Web Sites, Blogs
Perhaps the most universal means of sharing information and
collaborating with the public is through your Web site - and your
blog. Web sites and blogs offer the ability to create dialogue with
your audiences, rather than speaking to them. It's not a one-way
communication, but rather an open communication channel for both
sides to gain insight, perspective, and ultimately collaboration.
That said, online communications is not like traditional offline
communications. The information has to be clear, concise, and
layered, enabling the user to easily and quickly navigate to the
information they are looking for. Content should move from broad
and concise on entry pages, to narrow and detailed as the user drills deeper. An outside-in
approach to nomenclature and tone is the best approach to keeping things in context for the user.
Additionally, one new blog is started roughly every minute, presenting the opportunity to engage your
audiences (and prospective audiences) in active dialogue and showcase their expertise.
Electronic newsletters, or e-newsletter, can be a highly efficient method of communicating directly
with your audiences, and encouraging interaction via the Web. An electronic newsletter is published
online and often distributed to subscribers through e-mail. Following are a few tips:
- It is best to provide a landing site on a Web site for archives of e-newsletters to be placed by
subject or date.
- A good newsletter pays attention to production values and provides well-designed graphics, an
appropriate layout, and plenty of images or photos.
- A Web site URL should be present on every e-communication material delivered so that usage
is trackable and there is a way to determine click through rates. Measure not only open rates
and transactions, but also content popularity (what are they reading, how long are they
spending reading it?).
- The best way to achieve results through an e-newsletter is to provide a cross-selling
component. Provide links to the URL so people can sign up for the e-newsletter, but also
provide links back to the URL in the actual newsletter.
- Subscribers should also be invited to "tell a friend" about the e-newsletter or be able to send
articles to friends that contain the URL. Other technology to build on in an e-newsletter is to
consider putting a podcast in your e-newsletter or offer e-newsletter content as an RSS feed,
particularly if you have a techno-savvy audience.
Consult your agency's Interactive team, or work with a contractor that specializes in online
Interactive Compact Disks, DVDs
CDs/DVDs are relatively inexpensive per user contact. As in other
interpretive materials, the medium (technology) cannot overshadow
the message. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the communicator
to develop the thematic story based on clear, concise objectives.
Without such guidance we run the risk of substituting novelty for
substance. Colleagues who have experience with this medium's
development should be contacted prior to initiating your first CD/DVD
development project. DVDs are becoming more prevalent than CDs
as the technology develops, but CDs are still a cost-effective, relevant
Movies and Videos
In addition to videos, a number of television and theater releases are now educating the public about
wildland fire. The showing of wildland fire movies or documentaries on television or in the theatre, or
the printing of a special wildland fire section in a local newspaper provides an educational opportunity.
Agency personnel can build on these events by arranging for:
- A companion display at the theater.
- A special program or display at the visitor center or
- Special environmental education programs at local schools.
Some television stations, newspapers, and advertisements for
upcoming theater presentations can include announcements of
special companion programs presented by your resource
management agency. The involvement of private sector
programming in communicating natural resource management
messages, such as wildland fire, greatly improves the interpreter's
chance of message receptivity and understanding by visitors and
A fact sheet is a simple, cost effective method for sharing information
about a specific topic. Often one or two pages and printed on 8.5 x
11 sheet of paper, a fact sheet can lay out the details of an issue or
activity. Fact sheets also can be e-mailed in Word or PDF for
immediate distribution. When developing fact sheets that may be
shared electronically, convert them to PDF or use a Windows product
such as Microsoft Word that most people are able to access.
Before developing a brochure, be sure it is justified in terms of the
context and expected use. For example, for homeowners in the WUI,
include a local land map with the planned prescribed burns for the
next three years. Specific information such as this is more likely to
compel to your audience to keep these brochures, posting them on
refrigerators and referring to them each burning season when they see
smoke in the air.
Brochures range in all shapes and sizes based on agency guidelines,
expertise available, and immediacy of the need to convey the
message. With the advent of desktop publishing everyone can now
produce a brochure. One of the more basic rules in brochure design
is to use a grid system to help guide the layout. Also, avoid overkill
with mixing font types, use relevant graphics, leave white space, and
keep the message focused on a thematic message (less is more).
