Catherine Levin discusses the potential for data algorithms and targeted advertising to aid in local Fire and Rescue Service recruitment drives.

It’s not often I reference the Conservative Party but bear with me, it’s apt: “Highly-targeted creative, delivered using cutting-edge communication techniques, enabled the party to reach undecided voters in marginal constituencies on the issues that mattered most to them – and deliver a stunning and unexpected victory.”

The Conservatives are using these data focused techniques again to finely target voters to win the election in June. I’m no Tory, but what they did then and are doing now is exactly what the Fire and Rescue Service should be doing with firefighter recruitment.

Why be innovative in advertising when you know you’ll be overwhelmed with applicants? Advertise for firefighters and there will be piles of applications. That’s a lot of work for HR and a lot of disappointed people. But against the background noise from government criticising the lack of diversity in the service, it’s hard to justify not making an effort.

It’s an exciting week for Avon Fire and Rescue Service. It’s been eight years since they last recruited wholetime firefighters and now they’ve opened up applications (for one week only) for 16 new recruits to join their training school in October 2017. 800 people registered an interest in applying before the recruitment window even opened. If they all apply, their odds of being successful are pretty long, but it won’t stop them.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service are also recruiting. I watched Kent’s recent Periscope broadcast – that’s live video on Twitter for anyone who’s thinking it’s a submarine thing. Three slightly nervous firefighters and an HR rep sitting in a row answering questions live. It’s oddly compelling stuff. Periscope seems to be out of favour now that Facebook Live is taking off, but nevertheless, it’s the teatime slot and some Twitter mums are making the tea – that’s me included and I’m listening. That’s targeted timing but they got me and they don’t want me. It’s not enough.

Avon’s tiny budget is focused on buying promo posts on Facebook and Twitter. You won’t see them and neither will I. But those 20 somethings will. Women who like fitness, outdoors, they’ll see them. Because Avon is using the sophisticated algorithms developed by the social media world to carefully target people based on what they like and what they do.

I have no doubt that Comms teams and HR teams in Fire and Rescue Services across the country are using targeted advertising to varying degrees of sophistication and I am optimistic that it will drive up the numbers of women and BME applicants. My worry is that they won’t stay and they won’t make it through the process. I worry that the 2017 recruit school for Avon will be white and male and we won’t know why it doesn’t reflect the diversity that showed up in the original applicant list.

The answer is data. Data is gold. Data will help Fire and Rescue Services find the holy grail of diversity. That’s what the Tories did. They tapped into the few hundred people in marginal constituencies and flooded them with the messages they wanted to hear to get them to get out and vote. And vote Tory. And it worked. Let’s use the same data techniques and make them work for the Fire and Rescue Service too.