in values, in technology or science–and then to look at them as opportunities,” says Peter Drucker, chair of the Drucker Foundation and a well-known management consultant. “It also requires something that is most difficult for existing companies to do: to abandon rather than defend yesterday.”1

As an EMS organization, are you holding onto yesterday or looking at what tomorrow will bring? If your agency still uses two-person stretchers or a LIFEPAK 4 or 5 monitor/defibrillator, or it hasn’t updated its protocols in 10 years, it’s still holding onto yesterday. What your EMS organization did 10 years ago might not be successful today, particularly for public outreach.

Aside from providing our fundamental service of delivering BLS, ALS and transport, today’s progressive EMS systems step out of the box to incorporate three important functions: public information, public education and public relations. Some use the acronym PIER (public information, education and relations) to describe the combined marketing philosophies.

The public has a right to know how your EMS operation works. To keep the public informed, you must provide them with information about your agency. Traditionally, this information is conveyed through the media. But public speeches, press releases and social media platforms are also acceptable and effective methods. In fact, many EMS agencies have gone beyond having a traditional website and now use Facebook and Twitter to reach their citizens.

Public education is the process of changing people’s behavior related to EMS. Public education campaigns can teach citizens how and when to access 9-1-1 because many EMS systems report citizens misusing or abusing 9-1-1 or unnecessarily requesting emergency resources. Other public education programs can center on health and wellness, such as poisoning and fall-prevention programs, drowning prevention and pool safety, or blood pressure and health checks.

Recently when traveling through the Columbus, Ohio, airport, I saw that paramedics had set up a table to offer free blood-pressure checks in the center of the terminal. It was an impressive sight.

Public visibility
The third marketing component for your agency is public relations, which involves developing a positive public attitude about your EMS agency. This effort may take years to develop. Certainly, the right public relations can help defray negative publicity after an adverse event happens within your EMS agency.

Public relations includes public service announcements, press releases and agency visibility at such community events as parades and community meetings. The bottom line: You must to get your organization’s name in front of the public in a
positive light.

When I was with the St. Louis Fire Department, we would occasionally transport a cardiac arrest survivor home from the hospital in the front seat of the ambulance or fire apparatus responsible for saving their life. It was always a human-interest story the press loved and covered in depth. On several occasions, it was the lead news story on various TV stations. If you had to go out and buy the TV ad time to get that type of positive publicity, it wouldn’t be free and certainly not cheap.

Whether it’s public information, education or relations, all three marketing components put your EMS agency in front of the public. Each component has multiple outreach methods, and, if one is done well, it will complement the others.

Your name can say it all. Six years ago when I came to work in Memphis, Tenn., I was slightly shocked that none of the ambulances had “Memphis Fire Department” written on the side of the ambulance box. It was written above the back doors and on
the driver and passenger doors, but not on the side.

Your ambulances are billboards roving the streets every day. They should have your organization’s name on the side–as big as you can get it–and include other messages, such as your organization’s motto or an excerpt from your mission statement.

Marketing your EMS organization through PIER has many benefits. It can increase your agency’s political capital. It provides exposure and can garner support for your organization from local decision makers. And it can also create a positive image
of your department that translates into community support.

PIER programs may also reduce attrition rates. Everyone wants to be on a winning team. And if your organization has a positive public image, your employees will want to be associated with it. When employees know they’re seen favorably by the community and its decision makers, morale tends to be higher.

I urge my fellow EMS managers to look at the benefits of PIER. And if you haven’t gone down this road, start a program designed to benefit your agency. It’s extra work, but it’s worth the effort. JEMS

1. Gendron G. (May 15, 1996). “Flashes of Genius.” In Inc. magazine. Retrieved May 2011, from

This article originally appeared in July 2011 JEMS as “Marketing Matters: Benefits of public information, education & relations for your EMS agency.”

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