Also, lack of attention to details can leave a visitor with a less than
Where brochures exist and there is a need to infuse a wildland fire message, or where the message
does not warrant the development of a full brochure, an insert may suffice. Inserts are printed on
heavy paper, such as card stock, and are approximately the same width and length as the folded
brochure. If standard width and stock can be cut in equal sizes (e.g., 8.5" x 11" in card stock cut
into three 3 2/3" x 8 1/2" printed pieces) a significant cost savings can be had. Again, use both sides
of the insert whenever possible.
Consider producing newsletters, magazines, or other forms of regular
communication. These formats enable you to share detailed
information and useful tips for readers. They also enable you to
maintain ongoing communication, reminding your audience of
prevention/mitigation needs and keeping them up-to-date on new
developments. There are a number of desktop publishing software
programs to assist with design and development, or you may want to
consult with a professional communications or advertising agency.
Promotional materials are a marketing tool designed to emphasize a
particular subject or event. Materials such as posters, trading cards,
activity books, etc., serve as a reminder of the activity to the
participant. If there is a high level of retention of these materials by
the targeted audience, it can result in an increase in the residual
effect of the fire prevention message. Tying your item to your
message in a way that relates to your audience will be most
effective. A sample list is included below:
Action Figures, Activity Books, Badges, Balloons, Bats, Bookmarks, Buttons, Calendars, Color Books, Comic Books, Cups, Growth Charts, Hats, Key Tags, Lapel Pins, Note Pads, Pennants, Pens, Pencils, Erasers, Plush Toys, Postcards, Posters, Rally Rags, School Folders, Seat Cushions, Sport Gloves, Sports Balls, Stickers, Sun Visors, Sunglasses, Tattoos, Teacher Guides, Trading Cards, T-Shirts, Wallets, Water Bottles, Wrist Bands
Exhibits and Signage
Exhibits are an excellent visual tool in educating key audiences in
certain settings, such as community fairs, trade shows, and other
large-scale events. However, creating exhibits can be expensive,
time consuming, and do not necessarily meet all education needs.
Where in-house exhibit capabilities and experience are lacking,
consultation with colleagues who have developed exhibits or
professional exhibit design companies is warranted.
Simple exhibits, such as a mannequin dressed in fire gear, are
effective and generate a lot of interest and questions. For the
subject of wildland fire, simple color photo and video/DVD displays
are also very effective in attracting interest, and don't have to be
expensive or time-consuming. Collect good photos and video on a
regular basis, to be used at opportune times like these displays.
If you are going to be at a large event with high attendance and many other vendors, consider
interactive or interpretive displays to help get attention, incorporating video, sound, user
Perhaps the most critical step is developing the theme. When walking by an exhibit, a person
decides in a matter of seconds whether to view the exhibit or pass by. Flashing lights, bright colors,
and clever slogans may catch the eye, but have little to do with a person viewing your exhibit. Most
exhibits are viewed for about 30 seconds and the viewer moves on. They may stay for a few
minutes if they have a question. The theme and messaging are what keep a visitor at the exhibit.
An exhibit should have one simple focus that carries throughout the display. Visual themes, echoed
in the graphic and structural elements of the exhibit, can quickly identify the exhibitor's offerings
and can provide the "hook" to unify the display. A theme can be simple and relate directly to the
products and messages on display. Colors and shapes fit well with graphics and product packaging.
Museum and other educational displays often make good use of themes and may be a good source
of inspiration for exhibit designers.
Design and Other Considerations
Once the theme is determined, other criteria, such as the nature of the audience, key messages, the
size, and budgets should be discussed. Following are other considerations for development of
- Design exhibits so visitors can view and comprehend them quickly; minimize text and use
attractive graphics. Interactivity by means of computers and other digital media tends to
hold visitor attention longer than more static exhibits.
- Caution must be expressed for home-made exhibits. An exhibit reflects the professionalism
of the agency. Simply using Velcro to attach photos onto a background may not be
- Look for alternatives to permanent exhibits unless visitor flow is moderate to heavy and
there is a limited number of return visitors. Flexibility is the key to being able to adjust the
messages and media to changing issues and audiences.
- For most local community events (county fairs, children's fair, etc.) and convention centers
the common booth sizes are 10' x 10' or longer in increments of 10', but usually 10' deep.
Other scenarios include a standard table instead of a booth.
- Some of the major negative aspects of exhibits have been the costs of permanent ones or
the size and complexity of temporary exhibits and the costs to ship them, as well as the
ability to transport them (size, shape).
