The following campaign received a 2015 Media Award from the International Association of Fire Fighters
In October of 2014, the mayor of Albany, New York’s capital city, proposed eliminating a busy ladder company, which serves the city’s southern neighborhoods and downtown business district. It was part of a plan to close a $16 million gap in the city’s budget, which was scheduled to be acted on by the 15-member Common Council in November.
Ladder 1 serves more than 160,000 residents, visitors and workers across the city each day. Its first alarm responsibilities include the 15,000-seat Times Union Center; the New York State Capitol, high-rise office towers and the Port of Albany – a major maritime and inland shipping hub, a transportation corridor for oil trains and chemical carriers, and a close proximity to passenger trains arriving and departing ninth busiest Amtrak station in the United States.
The union representing the city’s 235 professional firefighters retained Corning Place Communications (CPC) to develop a strategy to educate potential consequences of the first-year mayor’s proposal. In partnership with CPC, Albany’s firefighters’ union, Local 2007, developed a campaign with the objective of saving Ladder 1.
The integrated campaign consisted of three main approaches capturing the power of earned, social, and content-driven media, block-by-block citywide outreach and a government relations effort aimed at city hall. The intent was to educate city officials, as well as the general public about the vital role Ladder 1 plays in the city’s emergency response system, explain the potential community risks if it was removed from service, and describe the extraordinary challenges that Albany firefighters face as they respond to 22,000 emergency calls each year, or put another way a call every 25 minutes.
Albany firefighters regularly attended meetings with various neighborhood and community groups. Through sustained public outreach efforts, including door-to-door canvassing, distribution of informational handouts, storefront placards, T-shirts and lawn signs, resulted in grassroots support and vocal objections from the public. The support was leveraged during a series of public budget meetings hosted by the Albany mayor and Common Council members.
Union members were a constant presence at common council meetings, voicing a drumbeat message that they were prepared to be part of the budget solution. Rank-and-file members called on their city representatives to reject the mayor’s Ladder 1 proposal, citing the potential harm to public safety while simultaneously offering a five-point alternative plan to cut costs and raise revenue.
In response to public comments from the Albany fire chief stating that eliminating Ladder 1 would have “no appreciable impact on response times,” Albany firefighters and CPC also developed a counter micro-campaign video: “Minutes Matter.” This effort featured video content in English and Spanish, and social media postings to underscore the critical role of a rapid emergency response, and to counter the chief’s dismissive sentiment.
The initiative secured more than 40 earned print and broadcast placements, which generated more than one million impressions from September through November 2014. During that same time period, Albany firefighters regularly created engaging content for their social media channels, including several original videos featuring union leadership and members. The videos which were posted to a newly created Albany firefighters YouTube channel, received more than 4,000 views. The intense nature of the campaign increased Twitter followers by 572 percent and Facebook page likes by 372 percent
Success was achieved on Wednesday, Oct. 22, when the union and the Albany mayor announced a settlement to save Ladder 1. It consisted of contractual and operational changes that yielded $1.2 million in savings and a commitment to add new firefighters to the department.
The outcome was good for the City and its taxpayers and preserved important on-the-job protections for the women and men of Albany’s Fire Department. Today the department is fully staffed by a force of 260 fire fighters.