Here are three take-homes from a simple video that demanded public attention.
by James Morton
We don’t really struggle in the fire service when it comes to arresting visual content. A huge fire or the rescue of a cute puppy grabs attention like little else.
But once the blue lights have left the scene, our challenge is retaining the public’s interest to relay that all-important prevention message.
A recent fire spat flames and smoke from a high-rise building in the heart of Portsmouth’s waterfront leisure complex – Gunwharf Quays – in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. High-profile stuff and a huge visual spectacle, online as much as in the real world.
Remarkably, no-one was hurt. The fire had been caused, as so many are, by someone forgetting about their cooking, so once the flames were out we knew there was a massive opportunity to capitalise on the interest and hammer home a critical public safety message. But how?
We negotiated access to the burnt-out flat and got the first two firefighters to enter the fire to talk us through what had happened. The reaction to the resulting video – Back to the Scene – stunned us.
In 48 hours, the video had racked up more than 20,000 views across Facebook and YouTube. Average retention for the video on YouTube was 80% – a pretty whopping figure for a video like this. Despite not being designed as a news item, it was used by all our local media in bulletins or on their websites, and other fire services quickly picked it up to use in recruitment drives.
What made the video so absorbing? With plans to revisit the successful format, we picked out three key factors:
1. A human tale – using frontline staff to tell the story gave the video an authenticity no voiceover could hope to achieve. Research shows that while trust in public service leaders is nearing rock bottom, frontline staff are still trusted and well-respected, so the appeal from Firefighter Beth about keeping an eye on cooking carried extra clout.
2. Completing the narrative – for many of the people who watched the fire drama unfold, in real life or on social media, Back to the Scene provided themissing final chapter. Turning this follow-up around in quick time ensured people were still gagging to hear the next instalment.
3. Nosy neighbour syndrome – if you can rely on one thing in life, it’s that us humans will always want to know what goes on behind someone else’s front door. Getting access to the flat itself was crucial to illustrate the true impact of such a devastating fire – the backdrop to the film spoke for itself.
James Morton, External Communications Manager at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and current chair of the FirePRO network.