- If the exhibit is being used at a community affair, convention center, etc., there should be a
- Consider the handouts that visitors will be able to take away from the exhibit. See other
sections of this guide for brochures, fact sheets, and other materials.
- There may be opportunities to utilize interactive activities at
the exhibit site, such as:, CD ROM interactive computer games, Computer generated activities, Interactive slide presentations, Games for client participation, Quiz/tests/on-site demonstrations, Firefighter/equipment demonstrations.
Types of Exhibits
- Table Throws, or table cloths with printed emblems, messages, or graphics can be an
inexpensive option for a portable exhibit. For example, the Northeast Region of the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service designed a table throw with flames along the bottom with the message "Is your home safe from wildfire?" The throw was an eye-catching attractant to the table
where educators used a model of home to relay fire prevention messages.
- Small Exhibits - Small exhibits are usually contained in less
than 400 square feet. Most small exhibits should be based
on a single, dynamic theme. Unfortunately, many small
exhibitors try to create awareness by crowding the small
space with products, personnel, literature, and blow-ups of
the agency logo. As a result, the design elements compete
for attention, instead of contributing to a central theme.
Exhibit designers must carefully select materials that are
essential to the design and message.
- Medium/Large Exhibits - Exhibits ranging in size from 401
to 1,600 square feet offer the exhibit designer more space
to create a striking visual impression. However, a larger
area in which to include product displays, demonstration
areas, conference rooms, audiovisual presentations, and
enlarged graphics puts a greater emphasis on traffic flow
and on integrating each design element into a unified
marketing concept. Many feature modular units that can be
rearranged for other booth configurations, or used
separately in smaller exhibit spaces.
- Modular Exhibits - Made up of several display components that may be used together or
separately. Modules may be freestanding or connect in more than one configuration.
Perhaps more attractive to the cost-conscious exhibit designer is that modular units can be
customized to a particular audience through the use of interchangeable graphic panels,
headers and signs.
- Commercial Exhibits - There are numerous commercial exhibits available. The exhibits range
from very simple tabletop types to large convention exhibit designs. This service requires
long lead times, so proper planning is essential. Various agencies have professional exhibit
design and construction capabilities, or you may consider a professional production vendor.
Temporary signs may be in the form of posters and are often
seasonal notices. They are normally constructed of short-lived
material such as cardboard - many are plastic. They range in size
from 11" x 9" items for use on camping or recreation area bulletin
boards to large 54" to 44" highway posters. The NWCG Wildfire
Prevention Sign and Poster Guide offers specific guidelines and
requirements. Be sure to consult this guide for details.
Posters are ideal ways of getting important messages to the target
audience quickly. In most cases they are mounted on pre-existing
poster or bulletin boards. Little more is needed than the poster and
a staple gun. It is important that outdated posters be promptly
- Use the largest posters (54" x 44") only on high-speed
highways (55 mph) and in situations where the scale of the
country dwarfs their effect. Use these posters sparingly and
place them far enough apart so that they do not appear to
- Use medium-sized posters (42" x 34") on roads with speeds
of 40-50 mph. Limit the use of these posters to essential
locations. The other medium-sized poster (44" x 16") is to
be used on most low-speed, low-volume roads. To extend
the use of fire poster mounts for sizes 42" x 34" and 44" x 16" through the off-fire season, other poster messages are available.
- The smaller posters, such as 14" x 12" and 11" x 9", are designed for pedestrian traffic and
for trails, campgrounds, trail heads, bulletin boards, roadside rests, and so on. The largest of
these generally has adequate visibility and small message content and is suitable for lowspeed,
low-volume roads where such messages are needed; for example, "No Campfires." Posters and other signs must be seasonally appropriate. Be sure to remove them after their
The options of graphic design and layout expand with each new generation of computers and
programs. Likewise the technology for production, visual clarity, and durability of outdoor signage are making rapid advances.
Each land management organization has its methods, policies, and means for planning and producing
signage for interpretation or education. The NWCG Wildfire Prevention Sign and Poster Guide
offers specific guidelines and requirements. Be sure to consult this guide for details.
Most encourage adhering to the following guidelines:
- Meet a communication objective
- Use concise wording
- Make it highly visual
- Make it high quality
- Make it durable
- Ensure it has limited intrusion on the landscape, physically and visually
The National Association for Interpretation (www.interpnet.com) publishes a partial list of companies
available to assist with signage. Also, local sign and graphic design firms may be able to assist.
