Marketing Missteps: 4 Common Mistakes in Marketing to Public Safety

Public safety agencies benefit immeasurably from their vendor partners. This is not a mere buyer/seller relationship: agencies rely on vendors to bring expertise in technology deployment, how to train their staff on new products and how to customize purchases for their needs.

But long before the sale, you must make a connection with the audience. And this is no simple challenge in the evolving media landscape. Following are some of the more common missteps and mistakes I see.

No. 1: Inconsistency

As I stated in my previous post, the glue that holds first responders together is trust. Without trust, public safety simply breaks down. And it’s the same when marketing your product to first responders: You might have a terrific product or service, but if trust in the brand or messaging is compromised, you’ll be challenged to connect.

There are many factors involved in developing trust, but a big part is showing up consistently. Think about it in your own life. If you go to a café regularly and the faces there grow familiar to you, you might start saying hello. Maybe you’ll become best friends, who knows? Get married? Stranger things have happened. The point is, consistency begets familiarity, which in turn begets trust. Success in public safety marketing requires a long-term approach in key investments like tradeshows, digital and print marketing, social media campaigns and events. Be reliable.

No. 2: Nonspecific Targeting

Who do you want to reach? It depends on the products and services you’re marketing, of course. But too often I have seen companies simply default to one of two options: Go with the platform that has the biggest reach or limit messaging to those with purchasing authority (or, by way of proxy, rank). In other words, it’s the rank-and-file or it’s the brass. The top and the bottom of the org chart.

There are, however, problems with this approach. First, because these are the “default” settings, they are crowded spaces. Your message will be competing with a lot of others. Second, the assumptions behind them sometimes don’t bear out. For example, marketers often assume chiefs make purchasing decisions. Sometimes they do, but those decisions will often be based on recommendations from middle managers or trusted line-level workers. Other times purchasing decisions are made by civilian government staff. So a campaign that targets only the chiefs or only the line-level might very well miss the mark.

You need to know who it is you’re marketing to. And I’m not talking about a buyer persona (“Firefighter Francine” or “Chief Charlie”). Who really buys and uses your product? I’m talking about real-life end-users and purchasers. This is your audience. Speak to his and her concerns directly, not some fictitious persona or rank category.

No. 3: Not Telling Your Story

No question about it: People are inundated with information from all directions. And, frankly, most of it is noise. But good information—actionable, relevant information, delivered in palatable form—is valuable. Really valuable, given all the noise. This is especially true in a tight, specialized, high-stakes community like that of first response. Time is precious, and so is good information.

What does good information look like to a public safety audience? Maybe it’s results of a survey on how frequently fire departments replace PPE. Or a case study of how a customer used grant money to purchase body cameras. Tips on better radio communication. Any of these would be of interest to first responders who are trying to make the most out of what they’ve got on a tight municipal budget.

Think of that old cliché: Tell your story. Think you don’t have a story? Think again. I once edited a four-part series on the Halligan tool. That’s right: four feature-length articles on an innocuous metal tool by Peter F. Kertzie. Most people wouldn’t give a Halligan a second thought, even some in the fire service. But this series succeeded because a) the author did his homework and was passionate about the Halligan and b) he demonstrated in fascinating detail the value of his subject.

It’s sometimes framed as a “cognitive” vs. “emotional” approach (or “thinking” vs. “feeling”). Details and specs matter—horsepower, gauge, denier, and so on—but first show why that matters. Marketing is storytelling. You communicate your values—and your value—through images, videos, fonts, sponsorships, associations, articles, training, tradeshows, donations and so much more.

No. 4: No Follow-Up

Every marketing message should have a call to action. Direct, declarative buttons with phrases like “sign up now,” “try it for free,” “join us” and “learn more” encourage customers to engage—which is what you are after. But if you’re leaving things there, you’re missing an opportunity to make an impression.

Think about it: If you’ve created consistent, reliable messaging, effectively targeted your buyer, and provided them with compelling information, you’ve likely attracted some interest and engagement. Now you need to act on that interest through follow-up direct marketing or lead nurturing. Be patient—it’s not just about closing the next deal, especially in public safety. Success requires maintaining interest and engagement over the long term.


You and I have the privilege of working with and for those first responders who keep our communities safe and healthy. Public safety simply isn’t like other professions. But if you are consistent, specific, honest, and available, your marketing efforts will likely find success. As always, reach out if you have questions or suggestions:

Crawford Coates

CRAWFORD COATES is the content marketing manager Lexipol. Prior to this role, he was publisher at Calibre Press, a publisher and trainer for law enforcement, and an editor at PennWell Public Safety, publisher of Law Officer, FireRescue and JEMS. He is a co-founder of Below 100 and author of the book Mindful Responder: The first responder's field guide to improved resilience, fulfillment, presence, & fitness--on and off the job. He holds a master's degree in public policy and administration.

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