Regardless of who actually produces the sign, the ultimate responsibility for crafting the message
text and selecting visuals rests with the agency.
Fire communication signs and posters must be designed, installed and maintained to achieve the
important goals of effectively conveying a specific message while portraying a positive agency
image. To be effective, signs and posters should:
- Convey the proper message(s) for the location. Make sure signs are up-to-date and
- Convey a clear, positive, friendly, and simple message(s).
- Avoid areas full of "No" and "Do Not" messages and areas where there are too many
signs/posters with conflicting messages, etc.
- Command attention and generate respect for the agency and the environment. Never post
signs on trees, fence posts, etc.
- Display signs and posters on proper and well-maintained mounts. Keep sign and poster
mountings in good condition and clear of vegetation and clutter. Promptly replace signs and
posters that are worn or damaged.
- In order to achieve optimum readability, sign and poster sizes will vary depending on the
speed, if any, the viewer is expected to be traveling as he or she moves past the sign and
the distance between the sign and the viewer. Adjusting the size of the lettering is the most
common method of achieving readability.
- Signs should be maintained to ensure they can be easily read in both day and night hours.
Replace or repair signs that have been defaced or when the lettering has been marred.
Remove or cover signs when they are no longer needed or when the message is no longer
applicable and timely. For instance, wildfire prevention signs left out during winter portray a
disorganized agency and careless image. The effect of these messages is lost. In addition to
maintaining the sign itself, remove weeds, brush, and other obstacles that obstruct the
visibility of the sign or detract from the message and a positive agency image.
Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
Public Service Announcements (PSAs) are a relatively inexpensive
alternative to paid advertising. Developed in the style of an
advertisement, media run them free of charge. Because airwaves
are public, radio and television stations are required to ensure their
programming airs in the public interest. Running PSAs helps them
fulfill this need. Typical radio or television PSAs run in lengths of
15-, 30- or 60-second spots. Many newspapers and magazines also
run print PSAs, and some outdoor advertisers may be willing to
provide free or discounted billboards.
There are many reasons to write a PSA for your wildland fire
message, including prevention strategies, current fire warnings,
and notification of upcoming events in the community regarding
wildland fire education and mitigation. Your communication plan should include the types of
messages your agency wishes to convey, and plan accordingly, taking unexpected events into
consideration. Following are some helpful tips to aid in this process, many of which can be applied
to television, radio, print, and outdoor.
- Different radio stations have different requirements for PSA writing and submittal. Therefore,
calling the station in advance for such requirements is an appropriate first step. When you
call, ask who oversees PSAs and try to speak with that person directly.
- One basic rule for writing PSAs for radio is "tell them what you are going to tell them...tell
them...tell them you told them."
- When submitting the copy of your PSA to a radio station, your job is to make it as clear and
easy to read as possible, as on-air talent will usually be the ones to deliver your message. To
aid in this process, type your copy, either double or triple-spaced, on one side of the paper,
leaving generous margins.
- In writing your PSA for radio, keep the text brief and accurate, while capturing listeners'
attention and motivating the audience. (Fazio and Gilbert, 1982).
- You may use nontraditional punctuation in your radio or television PSA copy, making it
easier for on-air talent to read aloud. For example, using dashes (-) and dots (...) can
indicate to the reader when pauses should be inserted into the dialogue. (Fazio and Gilbert,
- Sound effects, if used appropriately, can enhance the PSA and capture listener attention,
after all, "radio is sound" (Fazio and Gilbert, 1982). For example, the sounds of forests
burning have been used in the Smokey Bear campaign (Fazio and Gilbert, 1982).
- A criterion used to select PSAs is relevance to the local community (Fazio and Gilbert, 1982);
therefore, if your fire message is relevant to your local area, this might increase the chances
Television PSAs can range from silent, on-screen community calendar announcements to color slides
with voice-overs, to pre-produced videotapes.
- Television stations can develop on-screen calendar announcements for your special events if
you give them a fact sheet that provides basic information (who, what, when, where, why,
and how). You can also send camera-ready artwork of a logo and slogan for their use.
- Color slides are another option that can make the television station's job easier. A single
slide may contain basic information and a graphic of a logo and slogan. Send the slide with a
- You may also provide a produced videotape PSA. Contact your agency Public Affairs or
Public Information Office to see whether they have the capability to help you produce one.
- If you do submit a produced videotape, send a written transcript of the PSA to help the
station staff who will preview it.